“I was born in Rawalpindi in 1932. I had a great childhood — we had one of those old bungalows with a beautiful backyard where we spent so much of our time running around, playing catch and cook and eating family meals. We shared a great bond with our neighbours, a Muslim family who we spent most of our childhood days with. In fact, we were the only Hindu family on the entire street — but back then, what difference did that make?
I used to love to read — I was always excited to go to school, study and in the future make something of myself. I worked twice as hard for my board exams — I knew that those marks would determine which college I got into. I still remember, I had finished my revision for each subject twice before my boards started on the 8th of March 1947, but on the 6th of March 1947 — riots broke out and nothing was the same again. All our exams were cancelled, the streets were empty and people were fleeing the place with whatever luggage they could manage. I still remember the day when our neighbours came to our house and advised us to leave…they said it wasn’t safe, the tension was rising and that they didn’t want us to be harmed in anyway. At the time, my Masa was visiting from Jammu so my family decided to first send me away to my Masi in Jammu. Times were horrible and when young girls were taken captive…one cannot even imagine the brutality they were subjected to.
I left for Jammu, with a few of my belongings and no assurance of when I would see my family again. When we got to Jammu, we got the news that trucks filled with dead bodies of Sikh or Muslim men were being sent across the border — it was a terrifying time. Meanwhile, the tension around Jammu and Kashmir was also on a rise. I remember, everyday I would wake up and wear 4 pairs of clothing instead of 1 — just incase we had to run all of a sudden. Our house there overlooked the valley, so we could easily see people approaching. My Masa had prepared me that incase he saw that people were storming in and there was a chance that I would be taken captive — he would kill me first. Everyday, I would see him sharpening knives and swords and I wondered if that day would be my last — it was worse than death itself.
Around August, my masa, masi and I left from Jammu to get to Delhi. Back then, there wasn’t a direct train ride so we had to make our way on a Military bus that stopped for us and a luggage carrier to finally get to Agra. The last we had heard, our family was in Delhi but we couldn’t be sure because we hadn’t heard from them for a while and our letters reached months later…or sometimes not at all. It took us 8 days to get to Agra and those 8 days were the worst — we could barely sleep, eat, or talk and death was constantly looming over us.
Thankfully, we were reunited with my family in Agra after all those months, but I was no longer the young girl who wanted to read, study and make something of her life — all I wanted to do then was to keep my family close and survive. When people throw around the word ‘war’ I feel like telling them this story. War changes everything — I lost my teenage years to it, my education to it…my peace of mind to it. It changes you…it makes you scared, angry and those haunting memories never leave you. It displaces your family, turns you against people you’ve known and loved all your life and when everything is over… you realise that you’re no longer afraid to die. The fear of death is what makes us human but what’s left after war is inhumanity because of everything you’ve seen or been through.”