68 years ago when the biggest human migration happened, life changed for nearly 10 million lives at that point of time. And lives completely changed for generations after that, we the Punjabis, Sindhis and all those who have a bond with North India and were impacted by this migration have never remained the same. My maternal grandmother has told me the story of partition and how it impacted her and her immediate family in bits and pieces whenever she had the chance. I say chance because she was always busy tending to the grand children of her 5 children – there were 10 of us with differential ages. I am the third eldest, so whenever she had the chance and I was willing, it was surreal to observe and listen to the Maslow hierarchy being turned upside down. And today, 3 generations later, the same hierarchy is non-existent for the first 2 stages.
Abraham Maslow’s theory focuses on the stages of – Physiological needs (Stage 1), Security needs (Stage 2), Social needs (stage 3), Self Esteem needs (stage 4) and finally self actualization needs (stage 5). When my paternal and maternal grandparents migrated they were already at stage 3 as per Mr. Maslow, if not at stage 4. And then one fine day, one unassuming person from England decided on the boundaries between India and Pakistan, a consequence of political ambitions of individuals and shrewdness of England. Overnight, the theory was turned on its head. Land, property, riches, relations and all kinds of materialistic possessions were left at the mercy of neighbors and within the social circle where they lived. Engulfed by the mob hysteria, the properties were usurped by those very people who had promised to protect these properties with their life.
Grudgingly but surely they left the places where they were born, grew up and knew every inch of every street towards one destination which was the ‘promised land’ – India. It is ironical that though being an Indian, I am also a Pakistani, Afghani as my grandparents have their roots there. And at times it is difficult to answer curious questioners regarding where I come from. The simple answer is that I from North and when forced to divulge more, then the answer is Grandparents from Pakistan and Afghanistan, Parents were born in Rajasthan, post marriage settled in Thane and since then I am here. So, go and figure out where I belong to. This is my plight which is that of Identity and for my grandparents it was a fight for survival. Overcrowded trains made of metal which literally burned during that migratory summer made their lives a living hell. Many could not survive the journey and not due to the perils of weather or man-made machinery but more due to man-made weapons used by overzealous and fanatic men.
There are stories of how a bunch of villagers who had huddled up on the terrace of houses survived massacre and lynching by mobs as they lay flat on their backs on the burning floor but finally lost their lives to a small wail of a child whose mother forgot to close his mouth with her palm. Ramchandra Guha’s ‘India After Gandhi’ and even ‘The Train to Pakistan’ speaks of these stories and many related facts of partition. My grandmother’s brother hid amongst bodies on the platform before he could embark on a train which offered security. Partition stories of ‘lost and found’ are abundant and every family whose elders went through these harrowing times have painful and nerve wrecking stories of partition ordeal, refugee camps and most importantly re-adjusting from stage 3/4 to stage 1 of their lives. There was no wealth, no income and no house or property which they could call as theirs. People linked up with whatever connects they had, got government jobs, started their own small business and did whatever they could to survive. Secret pockets within undergarments during the journey from Pakistan served dual purpose, one of storing gold and the other of storing poison sachets in the event of mob attacks. And such jugaads which helped them retain sanity at stage 1 and progress towards stage 2 have become the way of life for generations since then.
Generation next reeling under the after effect of partition had to struggle, save and succeed. Yet, the scars of being robbed of their golden destiny are always there and they always remind them to protect their money, land and all possessions in the best possible manner. The next generation, my generation, had a relatively struggle free life initially and we could connect well with others who never had these issues as part of their DNA evolution. Fact is staying in a cosmopolitan city helps. Whereas in places where such stories abound, polarization of thoughts is an easy task and even today it is used well by certain politicians for their selfish gains. Over the years, the stories have been forgotten and the next generation kids up to 15 years old hardly have any idea of this part of the history and it seems they are not even bothered. They are just concerned about their favourite cartoon channel, some new gadget or toy in the market and of course the new App on their parents’ smart phones. Stage 1 and 2, sorry to say Mr. Maslow, doesn’t exist for them. They start the pyramid directly at stage 3 and more often than not I believe they would be happy with achievement of stage 4 unless we get new stages in between thanks to digitization and urbanization of the world.
Across these 4 generations, the senior most generation is saying that the time has come for them to leave. Many have left with a heavy heart reminiscing about their homes, the society in which they grew up but could never go back. This generation, now in their eighties and nineties have taught us a lot and I bet that none of the sciences whether astrology, palmistry or any other would have predicted the fate of these 10 million lives across the border. Sheer hard work, patience, determination, sticking around together as a society and the will to make it better has made it possible for today’s kid generation to wake up every morning and demand for that favourite glass in which they would drink their favourite flavour of milk. They have choices. Over the years, the funnel of choices has merely broadened at the cost of decrease in the elements of hard work, facing challenges and being human. I don’t know about the count of tigers, however not many grandparents would be here for long. Learn and adopt whatever you can. And the best learning could be that destiny may take you back to Stage 1, you can always claw back. Our grandparents did that!