History has never been discussed openly in our family. Not much is known of what happened when my grandparents fled from Pakistan and came to India in 1947. As an inquisitive child, I pestered my grandparents on several occasions but in vain. All I remember is the real-life ‘story’ my nani would relate everytime I asked her about that historic journey from Pakistan to India. “You won’t believe, we had a swing adorned with gems and gold chips back in our haveli in Pakistan,” she said with an air of spontaneity. Each time I heard that, my eyes would gleam with surprise. It was hard to believe that my nani used to live in some kind of a palatial house. I would imagine her lying on a gem-studded swing, the kinds they showed on Tipu-Sultan series on Doordarshan. “But we had to leave all of that behind and rush to India. All we could bring along were the many silver and gold coins we had,” she continued. I knew what was to follow – the most designer belt I had ever heard of. “I had this belt with a zip running on its back side. It served as a secret pocket and I hid all the coins in there and wore it under my saree.” Next to follow were the long train journeys with unknown people who shared the same sense of insecurity; the survival stories in unhygienic camps; passing through jungles where snakes would simply slither away and hiding in unusual places. Finally, after many days they reached Mumbai and from there they shifted to Ahmedabad.
That’s it; my excitement level would suddenly dip. Everything that followed seemed very routine and took place in a country I live in. I wanted to know more about Pakistan – as if it were a country very different from India. So nani would tell me tales about her village in Pakistan – how she would play with her friends there, the household tasks she would do….She would get transported to some other world – a place she once called her home. “Aisa nahin nani, kuch alag batao,” I would suddenly interrupt and break her trance. My demands would snatch her back to reality - to a place where she was compelled to unlearn the old ways of learning and start from scratch. It was disturbing for her and that clearly reflected in her tone. “Aur kya sunaun? Mujhe aur kuch yaad nahin,” she would dismiss me and I would leave disappointed. Then for quite some time she would sit all alone and get lost in her world once again.
I knew she lied. She did remember a lot about her days in Pakistan but never wanted to tell us. Perhaps she didn’t want anybody to intrude in the little corner of her world – the fields where she could run carefree; the friends with whom she could share her dreams; the people who didn’t hold any prejudices; the haveli with its overarching doors and the gem studded swing where she could lie down peacefully.