Pakistan-born author tells Punjab partition story

New Delhi, Oct 9 (IANS) A Hindu student crossing over to Lahore under a Muslim name and late Bollywood actor Sunil Dutt's encounter with an old woman on his visit to Pakistan are among the episodes recounted in a new book by a Pakistan-born author on the partitioning of Punjab.

It is through 'the memories of this pain that the survivors of the Punjab carnage want to move on and open more people-to-people contact points along the border', says writer Ishtiaq Ahmed.

He has penned 'The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy Through Secret Reports and First Person Accounts (Rupa & Co)', a non-fiction work on the trauma of Punjab's partition when India was divided.

Physician Prem Sobti, a medical student in Mumbai in 1947, remembers crossing over to Lahore from Ferozepur under a Muslim name, Pervez, to rescue his family from a burning Punjab.

He had volunteered to bandage refugees at Ferozepur to make it across the border, recalls Sobti in an interview to Ahmed in the book.

'A very beautiful young Muslim girl from Hoshiarpur begged me to take her to Lahore because her parents had been killed...I lied to her that I was a Christian,' Sobti said.

When the doctor reached home in Lahore, it was empty. After a wild hunt and a trip back to India, the doctor located his parents in Delhi.

Then there's Som Anand, whose fate changed with that of Punjab in 1947. His father, who had married a Muslim woman, decided to stay on in Lahore despite the killings.

'He was managing director at a bank and they needed his services. I returned to India,' Anand bares his soul to Ahmed.

Then there was late actor Sunil Dutt, who returned to his native village Punjab in Pakistan in 1998.

'The old women in our village addressed me by Bajjya (nickname) and wanted to know how my mother was. When I told them that she had died, they began to cry,' Dutt told Ahmed.

'The scars still linger,' said Ahmed, a professor emeritus of political science at Stockholm University in Sweden.

'When I talked to some of these people, many of them began to cry hysterically. It hurts them even now. They treat partition as a fate thrust upon them,' Lahore-born Ahmed told IANS.

The writer, who describes his book as the first holistic account of the partition of Punjab and its aftermath, argues 'that the partition of India was a necessary but not sufficient basis for the partition of Punjab'.

'All those I spoke to felt partition could have been avoided. It was a mistake, but all of us would have to live it because it cannot be undone. We can only ask Allah to forgive,' the writer said.

The walls that have sprung in Punjab post-partition have created cultural divides.

'Children who have grown up in the Pakistan side of Punjab have no exposure to the other side. But people on both sides are amenable to the idea that they can live in peace,' Ahmed said.

'There was no grand conspiracy to eradicate unwanted groups from the territory in 1947,' he said.

Development in Pakistan's Punjab has to be advanced to overcome the trauma of suffering, the writer said.

'The youth don't get jobs. The defence expenditure is very high because Pakistan is always threatened by the fear that it has to go to war any time. It takes up the country's resources,' the writer said.

'The border has to become more porous with more trade, commerce and cultural exchanges,' he said.

'We cannot go to another war - it will lead to a nuclear confrontation,' Ahmed said. The writer, who was born in Lahore in 1947, moved to Stockholm in 1973.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)