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This is a real story which my grandmother (Nani), had once shared with me when I was a teenager and had enquired that why a woman who had come to meet her was sounding so greatful to her, even when she seemed elder to her.
The time was October, 1947, India had got it's hard earned independence but the price it had paid due to the partition that had come along with it was so huge that only those who had paid it will know the pain.
Large scale murders, rapes and killings had happened. Humanity was showing its worst face. If you look at the historical data, though it is just an estimate, as no one at that time was well equipped to estimate the real numbers, almost 10,00000 people had been killed. 14 to 18 million people had been forced to cross newly recognized borders. They had to leave their homes, businesses and everything they loved and that had been a part of them since ages. A lady I had known once told that they had left cooked food, clothes hanging to dry and fled. It was a riches to rags story for many. As if this turmoil was not enough, a lot of bloodshed also happened. Punjab being the worst hit had an estimated 5 to 8 lakh people killed alone. There was so much confusion and chaos. Everyone wanted to just survive and be safe. Many men died saving their women and children from disgrace and death. Homes were looted and captured. Some people were busy becoming rich by snatching jwellery from women alive or dead.
No one was spared. There were mass massacres, battles between communities and relentless, insane killing. There was so much contradictory human nature to be seen. People who had once been neighbours were ready to kill each other. People were on a killing spree. Some were fanatic, some were pumped up by religious and political leaders and some were taking revenge after seeing every near and dear one of theirs dying in front of their eyes. Children were killed, many orphaned and woman, who would not go out without a dupatta on head, were raped and killed brutally. Many girls were asked to eat poison by their parents to save them that disgrace. Even pregnant women were killed and their stomachs were cut and foetuses from their womb were taken out.
While people were witnessing the deadliest dance of cruelty by one human on other, there were good souls who were saving people, giving them shelter and food and safety. My Nani tells that almost for more than a month all the ladies in many parts of the city and in many cities worked hard and prepared as much food as they could and collected clothes and other essentials and this all was taken to railway stations and camps where refugees were staying. Many orphaned kids were adopted by many families.
There are heart wrenching stories which I have heard of that time, from my Nani, who was staying in Punjab, India at that time. Also my in laws family had moved to India at that time from Pakistan and the elderly ladies tell many anecdotes. I can see the pain in their eyes even after years. What is it to loose everything just in few days and see your kith and kin die only they know.
So, It was somewhere In October, 1947. Punjab was seeing the onset of winters. But what a bloody winter it was. My Nani had gone to the terrace of their big paternal home, to collect something, when she saw a human figure cuddled up, at the end of their locality. It was wee hours of early morning and it was still a bit dark.
She ran downstairs and took another lady from home and went towards that figure....
It was a lady, cuddled up, covered in almost rags, trying to hide her body. She was trembling, exhausted and could just manage to say in a trembling voice that....is...se...ba...cha...lo. Doo..oodh...de.....do and fainted.
It was early morning hours but when she said this my Nani realised that she had a small infant probably, 6 months old, clinging to her bosom. She was hiding him in her torn dupatta.
My Nani called for help and the Lady was taken inside. She was put in a bed with a blanket and an aunt got some hot milk with turmeric for her. On close observation, they saw that her body was bruised at many places, face disheveled, she was completely exhausted and weak to even say something or open her eyes properly. The ladies managed to give her milk and she slept. The infant was too small and famished and they managed to give him some hot milk and he also slept.
When she woke up after many hours she was much relaxed. My Nani comforted her that she and her child were safe and after getting fresh, and eating something, she had gained strength. Now, she freshened up her son, fed him her milk and was calm. But, clearly she had gone through something terrible and the family waited for an appropriate time to talk to her.
At night, after dinner when she was assured of her safety, she related her story. She with her husband and in-laws was staying in a village near Lahore. They were rich farmers and were a happy family. Even the mention of them had choked her throat. Probably had very loving people around her. Disturbances due to partition had started as early as September but her FILs attachment with his land and village had made them stay. The entire village till a time was under the impression that they won't get affected and were leading a normal life.
One night when they were preparing to sleep, they heard voices. A big group of some 500 people, mostly from nearby villages was approaching towards them with weapons, and fire torches in their hands. By the time they could get prepared, they were attacked. She had never seen, in fact no one had seen such cruelty. The men in their village, gave a fight but were outnumbered by the other group soon. Her husband and FIL got killed. Before she could react, they had entered their home, and had started burning it. She and her MIL had fled from the back door, into the fields like many other men, women and children did.
But there also, they were not safe. The killers came and dragged out as many people as they could. She started switching her place with her child clinging to her, but her MIL due to old age was not agile. She was also killed. But before that she had taken off her jewellery, that she was wearing, gave it to her and and asked her to run.
She ran and ran, from one field to another, hiding and by morning was exhausted. She knew there would be some village nearby. But her hard luck was that if she went there probably she and her child would be killed. She didnt know to which community that village belonged.
On one thought, she wanted to kill her child and herself. It was better than getting raped and killed brutally. One night had changed everything. She had lost her loving husband and family, her home and nothing was left. She could see their faces in front of her. How will she live without them? Without him? She loved him so much? Oh! She didn't even remember in all this that what would have happened to her own parents? Her brother? His wife and children? So many other people? So much had been inflicted that she had gone numb from inside. There was no time to think and cry. She had to act. At that moment her sight got fixated on her child's face, innocent, sleeping in her lap. This was the deciding moment. She decided to fight, to survive, if not for anything else, for her child. Probably they had got saved till now because their fate was to live. The mother in her was not so weak. She may die but her child will live. She had just one thought in her mind, to protect her child and land him in safety.
The field in which she was hiding belonged to a man who appeared to be kind. At least she had thought so. When he came there, he found her. She folded her hands and he understanding her condition took her to the safety of her home. His wife was shrewd and they bargained her Jewellery to give her some clothes and food and make her reach a safe refugee camp.
She agreed. That night, was the night when they had to move. Hiding, taking rest, they were treading slowly when they were just about to reach the camp, they again saw two groups fighting.
That farmer ran away, scared for his life and she was left alone with her child once again. She knew that soon like the other day, people would run for safety towards fields and then would be dragged and killed. She didn't know which way to go, so she started moving in a direction opposite to the massacre site, from field to field, getting bruised, and sometimes even ran to cover the plain area.
By morning she didn't know where she had reached. She had just collapsed in front of that locality. This was the time when my Nani had spotted her and helped her. Everyone present was silent for a few minutes. The lady was caressing her son and the pain in her eyes was inexplicable.
Merely 3 to 4 days back, she was leading a normal life, and could have never in her weirdest dreams imagined that something like this could happen. Suddenly she started wailing. Probably, the death of her husband and family had now started affecting her. The struggle to survive and save her child in the past three days had not given her a chance to mourn her loss. Everyone tried to console her.
She stayed for few days and got so mingled up in the family that no one wanted her to go. But her self respect took over and she told my Nani that she wanted to work and earn. My Nani extended full support and as she was good at stitching, she got work for her. The lady even helped my Nani in household work. She said, " I can't repay for what you have done ever, at least let me do this, I am also a part of the family na".
Slowly after 3 years normalcy came. Life is so strange. Even after witnessing the worst and loosing so much one moves on. One has to live even when so much pain is buried deep in ones heart and there are scars which would never heal. My Nani encouraged her to do a course in Nursing. It was a joint family and her child was taken care off. She completed the course and stood on her feet. Then she took a small place on rent, and worked. Her son grew up and got a government job.
She visited my Nani regularly. After knowing her story that day I couldn't stop thinking about her for many days.
I don't know how successful, I have been in relating the time and the story of this brave woman but it gave me a lot of inspiration. In time of such adversity, and even after loosing everything, the mother in this woman had struggled and had given in everything she had to save her child. A salute to such a mother and motherhood is all I can say.