In the half century since India was partitioned, more than twenty five million refugees have crossed the new frontiers mapped out by Radcliffe between East Pakistan and the state of West Bengal in India. The migration out of east Bengal was very different from the rush of refugees into India from West Pakistan, which was immediate and immense as was the way the disposed were received by the country to which they fled. Unlike refugees from the west, the refugees from the east did not flood into India in one huge wave; they came sometimes in surges but often in barely perceptible trickles over five decades of independence. The element of violence in the Punjab explains why millions crossed its pain in 1947. By contrast the much larger migration out of east Bengal over a much longer time span is more complex.
There are several people from that generation who lived those days and are invaluable historical archive and so much that happened during partition needs to be cataloged. I had the privilege of an interaction with one such person, an inhabitant of Jadavpur area that falls under the 24 Parganas of West Bengal, who spoke of his ordeal post crossing the border.
We chatted over cups of tea and the mood slowly turned from a lighthearted discussion to a somber and painfully nostalgic recount of an era long forgotten yet very much fresh in the minds of its victim. After crossing the borders he lived in a rented house along with 5 other families in the Southern fringes of Kolkata which then looked much different from what it is now. He says that he felt an utter vacuum all of a sudden and at times even resolved to go back, however responsibilities of looking after his younger fellows and concern for everybody’s security held him back. As I listen to him intently, his story continues. Mr. Choudhary had gone to his village in Chittagong after some years in 1964 in the hope of getting back the lost affection and loving touch of his motherland. But what surprised him was equally sad and cruel. He met with an old friend (Muslim) there and at seeing him, the friend cried with fury, “tora akhono benche achish?” (So you people are still alive?)
Such was the state of chaos and violence that people were supposed to be dead when they were quite alive.
Right from suffering the incessant taunts of being called a “bangaal” which invariably meant to be a derisive comment- a mockery on their accent quiet different from the people of West Bengal to have bored down the fact that the same lawns where they would play, the abundance in terms of food from their own fields, the love and the azure blue sky was forever gone. This man said emphatically, “I have left taking milk after leaving my place”- a strong rejection emerging out of extreme pain.
Such severing of ties led to the formation of lot of organization by these East Bengalis – a way in a way in which their ruptured identities received some kind of assuage. As a result there was Dhaka Kalibari, the East Bengal club, etc. Mr. Choudhary himself is part of an organization called “Chattogram Parishad”. As I asked what exactly the members do in such parishads, he replied with a lot of warmth that they talk about their food, folk songs, culture, etc.
The harrowing times of partition speak volumes through Indian literature and cinema. In Bengali literature, partition is often seen in its metaphysical terms. The hurt is not in the body but in the soul. Madness is not a trope in Bangla stories and cinema, rather it is a nostalgia and a constant dazed search to know how and why and wherefore. The pain comes out effusively through cinema and other creative arts and bear witness to the feelings of bewilderment, loss and dislocation.
The grim savagery of that tumultuous period where men were killed in huge numbers in communal riots is brought out quiet nonchalantly by Hasan Azizul Haque in his Bengali book “Ekattor Korotole Chhinnomatha”. He writes, “It was not known to me that when human corpse is afloat in water, men’s bodies float facing the sky and women’s bodies float upside down”.
National award winning renowned director Ritwik Ghatak’s emotions and artistic self were more analytic than his reasons. They defied his piteous ideological repertoire to produce some of the finest psychological documentation of the Partition. His self-destruction through alcoholism, like that of Manto, could itself be read as a statement- as a trauma of partition violence and as interjections of the larger self destruction he had seen around him.
In Ghatak’s “Komol Gandhar” one can recollect the poignancy of the sequence where Bhrigu points out to Anushuya the other side of river Ichamati (river connecting west and east Bengal) saying, “that was our land, our home”. The anguish embedded in these lines speaks profusely about the state of thousand others like Ghatak.
The pain and agony at leaving someone’s homeland coupled with a deep sense of abandonment led to immense hatred, so much so that one would imagine killing even strangers they have never met. In one of Ghatak’s the short stories, ‘Sarak’ (the road) Israel who is supposed to leave his home (in India) for Pakistan when asked by a friend, “who would stay at your place now?” replies seething in anger, “who knows? Whoever he may be I will find no peace until I can tear him to pieces. He is my enemy now; the whole country is my enemy”.
A small yet strange episode in one of Ghatak’s lesser known films made for children, “Bari Theke Paliye” sums up the trauma of Partition as it haunted the creative minds who lived those times. Ghatak had extrapolated this episode into the original story by the famous children’s writer Shibram Chakraborty. It depicts the young hero’s encounter with a motherly, old, heavily myopic women wearing a plain dark bordered white sari who befriends a child in the streets of Calcutta and is mistaken for a child lifter and badly beaten up. While being beaten, she pathetically cries out that she was not trying to steal the child, that the young boy reminded her of someone else. No one listens. Her accent makes clear which part of Bengal she is from. Is she a refugee who has lost her own in the holocaust? Ghatak does not say. Nor does he in any of his writings later on explain why he had to introduce that scene in the midst of such a charming, innocent story of a young boy’s escapade in Calcutta.
–The author is a writer by profession and an avid movie buff. She loves to read on films extensively and occasionally rants and raves on movies that touches her deeply.