When people ask me what part of India I am from, my answer is that I am stateless. My father was a refugee. We are Indians yes, but in the strangest way. Growing up I was curious about my own identity and I asked many questions from my father. His answers were peppered with both fond and fearful memories of Sindh, a land that we no longer call our own.
His stories, and the stories of other Sindhi men and women who were witness to post partition events inspired me to craft the following work of short fiction. It is the diary entry of a Sindhi boy just after the partition of India. If you’re not familiar, here’s some historical background on Sindhis :
1947 saw the end of the British Raj in India. It was a tumultuous year in Indian history and a by-product of the British departure was the division of the country and the formation of a new country. A line was drawn and Pakistan was born. Mass emigrations took place on both sides of the border with Hindus running out of Pakistan and Muslims escaping India. The province of Sindh was located in the new Pakistan but was home to millions of Hindus. Violence broke out between the Hindu Sindhis and the newly-arrived Muhajirs (immigrant Muslims that were chased out from India). Sindhis were known to be an entrepreneurial group and even though their population in the city of Karachi was under twenty five percent, their participation in trade and top jobs was well over sixty percent. They controlled much of the economy. When the Muhajirs came, they drove the Hindu Sindhis out of their homes and took over their businesses. My father was a Hindu Sindhi and his family was forced to leave behind land, gold and cash in Pakistan. He made the trip across the border with his family as a young boy. Many others chose to stay and fight and a number of them died.
The ones that moved out of Pakistan built lives in all parts of the world. One of them was my grandfather. My father was a young boy and he went to Hong Kong in search of his fortune.
Today I have family members in Spain and Singapore, Indonesia and India, America and Aruba. I have Sindhi friends in every corner of the world, including Las Vegas and London! It is an honor to be a Sindhi and part of me never wants to forget the struggle of our forefathers who left everything behind and rebuilt their fortunes wherever they went.
You did well Dad! You travelled the world and you gave me a life I am grateful for. This one’s for you Dad!
The worst has happened. I never thought it would come to this. Father says now we have no choice. The decision has been made for us. We have to run.
Tomorrow morning before the crack of dawn I will leave my home and never look back again. I will leave everything I know and love forever. This land on which I was born is no longer mine to claim. I am an alien, an intruder, a foreigner; even though I was born on this very soil and have drunk the milk of the cows that roam it. Even though a house with my family name stands here, solid and real, built with bricks and cement. Inside the house is MY bedroom, where there is a pillow on which I have rested my head for the sixteen years that I have been alive.
It started with the Muhajirs. They arrived first in the hundreds and then thousands, with bags on their backs and one sole purpose in their black hearts. They want to drive us out of out homes and they want to claim what is ours. They came from Bharatpur and Awar, and from the east of Punjab and from Delhi. They left India for much the same reason I am being made to leave this newborn nation called Pakistan. They just strode into our city, past the newly drawn borders and they demand that we hand over our homes, our shops, and our money to them. They are everywhere, outnumbering us and intimidating us. These strange looking peasants in their dirty clothes and their long beards are now a part of our everyday lives.
We live in fear. Father says it is better to die than live like this.
I agree. It is better to die. And so I have made a decision.
After he saw what happened to Uncle Tillo, father has become very afraid. But I am not afraid. I am angry.
Uncle Tillo had helped us when mother suddenly became sicker last month. It was late at night and Uncle Tillo was over at our house talking to father about what we must do next. Mother had already been admitted to hospital a few times and on every occasion her health had improved. That night she was home and it seemed she was better. But some time after midnight, when Uncle and father were discussing her condition in the living room, she started to scream and gasp for breath. It must have been well after midnight. Uncle ran to Doctor Munshi’s house and dragged him out of bed. When the doctor came, she was no longer gasping. Her breaths were shallow, few and far between. He couldn’t save her, it was too late. Her heart had already exploded.
Father was distraught and Uncle made all the funeral arrangements. He organized the priest and bought the wood for the pyre. He held our hands through the whole ordeal.
But who was to know that only a week later Uncle himself would be lying lifeless on a bed of firewood and father would be consoling his family? He never hurt anyone in his life. He didn’t deserve to die. He died for nothing except the greed of intruders who wanted what was not theirs.
They came just before dark. There were eight of them, all Muhajirs. They came armed with knives and batons. They took up positions all around Uncle’s house. Four in the back and two in the front. Then they waited. When night had fallen and everyone was asleep they sawed the padlocks and broke in, violently shaking Uncle awake. They didn’t hurt him at first. They didn’t touch the women either. They only demanded he leave. But Uncle resisted. Then they killed him.
I know they did something to the women. Because Uncle’s wife and daughters escaped and are staying with us now. None of them speak very much and there is a vacant look in their eyes, as though they have seen evil very closely. All four of them are to leave with us on the train to Bombay in the morning. Father had to bribe the authorities to arrange tickets for them at the last minute.
A few days ago, I asked father where in Bombay are we going to go, where will we stay. We don’t know anyone there. He replied that the government has set up camps for refugees.
Refugees. That is what we will become.
The knife is in front of me. It glistens under this light I am using to write. I don’t know how many I will be able to kill. They have occupied every corner of Uncle’s house. They have a home now, after making others homeless.
But I refuse to be homeless. If they can kill, so can I.
I may not be alive tomorrow when father leaves for the train station. Father will go looking for me when he sees I am not in my bed. He will search everywhere and then he will think I have run away. My only hope is that he leaves as planned. I want my sisters to be safe.
My best friend Ramesh knows what I am about to do. He tried to talk me out of it. He said it was no use, they are too many and now this is their land. His family is also leaving soon. They are waiting for arrangements to be made. I know he will attend to my last rites when he finds my body. He will give me a proper goodbye. He is one of us.
I don’t know if there really is a God even though we have an altar at home and mother used to insist I must stand in front of it daily to pray. I am not afraid of death because if there is a God then I have an answer for when I meet him tomorrow. He will ask me why I have sinned, why I have taken the life of another. And I will tell him then that he is an impotent God. And if possible, I will kill him too.
3 thoughts on “The Diary of a Refugee”
Beautifully written .. brought back my moms stories from the partition !!
Thank you ! So many people have stories of partition. I was thinking of compiling a non fiction book on just the stories of these people
Loved each one of your short stories !!
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