Independence Day in India and Pakistan is a strange moment. Celebrating the end of racist imperialism comes along with the underplayed horrors of a Holocaust, of mass murders, carnage and debasement of humanity. As a Pakistani, one is even more compelled to overlook them for the 1947 moment was a moment of double liberation: from the British and the feared supremacy of a Hindu’ nation. Nationalisms and politicalcommunal rhetoric have undermined the imperative of acknowledging the brutality that we as a people unleashed on each other, passed on the blame and then brushed it under the carpet.
The great Hindi writer Krishna Sobti was studying in Lahore in 1947. She had come to Delhi to celebrate her birthday. And what a strange birthday it must have been that Sobti would no longer be a resident of Lahore. In her writings, she has mentioned the evening of August 15 when Sobti and her brother were celebrating the arrival of the Independence moment. Her brother had arranged an exhibition with photographs and speeches of the freedom fighters.
The house was also full of visitors from what was now Pakistan. Migrants in search of a new life. Traumatised at perhaps the greatest juncture of modern India. When the young Sobti and her brother called everyone to congregate in the verandah of the house to mark the August 15 festivities, the visitors were hesitant to participate. Some did not accept sweetmeats distributed.
I discovered Sobti and many other writers while researching for my book Delhi by Heart that was released in August exactly four years ago. Visiting India as a Pakistani, finding that there was a shared vista of memory and culture but a brutal present prompted me to write that book. What I perhaps could not cover was that the pre-1947 memories were also dwindling as the generation that witnessed the upheavals and had the experience of a shared past was fading into oblivion. Very soon, the rancor we hear on media and read on the digital spaces will be the truth. The new history tailored to imperatives of religious nationalism.
For decades, Pakistan in the mainstream discourse shaped by the intelligentsia and Congress looked at Pakistan as a historical aberration. An unnatural country carved out of Nehru’s idyllic of a thousands of years old civilisation. The creation of Bangladesh and the gloating by Indira Gandhi was seen as a confirmation of this bias. But this view has been punctured now. If one follows the political narratives-thankfully by a vocal minority -then Muslims as a whole were and are an aberration in a Hindu nation called India.
Seven decades later, this has given a new impetus to the cause and raison d’ etre for Partition in Pakistan. The idea of a Hindu nation is a mirror image of the Muslim nation and a retrospective validation of the two-nation theory which Indira Gandhi gleefully claimed was dead in 1971. Pakistan’s internal polarisation between the ‘hate-India-at-alltimes’ and Make-peace-with-India-forour-own-future’ gets deeper and messier with these developments.
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