My parents lived in India at this time and actually, being British, were forced to leave.
“I am so scared.” Priya huddled closer to her mother, unable to hold back the tears. Her father had pulled the truck off the crowded road as evening fell. He drove slowly into a grove of banyan tree in hopes of remaining undetected for the night.
It has been a long and treacherous journey. Fifteen year old Priya, the eldest of the five children and the only girl, tried to be brave. Her mind was tormented with the picture of the train they encountered the day before. It carried some of the Hindu refugees from the newly formed country of Pakistan, into what remained of India. The train full of her fellow countrymen had been attacked by a roving band of Muslims and many, too many to count, lay dead amongst the injured and dying. The horrific sight left Priya paralyzed with fear.
The family curled up together in the back of the truck for the night. Two of Priya’s uncles travelled with them. They were as yet unmarried and joined the family to help protect them on the long trek.
It was a very dark night. It was uncomfortable and very hot. Priya tried to sleep but was unable to quiet her mind. She whispered to her mother, “Why is this happening? I don’t understand.” Her mother was lost for words to comfort her daughter.
“I know” she agreed. ”This journey is not what we had planned. Our life was so much better before Independence, before they decided to split our country in two.”
Priya cried into her mother’s shoulders. “I miss living with the Tilley’s; they would make sure we were safe.”
Her mother held Priya close. The whole family regretted having to move from the home they had in Rawalpindi. They lived in the servant’s cottage behind the big house, it was small, but they managed. The children were able to go to school. Both parents worked for the same family. She helped with the children and her husband looked after the house. All of that was gone now. The British have all gone back to England leaving them without a home and without work. All of the Hindu’s were moving to India because Pakistan was now a Muslim country. The news of Mahatma Ghandi’s assassination reached them a few days before. How horrible that such a great and peace-loving man should be killed so violently. He was shot by a Hindu fanatic. The Hindu religion has tolerance as its cornerstone and it is the wish of many, including Ghandi, that all Indian people could live side by side, without trying to change the others beliefs or lifestyle.
”Why don’t we think about a happy time?” her mother suggested. She wanted to think about good things as a distraction from the nightmare they were living. Priya thought about the festival of Diwali. It a time of celebration, but this year was different. It felt like the world she knew was forever changed. She pictured the great meal they shared as they worshipped Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. She remembered filling the diya with oil and placing each one carefully in the windows and along the path outside the small house.
Her father and two uncles took turns watching through the night as the family slept. Priya slept fitfully waking many times with nightmares. It was a difficult night for all of them but they remained undetected and safe. The sun rose with a spectacular display of fire in the east signalling the family it was time to rouse. Breakfast consisted of chapattis and dahl. They shared a few mangos they were able to find. After their meal, Priya and her brothers, climbed into the back of the truck. Her uncle’s also rode in the back, keeping watch while her father drove. They were so fortunate that the British family had left them with this truck and enough money to make the journey to Delhi.
Priya looked at her sari, now dirty and torn. Her mother asked her not to change. She said that when they arrived in Delhi, they would be able to bathe and put on fresh clothing. Priya could not wait. She was hungry. There was very little food and she let her brothers have part of her share. They were so young and she loved them dearly.
As they bounced along the road, Priya thought about her friends, now separated in this mass exodus. She wondered if she would ever see any of them again. Tears welled up in her eyes as she remembered her school and the fun they had. As she wiped the tears from her eyes she was startled by the sound of a gunshot. Her father picked up speed and they were all told to lay down. Priya grabbed the youngest of her brothers and held him close as she lay beside Aaryan, the ten year old. More gunfire and the sounds of shouting and crying filled the air. Priya trembled in fear.
“Please don’t let us die” she whispered softly, hoping that one of her gods would hear her. She knew about the God of the British. The British family told her about how He would save her. Crying out in desperation, she pleaded with Him now, bargained with Him. The world grew silent around her. All she could hear was the sound of the truck. Lifting her head, she asked her uncle what was going on. “It looks as if we are safe for now.” He replied as he sat down on the side of the truck. “We will keep watch, you stay down.”
Priya could see the long line of people trudging along the side of the road. Some had animals to help them carry the load. Many had carts overflowing with their possessions. Others carried baskets and pushed wheelbarrows. Their faces all told the same story. It was the story of fear. It was the story of weariness and hopelessness.. The band of roving bandits that they had encountered was Hindu this time. The people that lay dead on the road were Muslim. This bothered Priya. She thought about her Muslim friends. Why not just let everyone move in peace. It was hard enough to leave everything she knew, but seeing so much death along the way was horrifying. It was more than she could bear. She held her brother closer, much to his dismay.
The journey for Priya’s family ended a few days later. They arrived in Delhi late in the afternoon. They found a place to camp for the night in an area designated for the refugees who had fled from their homes.
The partition of the country into the Hindu country of India and the Muslim Pakistan cost over a million lives. A conservative estimate counts over twelve million homeless after the partition. Over seven million Hindus had to leave Pakistan and an equal number of Muslims were forced to leave everything behind and head for a new life in Pakistan. The Partition was a highly controversial arrangement, and remains a cause of much tension on the subcontinent today.