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Reena Nanda_From Quetta to Delhi

Reena Nanda_From Quetta to Delhi

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Reena Nanda_From Quetta to Delhi

Histories, geographies, gazetteers, census reports, oral interviews and Punjabi literature have all come together in your book. What was the experience like, incorporating so much of information in one piece of literature?

The original concept of my book was a social history of the West Punjabi Khatri community interwoven with my mother’s story. For this, I undertook intensive research – histories, gazetteers, census reports and oral histories. However, it was rejected by publishers as being too unwieldy and I was advised to concentrate on my mother’s story. I suppose that background research seeped into the text despite the editors!

Please give us a description of what Quetta was like back in the days.
I was only two and a half years at Partition so I have no recollection of Quetta. The descriptions in the book are through the eyes of my mother and her contemporaries as they viewed their beloved city. The Chapters 1,2 &3 build up the picture of Quetta.

Do you think that religious polarization is doing immense harm to our country?

Yes, of course, and it is the outcome of Partition. My mother’’s recollections clearly show that Hindus and Sikhs did not regard themselves as separate and visited both gurudwaras and temples. They lived amicably with Muslims each practicing their own religious rituals and giving respect to the other community’s religious sentiments. The two-nation theory destroyed this communal harmony because it’’s premise was that Muslims and Hindus/Sikhs cannot live together. This has fostered animosity between Muslims and Hindus, especially in Uttar Pradesh, because it was the Muslims of this state that demanded Pakistan which has not been forgotten by the Uttar Pradesh Hindus. Religious polarization began with the demand of Pakistan and it is harming India because 40 million Muslims were left behind in India in 1947, whereas Pakistan drove out all it’s Hindus and Sikhs except a minuscule few.

What were the repercussions of Partition that our textbooks do not do justice to?

It is important for textbooks to give the facts of the negotiations with the British over various Federation proposals which were unacceptable to Congress and Muslim League. The political leaders disagreed amongst themselves and had to accept Partition because the British had made it clear that they would not grant Independence from colonial rule without it. Indian textbooks mourn Partition as a loss but this awakens fears in Pakistani minds about India’’s intentions to undo it by war. India must accept that for Pakistanis it is the victorious realization of their dream of a Muslim homeland. It is another matter that all Indian Muslims could not, or did not choose to be part of it.

The repercussions of Partition were dividing people on religious lines and hardening their religious identities to the exclusion of commonalities of language and local customary cultural practices. That religion cannot bind people together is proved by the dismemberment of East Pakistan into Bangladesh. So it is important to stress that Muslims and Hindus belonging to various Indian regions have a common language and culture which is as important, if not more, than religion. The best way to do this is to prescribe literary works on the subject as compulsory reading in schools and colleges.

You mention in the book’’s foreword:– ““The best monument to Partition would be to spread narratives of friendships and bonds for future generations of Pakistanis and Indians.”” Do you think this is realistic considering the hate speech prevalent on almost all platforms?

I wrote this in 2015 and, in the ensuing three years, I am doubting my own optimism because of the exponential increase in hate speeches, apps and internet platforms. But we can counter hate by spreading the message of religious harmony through the same social media. There are many websites of Partition Archives devoted to oral history interviews of Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis that recount stories of friendship and love between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. These Archives should circulate extracts on Whats App, Twitter etc so that they enter common people’s discourse in local languages instead of English. We need an Indo-Pakistan friendship Society to actively engage in this.

Reviewers are hailing the book to be Amrita Pritam-ish. What is your response to that?

I don’t know who said this but, naturally, I am flattered. Of course, I don’t deserve it. Amrita Pritam’’s mastery over language, her use of metaphor and imagery is unparalleled. My book is not literary in that sense, it is just a simple story.

About the Interviewee:

Reena Nanda is the author of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya: A Biography, her latest book From Quetta to Delhi: A Partition Story that been published by Bloomsbury India.