"There’s nothing for us here any more": An Excerpt from "Today's Pasts"

27 December 2015

Born in Rawalpindi in present day Pakistan in 1915, Bisham Sahni was an iconic Hindi writer, playwright and translator. He participated in the Quit India movement of 1942 for which he spent time in jail. Sahni's most famous novel Tamas, which won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1975, depicted the harrowing aftermath of the Partition. He received a number of awards, including the Padma Shri (1969), the Padma Bhushan (1998), and the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship in 2002.

In the following excerpt from his memoir, Today's Pasts, Sahni describes his abrupt departure from his ancestral home in Rawalpindi and the subsequent journey to Delhi in the wake of the Partition.

On 6 June 1947 the government announced that the state of Pakistan was going to be created. I was standing on the roof of my house in the morning when a man from the alley out front came running to the end of the street—that was Barrister Mahmud—and he spoke loudly, with wild gesticulations, and bouncing uncontrollably. "The decision has been made! There will be a Pakistan! The news is on the radio. Long live Pakistan. Celebrate, my fellow Muslims! Long live the Qaid-e-Azam. Live long."

This hurt me deeply. It was unexpected. Yesterday there was no news of this. How had this happened? The declaration had been made, but no one knew what would happen next, how would we enact in practice the details of that announcement? I remember Father and I were standing on the porch of the house when Trilok Singh and his brother emerged from the neighbouring alley and went down the street, pulling a cart. Household items, bundles, boxes, sacks of pots and utensils, and in addition to the two brothers, an elderly mother and father sitting on the cart. Trilok Singh’s wife and four-year-old child walked behind the cart.

This was the first family from our neighbourhood to leave the city. When Father asked Trilok Singh, he said, "There is nothing for us here any more, Babuji," exhausted. "People who left their villages after being beaten up and then came to the city cannot turn around and go back to the village. There’s nothing for us here any more," he said and returned to pulling the cart. The cart was headed in the direction of the railway station. Soon, scenes like this would be seen frequently. But at that moment, Father shook his head. "How could anyone make him understand? The times keep changing. If they are going one way today, they will go another way tomorrow. Do people abandon their homes just because the times have changed? Has that ever happened?"

Keywords: memoir Bhisham Sahni Partition