Part Two of ‘At the Time of Partition’
To place myself in my grandmother’s shoes,
her chappals paired in the bedroom cool,
the mahogany dark,
lying on the prayer mat, facing Mecca,
awaiting her smaller, browner feet –
to plant my feet there,
or here, in a line of words
securely on the page.
To move house is one thing.
To leave your country another.
But to leave it because it
no longer wishes
to attach itself to you,
doesn’t at all desire
to be the ground under your feet,
to feel compelled to leave it
for one which you had always known
to be a corner of your own,
but has become swiftly and deliriously
and which beckons
as if it had a hand to beckon with,
and which calls you,
as if a country had a single voice.
Amma they demand,
her clamouring children.
Amma, must we go?
Can I take my cricket bat to Pakistan?
Will we go to school?
Only Athar had no questions.
My grandfather, himself a doctor,
had travelled far and wide,
taken him to the best physicians,
but none could cure his son.
The cards had been dealt
by a firm, if not a sure hand.
Ludhiana to India. West Punjab to Pakistan.
West Bengal to Pakistan.
Amritsar to India. Srinagar to India.
Lahore to Pakistan.
The Empire held fast like a sheet –
and shook out.
Doubt was an awkward thing –
there was no room for doubt.
At the margin of the great convulsion
her small household convulsed.
Pakistan was what it amounted to
In the salting of lassi
in the knuckledents in dough
In the pleating of a sari
in the sweeping of the doorway
Between the question and its answer
Rumours flew on the wind –
Nails of steel on the wind –
Honour was the jewel,
not mother, sister.
Bonfires were lit
and the women burned.
They asked me to do this,
but I ran away.
I couldn’t set fire to my sister.
Ninety women jumped into a well.
There wasn’t enough water
to drown them all.
The wisdom was to go.
hopeful thing –
her neighbourhood was emptying –
large families had stolen away.
Which way to face?
She wrote to her son in England:
I pray for our safety at this time.
We will go by bus to Lahore.