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As the country waves flags and celebrates the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, it is also time to take stock. What did India’s founders and citizens dream of, how has India fared, what have been our challenges and successes?
The Wire’s reporters and contributors bring stories of the period, of the traumas but also the hopes of Indians, as seen in personal accounts, in culture, in the economy and in the sciences. How did the modern state of India come about, what does the flag represent? How did literature and cinema tackle the trauma of Partition?
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New Delhi: On November 27, 2021, Farazullah in Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj received an image on WhatsApp. It was an obituary of Muhammed Wasi, his uncle. Wasi had passed away in his sleep in Karachi, Pakistan.
“Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Rajioon,” Farazullah wrote back to Naveed, Wasi’s youngest son and the sender of the WhatsApp image.
Prayagraj – then Allahabad – was Wasi’s hometown. Seventy five years ago, he left the city as a three-year-old, for Pakistan.
Allahabad in Karachi
Wasi and members of his family first arrived in Bombay after leaving Allahabad. The year was 1947. The family then sailed to Karachi’s Keamari Port, almost 900 kilometres away.
The family had very little other than the clothes on their back and little money which would tide them through for the next few days. At the port, however, they were presented with the opportunity of occupying a house deserted by a Hindu family.
The family recalls that many Muslim migrants who left India initially resided in houses previously belonging to Hindus.
In the new country, the people they made the boat journey with – mostly from different parts of Allahabad – stuck together. For generations, this connection remained and in 2004 the community formed the Brotheran-e-Allahabad Welfare Society or BAWS, in Karachi.
The digital obituary Farazullah received was created by BAWS to remember Wasi, who was one of the founding members of the society.
Established to keep Allahabad alive in Karachi, and in the hearts of those who were forced to leave their home in the wake of the largest exodus mankind has known, BAWS has the stated motto of preserving the very kinship which is punctuated by politics.
Its members are spread across the globe.
BAWS connects with its members through meetings, lunches, society elections and has social media presence as well. The society not only works as a network of families from Allahabad, but also raises funds to help economically weak families within the community. It claims to have at least 5,500 members in Pakistan, mostly of Muhajirs or Urdu-speaking Muslims who migrated mainly from North India.
“They were forced to leave their land to stay alive, but with this society, Allahabad lives within them,” says Wasi’s widow, Shaheen, 65.
She fondly remembers the India of Wasi’s childhood – through his stories. Wasi’s eyes glistened with tears whenever he mentioned Allahabad, she says. Shaheen too is originally from Pratapgarh in Allahabad.
At a time of minimal dialogue and exchange between the two countries, Shaheen says, BAWS functions as an “Allahabad in Karachi.”
Partition of people
Kaiser Begum, Farazullah’s mother and Wasi’s paternal cousin, was born five years after the Partition.
Now 70, Kaiser remembers growing up with a different vocabulary. “Batwara, vibhajan, dangay, azaadi, inteqaal, bus kuch saalon tak yahi words sunntay thay, jaisay Hindustan ki buniyaad ho inn sab words mein,” she says.
‘Partition, division, riots, freedom, death, for a few years we only heard these words, as if Hindustan was built on them.’
Kaiser visited Karachi in 1984, she says. But visiting her cousins grew more difficult with time.
Then came the news of this death. “It brought me tears. I knew I couldn’t go. I couldn’t see him even for the last time,” she says.
Kaiser’s father, who was a contractor in the road construction business in the 1940s, made the decision to stay back in India. She recalls her father’s stories of how, within a matter of months, the religious divide in her neighbourhood became clear for all to see. “My father used to say that time stopped when you looked at those deserted homes with their dusty photo frames and kitchens with empty vessels. It was as if someone had looted their own home,” Kaiser says.
For Wasi’s son Naveed, in Pakistan, the Partition has its own scars.
“People want to talk on either side of the border. Pakistani and Indian blood is the same, it was always the politics that divided us, and continues to keep us away,” he says.
Naveed feels that Partition has taught people on both the sides to normalise hating each other. Having seen his father long for Allahabad all his life, Naveed feels that BAWS as a community made him feel slightly at home.
“Allahabad was the home he was born in and the home he wished to die in,” Naveed says.
For Wasi’s family, especially after his passing, the urge to sustain contact with the Allahabadi community has increased. “It’s the legacy of our father, his roots and his origins. We will hold on to it,” says Naveed.
Advocate Nafees Siddiqui, former president and founding member of the society says the town haunts him still.
“We left behind the city which made our parents who they were, so we decided to connect the community here,” Siddiqui told The Wire. “I was four when I had to leave my home, for years my Allahabad home would haunt me in dreams, I can never live those days, those moments in my home again. I cannot even call it home now,” adds Siddiqui.
In October 2018, after the Uttar Pradesh cabinet passed a resolution, Allahabad was named Prayagraj under chief minister Adityanath.
For Shaheen, the move is inscrutable. “Will memories of Allahabad fade from our community? Will renaming wipe away the nooks and lanes in which our parents grew up?” she asks.