Partition Pangs: A Shared Grief, a Love That Transcends Borders

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), August 13, 2016 | Go to article overview

Partition Pangs: A Shared Grief, a Love That Transcends Borders


India, Aug. 12 -- "I heard this story from my aunt. When India was partitioned, my great-grandfather's family took in a lot of people to protect them because they had a large estate. But one day my great-grandfather called his two youngest daughters to him and said, ' I have a favour to ask of you. If the mob comes, if the mob overpowers us, I will shoot you. But promise me that you won't cry when I do so, for it will break my heart."

This was one of the stories singer-composer Sonam Kalra heard when she was a child. Growing up in a family which had its roots in the part of Punjab which is now in Pakistan, the Partition of 1947 had always meant more than just a chapter in a history book to her. This week she revisits the event that changed the lives of over 14 million people in a show titled Partition: Stories of Separation. She's often tried to imagine how desperate a father would have to be to tell his daughters that he would kill them rather than let anything untoward happen to them.

"My mother's family was from Rawalpindi and my father's from Sargoda," says Kalra. "Even though I did not have to live through the pain of Partition myself, I have always been moved to tears when talking about it with someone. In fact, the first time I crossed the border on foot, I wept. I've often wondered why I should feel so deeply about it - perhaps it lies embedded in the memory of my DNA." The germ of the show was born when, during a cricket match, she saw a man at the India-Pakistan border carrying a child on his shoulders. "The child held a banner on which were the words "Laali akhiyaan di dasdi hai, roye assi vi, roye tussi vi" "It means that the redness in our eyes shows that both of us have cried," explains Kalra.

Beginning with these two lines by the poet Ustad Daman, Kalra worked for more than a year to compile a body of work which includes music, installation art, real-life narratives of people who were displaced by Partition and more. "Many of the stories we have heard from our grandparents will be lost with the passing of the older generation and they need to be preserved, honoured and they need to serve as lessons for generations to come. My intention is not to open old wounds but to talk about what happened so we can reflect on what happened. Religion divided us. And that thought breaks my heart," says Kalra.

Using music and works of poets of that era, Ali Sardar Jafri, Ustad Daman, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Amrita Pritam, as well as personal accounts of people who suffered Partition, Kalra weaves together an account that not only revisits the grief but also hopes for a better future - a hope born of the love that she believes people shared before 1947 and that she feels has survived the distance across the borders. "It's been a labour of love, of a lot of hard work. …

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