Independence Day An Untold Story
Pravin Vaghani (Photo by Unusha Vaghani)
Post Independence Struggles
AN UNTOLD STORY
An old man, with a stick in his hand, walked slowly on the beach, looking at the sun approaching the western horizon, sprinkling shiny golden glitter on the gentle waves of the Arabian sea. The town was full of excitement with the celebration of the independence day. The flag raising at the dawn, the gun salute, the military parade, the procession of the school children, the dancing, the singing, the chanting through out the day; and now there will be a fireworks display after sunset in the central park.
He looked beyond the endless waves of the Arabian sea, gazing far far west, his mind recalling the memories and replaying the scenes of that fateful day of August 1947, when he woke up as a little boy in a flat in the great city of Karachi, now a part of Pakistan, where he was born. He looked outside the window at the blue sky. It was same as it was yestrday, and yet it looked different. Because today was a different day, a special day, a day of excitement and enjoyment ! Today was his birthday. There was his birthday gift lying by the side of his fathers desk, covered with an embroidered tablecloth. He knew what it was and his mind was full of joy with the thoughts of pleasure he was going to have when playing his own harmonium.
He had been hearing that India is now independent.. He had many times joined the marches and shouted slogans like ‘Quit India’, ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jay’, ‘Inqilab Zindabad’ etc. But he hadn’t as yet grasped the true meaning of all these and had no idea what effect it will have on the lives of his and his family. There was a talk in the family that they may have to leave Karachi and go to his garndfathers town in Gujarat.
There was some noise in the street. He rushed to the other window to see what was going on. He heard his father, who had gone out to get the newspaper, rushing into the house and shouting, ‘quick, shut all the windows’, as he himself closed the front door and bolted it from the inside. The shouting outside was getting louder and angrier. The doors were being banged on; there were sounds of things being thrown around, women screaming, children crying. A scream of woman started on a few floors above, passed his window and stopped on the ground with a big thumping noise. The cry of a child was cut off. He and his elder brother hugged their father. His sister and mother were sitting clutching each other and crying.
The storm outside died down. There was a quiet all around. Hesitatingly his father opened the front door, cautiously looked around and went outsie. He was back in a minute, almost vomiting and grasping his hand around his throat. ‘It’s horrible’ he said. They sat there for some time in front of the Lord Krishna reciting Gayatri Mantra. Nobody thought of food. They did'nt know what to do. A little later there was a soft knock on the door. A voice softly called his father. It was his uncle.
‘You have to leave this place and come with me’ he said, with some urgency in his voice. ‘I have managed to get five tickets. Three I got after standing in the queue for four hours and two from the black market. Only women and children are allowed on this cargo ship to Okha bander. Each passenger is allowed to carry only one cotton bag worth of personal requisites’.
Besides a pair of clothes, a towel and couple of toys, there was'nt much he could fit in that small cotton bag which he was obliged to carry himself. He glanced at his birthday gift which remained untouched today and which he will never see again. They left the flat, there was no point even in closing the door ! As they walked out, they heard the shouts of a mob entering the other end of the street. His uncle urged them to run. Almost running all the way they arrived at the jetty. There were thousands of people pushing, shouting and hugging each other. Cries of women and children can be heard from everywhere.
Suddenly they heard the cries of a man. He was shouting loudly. Some pickpocket had cut his pocket and taken away wallet containing money and the ticket for his wife. How his wife is going to board this steamer and reach the safety of the Indian soil. His uncle went to that man and gave him one of the tickets he had. The man bowed his uncle, slept on the ground and touched his feet. ‘You must be the greatest Farista I ever met”, he said crying and thanking him repeatedly. His uncle picked up the man with his two hands, embraced him and said, “No need to thank me. I am only doing dutifully what one human should do the other.”
They pushed their way towards the steamer. His mother, brother, sister and himself, boarded the steamer. They bid farewell to his father and uncle; all eyes were full of tears. Almost everybody on the steamer was crying for having left some loved one behind. Next day he was in refugee camp, helping to pill the potatoes and onions.
Two weeks later his uncle arrived. When asked about his father, he said there was a mob attack on the building where all of them had gathered for safety. Many were killed, many injured, and everybody ran for ones life. They were separated. He looked everywhere but couldn’t find him. Finally he was forced to leave Karachi on the last steamer voyage.
They waited for a month in Okha, but his father did not come. He kept on asking about his aunt of whom he was very fond but was always told that she will come one day. Later he learned that when his uncle and other friend had gone out to get some ration, a group of nasties had descended upon that multi-story apartment building and started looting, rapping women and beating up the people. To save their honour, his aunt and many other women, had jumped off the balconies of the fourth floor.
With the help of ‘Mahila Samaj’ his mother bought a sewing machine and continued the struggle of life to raise and educate the three children. She worked very hard to see them well settled in life. But the hard work ultimately took the toll and she did not live long enough to enjoy the prosperity of her sons.
For past so many years, when the country was celebrating the independence day, he wondered whether for the likes of him, this was the day to rejoice or to cry!