Author: Hadi Ameer
The road to India is an inconspicuous one, at first. There are khokhas, regular fruit vendors, and the odd bank offices. The sun seems resilient on a warm Lahori afternoon, set against the backdrop of the GT Road’s semi-urban landscape. You drive on. The road gets a little bumpier. Vehicles are replaced by carts, engines by donkeys and mules, brick and mortar by green expansiveness, cacophony by quiet. The urban morphs into the rural.
You finally arrive at a military check-post, park your car and start walking. A stadium-like edifice welcomes you. A loudspeaker crackles, followed by a collective roar from the audience. The road goes through the stadium, ending at a gate. India’s on the other side. There’s something enthralling about the volumes and the sheer scale of the enterprise. These aren’t trained professionals screaming “Pakistan Zindabad” at the top of their voices. They’re just normal people, clamouring to be louder than the other side.
A similar scene is to be witnessed across the gate. This is the Wagah-Attari parade, a flag-lowering ceremony performed by collaboration between the Pakistan Rangers and the Border Security Forces (BSF).
Pakistan was forged in the traumatic crucible of partition. Partition left us with a convulsion of sentiment; an unseemly concoction of anguish and jubilation. Some rejoiced at the making of the new nation, others were left to tend to their scars. The ceremony at Wahga is a regular reminder of partition: that Pakistan and India are two separate nations that came about from an active re-ordering of geopolitics. But the seventy years between now and partition have impacted the way we understand its legacy. The roaring voices are new. But they have been there for some time. It is easy to forget that they were not always there. The older ones were far less buoyant: the chugging sound of a corpse-filled train coming to halt at the Lahore Railway station, the steady tap tap of feet, both naked and covered as they moved across the designated Radcliffe Line, even the crackle of fire that echoed from where Muslims had danced at Hindu weddings and vice versa; from what had once been friendly neighborhoods.
Standing amidst the frenzy, a scene from Manto’s Toba Tek Singh comes to mind. The inhabitants of the asylum were conflicted. They did not know where to go or what to do. The participants of the ceremony are not. They know who they are. They think they know who they are not. The conviction is unwavering.
Bishan Singh stands at the gate. Manto stands with him. Faiz is there too. They look to their left and to their right, to India and then to Pakistan, negotiating a splintered identity in a no man’s land. In a world where identity is derivative of the nation, these are no-men: inhabitants of the no man’s land, inhabited by a split-self, appalled by a tainted freedom (ye shab-gazida sahar), despondent for what couldn’t be achieved.
In these moments of crisis, it is to these individuals that we can turn to. They challenge the unwavering conviction that the ceremony’s slogans exude and thus question our understanding of the past. Time’s concoction of deliberate forgetfulness and calculated emphasis has structured how we remembered the events that elapsed seventy years ago. Amidst the frenzy of nationalist sentiment, some voices speak to us. They remind us that the silence of partition’s traumas is anything but comfortable.
Much like the thunderous clamour at the Bab-e-Azadi, this silence too is deafening. With both, there is a story to be told.
Another day of green festivity is upon us. There will be sombre military parades and flashy news bulletins. In a few days, green flags will be hoisted on rooftops, draped over the bonnets of cars, found in the hands of jovial children, their cheeks painted green in the color of the nation, their eyes full of promise. In all these moments of elation, partition seems not a welcome guest at the table of independence. It appears as an oddity, a forlorn anomaly hesitant to enter the conversation. More alarmingly so, we are afraid to let it in. Why ruin the mood? Why soil a festive day with grim, dreary tales of depravity?
In the seven decades that have elapsed since, plenty has transpired. The vacuum of silence, left behind by separation, longing and firaaq has been filled in by the clamorous call to arms and dissociation from what was once ours. Traumas have been left unresolved, identities unfound, and madness unquestioned. Partition’s legacy comprises both new possibilities and its grief-stricken beginnings. Let us not forget that.
Featured photo credit: Partition Museum