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Musings of a Copywriter

Lessons from Partition

Devraj Singh Kalsi explores how Partition impacts not only countries but families in the modern day India

Division seems to have gained a legitimacy and emerged as a solution to all the deep-rooted problems within families after the horrific Partition in 1947. It created a new reality where peace would prevail and relationships turn cordial through the process of separations, ignoring the fact that peace found on the ruins of severance could only be short-lived. Brothers and cousins living together for years suddenly turned aggressive for their share of land, with scuffles and war of words worsening the situation and indicating that permanent peace is not achievable through unity anymore.   

The gradual disintegration of our family, both on the paternal and maternal side from time to time, was performed by the hyped and glorified idea of undergoing the pangs of separation. Partition was carried forward as a legacy of collective strength to survive the worst and shape the best. What the country, particularly in Punjab and Bengal, went through in 1947 has been repeated in so many families over the decades since then. The idea of batwara (separation) was seen as the ideal way to end conflict and restore normalcy. The preparedness to lose a lot to achieve that was palpable.

Brothers lived together in a plot of land but loved the idea of raising a wall between them as a sign of demarcation even though the property remained undivided legally. They lived together but maintained separate kitchens. The flavours of what was cooking in one brother’s home permeated through the walls. If there are special delicacies cooked on certain occasions, the rival brother planned a similar treat for his family. If one brother brought home a bike, the other one drove ahead with a car.

Such rivalries in joint families are common and seen as the way forward to a solution in the long-term. The entire community gets to know the brothers are undergoing strained ties and their justification of who is right and who is wrong becomes contentious. One brother garners local support and emerges stronger with numbers while the other one turns either quiet or vindictive to launch a vilification drive.

Insecurities reach the bone marrow of relationships. When the brothers realise that they cannot continue living separated by walls only endlessly, they decide to seek the interference of the elderly in the family or approach the courts. When mediation for the split begins, it takes the shape of a fight for justice. This conflict finally deprives them of their land holding as the outright sale is seen the panacea to all grievances and problems. They part ways amicably with their share and move out in search of a new beginning, waging the same old battles once again in some other place. 

When brothers live with a wall of partition separating them or with two different entry gates on opposite sides, their wives and children grow up in a disturbed environment and perceive those on the other side as their biggest enemies. They are like quarrelsome neighbours next door, and they frequently fight over petty issues like blocked drainage and kitchen smoke. The unpredictability of such tiffs creates an atmosphere of constant fear and tension.

The married-off sisters face a bigger problem when they visit their father’s home. They cannot decide where to live. If the elder brother is preferred, the younger one feels ignored and hurt. Sisters have to decide to have lunch in one house and dinner in the other just to strike a balance. Such bitterness affects sisters who gradually reduce their trips as they cannot stomach the outcome of their educated brothers’ quarrel. Other relatives also think twice about visiting a family with such rifts and infighting. 

During occasions like weddings within the family, they have to break the narrow domestic walls and put up a façade of unity. Peace gets restored for some weeks. They eat together, drink together, and dance together, click photographs for a buffer stock of pleasant memories, sit beside each other, converse together, laugh together, and embrace each other like long lost brothers. All their relatives relish such rare glimpses of brotherhood and bless their relationship more than blessing the newlywed couple. Tears of joy overflow, with prayers for permanence of bonhomie on their lips.  

Unfortunately, such fraternity peters out within a month and the old normal of rivalry is restored. The families interacting for some days resume their separation and silence. When relatives call up to seek updates, they find the same old tensions. If one brother has a telephone landline connection, he is hesitant to call the other one and gives lame excuses. This coldness makes it clear that the brothers are not going to unite. Their mutual bitterness indicates that separation alone has the power to establish long-lasting peace.    

Bickering brothers rejoice when the courts give the verdict and the shameful episode of separation is celebrated on both sides, with thanksgiving prayers to the Lord for this blessing that is actually the precursor of their downfall. 

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


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