My mother met her first Pakistani when she moved to Minneapolis with my father. She had lived her entire life within a few hours of the Pakistan border, and had never so much as laid eyes on a Pakistani national before. And in freezing cold Minnesota, half a world away from home, she found herself living next door to a bona fide Pakistani Muslim, someone from the city of Lahore, close to her ancestral village that she had never had the chance to visit.
And to her surprise, she found that she had almost everything in common with this Pakistani, save their religion. They could speak to each other in both Punjabi and Hindi, and they bonded over a mutual love of Urdu poetry. Urdu, at one point, had been the language of the aristocracy in Northern India, and my mother’s father had spoken and read it fluently, a skill that he acquired so that he could further appreciate the literature of his land.
But it was more than just language that my mother and her new Pakistani friend shared in common — it was.. everything. They listened to the same music; Bollywood hits, classical Hindustani, Sufi Qawaalis. They ate the exact same food. They shared the same humor, the same mannerisms, the same memories.
Eventually, my mother realized that she had much more in common with this Pakistani than she had with her own husband; a Tamillian, a Southerner. She realized that she and my father shared a culture in name only, that even their Hinduisms looked nothing alike, separated as they were by regional customs, that they barely spoke the same language.
Yet the Pakistani is the one whom my mother’s country had fought two wars against in her lifetime; the Pakistani is the one who supposedly is her enemy.
Partition was folly; Partition was genocide. It was a division dreamed up in the Delhi bungalows of rich men and the white colonizers, a ravaging of our homeland that we have not recovered from, that we will never recover from. Because we didn’t just lose lives in the violence — we lost our culture. We were one people, Hindu and Muslim and Sikh. For centuries, we lived as neighbors, tolerant of each other, celebrating each others’ traditions, respecting each others’ spaces, adopting each others’ customs.
The survivors of Partition are in their eighties, we lose more of this generation with each passing year. The memories of those who died in the violence are fading, lost with our elders, and soon, we will know them only in legend. As our grandparents leave us, so too die the last memories of what a united India looked like, what it felt like to be one people, undivided by arbitrary religious distinction. Before we systematically excised Islam from our historical narratives; before Pakistan took on the project of losing its lingering Indian-ness, further allying itself with their Middle Eastern co-religionists.
The age when Hindus yearned to read Urdu poetry has passed.
August is a month to be mourned.