Gurinder Chadha’s new movie, The Viceroy House, is about the India and Pakistan partition – I haven’t watched it, nor do I intend to.
Why? Frankly, I am not interested in another narrative about the “Partition.” What is far more important and pressing are the repercussions of that history’s events that still affect people like me today. Repercussions of hate and hostilities between two countries that manage to transcend geographical boundaries and worm their way into the hearts of people.
My great grandparents and grandparents were born in India- prior to that we believe we have Persian ancestry and beyond that who even cares? My mother and father are the only people in our entire family lineage who were born in modern-day Pakistan, though both left as teenagers to come to the United Kingdom. I am Scottish born and bred and currently live in London; yet I am asked to categorize myself solely as Pakistani.
Growing up, I was taught to hate India.
I’m ashamed to admit this— not for my own sake but for the sake of those who were teaching a child hate in any form. This hate permeated from my family, both immediate and extended. They referred to the India and Pakistan partition as their main reasoning for this hate, glorifying the Pakistani leaders while vilifying the British and Indians.
Growing up, I was taught to hate India.
The very tiny voice of truth and reason was my mother’s, who was by no means pro-India and not even too far from the stance of disliking Indians. But she provided me with relativity and facts that the other hate-filled messages lacked in their narratives.
She informed me factually about the partition; she put no halos on anyone’s heads. She would read to me and my siblings about Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lord Mountbatten, Gandhi, Alama Iqbal and so many more. She was the vessel through which I formed my own opinions about the partition at a very young age.
I would also talk to my grandmother who had lived through the partition about her life in India before it. She recalled a happy time where she lived alongside Hindus and Sikhs. I would ask her if she hated the people she lived together with and she would laugh and say, “Of course not, they were my friends!” I would follow up with, “But you hate India and Indians now, right?” Her reply, “Yes, I hate India and all Indians are bad. You need to stay away from Indians.”
My grandmother was 19 years old during the partition and lost an older brother to it—he was shot dead. I constantly pried for more information but to no avail. She wouldn’t talk about it and was never willing disclose any further details. So there I was, left with an image in my mind that my grandmother’s brother was shot dead and it was the Indians that had killed him. I still don’t know any more than this because unfortunately my grandmother now has dementia.
Despite being a devout and highly practicing Muslim, all my grandmother’s cultural beliefs were related to India and Indians. She was obsessed with Bollywood, watched all the Indian TV channels, and had a vast knowledge of the Hindu and Sikh religions. Bizarrely, she unfailingly recorded and watched Mahabharata, which was the televised stories, or Ram in the Ramayana every Sunday morning for several years.
This woman, the very same woman who was at the forefront of teaching me to hate India and Indians, in fact couldn’t be anymore Indian. Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t separate India from her personality, couldn’t erase it from the fiber of her being.
It’s common knowledge that Pakistan and India still don’t get along; this disdain is well-documented and has its roots in colonial British India and potentially even centuries before then.
This woman, the very same woman who was at the forefront of teaching me to hate India and Indians, in fact couldn’t be anymore Indian
The Muslim Mughals invaded a Hindu Bharat and ruled it for centuries. This perhaps never left the minds of the Hindus when they were back in power. Things might have progressed forward were it not for the British manipulation to reap benefit and power. The British Raj was resented by Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims alike, yet instead of this being the glue that might have bonded them, it further divided the groups.
The partition displaced between 10 and 12 million people solely on the basis of religion and caused large-scale violence; estimates of death vary between several hundred thousand and millions. The circumstances of the partition created an atmosphere of hostility between India and Pakistan that still curses both countries today.
Every decade or so, India and Pakistan find some new reasons to hate each other a lot more. Their hatred peaked during the partition and since then, they have both steadily maintained an unhealthy abhorrence. I’ve visited Pakistan countless times and I love it, yet I love India too, despite having never been there (due to visa issues). I feel it’s part of me. I imagine it to be very similar to Pakistan; two parts of a previously whole piece.
I am Muslim, British, and South Asian, in that order. If anyone ever cares to ask, I know and sing the Indian national anthem just as vehemently as I do the Pakistani national anthem. Much to my brothers’ dismay, I support the Indian cricket team (often just to annoy them), which is blasphemy where I come from. The truth is, I identify as Indian and Pakistani equally; both of which are very peripheral identities and not at the forefront of who I feel I am but are part of me nonetheless.
India is part of me just as much, if not more, than Pakistan. I have far more historical ancestry in India. I relate to its culture and language, food, and religions just as much as I do with Pakistan. If I want to identify as both Indian and Pakistani, I have every right to. Why would I deny that part of me? Why should I hate any part of me? Why am I not allowed to love the Indian part of me just as much as the Pakistani or Scottish, or any other? Why do I have to choose a side?
If I draw a line down my face and ask one side not to talk to the other, it still still just be one whole face.