Independence at a Cost

Maanya GadekarAugust 15, 2023CourageFiction

Artwork by Dominik Miñano, age 15

We all cried tears of happiness that day. The day when Maa would tell us that we were finally free.

Even though I was a mere fifteen years old, I knew that what we had achieved was no small thing. 15th August 1947. That date will forever remain ingrained in our minds. It was a day of great celebration for all who called themselves Indians. But it was also the day being called an Indian took on a different meaning.

It was dark when the riots began. Maa and Papa were sitting outside while me and Krishna lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. He was four years old, too young to understand what was happening. And in a way I was glad he wasn’t old enough to fully witness everything we had gone through. We lay in our musty old bedroom, our wooden beds creaking every time one of us moved.

I remember how scared Krishna looked when the screaming started. We could hear gunshots outside, and too scared to move, we lay there frozen till our parents came and got us. It all happened so fast. Papa picked up Krishna, while Maa grabbed my hand and pulled me along. I was blinded by fear, and not knowing where I was going, I ran after my parents.

I cannot recall how long we ran, gradually becoming a walk until we reached a place that seemed like the middle of nowhere. There were lots of people gathered, sharing water, food and providing medical help where needed. As I pretended to sleep in the crowded room, I heard my parents talking. Papa was explaining to Maa about how they were going to proceed further while she stayed silent. But I could have sworn I heard her sniffling a few times.

We had been living in Karachi my entire life, and until this morning, the thought of ever having to leave had never crossed my mind. But there we were. In a crowded room surrounded by strangers, all of whom only longed to find sanctuary and keep their loved ones safe. I heard Papa telling Maa that we would have to move south-east. He kept mentioning something about a partition. I could sense the tension in the room, and I could hear the fear in Papa’s voice.

He told me since the time I was five years old, “If the family is together, the soul is in the right place.” He told me that as long as we stayed together, he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to us, which is why when Papa left the next day, I was terrified. It was in the early hours of morning when the strangers with the guns came. It all happened so quickly but I remember noticing the men wearing Kufis, the same white caps my friend Abdul and his father would wear.

The men were yelling orders, and when we didn’t comply, they started firing. I remember Papa’s face: scared, but determined. He pushed me, Krishna, and Maa to safety and yelled some instructions to Maa. He said something about trains, and that he would see us soon. We were all sobbing by this time, terrified at the thought of being separated from Papa. But Maa knew it was the right thing to do to keep us safe. We ran, until the gunshots sounded faint, my vision was blurry through the tears in my eyes. The three of us, along with the few other women and children who escaped managed to reach an overcrowded train station.I saw people lying unconscious, some part in me still hoping they were just sleeping.

By now I could tell that the partition everyone was talking about meant the separation of people like me from Abdul’s people. And as Maa would say: Hindus and Muslims. I could see everyone separated, each group attacking the other, but the fear in everyone’s eyes was universal. I realized they all had been suddenly displaced, forced to leave their homes behind, just like me. I was a child then, and I didn’t understand why people were behaving this way, but I realized that this meant that I may never see Abdul again. We grew up together, and he was like a brother to me and the thought of never seeing him again left me heartbroken.

We were pushed onto a train carriage by the massive crowd of people fleeing Karachi. They all looked like me - Hindus, Maa called us. I don’t know how long we slept for, but when I woke up, the sun was almost peeking through, and I could see Maa crying. I cried too that morning, thinking about everything that we left behind. I missed Papa terribly—I still do. But he said he would meet us again someday, and we still have hope.

The train came to a stop, and we got out with the crowd. Maa said we were somewhere near Ajmer, and that this would be our new home now. The situation there was just as bad as it was in Karachi. But my memories are blurry. I figure my mind must have chosen to forget the horrors we witnessed that day. We were all afraid. We were in a brand new place, with nowhere to live. The process of finding a home was long, and complex. We spent multiple nights at shelters, sleeping on empty stomachs. We’re all still recovering from what we went through, and though the process is slow, I’m sure we’ll figure it out this time as well. Although we missed Papa terribly, we knew he did what he did only to protect us, and he would be happy, wherever he is, knowing we’re safe. In the end, if the family is together the soul is in the right place. And although the partition caused us to go through unimaginable things, we are together, and together we are safe.

Maanya Gadekar is a 16-year-old writer from India.