“The past is never dead, it isn’t even past”

~William Faulkner

Last weekend, I hosted an Exhibit at The Ommani Center called, “Refugees of the British Empire”. (1) It featured stories of survivors (2) of the I947 Partition of India and Pakistan. (3) I hosted this to give voice to the truth of what millions suffered and to reveal the truth of how the human shadow shaped history in India and Pakistan.  

My mother, at the tender age of eleven, became a refugee during the Partition by being suddenly orphaned at the hands of violence on a train full of Hindus crossing the newly defined border out of Pakistan into India.  The 1500 travelers on that train were massacred, but a few survived. My mother and her two younger siblings were three of the few who survived, while her parents and oldest brother were killed in an ambush orchestrated by enraged Muslims.  Nearly 2 million people were killed, Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs, who once lived in harmony, overtaken by mob mentality from the stress of displacement from their homes, in the largest mass migration in world history. Yet another political maneuver (4) gone awry, impacting millions and generations (5) to come.  The Exhibit spoke the truth of stories that have been hidden, unspeakable, yet important to know, witness and accept, with the intention of healing for all who suffered as well as their families and future generations. 

Why is it important to write about this?  

It is important because it happened.  In a society that is fearful of discomfort of any kind, be it emotional, physical or psychological, it is important for us to speak the truth of our history (6) as an antidote to our desire for numbing out, shutting down or suppressing our feelings.  Truth telling is powerful medicine.  Discomfort has always been unpopular among humans, maybe because of the suffering associated with it, but suffering is a necessary catalyst for growth and meaning, and as a result a healthy mind, body and spirit.  In my medical practice this is an important context I use to help my patients transform and grow. We need to learn the skills to suffer authentically. Jung said, “Neurosis is suffering that has not found its meaning.” I believe our society is stuck in neurosis and does not know how to suffer authentically.  It is only when we learn this that we grow. Avoiding suffering makes us sick. I believe our collective sickness is a result of our normalization of this.  

My mother’s trauma was so vast and deep, that she was unable to speak about what happened to her.  It shaped her psyche, fractured and fragmented her in a thousand ways. She coped with her loss through prayer and meditation but was never able to access the meaning of her experience.  The amplitude of her pain and suffering was transmitted into my DNA and my life experiences. This is generational trauma. After her death,(7) nearly three years ago, my psychological process reached new depths.  When I found her written accounts of what occurred in that train, it was clear that even the unspeakable truth of her experience had to be released. In her journal, she expressed her desire to share her story with the world.  As I do this on her behalf, maybe this can be healing for her, even after death. My hope is, that it will and heal some of her pain and the amplitude of what has been transmitted through her lineage. 

History flows through our bodies at all levels.  It shapes our psyche and our cells. It is a foundational axis around which we organize our perceptions of reality, our responses, reactions and behaviors.  Embedded in our symptoms, lies our history. We must become conscious of the foundational elements that shape our lives. Avoiding them only leads to suffering.  I am sharing the short version of my mother’s story as an offering to the truth of how she suffered so her words can stay alive in the world, words she was unable to speak. 

“Mummy, the world will hear your story, and will bear witness to what you carried inside for 70 years.”

My Mother’s Story (in her words) 

My name is Adarsh Kumar.  I was born in 1936 in Dandot, 30 miles west of Pind Dadan Khan where we moved when I was two and a half years old. My parents were Atma Ram Kapoor and Ram Rakhi (Malhotra) Kapoor.  We lived our lives peacefully (with Muslims and Sikhs), without any communal disturbance known to us. 

Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan was our neighbor and the head of our town.  My mother considered him a brother and tied a Rakhi on his wrist every year in August. Hindus celebrated Eid, and Muslims celebrated Diwali with their neighbors.  

Suddenly in 1947, the same people suddenly turned on each other and there were many incidents of Hindu and Muslim killings.  Living in fear and the uncertainty of death became a daily norm. 

The memories of that time are so vivid in my mind as if it is all happening today. 

We boarded the train departing from Pind Dadan Khan to Amristar on September 21. The train was full of passengers. We sat inside the carts where coal was transported. I sat with my mother and younger sister and brother.  My father and elder brother were in another cart in front. At night, he train pulled out of the station andcame to a halt near Chalisa, not far from where we had left. Someone had placed a tree trunk on the tracks. A crowd with farming tools, machetes and swords gathered. They were chanting, “Allahu Akbar”(God is great) and “Kafiro ko maro” (Kill the infidels).  The murders began in the coal cart where my father and brother were. My mother hid us underneath her shawl. She said to me, “Adarsh, say the kalaam (become a Muslim).” I said, “I won’t become a Muslim, they can kill me.”

They came into our cart and killed everyone.  My mother handed me 500 rupees and said, “Go. Take care of your brother and sister.”  A Muslim man with a sword came towards us to kill us but stopped and said to his companions,”Don’t touch them. They are mine.”  He took us out of the cart and led us to a corn field. The farmer who owned the corn field discovered us and recognized us as the Kapoor children.  He took us to his house. I overheard him discussing what to do with us with other men, whether he should kill us. He eventually decided to inform Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan of our plight.  He rode his horse to Pind Dadan Khan to inform him. It was decided that we go to a refugee camp in Pind Dadan Khan. We stayed there for weeks before my brother Shiv came and took us to my oldest sister’s family home in Delhi.  After moving there, I spent a few summers in the refugee camp there.  

Soon, I received a Birla scholarship for refugees. This helped me attend a boarding school in Pilani, Rajasthan. After my education, I wanted to keep my mother’s promise and take care of my brother and sister.

Links: 

(1)https://ommanicenter.com/refugees-of-the-british-empire-a-pop-up-exhibition-comes-to-wisconsin/

(2) https://www.1947partitionarchive.org/

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_India

(4) https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/06/29/the-great-divide-books-dalrymple

(5) https://medium.com/@rkumar_74648/generational-trauma-an-emerging-science-to-facilitate-deeper-healing-a9499480c671

(6) https://exhibits.stanford.edu/1947-partition

(7) https://medium.com/@rkumar_74648/the-daughter-of-a-partition-survivor-speaks-905d194a56b7

©October 2019 Kalpana (Rose) M. Kumar M.D., CEO and Medical Director, The Ommani Center for IntegrativeMedicine, Pewaukee, WI. www.ommanicenter.com Author of 2nd Edition – Becoming Real: Reclaiming YourHealth in Midlife 2014, Medial Press.