“PAKISTAN IS BORN” by ALYS FAIZ, Excerpts from her autobiography: “Over My Shoulder”

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Alys Faiz (September 22, 1914 – March 12, 2003) was a Pakistani poet, writer, journalist, human rights activist, social worker and teacher. Alys was born in London, but she later became a naturalized citizen of Pakistan. She was the wife of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and the mother of Salima Hashmi and Moneeza Hashmi.

This article is taken from her biography “Over My Shoulder” in which she has described the Partition of 1947 the way she had experienced it.

We had half a house on RaceCourse road Lahore, in the early summer days 1947 when our parents came to India.
It was an old house and we met up with scorpions and host of other crawlies. Parents had to be warned about bathroom walls and crevices, walking barefoot. But we forgot things like snakes and falling fans. I suppose we almost lost our younger daughter when the fan fell. Grandpa was playing with her-he would call her “my little gel”. On the almost faithful day she rolled over towards him, suddenly, with a laugh, and then with a terrible thud the fan fell from the ceiling onto the bed, in the exact spot where “little gel” had been lying and gurgling. We were all so shaken, so overcome with the thought of that might have been, what we decided there and then that our parents should leave for Kashmir, where they were later going anyway. So a car was booked, from Lahore to Sri Nagar, father loved his little luxuries. We reserved their rooms at Nedou’s hotel in Sri Nagar by the side of the Dal lake. Our last luxury together was plates of strawberries and clotted cream-the strawberries came from Ludhiana. Father’s “little gel “was soon smothered in red juice!

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Hotel Nedous Sri Nagar

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There letters from the side of the Dal Lake were static, and as the day passed we, too, planned to leave. Faiz’s fate was to stay in Lahore running the Pakistan times.
But the rumblings of partition were on and as Raj Garh burned, and as train after train pulled into Lahore station loaded with its dead and injured, the girls and myself were packed off by train to Rawalpindi, from thence on to Singapore. By this time tales of horror had reached us, and Faiz loaded us onto the bus for Srinagar, our hearts were heavy.
Our parents had hired a large airy house for us all, the Taseers and ourselves and the family was united, as the country moved towards its destiny of partition.

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The house had a large garden full of fruit trees and to keep mother busy she was put in charge of the unloading of the laden trees organizing the packing of the fruit into boxes for the market. Her helpers were many but still piles of fruit lay rotting in the grass, and we filled our larders and ate to our hearts ‘content. Cherries came and went, all kind of currants, raspberries, more strawberries, plums, apricots and peaches. We were amazed at the abundance.
It was a very hot summer and even Srinagar was sweltering. But misfortune seemed to dog us. Mother suffered a very swear attack of blood pressure followed by a hemorrhage, the girls were shockingly ill with whooping cough, our younger one being hospitalized and the blood baths went on the Punjab and elsewhere. News was appalling. Faiz came and decided to move us nearer to Lahore in case Kashmir was cut off, one could hardly guess at what might happen. We left for Murree while the rest of family remained in Srinagar. Their tale of hiring the last truck down to the planes and their evacuations is the harrowing ones.

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Muree in 1900s
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Murree in 1900s

Murree was still full of sick refugees awaiting transport and a way out. Friends were all anxious to try to arrange for a safe exit for the sick families, so we banded together and somehow buses were arranged to take them all the way to Amritsar. There was a large convoy with as much luggage as could be accommodated. It was a sad and devastating site for us all as they boarded the buses in the center of the town, and bag us farewell. We gathered on that fateful morning in good spirits, our hopes were high for them all. They all smiled bravely we touched hands, said all would be well. It was but a short journey to Rawalpindi and their army personnel would join the convoy. We stood watching the last bus trundling down the hill on its way to safety. We went home, not yet at ease.

large-Granny and Grandpa in Srinagar, October 1947
October 1947

Before night the news had spread throughout the city, who does not know the small village of Tret on the way along the Murree- Rawalpindi road, a stream runs the length of the main street, and that day it ran with blood, four tribesmen raced down from the surrounding hills upon the convoy and all was lost.
One tells the story as a part of history now. One’s own recollections, once piecing together of a fabric, a little torn here and there, patched in places, but still whole with a beauty which has not been lost through the years.
So we, to, later made our way along the same route to a new Lahore, now in the country named Pakistan, to look for a home, where we would spread out our humble belongings, heals wounds being a new life, with our children named “Pakistan”.

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We found this home opposite the Lahore Radio Station with the Governor as a neighbor at the end of the short road; with Masood Khaddar posh as another neighbor and the stars and stripes of the US consulate waving next door, strange days came to pass. We lived in a home once occupied by a well-known Lahore doctor, and below us we looked down from our front balcony into what was his garden, strewn with the clinics iron beds, bottles, chairs, syringes, in fact all the contents of what had been one of the Lahore’s finest private clinics.
Our accommodation was still full of the late occupant’s possessions, fleeing in a great hurry. We stacked them away and then spread our belongings. Our parents arrived and the room to the right of the long, wide veranda earned the permanent name of grandma’s room! So our two dear parents stayed until it was time to start on the last lap of their long journey to Africa to meet a son, a daughter in law and grandchildren.
Number 41 empress road was ours until 1962, when the first long self-exile took us away. The fabric was again torn a little. No patch this time. It was farewell to a much loved home and to grand ma’s room.
(Excerpts from her autobiography: Over My Shoulder)

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