Of shattered memories and partition
It is the story of two brothers orphaned during the bloody violence that erupted during India’s partition and the creation of Pakistan in August 1947. The elder of the two is adopted by a school teacher in India, while the younger, born on 14 August, 1947, the very day of Pakistan’s painful ‘birth’, is discovered lying just born next to his slain mother by Lt Col Shahryar Khan of Probyn’s Horse, which, in the process of partitioning of the till then undivided Indian Army, was allotted to Pakistan minus its Hindu troops. Khan decides to take the child home to his wife, who employs a lactating cleaning woman to feed him and looks after him. Realising that this child has filled a void in their lives, they decide against handing him over to a refugee camp or an orphanage, have him baptised as a Muslim and adopt him.
From there the story aptly titled Through Orphaned Eyes rides piggy-back on actual events related to both countries and the narrative interspersed with facts and fiction, which includes accounts in first person by the nameless elder brother, who joins the Indian Army as a sapper. In the 1965 Indo-Pak war the elder brother’s engineer regiment is involved in Indian Army’s plan to bog down Pakistan’s armoured division, commanded by now Maj Gen Shahryar Khan, near Asal Utar by breaching a canal bank and inundating the area.
Then comes the 1971 Indo-Pak war in which Pakistan was not only defeated over thirteen days, but also over 93,000 of its troops in erstwhile East Pakistan surrender to the Indian Army. That is when the two brothers actually meet – in a prisoners of war (PsOW) camp in India where the younger brother serving as a Captain in Pak army is a POW and the elder brother a non commissioned officer (NCO) of the engineer regiment running the camp. As the NCO in charge of the POW Camp’s officers’ lines, the interaction between two develops into a bit of friendliness, with the NCO sometimes favouring the Capt with extra rations. It is also the time when the elder brother hears from his family about the birth of his first child, a son, whose photograph he shows to the Capt along with the gift of a whisky bottle. The Capt’s good wishes to the son turn out later to be most fatefully ironic.
Thereafter the story proceeds to record post 1971 developments in both countries. The 93,000 Pakistan armed forces POWs are repatriated after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s wily negotiation with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was assertive in declaring war on Pakistan, but failed to extract any substantial advantage at the 1972 Shimla Conference in exchange of the return of the POWs and land captured by Indian Army in the Western theatre.
During the peak of Gandhi’s political career, when she decides on India’s first nuclear test in 1974, the story places the elder brother’s engineer regiment responsible for the ground preparation at Pokharan and describes how scientists dressed in army uniforms went about their work there.
Then there is a chapter on the emergency declared by Gandhi, when the elder brother’s adoptive father, the Masterji, is picked up by the police when addressing a group of students and how he loses the use of one hand owing to lathi blows in the same spot as when years earlier during the Quit India movement, he had been similarly bashed by the police.
Next comes Operation Blue Star around the Golden Temple, Amritsar, where the elder brother’s regiment is deployed in a supportive role and the narrative dwells on the tense situations during that period.
The story has been brilliantly woven into the ironically eventful post Independence history of India and Pakistan. Pre and post Independence history, which shaped the destinies of both India and Pakistan has so far not been part of schools syllabus in India. In Pakistan it has been altered, to put it mildly. That makes this book’s story all the more interesting and informative. The author, an early retired armoured corps colonel, had the book released by retired Lt Gens G D Singh and Syed Ata Hasnain, who also shared their own experiences of partition. Some of Hasnain’s relatives remained in Pakistan and he has a cousin serving in Pakistan Army.
This book should be widely read by all generations on both sides of the border. If Pakistan decides to ban it, its sale will only shoot up.