The Radcliffe line that defined Partition – pic courtesy Wikipedia

Having lived in Delhi for several years and having had several conversations with families belonging to both religions afflicted by the partition of India I always got the impression that it was a botched up operation and none, no matter what history books said and what biographies depicted, none emerged a hero – be it Jinnah, Nehru, Patel, Mountbatten (perhaps the greatest AH of all time) and just about everyone else. I feel Gandhi and people like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad alone had a long-term view of the crosses that future generations would bear. But be that as it may, I don’t think any purpose was served by stirring it all up after 75 years, unless it was by way of a resolve to never repeat such horrors again. But I doubt if that was the intention. Both the right and the left never invoke anything without some benefit in mind. Anyway, it has been done and that brought a family story back to memory.

When I married and shifted to Chennai in 1993, I had the good fortune to become very close to my wife’s paternal grandfather and we spent a lot of time chatting of history. Appaji Thatha as he was known, had been a senior civil servant right through the 1940s and 1950s and had been an eye witness to several stirring happenings in Delhi. He, and his family had resided in what is now known as Lutyens Delhi (nobody used that term in the 1980s by the way) and had actually heard the shots that killed Gandhi and rushed over to Birla House in minutes.

Thatha had lost Patti in the 1960s and never got over it but he liked to chat about the past, always referring to his wife in glowing terms. And one of my favourite stories was of how he and she had saved a Muslim family during the Partition riots.

It was this way – there was a Muslim dhobi and his large family that Thatha inherited as part of the staff at a bungalow in King Edward’s (now Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Road, New Delhi. When partition happened there were search parties organised to pull out families of both communities and massacre them. It depended on which locality you were in to determine if you were of majority or minority community. At King Edward’s Road the dhobi and family were marked people.

On talking things over Appaji felt it may be best to ensure the whole family had a safe passage to a refugee camp. It was done this way – Thatha and Patti made several journeys by car to the camp each time with two of the dhobi’s family crouched below the rear seat. In order to hide them, they placed some of their five sons on the rear seat and in this way everyone was safely escorted to the camp.

They ran many risks – if they had been discovered, Appaji, Patti and the boys would not have been spared. It was a wonder that the other servants did not rat on them. A few months later Appaji got a letter from the dhobi- he and his family had made it safely to Pakistan.

When Thatha related this story, there was no heroics or theatricals about it. It was a question of saving some human lives. That was all.