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Love in the time of Partition

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Love in the time of Partition

The Tale of Two Countries 

Author - BK Karkra

Publisher - Rupa, Rs 281

The Tale of Two Countries has a couple of lovers struggle through the Indian Partition and eventually move to England to build a happy life. But then, they have to make a trip back to India. An excerpt:

With stars in their eyes and hope in their hearts, Gursevak and his wife, Sukhi, landed at the Heathrow Airport of London. Balbir, their friend, was right there to receive them. Fortunately, the security situation then was quite well and England was not all that fussy in the matter of migrants either, so their immigration check did not pose any problem. They were not carrying dutiable items. They were, therefore, also able to pass through the Customs without any fuss. Once out, they found the cheerful face of Balbir in the crowd. He nearly flew into the arms of Guru and their hug lasted quite a while. When they disengaged, Balbir greeted Sukhi warmly. After the brief welcome, they busied themselves in recovering their luggage.

The couple’s first impression of England was that somebody seemed to be in control of the situation here. The queues were quite orderly. Though the passengers did not line up all that straight-that was understandable for they were civilians and not soldiers-nobody displayed any inclination to break the queues. The traffic on the roads was heavy, but not chaotic. The city seemed to have maintained its simplicity and traditional grace. Clean and green London appeared magnificent, though there were no skyscrapers to be seen. People here kept mostly to themselves. Otherwise, however, they were helpful, warm and friendly, if you needed to contact them.

Heathrow was not very far from Southall, where Balbir lived. He had his small double-storey house nestled in a row of adjacent houses that together looked like half-a-kilometre-long barrack. Most of the immigrants from Punjab had settled in Southall and it was considered a sort of a ghetto. The settlers, however, had gradually converted this ghetto into a good liveable place. Almost everything that the Punjabis had a need for-gurdwaras, temples, mosques, malls, banks, restaurants, shops and offices-had come up here in the course of time. The place very much had some flavour of Punjab. It was a sort of home away from home for them.

Balbir had acquired this house on mortgage and lived here alone. So he had no difficulty in accommodating his newly arrived guests. He himself shifted to the guest room on the ground floor and handed over the entire first floor to Guru and Sukhi to live in complete privacy. He had arranged for their lunch from a Punjabi restaurant that day. By evening, Sukhi assumed charge of the kitchen, as if it were her own. It had been properly stocked in anticipation of their arrival. She cooked the first meal of rice and rajma (kidney beans) for dinner. Balbir relished the homely food that he had been missing for quite some time.

They then sat for hours in the drawing room talking about their days in Lahore where they had spent some of the best time of their lives to begin with and later had to witness the horrors of Partition also. They particularly recalled their great escape from the city by the skin of their teeth. The couple did not forget to mention the assistance that Balbir had provided them in bringing them together, and Balbir got nostalgic about the village life in Punjab that they had left behind.

Finally, they switched over to discussing their plans for the future. The next day was marked for rest and settling down. The day after, Balbir was to take them to a manufacturing unit, engaged in baking of bread, buns, biscuits, cakes, pastry, etc. He had fixed up some work for them there.

‘You must have heard about the ethos of the dignity of labour here,’ explored Balbir. Guru nodded, ‘We are mentally prepared to take up any work to begin with.’

Besides, the facility of flexible hours of work was available here. They could thus choose their timings and also the hours of work they wanted to put in. Beyond certain hours, the benefit of overtime at enhanced rates could be claimed. It was thus decided that Sukhi would work for around six hours a day and Guru would stretch himself for as many hours as he could. This is what migrants did here to find their feet as quickly as possible. Simultaneously, of course, both of them would start looking for white-collar jobs.

Next morning, all of them left for the gurdwara for paying obeisance before starting their life anew. After that, they went to the place where Guru and Sukhi were to look for employment. The proprietor of the concern was an amiable Englishman. A number of Indians and persons of Indian origin were already working in his firm. He had found them generally sincere, attentive and hard-working, while the local fellows were inclined to mix fun with their work. So, he readily agreed to employ Guru and Sukhi after a brief interview and also assigned them their work. Guru was to work with a group that was involved in slicing of bread and Sukhi was to work in the packing section. Their working hours and wages were settled and they were told that they could join their duties the very next day. After fixing their employment, Balbir also resumed his official duties as his leave had expired.

Thus, all of them quickly got involved in a busy routine. Sukhi prepared breakfast and packed lunch for all and took care of other household work, besides attending to her job in the bakery. With her arrival, the general standard of tidiness and orderliness in the house had improved quite a few notches. Long-missed lassi and other Punjabi delicacies, like sarson ka saag, makki ki roti, karhi, pakoras, etc made their way in the home. Balbir felt quite good about this change.




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