On the occassion of 75th year of Partition, we tell you the story of two strong women with unusual lives in 1930s. They changed the destiny of their families as they moved their children and belongings from Pakistan to India
By Nona Walia
How far back can you go into your family tree? If each generation had documented their family history we would know our family tree 1000 years back. We would trace emotions, lives and diseases. We would know blessings and curses. We would know our stories better.
So, I often delve into the relics of past, to know the secrets, to know the magic of the past as it unlocks the blocks of the present!
An Instagram post on the tale of my two great grandmothers led to this article. Two fascinating women. It’s interesting to trace your roots back, as far as possible, especially if they have unusual stories. My maternal great grandmother Ram Kaur (maternal grandmother or nani’s mom) became a young widow and was remarried in 1920s in Sargoda, Pakistan. She had one daughter from her first marriage Mehtab Kaur (my grandmother) and four kids from her second marriage. Verbal anecdotes of her strength, grit were narrated. Ram Kaur worked in Lahore and moved to Moga (Punjab) after Partition. She insisted that her daughter get best education and work.
My paternal great grandmother Balwant Kaur married my great grandfather because he didn’t have sons from his first wife. She was a disciple of Sant Randhir Singh (1878-1961) who led the Gurudwara movement during Partition. She had lost her husband when her twins were a few months old. It was with Sant Randhir Singh’s blessing that twins were born to her, so she dedicated her life and twins to him, as his follower.
She brought up her kids almost single-handedly. She lived between Lahore and Chamkaur Sahib (ancestral home and land) and moved to Delhi after the Partition. She stayed in our current Delhi housefor a few years but passed on in a bus accident while going to Bangla Sahib gurudwara in late 1950s.
Her two sons carried on her legacy and generous nature. As they moved out of their ancestral village Chamkaur Sahib to Delhi and London, they gave the house and land to the Chamkaur Sahib Gurdwara where Guru Gobind Singh’s sons were beheaded. Infact, her giving nature, a heart full of seva is something that inspires different generations. She was known as lady of great valour and clear-mind.
Why are these two women relevant even after 100 years? Because in the era they lived they were known for their strength and grit. Because verbal stories of their valour have been passed down generations. Because their quick-thinking changed the lives of families, children and great-grandchildren. Because they were both worldly in a social way, travelled to different cities where they had children, siblings and relatives.
Their world view gave them one vision: to give the best education to their children. With the best education – irrespective of whether they were men or women, they not only survived but thrived through the Partition. Both great grandmothers led unusual lives. They were both strong-minded. Both survived the Partition because they had homes and land in Pakistan and India.
The strength is passed down generations. Our ancestors sow the seeds. Womb to womb dreams are passed on. Our genes carry stories of a bygone era. We are protected by the prayers of our great grandmothers. We are, because they envisioned. They built. They cared.
It takes generations of strong women to change and rewrite fates and history. It takes generations of learned women to empower. No, change doesn’t happen in one generation. The seeds are sown much earlier.
Here’s why you should document your family history during pandemic:
Writing your family history gives you the chance to depict your ancestors how you see fit. It gives a cultural, economic and social perspective to your current self.
There is a need for more family histories documenting female lines. Family histories before Partition especially women are unknown and not celebrated much. Discover your great, great, grandmother’s family history and narrate it. It tells you why certain traditions, manners, emotions, prayers, spiritual traditions, customs, foods run in families.
Don’t take it for granted that the lives of your ancestors are lost. Evidence of the people they have been exists somewhere and is discoverable. Trace it and document it.
Now as we try to come out of the pandemic, we need to know the survival instincts of our ancestors on how they survived Partition, how they rebuilt and went on with their lives without looking back on what they lost. Why people from the Partition were never bitter, how they embraced abundance again.
Don’t lose generations of family history or treat it as junk. Families are important social groups to identify with.
What's Your Reaction?
Nona Walia, is an accomplished writer and journalist, certified on Science of well-being from the Yale University. She runs a Wellness Channel on YouTube and has earlier worked for TOI for long 24 years as a Senior Assistant Editor. Nona is also one of India's top well-being and mental health experts, and an acclaimed writer for Thrive Global. Her book , ‘The Art of Mental Toughness: Survival Lessons from the Pandemic’ has been lauded by Amazon in the bestseller category, 2021.