It was a bright, sunny, August afternoon when
we walked through the rain-washed, muddy lanes leading to Akshar.
This was the day when the realization dawned about how we had
taken life for granted because we had the ‘freedom to make
choices’. During the Partition in 1947, many did not have
a choice—their ‘freedom’ was taken away from
them and they forced to do what the leaders of their country had
decided. All over the world, all instances of war and violence
are also instances of the freedom to make choices being taken
away from the people.
After the students settled down, we handed out two papers to them—one
was a story titled ‘Take Me Home’ by Bhisham Sahni;
and the other was a poem called ‘After the War’ by
K. Satchidanandan. Together, the pieces set the mood for that
day’s subsequent discussion of war, partition, separation
from one’s motherland and personal loss.
The Sahni story was set in the time of Partition. Among several
travelling refugees was an
elderly gentleman who had left behind his home in Miyani, in Shahpur district. The story
revealed how selfish and self-centered people become in times of
distress. When the refugee train stops at a particular station called
Moosa, the old man gets off and makes his way towards the water
tap to slake his thirst but is pushed aside by fellow passengers
who do not care to make way for him.
When the train starts to move, he begins to run and then jumps on
board, thus hurting himself. It is only then that he breaks down—weeping
like a child, he wants to go back home.
No one is able to understand the pain of this old man who has never
set foot outisde his home and his land. The trauma of being uprooted
is unbearable for him. When an elderly lady speaks to him in his
dialect, he finally calms down. And this is where the story ends.
This set off quite an interesting discussion on the impact of war,
the nature of elderly people, the power to make choices, take decisions.
One student narrated how her grandmother, originally
living in what is now Pakistan, had to move
away during the Partition. And how, in the process, her grandmother’s
sister had been forgotten and was later killed by the enemy.
Others were able to understand that, during times of unease, no
one is interested in helping out another human being. Compassion
seems to disappear from our actions at moments of crisis. War and
other hardships often bring out the worst in people.
Another student said that, during the Gujarat riots, her uncle saved
the life of a child stuck under the debris of a collapsed building.
The guard had fled the scene; hearing the wails of the child, her
uncle rushed in to help although he fractured his arm in the process.
Good Samaritans are hard to find but faith and humanity are basic
principles which keeps the world alive even today.
Then we read an extract from the Mahabharata where the Kauravas
and Pandavas saw the number of dead and felt great remorse at the
fact that they were fighting for ‘. . . the same earth, the same sky, the same water, the same food,’ the same tree,
the same blood, the
same pain, the same dream . . .’. Though
that did not stop them from returning to battle.
Many students found it amusing but a further discussion helped them
realize that ‘human wants’ are the same, right through
history. Even today, everyone wants to have the power to control.
The politics of power continues to plunge our world into turmoil
Due to a paucity of time, we weren’t able to continue our
discussion but were able to get the message of compassion, love,
home and motherland across to the students.