Listening to partition time anecdotes from their grandmother is the favorite pass time for my children. My mother migrated to India from Sargodha in Pakistan along with her parents and brother. There is one story that I distinctly remember and often ask her to narrate. At the time of partition, the Hindus who migrated from Pakistan had to stay in refugee camps for few weeks till some permanent arrangements could be made for them. Families who possessed movable and immovable properties in Pakistan moved to India with just two or three suitcases. The same was true for Muslims in India who were forced to leave everything in India and go to Pakistan almost empty handed. For most of us, who were born in post independence era, it is difficult to imagine how it is possible to pack all your life’s savings and memories in just three suitcases and start life afresh.
The refugees stayed in crammed rooms. In one such camp there were eighty people who used to sleep in one 12 by 18 sq ft room. There was not enough room to stretch fully. They took turns to stretch. Their luggage was piled in one corner almost touching the roof. All of them shared one single make shift toilet.
During the day, they stayed and cooked in the open ground in front of the room. One day, one vendor came to the camp to sell oranges at a cheap price. Since refugees did not have much to eat many people bought oranges from him. One young boy who was my mother’s neighbor in Sargodha was also staying in the camp along with his parents; he bought five oranges and offered it to my grandmother. My grandmother was furious to see the oranges. She reprimanded the boy and said, “The people are dying of hunger and getting killed in front of your eyes every where and you are thinking of eating oranges, take away your oranges; neither my children nor I will even touch any of these oranges.”
The boy was very attached to my grandmother and got upset to hear the bitter words. In anger, he threw the oranges across the wall. Just after few minutes, there was hue and cry everywhere in the camp. The people who ate the oranges sold by the vendor were dying as the oranges were injected with lethal poison. Within minutes, thirty five refugees including women and children lay dead in front of them.
The boy came running to my grandmother, touched her feet and said, ‘Ma, you have saved us all, we all would have been dead if you would have accepted the oranges”