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1947 Partition Stories I Mirza Nasir-ud-Din: Art transcends all boundaries

The partition of undivided India into two states, India and Pakistan, in the year 1947 remains one of the greatest tragedies, not just for the two countries but the entire world. While the partition showed some of the worst sides of humanity but even in those dark days the human spirit of compassion remained resilient. Individuals reached out across cultural and religious boundaries to help those in need. Tridivesh Singh from India, and Tahir Malik and Ali Farooq Malik from Pakistan, came together to tell stories from both side of the divide which show us humanity’s triumph over our angry, violent inner nature.  The Dispatch brings to you the select stories from the book ‘Humanity amidst Insanity’.

Mirza Nasir-ud-Din, 80, is a former government official. His case is significant for a number of reasons. He rescued the lives of innocent Hindus of the Baghbanpura area of Lahore. One of his friends from the Lahore days, Ramesh Thakur invited him a year later to Mumbai and was touched by Mirza’s gesture of saving innocent Hindus during the Partition. His son Nadeem Mirza has visited India twice.

Mirza Nasir-ud-Din belongs to the Mirza Family of Baghbanpura. This family were among the last remnants of the Mughal rule in Lahore, before the Sikhs took over. Two brothers, Mirza Badaruddin and Shahnawaz escaped from Pari Mahal—which means “Fairy’s Palace”—Lahore and sought refuge in a nearby village . They were traced and eventually apprehended. Luckily, they were placed before Ranjit Singh’s Rani of Mankera who at that time was issueless and was looking for an adoption. She saw her dream come true on seeing the young innocent Shahnawaz, who in turn insisted it could only happen if his brother was spared.

Mirza Nasir-ud-Din gives a wind description of Baghbanpura.

‘At the time of Partition, Baghbanpura was a village exactly five miles from the walled city on the G.T Road leading its way to Amritsar. In the midst of the village stood the famous tomb of the great secular Sufi Poet Madhu Lal Hussein, and the Western minarets of Royal Shalimar Gardens, constituted its eastern boundary. The village was mostly inhabited by Aryan Muslims. As the name “Baghban” suggests, they were the custodians of Shalimar garden. Other than Muslims. There was a large number of old Hindu and Sikh inhabitants. Mela Chiragan, ‘festival of the enlightened candles’, was the most awaited and celebrated day of the year in the village. Followers of Madhu Lal Hussein came dancing from all neighbouring villages to pay homage. It used to be a jampacked annual session where millions would pour in from all around Punjab. The Sufi still regarded as a “Guru” of indigenous wisdom and spirituality. His poetry is still a binding force between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims’.

In those days, Mirza recollects that his upbringing and education was in the Government School Baghbanpura, it was the only high school for a radius of about twenty miles up to Pull Kanjri now in Amritsar Distt. Among the renowned teachers were poets like Talib Johrey, Mumta Mufti, and a Hindu by the name  of Master Bhalla known for his noble gestures and command of mathematics. That’s where his brothers and he went to school with all their Hindu and Sikh friends before joining the Sikh National College. It was this building campus just a mile down the G.T. Road which was later converted into the most renowned University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore. This was the institution where the Mirza brothers had a chance to learn from scholars like Niranjan Singh, a very open minded scholar, with contrasting views about politics than his elder brother and politician, Master Tara Singh. Mirza Nasir-ud-Din himself was known to be one of the seniormost disciples of Ustad Khursheed Butt the famous musician and Punjabi poet alias Bodi of Bhati Gate inside the walled city Lahore, although young Mirza had mastered his vocal skills to the extent that professionals had started seeking his guidance.

By the later part of 1947, i.e. sporadic riots had started all over the Punjab, Bengal and the North West Frontier province before August 1947. The general public was of the view that things would settle down with time, but the violence kept mounting day by day. Especially after the news of Great Calcutta killing which laid six thousand dead in one day followed by Kahuta with almost two thousand dead with not a single house standing on its feet, winds of great disaster and violence spread like fire all over India.

After the announcement of Pakistan on August 14th, all hell broke loose. The law and order situation entirely collapsed. Institutions started breaking up; and law enforcement agencies started getting divided. Families were being scattered across the borders. Ruthless killing of human beings started all over India. Lahore had about half a million Hindus, a hundred thousand Sikhs and the Muslims on the whole outnumbered them because of adjacent villages in the Lahore District. In Baghbanpura, the first blow came with the killing of Master Bhalla of the Government School. The kind soul was of the opinion that he had taught enough Muslims to command the respect of the community, and he was not wrong in assuming so. No student of his could dare to have even thought of committing a crime of that nature. Like so many other cases it was a criminal thug—Sadique Mochi—wanted in thefts and robberies that stabbed him in daylight and called it a sacred commemoration.

Mirza Zahoor ud Din—Nasir-ud-Din’s father—a retired Railway officer at the time was sitting with his friends, Mian Fazil and Mian Rasheed of Mian family, who later became the first Chief Justice of Pakistan. When he heard that Master Bhalla had been brutally stabbed and killed, all three of them were completely outraged. On hearing the dreadful news, Mirza senior, with his voice raised in an outcry tried to reach the scene, before being blocked by the so called pacifists. He  was taken aside and declared to be insane by the sympathizers, because of his age, and for not being able to support the event. Little did they know that Mirza Zahoor ud din had held General Dyer by his tie in Lahore Railway Station. He was then serving as a young telegraph officer and wanted to avenge the massacre  of Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar.

Narrating the story of how he rescued innocent Hindus, Mirza Nasir-ud-Din says, “I was trained in classical music and two Bengali Hindu brothers K P Bhattacharjee and P D Bhattacharjee used to come to me to learn music. The former was a violinist on all India Radio, Lahore Station. These two brothers were also living in Bhagbanpura, a remote area of Lahore and far from the centre of the city at that time. Master Feroze Din, a Muslim Musician and disciple of mine came and told me around the 20th of August that a mob of violent local Muslims would attack Hindus living in Baghbanpura, Lahore. Though Baghbanpura was far from the centre of Lahore, it was considered a hub of political activities, as during his visits   to Lahore, Jawahar Lal Nehru used to stay at Bhagbanpura. Because of this reason, Baghbanpura became very sensitive and there was an increasing number of attacks on Hindus  by local Muslims. One of the Bhatacharjee’s ten-year-old came and said, “Mom is scared and crying, Dad cannot come as he is afraid too, our place has been surrounded, my parents are asking what to do?” I accompanied the child right away, got them packed and moved all of them to my place.

My family decided to provide shelter to the Hindus of that area. So I asked my family not to fear the arrival of Hindus. It would be immoral and unethical not to give shelter to innocent people from any ethnic or religious group of the society. We gave them shelter for two days. A few Muslims got to know we had given shelter to Hindus and they were scared, but we stood up for saving the lives of innocent Hindus”.

A few days later, like in so many other cases Nasir- ud-Din dressed the Hindus in Muslim outfits with the men wearing Rumi caps, quite customary among the Muslims at that time, and women covering their heads with burqas. The whole family was taken to Wagha where they safely crossed the border into India.

Mirza recollecting the dates when the Hindus crossed over, says, “I helped them cross the border, sometime around the 22nd or 23rd of August and made arrangements for them”.

Talking about his visit to Mumbai a year after the Partition, Mirza says, “After a year of Partition, I visited India in 1948 on the invitation of Gardbar Film Productions. The owner of that film company, a Sindhi, Girdari Lal Seth, exhibited tremendous warmth towards me. When Ramesh Thakur, another artist told them about the fact that I had saved some Hindus, they virtually worshipped me. In Bombay, I met Hindu rioteers as those meetings were arranged by Girdari Lal Seth. He told those rioters who attacked Muslims, that I had rescued Hindus.

They came ahead, touched my feet, apologized, and gave their side of the story. ‘Sir we are not barbarians, our fight was against the ruthless killers of mankind, and not against the Muslims.” It was the same argument he had heard from the Muslims who had indulged in the communal killings at home”.

He glazed into the sky as though he was looking for the real barbarians who had committed the atrocities  in which millions had lost their lives and all what they had. When he raised his hands in despair, the moment flashed in his mind. He felt he had been answered. While his index finger pointed toward the skies the remaining four were pointing towards him. Divinity was not to be blamed but rather it was all here. The barbarians were all around and each individual had to catch and curb the barbarian within himself. He was murmuring, ‘Never Again, Never Ever Again’. He knew there was no way out other than to forgive, forget and move on but he could foresee, only guarantee that it would not happen again was to admit and exchange apologies from one another for what had happened, and appreciate the efforts of all who rose to the occasion and proved themselves of being called worthy human beings. He knew his coming generations would really appreciate and admire his effort and the efforts of all who are the real indigenous role models of this land. The legacy continues.

Mirza’s son Nadeem Mirza visited India twice, once in 1983 and again 2006.

 

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