Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Rana Dasgupta

From Rana Dasgupta's upcoming book about Delhi (Capital: The Eruption of Delhi):

"Until Partition, my grandfather was chief accountant with Commercial Union Assurance in Lahore, and it is from there that my father's earliest memories float back. They are fond: the family was affluent, the city harmonious. My father remembers affectionately the vibrant mix of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in his school, his gracious Muslim headmaster. But as his tenth year drew on, it became apparent that political machinations would mutilate this tranquil existence. As Partition approached, the Police Commissioner of Lahore, Allauddin Khan, who was my grandfather's bridge partner, became concerned for the safety of his Hindu friend: he sent his car to take the family to the railway station. He then deputed guards to accompany them on the train as far as Amritsar, on the other side on the imminent cleavage. Allauddin Khan probably saved their lives: in the ensuing violence, the building in which they had lived was burned down and the Hindu landlord and his family murdered. 

My father's family returned to Bengal, where the other, eastern, Partition was in progress, and my father found himself on the other side of the game. He remembers the unreal sight of slaughtered Muslims lined up like trophies in the Calcutta streets. 

Something seems to have snapped in my grandfather after those upheavals. He became moody and withdrawn. He secured another well-paid position, but walked out of it on point of principle. Suddenly there was no income for his family of nine children. The electricity was cut off. They could not afford food or candles. My grandfather borrowed from moneylenders to pay his bills; when they sent thugs to reclaim the loans, it was my 13-year-old father who had to plead with them in the street, for my grandfather, who wanted to know nothing of all this, was shut up in a room smoking cigarettes and reading English spy novels. 

Friends and relatives shunned them. My father got a job selling cooking oil door-to-door, and so kept the entire family from starvation. 

He sold, first of all, to people he knew. One day he knocked on the door of an aunt who, seeing how gaunt he was, offered him lunch. From there he took his wares to the house of another aunt, and she too offered him food. Since he did not know when he would be able to eat again, he accepted and sat down to the meal. But he was still in the middle of it when the first aunt came to call and saw him stuffing himself for the second time. Telling the story 60 years later, my father still shakes with the humiliation of having been caught out in such desperation." 

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