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Crossings And Journeys

Debali Mookerjea-Leonard

By Kavita Panjabi
Seagull Books, Kolkata, 2004, pp. viii 85, Rs. 120.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 12 December 2005

While in the last decade and a half the governments of India and Pakistan have tested nuclear weapons, fought at Kargil, and fortified their borders massively, peace activists on both sides of the border have also made some headway towards bringing the seemingly endless and certainly destructive rivalries between the two countries to an end. Their activism has taken the form of cross border candle light vigils in 1999, trans-border “peace bus” movements in 2000; and perhaps most importantly, the emergence in the mid-1990s of a consolidated political movement—the Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) whose ringing slogan is “defy the divide”. It was to attend the PIPFPD convention in Karachi, in 2003, that activist Kavita Panjabi arrived at the city from which more than half a century earlier her grandmother, “hugging her two teenage sons close to her, had boarded a ship packed tight with refugees heading for Bombay—never to see her homeland again” (p.1).  Panjabi’s book, Old Maps and New, tells the story of the dislocations her family endured as a consequence of the Partition. Like many others whose lives had been engulfed by communal violence during the Partition, Panjabi’s family rebuilt their lives in their new homeland, and like many others, they would not speak about their experiences for years afterwards. Still, those memories remained with them and could be triggered by the most commonplace details of everyday life. Such is the case when Panjabi’s grandmother recognizing lines of a Meera bhajan many years later in Calcutta begins a spontaneous narration of the time when as a young widow in her thirties she sprinted through “the lanes of Quetta like a madwoman” clutching her two sons while “[t]hunderous smoke swallowed up each house as the blaze followed in close pursuit to raze it to the ground, killing with it all the men, women, and children who had been too paralysed with fear to move” (p.7). The three of them ran “[a]midst the screams and smells of burning people and the sight of menacing swords … only to see dozens more piercing the sky ahead” (p.7). Panjabi’s mother, on the other hand, verbalizes her experiences of the Partition prompted by yet another eruption of large-scale communal violence in the subcontinent—the riots that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid, in 1992. As a young girl, Panjabi’s mother and a group ...

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