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The 1947 Partition Archive Survivors and their Memories

Oral history with Shobha Nehru, 2013 September 24.
Oral history with Shobha Nehru, 2013 September 24.
Nehru, Shobha, 1908-, Siddhi, Shagufta, and Patel, Asim
Author (no Collectors):
Nehru, Shobha, 1908-, Siddhi, Shagufta, Siddhi, Shagufta, and Patel, Asim
Mrs. Shobha Nehru, popularly known as Fori Nehru was born in Budapest on December 5th 1908 in a Jewish family; she was then known as Magdolna Friedmann. The changing political scenario in Europe in the late 1920’s led the family to change their last name Friedmann to Forbath. The family ran a business of toys and furniture. Due to the infamous Hungarian policy of Numerus Clasus, Mrs. Nehru was sent by her family to study in France and then later to England for university education. In England, Mrs. Nehru met and married a fellow student and moved to India. In India, Mrs. Nehru lived in Allahabad, Delhi Hissar, Ambala and Lahore amongst other cities before the Partition took place. Lahore holds a special place in her heart; it was the city where she got married and learnt to drive. They lived on Waris Road. In a short span of time, Mrs. Nehru took to India, became proficient in Hindustani, Indian food, customs and handicrafts. One of her early inspirations in India was Mahatama Gandhi.Memories of Partition bring pain to Mrs. Nehru. She says. “The things that we saw and what we heard were terrible.” In 1947, she was asked to work in the Emergency Committee in Old Delhi and an Emergency room headed by Mr. HM Patel, ICS was set up by the government of India. Being the only woman member of the committee, she was picked up to go to work by Mr. Patel. Once, as they were driving through the deserted streets in Daryaganj, Delhi under curfew, she saw a man sitting with fresh vegetables. She jumped out of the car and bought all his vegetables. Like other Delhi residents, she had not seen fresh vegetables for weeks. A photograph of her sitting in the Emergency Committee Room with officers with a Ghia, a bottle gourd attests to this.One of Mrs. Nehru’s most painful memories are of her when as a member of the committee, she sent off a train packed with refugees to Pakistan and the passengers were killed. She could not bear this and for a week would shudder at the thought of sending off another train. It was a terrible time. As a member of the committee, she wanted to purchase buckets for the Muslim refugees in Purana Qila but a Hindu shopkeeper in Old Delhi refused to give it for Muslims, who were responsible for murdering Hindus in Punjab. A stunned and deeply pained Mrs. Nehru ordered all buckets from the shops in Old City be purchased for the refugees.Mrs. Nehru’s Muslim bearer like many of their friends migrated to Pakistan. She could not believe the times, life was never the same. Today, her children are friends with the children of those friends who migrated. At the same time, Mrs. Nehru’s mother in law, Mrs. Rameshwari Nehru refused to leave Lahore until all the women refugees in the camps were evacuated. Neither Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru not her son could make her leave. Eventually, the family’s Muslim friend in Lahore managed this difficult task.Mrs. Nehru also helped start a retail outlet, originally called Refugee Handicrafts to give employment to the refugee women, in the hope to give space for their creativity. Pandit Brothers, a store in Connaught Place lent them a large carpet for the same. In due course of time, she was joined by other handicrafts experts and the venture became a successful one. They moved to an evacuee shop in Barakhamba Road till 1952. Despite the refugee camps being dissolved, the production of their handicrafts continued and so did their sales. In 1952, Refugee Handicrafts shifted to the American barracks at Janpath and eventually got absorbed into the Central Cottage Industries Emporium.Mrs. Nehru accompanied her husband to all the locations he was posted as a civil servant. She enjoyed living in the North Eastern States in India, Gujarat, and Kashmir where he was Governor of these states. Mrs. Nehru also accompanied her husband to Washington D.C., and London where he served as the Economic Minister at the Indian Embassy and High Commissioner, respectively. At an event in Washington, she remembers meeting the last Crown Prince Otto von Habsburg. She told him how she remembered seeing him as a baby with blonde hair.At 105, Mrs. Nehru having witnessed the World Wars, Holocaust, and the Partition questions the idea of wars and violence. She asks, “Do you think there is any use of having separate states? Pakistan and India? No one anticipated violence. We saw the bad and the good of the human beings. On one side they talk about Hindus and the other, they talk about the Muslims.” She can’t forget her husband’s friend, Qurbaan Ali Khan, the former governor of N.W.F.P, Pakistan. She never cried in her life as when she heard him say about the days of the bloodshed, “tauba… tauba… tauba...”
Hindi and English
Physical Description:
4 video files
Publication Info:
Kasauli (India)
Kasauli (India), September 24, 2013
Filmed interviews