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The 1947 Partition Archive Survivors and their Memories

Oral history with Salima Hashmi, 2016 January 18.
Oral history with Salima Hashmi, 2016 January 18.
Hashmi, Salima, 1942- and Hassan, Fakhra
Author (no Collectors):
Hashmi, Salima, 1942-, Hassan, Fakhra, Hassan, Fakhra, and Hassan, Fakhra
Salima Hashmi [name at birth Salima Sultana] was born on 14th December 1942 to an Anglo-Indian family in Delhi. Her father, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, was an army officer, poet, political activist, editor of the Pakistan Times, and founding editor of the Daily Amroze. Her mother, Alys Faiz, was a political activist, writer and homemaker.Narrating the story of her name, Mrs Hashmi says: “The surname is a very Western idea. In our family, we had the tradition of giving a complete name, a first name followed by the second name. My mother liked Rehana, and Sabiha for the first name but my father didn’t approve. He named me after Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, his friend who was a scientist and also an artist. Hence I was named Salima with Sultana as my second name, and my sister was named Moneeza Gul,” she says. Mrs Hashmi dropped her second name, after the expiry of her second passport.Her father’s family was from Kala Qadar, a village in Sialkot. Her mother’s maternal family was from France, and paternal family is from London, England. Sharing a family lore about her paternal grandfather, Mrs Hashmi says that after a chance encounter with an Afghan trader in Lahore, he rose to prominence from being a peasant of Kala Qadar, to an educated, well-respected and envied treasurer of financial affairs at the Court of the King Shah Abdur Rehman the II, in Kabul, Afghanistan. “There were many controversies and conspiracies cooking up against him. There was an Englishwoman, a doctor, who was in charge of the women of the king’s harem and introducing the small pox vaccine. Rumor has it that she was in love with my grandfather and when she heard about the controversies and conspiracies against him at the harem, she informed him immediately, and he fled to India. Later on, he went on to England to study law at Cambridge. During this time, the Afghan King sent him a proposal to take up ambassadorship of the Afghan government at Queen Victoria’s court in England, which he accepted.One of the women her grandfather married was a princess of the Hazara tribe. “The novel Vizier’s Daughter by Lillias Hamilton is actually based on the life and character of my grandfather. After completing his studies, he returned to Sialkot and started his law practice. He was a close friend of the poet Muhammad Iqbal,” she says. “My grandmother was the only Punjabi woman my grandfather had married. She hailed from a village in Sialkot, near Kala Qadar. The rest of his wives were Afghans.”Mrs Hashmi says that her mother’s maternal family had settled in England during the 17th century. Her great grandfather used to own a posh bookshop on Swallow Street near Piccadilly. “The Prince of Wales used to sit there, and buy books from him. After the economic depression of World War I, they moved and settled in East London, where they had to rebuild their lives from scratch. During that time, my mother joined the Communist Party and became involved in the Freedom Movement for India.”She left London for Amritsar in 1938 where husband of her elder sister M. D. Taseer was posted Principal of the M.A.O. College in Amritsar. “My father was an English teacher at that College,” She says. Mrs Hashmi’s parents were married in 1941.Before Partition, Mrs Hashmi and her younger sister Moneeza [born in Simla] were raised in Delhi, Rawalpindi, Quetta, Simla, Lahore and Srinagar as a result of their father’s various postings in the army.Sharing her earliest memories from childhood, Mrs Hashmi says she was two years old when she was with her family in Rawalpindi. “I remember that because I fell and had hurt my head. I was taken into a hospital and given stitches. It was a military hospital. Parents weren’t allowed to stay with the patient but the maids were. My mother asked my paternal aunt to pretend to be a maid, and then she was allowed to tend to me for the night at the hospital. I almost died of blood poisoning because of that injury. In those days, Penicillin was newly invented. My father being in the army had some privileges, so I was given Penicillin and survived.”Mrs Hashmi’s first spoken language at home is Urdu. “My parents had decided that their child should grow up on one language and that would be Urdu. My mother had learnt Urdu, and she taught me to read and write at our home in Delhi. When my English grandparents visited us in 1947, I couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand me. It was at the age of four and a half years, I started learning my grandparents’ native language. My grandmother was fun. She used to tell us stories, and would act for us. She came fully prepared with puppets and things to entertain the children,” she recounts.In early 1947, Mrs Hashmi was enrolled at a nursery school in Lahore. “I remember my mother telling me it was a Hindu school. Of course I never knew what that meant at the time. I remember going in and playing there. I used to weep copiously every morning when I was sent to school and that continued for most of my life,” she says.Describing herself as an introvert and quiet person, Mrs Hashmi’s closest friends from childhood were her cousins Mariam, Salma, and Billu [the late Salman Taseer].At the time of Partition, Mrs Hashmi, her mother, sister, grandparents, maternal aunt and uncle were in Srinagar. “My father, a Lieutenant Colonel in rank, had resigned from the army in February of 1947 and moved to Lahore to set up the Pakistan Times and Amroze newspaper offices. My grandparents had just arrived from London so we had decided to spend the summer in Srinagar. We celebrated Eid there and afterwards, our father sent us a message from Lahore to leave Srinagar immediately as the situation was getting worse,” Mrs Hashmi recounts.They took a bus from Srinagar to Murree. On the way to Murree, Mrs Hashmi says she saw a bus at Thrait that was full of Sikhs who had been massacred. After reaching Murree, her mother organized the women in a procession to stop the rioting and bloodshed. “I remember she sat me down on a donkey and handed me a white flag. I was the leader of the procession waving my white flag. I was scared of the donkey but at the same time felt proud to be leading a rally of women. There was a certain performance to the role and I really enjoyed it,” she says.After a day or two in Murree, Mrs Hashmi and her family continued on to the Rawalpindi Railway Station on the bus, and took the train to Lahore. They shared the compartment with another English woman, the artist Anna Molka Ahmed [who founded and headed the department of fine arts at Punjab University] with her daughter.“There were so many people on the roof of the train. They were from Rawalpindi trying to crossover to India. There was mayhem and crowds, and there was no light in the train compartment,” Mrs Hashmi recounts. “We arrived at the Lahore station, which was under curfew at the time. There was a terrible hush in the city. My father had a curfew pass, so we managed to leave the Station and stayed with Begum Shah Nawaz at Lawrence Road for a while and in the meantime my parents started looking for a place to stay,” she says. They found a grand house not too far on Lawrence Road which is now a Government Office Building. Sharing her memories of her mother’s reactions on visiting that house, Mrs Hashmi says: “The lawn was completely dug out. The house was in bad shape, ruined by the miscreants. The electrical sockets had been pulled out, fans were taken off. There was a prayer room in the house that was defaced and badly desecrated. I remember picking up a children’s comic book from the rubble and my mother snatched it from my hand and threw it down yelling at me: we are not to touch anything here,”Mrs Hashmi and her family settled in an undamaged upper portion of a well-known doctor’s house on Empress Road and began rebuilding their lives. Recalling sights from the damaged lower portion of the house Mrs Hashmi says that she saw a refrigerator slashed by an axe. Her paternal grandmother had migrated to Gujranwala from Gurdaspur barely escaping the violence, and was eventually allotted residential property in Lahore against the lands she owned in Gurdaspur.In late 1947, Mrs Hashmi was enrolled at the Convent of Jesus & Mary where she wasn’t allowed to speak Urdu because everyone at the Convent was encouraged to speak English. “The nuns were aghast that I was an Englishwoman’s daughter but didn’t know any English. They refused to let me speak in Urdu and I used to weep and would sit at the edge of the door waiting for school to end. My grandparents used to pick me up in a tonga. I used to rush at the sight of them, I hated that school so much.” She says. 104/2, U B;pvk Ph 2, Street 3,At home, Mrs Hashmi says that daal chawal had always been her favorite dish cooked by her mother, and mangoes are the love of her life. “She also used to make Irish stew and Shepherd’s pie that I loved. Her specialty was homemade ice-cream, which she made using an icebox when we didn’t have a refrigerator. My mother was always particular about hygiene. I remember she used potassium permanganate to wash the dishes and the clothes to keep epidemic diseases like cholera and dysentery at bay. She was very particular and strict about table manners. That was her Englishness that used to persevere. We always had napkins on the table.” Mrs Hashmi recounts.In 1948, she was enrolled at the Queen Mary Convent where she studied for three years then moved on to the Kinnaird High School in Lahore from where she completed her matriculation. Despite her inclination towards the arts, Mrs Hashmi derived inspiration from the sciences, particularly Physics.In 1951, Mrs Hashmi’s father was incarcerated by the Pakistan government. Recalling an incident of her final year at Queen Mary’s, Mrs Hashmi says that she was invited by one of her school fellows to her birthday party. “I hated going to parties but since I had become reclusive after my father’s arrest and no news on his whereabouts, my mother insisted that I should go. I was eight years old at the time. There were some men sitting on the table at the party who started asking me questions about my father’s whereabouts which turned into a kind of interrogation. I started putting on a bravado act despite not having heard from him in three months. I told them my mother has just received a letter from him. I knew I was doing the wrong thing but I was so scared at the way they were interrogating me I told them what they wanted to hear. My mother found out about the incident. She called my school fellow’s family and gave them hell for it. I still remember the way she yelled on the phone,”In 1956, she opted to study at the Lahore College for Women for her intermediate degree in fine arts and in 1962, she completed her intermediate certification course on design from the National College of Arts in Lahore. In the same year, she travelled to London and studied for a three-year diploma in art education at the Bath Academy of Art in Bristol majoring in photography and painting. In 1990, she completed her MA honors in Art Education from the Rhode Island School of Design in the United States.In mid-1965 Salima was married to playwright, writer and artist Shoaib Hashmi whom she’d met on several occasions in Lahore and London, due to their overlapping interests in the performance arts. Sharing the tale of her marriage, Mrs Hashmi says. “Our marriage took place after my grandmother’s approval. She had no idea that Shoaib and I already knew each other. She looked at him once and said that he is a nice boy and I should definitely marry him.”The marriage took place in Karachi were Mrs Hashmi’s parents were living at the time. Mrs Hashmi moved to Model Town in Lahore with her husband after marriage, and lives there today with her immediate family. The couple has one son, Yasser Hashmi and a daughter, Mira Hashmi.Soon after their marriage the 1965 war had broken out, and Lahore was under curfew once again. “The whole of Gulberg was empty. Most people had run for their lives but we stayed behind. Shoaib used to have a curfew pass. He was doing a program called Parakh, and I was doing a puppet show called Babloo aur Naazi for PTV. During the war, we used to go and do those, and I still enjoy doing that.” she says. “We used to walk around in the darkness with the curfews going on and the noise of sirens. It was a short war but a lot of people died because of it. During this time my father wrote the poem called Blackout.”In 1966, Mrs Hashmi returned to London where she joined an infant school and invested most of her time on art education for children. In the meantime, her husband took up his studies at the London School of Economics. The couple stayed there for three years. In 1969, Mrs Hashmi took up teaching Fine Arts at the National College of Arts in Lahore whilst continuing to build her team of artists for television shows Mr and Mrs Hashmi were producing together. She also served as the Principal of National College of Arts for four years. She’s organized, curated and implemented several art exhibits and design projects, conferences and seminars in Pakistan and around the world. She also has several publications to her credit.In 1981, Mrs Hashmi’s husband was arrested and jailed at Kot Lakhpat with 400 people for their progressive views. “It was déjà vu for me at many levels. My daughter was the same age I was when my father had been arrested and the superintendent of the Kot Lakhpat jail where my husband was, was the same jailer during my father’s tenure in prison,” she says.In 1955, Mrs Hashmi visited her birthplace Delhi with her father during the Asia Writers’ Congress organized by the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Her father was the head of the Pakistani delegation. “I remember we went across Wagah on foot and then went on to Amritsar by train where we had lunch. We arrived in Delhi and met with friends from pre-Partition days. I also remember meeting Nehru,” she says.In 1962, Mrs Hashmi revisited Delhi with her mother to watch celebrations of the India Republic Day. “It used to be celebrated with royalty and pomp, with elephant processions and fairs during Nehru’s time,” Mrs Hashmi recounts.Sharing her final thoughts on Partition, she says: “There is no closure because people’s stories have yet to be properly documented and understood. They were the ones who had to pay the price for a decision in which so much was left to chance, and neither side envisaged what they were unleashing. It was a terrible carnage which was totally unnecessary. The issue of Partition keeps re-emerging with the 3rd and 4th generation today who don’t have those immediate memories but they do carry the stories that were handed down to them.There are a million ways to look at Partition. Over the years I have heard stories of bitterness, of great optimism, of loyalty and of gratitude. As a child, I’ve heard stories from my parents who witnessed it. My mother worked in the refugee camps. I was at the Lahore Railway Station when a train full of dead bodies had arrived and my mother had yelled at our driver to take me away from that carnage. There was a deathly silence on the platform in Lahore which I understood years later.My father, even though he was from this side, could not reconcile all his life with the biggest bloodbath in the history of this region. It is evident in the fact that he managed to write only one poem on Partition. It’s these stories that lead us to know why it happened the way it happened.The fact remains that the British set this up to drive the point home. This was their last good bye to the Sub-Continent. It could’ve been nipped in the bud very easily but they chose to look away when they had the means not to. I feel we really have to accept that there was this separation and we need to come to terms with it if we want to move forward. Otherwise, we are only going to trivialize all the carnage that has happened and it will weigh on our shoulders if we don’t find a way to cope with it.
History and History
Urdu and Panjabi
Physical Description:
2 video files
Publication Info:
Lahore (Pakistan)
Lahore (Pakistan), January 18, 2016
Filmed interviews