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The 1947 Partition Archive Survivors and their Memories

Oral history with Sushiri Motial, 2013 November 13.
Oral history with Sushiri Motial, 2013 November 13.
Motial, Sushiri, 1940- and Alam, Zain
Author (no Collectors):
Motial, Sushiri, 1940-, Alam, Zain, Alam, Zain, and Alam, Zain
Sushiri Motial, née Gupta, was born to Lala Bishindaas and Prakash in the Amira Kadal district of Srinagar on July 11, 1940.The family would spend half the year living in their ancestral home in the Purani Mandi village of Jammu and the other half in Srinagar, Kashmir, where there father was a civil servant and eventually retired as deputy home secretary. He was later asked by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad to start an anti-corruption department and also ended up in charge of the Maharaja trust in the Jammu and Kashmir state.In Jammu they had a sizable five-bedroom house while in Srinagar they regularly switched between government accommodoations. This annual cycle of switching between the two cities was really the “greatest fun,” Mrs. Motial says, as they were always excited to move back and forth while enjoying the best climate of each.He studied in Jammu and was fluent in Sanskrit, English, and Hindi. The family spoke Dogri at home and English and Hindi outside. Mrs. Motial once knew Kashmiri and Bengali (after having lived in Calcutta for thirteen years) but has since forgotten them both. Their family had strong “lotus roots”—fond of all things Kashmiri, its paneer, the chashma shai water, and a composite religious atmosphere that she will forever feel nostalgic for.Mrs. Motial’s maternal grandfather was a rich jagidar originally from Lahore who died early, just before Mrs. Motial’s mother was born. Her father was the only child of fourteen to survive, so she had no cousins from his side, while the few from her mothers side only ever briefly visited.Her father’s foremost focus was the education of his children. Accordingly, each of them have gone on to high achievement in life, getting Ph. Ds, becoming doctors, and so on. She herself has an M. Sc. in zoology and is a retired su jok practicioner. Her and her siblings were raised with a strict 10 PM bedtime and a 4 AM wake-up call after which they took a walk, jogged, and completed their homework. She was fond of running, playing ball, boating, and taking Sunday picnics. “Nobody just sat at home,” she says, even on their free days. She grew up with an elder sister and brother, as well as another two younger sisters and brother. Her father was an exceptionally strong character, she says—a simple man who remains an enduring influence in her and her siblings’ life. Candidates for jobs that he intereviewed would bring him gifts, only to be refused. No showing off—keep things simple and live a simple life, was his motto. Discipline and honesty underpinned his life and what he passed on to his children.Their house was their temple. As their father was a great singer, he recited devotional bhajans and passed on the singing trait to his children. Mrs. Motial had Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh friends; her best friend was Sikh, her father’s best friend was Muslim. She remembers times when Muslims (even males, alone) would accompany her home late at night to make sure she arrived safely. These religious differences didn’t matter where she lived. She celebrated both Eid and Diwali with her family and Muslims friends —why shouldn’t they celebrate together when they lived together?Her father’s Muslim best friend stayed behind in India even after his children and wife went to Pakistan to join the rest of their family in Lahore and Rawalpindi. The best friend illegally crossed the border and was arrested on a number of occasions trying to see them. She remembers a dramatic episode in which he came to her sister’s wedding in handcuffs, after convincing the police that he had to come and give his blessings.“I can’t tell you,” she says, “how life in Srinagar—maybe the best in the world.” Though Partition was the first shock, everything bad in that region—that remains to this day—began in 1965.The family was in Srinagar at the time of Partition. Before they left the city as tensions arose, her mother filled up their pockets with basics like dry fruit, in case anything happened and they were separated. There was so much burning in the city that the sky turned a red hue while on the ground friends became enemies. Her family was still welcomed by friendly Muslims though and they took refuge in their homes on their way to safety in a military store. The image of dead bodies piled on carts remains with her to this day. Their father collected gasoline in the hopes of killing attackers—or the whole family—before they tried lay a hand on his daughters.Her ancestral village in Jammu became a battlefield in the days of Partition. Like that of so many others, her family’s property was all cleared out in the violence. Her maternal grandmother’s house was lost because it was on the Pakistan side of the border; her subsequent claim to the Indian government failed.Her father lost his job soon after Partition because he went to drop his family in Rothak, Haryana where his friends were well settled. Mrs. Motial did not go to school for a year, while her mother stitched and knitted to work and keep herself busy at their friends’ home. When things calmed down following Partition, the family returned to their regular schedule of spending half their time in Srinagar and half in Jammu until things permanently worsened after the 1965 war.She was married in 1963 to Virendra Singh Motial after a five-year engagement; their fathers were best friends. The Motials had three daughters, and she remembers hearing gunfire in when she was once feeding the first. Her husband said it was only fireworks, but the bullet marks on the side of a neighboring house confirmed what she had heard. Casualties in a nearby marketplace only added to their feeling that communal conflict had come to stay in the region. For the most part, changes in the region since 1947 have uniformly been bad, she feels. It’s sad that a few have been able to poison the whole place.In 1967 she moved with her husband after he got a job in Lucknow. He then was posted in Calcutta for a time before returning to Lucknow again permanently. They both continue to visit Jammu and Kashmir, but each visit has been tinged with sadness for what has developed there since their childhood when it was a place to have lovely experiences for people of all faiths who felt no tension in eating from the same plate, the same apple tree.What hurt most was in 1989 when someone in Srinagar after realizing who she was said, “This is not your Hindustan.” How could someone say that to her in the city where she was born, where she had been educated and married? In 1990 her best friend’s husband, a Hindu who owned a factory, was killed while living in a Muslim-dominated neighborhood. A cousin-in-law was murdered—after the house was demolished—when a group of Muslims felt disrespected. Friends in Jammu ended up in refugee camps after their homes were set on fire. Even Muslim friends have been caught in the crossfire though—the “sharif admi” (good man) has suffered regardless of faith, she says. “Understand your brother to truly be your brother,” she continues. “Think with your own brain. We should remain united.”She can still visit Jammu but not Srinagar, regardless of the lovely memories she has of the city. She recoils and shudders when I ask her what image comes to her mind on mentions of Partition: it is the mother of a friend going mad and eating coal after the trauma of 1947.
Hindi and English
Physical Description:
3 video files
Publication Info:
Lucknow (India)
Lucknow (India), November 13, 2013
Filmed interviews