Contact Us

The 1947 Partition Archive Survivors and their Memories

Oral history with Taj Begum, 2017 February 6.
Oral history with Taj Begum, 2017 February 6.
Begum, Taj, 1937- and Hassan, Fakhra
Author (no Collectors):
Begum, Taj, 1937-, Hassan, Fakhra, Hassan, Fakhra, and Hassan, Fakhra
Taj Begum was born in 1937 in Delhi to an Urdu-speaking literary family. Her father, born and raised in Delhi, was a landlord and her mother was a homemaker. Sharing the story behind her name, Taj Begum says, “My father says on my birthday King George VI was crowned in England, and therefore he’d decided that my name would be Taj.” Her parents’ marriage was set by her paternal grandfather in Delhi, when her mother was four and a half years old, and her father was six years old. “Several years after her marriage, my mother obtained an English education from Queen Mary School, and could read the English newspaper, and converse in English,” she shares.Taj Begum is the third of five sisters and one brother, and was raised at her paternal grandparents’ residence in Khari Bavla mohallah and their parents’ residence on Court Road (near Delhi Sabzi Mandi) before Partition. Her paternal grandfather used to own a horse cart, and her parents used to own a car. Her father was avid hunter, and would often to go to Delhi for hunting tigers and deer, and had a great collection of guns for hunting that he’d keep hidden at the basement of the house. “Every week we used to watch him disassemble his guns, clean them, and reassemble them,” she remembers.Her father had recently built their house on Court Road before her family moved into it in 1944. It had a lawn with a swing for children, a kitchen, and five rooms, with curtains. The rooms of her house were divided into zenana (female-only) and mardana (male-only) sections. Cooking was done by the male cooks in copperware and brassware utensils. “The male cooks were forbidden to enter the living and dining areas without their heads covered,” Taj Begum remembers. “My grandmother had not once heard the crackling of cooking utensils nor had seen cooks make food in the kitchen,” she says. Taj Begum recounts only the elders in her house were allowed to listen to the radio. “In our father’s absence, we would switch it on and listen to songs on it. As soon as he’d return, we’d switch it off, cover our heads, and go back to reading our books,” she recalls.The police station and vegetable market was close to their house. During Diwali and Gurupurab, Taj Begum and her family used to get sweets from their neighbors. During Eid, Taj Begum would visit her paternal grandparents’ home at Khari Bavla, where the entire family would get together for Eid prayers, and katchoris and vermicelli with milk was made and distributed in the mohallah. In 1942 Taj Begum joined her elder sister at the Saint Mary’s School in Delhi. She says that it was a school run by the nuns. Her most vivid memory from that school was standing in a queue outside the canteen to get their share of breakfast – biscuits and an apple.At the time of Partition Taj Begum was in 3rd grade at school, and she recounts way the neighborhood changed. “I used to rely on the elders to understand what was going on. There was a family at the vegetable market, close friends of my father’s. The women of that family had not once stepped foot outside their house. One day, they were forced to flee their home, with their children and some of them came to our house for refuge. I used to see them cry and narrate stories of how the English killed one of their sons, and how they saw his dead body on the streets. From the lawn of our house, we could see fireballs flying all over the place. It felt like we were in the middle of some kind of war. The fighting lasted for three days,” she shares.She remembers that her father asked her mother to cook and gather as much food as possible, as they prepared to leave their home for Purana Qila when neighbors had warned them of a police raid. “Being few in number, the neighbors told our father it would not be possible for them to protect us if such a raid took place,” Taj Begum says.Taj Begum, her immediate family and her cooks moved on to the Old Fort, while her uncle stayed behind at their home on Court Road. “He had hoisted the flag, and luckily, our house was spared from the violence and destruction we’d feared.” The refugee camp was miserable: “There was no food getting distributed there, and no roof on top of our heads. It was raining. Once we hid under one of the army trucks to avoid getting wet from rainwater. It was the heaviest rainfall I’d seen in Delhi.” Her father had plane tickets to Lahore, but the earliest flight for Lahore was not for another 15 days. “The living conditions at the Old Fort were getting worse, we couldn’t wait that long, so my father wasted those tickets and bought train tickets to Lahore instead.”Taj Begum remembers the train ride to Lahore. “The berth was literally stuffed with people, and the windows were sealed shut. My baby cousin’s mouth was stuffed with a cloth so that he may not make a sound. Our uncle told us insurgents are sharpening swords on the platform, if we make a sound, they would massacre the entire train,” she shares. It was a 36 hour journey to Lahore via Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh. Her paternal aunt was living in Lahore, as her husband was posted as a civil surgeon there. After crossing the border at Wagah, Taj Begum stayed with them for a few days, and then moved on to Karachi and settled temporarily with her maternal aunt at a two-room flat on Jacob Lines. Her father was offered an evacuee property in Karachi against their residential property in Delhi. “My father saw that house and noticed half-eaten stale roti and a plate of rotten daal on the table, with a glass of water half-empty, as if the person left his home in the middle of lunch/dinner. He refused to take that house as we also had left ours in a similar state,” she says.It was difficult to adjust to their new home in Karachi. There were no fans, and the bathroom was filthy. After living at Jacob Lines for three years, Taj Begum and her family moved to a guest house at Pakistan Chowk, and eventually her father built their own house at Nazimabad in Karachi. Taj Begum’s mother struggled in Karachi to find a suitable school for her daughters, and eventually had them admitted to Government School on Jacob Lines. After matriculation, Taj Begum obtained her intermediate and bachelor’s degree from Frere’s College in Karachi in English, Urdu Advanced and political science in 1957, and B.Ed in 1958 from Karachi University. She took up lectureship in Urdu at the Government School on Jacob Lines in 1959. She also taught Urdu and English at the Government School in Nazimabad for a decade. In 1967 she studied for her master’s in Urdu from Karachi University. In 1989 she joined the Government College for Women at Korangi in Karachi as principal, and served there until her retirement in 1997.She married her husband, author and broadcaster, Dr. Aslam Farrukhi, in 1955 in Karachi. The couple has two sons. Her husband passed away in August last year due to heart-related complications. Currently she lives with one of her sons and his family in Karachi. Since Partition, Taj Begum has not visited her birthplace in Delhi, though she shares her late husband has made sixteen trips to Delhi, particularly to attend the Urs of Nizamuddin Auliya. “More than the love for my birthplace, I have fear of it. I can never forget those awful days of Partition.”
History and History
Physical Description:
1 video file
Publication Info:
Karachi (Pakistan)
Karachi (Pakistan), February 6, 2017
Filmed interviews