Contact Us

The 1947 Partition Archive Survivors and their Memories

Oral history with Nirmala Dandekar, 2016 February 15.
Oral history with Nirmala Dandekar, 2016 February 15.
Dandekar, Nirmala, 1933- and Luthra, Simran
Author (no Collectors):
Dandekar, Nirmala, 1933-, Luthra, Simran, Luthra, Simran, and Luthra, Simran
Home-maker Nirmala Dandekar was born Sudha Sridhar Gadgil. Her life began in Mumbai and she lived with her parents, paternal uncle and three siblings – two brothers and a sister. She grew up in a chawl – the Pradhan Building – with a boys’ school, public library and the busy Tilak bridge in her immediate surroundings. She remembers her mother feeding the cats that hung around the chawl. Her experience of Mumbai paints a picture devoid of all the development that we now associate with the city. She remembers the isolation of places in Mumbai that are not bustling centers of activity.As a young child living in Mumbai at the time, she witnessed the plurality of the city. She talks about the Chinese and other northern traders who came to the city. She talks about the harmony in the plurality of Mumbai with religions and castes living together without trouble. She specifically mentions how her mother, who was a Dalit from a small village in Ratnagiri, would sometimes need to buy wares from traders of higher castes. Although the refused the tea her mother made them, she would ensure that she gave them some money to buy a cup of tea for themselves from a place of their choosing. But the Dalits that came from the village would treat her mother, Yamuna Sridhar Gadgil, like a sister.Her mother would cook and clean everything but the vessels for which she had help. Her mother was also well versed in household remedies for common ailments and visits to the local Christian doctor were only in cases of emergencies. She has grown up hearing historical stories. Her school – General Education Girls’ High School – promoted the spirit of the nationalist movement. The school’s Principal was the wife of B. G. Kher, solicitor and social worker, who became the first Chief Minister of Bombay Sate. Political leaders of the day were regularly invited to address the students. These personalities included Pandurang Sadashiv Sane (Sane Guruji), an author, teacher and freedom fighter and social activist. She recounts her proximity to the freedom struggles – having seen Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, M. K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in person. She remembers that in 1942, the independence struggles had really begun. She remembers the guards outside her home on the night of the night of the Navy revolt in Mumbai in 1943.At the time of the Partition, in 1947, Nirmala was 14 years-old. While her age didn’t cause her to think too much about the event, she was affected by the sight of a refugee camp that her teacher organized a visit to. Her teacher, she says, wanted the students to know the plight of the refugees. She recounts how the refugees were brought to a school in Dadar and she talks about how some schools were made temporary refugee camps and how she saw and heard of the conditions in those camps. She recounts that a majority of the people were Sindhis. There were a few Punjabis among the people in the shelters too. Mumbai became a place of fear. In Mumbai, conversations became hushed. Refugees were relocated around Mumbai, to Kalyan, Badlapur and Ulhasnagar in a few months’ time.She remembers how the schools had not yet shut for the summer, one year, and the news of Subhash Chandra Bose’s exit from the country had caused unrest and a ‘bombing’ in Kolkata.When everything settled down, routines resumed. School resumed and soon, when she was in the eleventh grade, she was married. A relative had found a match for the young girl and on the 10th of February, 1951, a fortnight away from her 18th birthday, Sudha Sridhar Gadgil was married and was to be known by a new name – Nirmala Vasudeo Dandekar. She smiles as she shares how her wedding was conducted in two rooms of the chawl where she lived. The wedding itself was short and sweet as both, the bride and the groom, had exams they needed to appear for. After the wedding, the newlyweds moved to Kolhapur, where the groom worked as a college lecturer. The couple has two daughters and a son. As a home-maker, hers were the shoulders on which the responsibilities of the household were placed. The mother of three recounts that though her parents-in-law were around, it was her brother-in-law who was the closest to the family.Now, the 83 year-old spends her time reading the paper and exercising. Her old entertainment of watching plays, listening to lectures and going out is now rendered difficult by her health. Now, the 83 year-old believes that the killing of a good many people who would have been killed in the violent Partition were saved and have lived full lives because they moved to a new place. She believes that the governments of the time did think of the people. They did do what the people demanded and that their efforts for a united country went largely without support.She concludes with the thought that women’s empowerment, with the help of people from the outside. She hopes that young people participate and take initiative in being respectful to each other. Each gender needs to make a conscious effort to keep the other happy.
Physical Description:
2 video files
Publication Info:
Pune (India)
Pune (India), February 15, 2016
Filmed interviews