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- Oral history with Arghwani Begum, 2015 August 31.
- Begum, Arghwani, 1922- and Hassan, Fakhra
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- Arghwani Begum was born on 2nd January, 1922 at the Princely State of Sahaspur in Uttar Pradesh. Her mother, Ms Ghafoorunisa was a purdah-observing home-maker. Her father, Mr Samiullah Khan was a Governor of the Princely State of Sahaspur with 22 villages in the Bijnor district under his possession and supervision. Residents of the villages were mainly Muslim, Hindu and Christian families and most of them were farmers, she recalls. “Seasonal crops were grown in the villages with mainly rice, sugarcane, pulses and sesame from what I’ve seen. A portion of the harvest would come to my father. That was our family’s main source of income,” she says. The irrigation system for the lands at Sahaspur was well-based. Each village in Sahaspur had its own well.She grew up with three sisters at their haveli (mansion) in Sahaspur. Arghwami Begum is the youngest. Electricity came to Sahaspur in 1934, when Arghwani Begum was 10 years old. “Before electricity arrived in our area, we used to have oil-powered fans,” she recalls.Their haveli was segregated into mardana (male) and zanana (female) sections including the living rooms, dining areas and the kitchens, she recalls. “Men and women living in the house were not allowed to trespass into each other’s sections,” she says. The same rules applied to the servants and the maids, she says. There was a separate building for guests within the haveli and stables for the elephants and the horses as well, and a garage for cars. Food used to be made by the cooks. “We used to have both male and female cooks assigned to the dining areas. The men used to eat outside mainly, while the women ate inside,” she recalls. Copper pans and utensils were mainly used for cooking. “On the first or second of every month, they’d be electroplated,” Arghwani Begum’s clothes, shoes and other household amenities mainly came from Delhi and Muradabad. Jewellers from Delhi used to come to Sahaspur to sell gold and diamond necklaces and earrings as well, she says.Recalling her early childhood days, Arghwani Begum says she was overtly fond of climbing the trees. “I used to get together with my friends and climb the falsa and the morus trees and pluck the fruits.” She recalls having many dolls and playing with her friends. “Sometimes we would marry the dolls and enact a proper Indian wedding in their honour. Our mothers used to stitch the wedding clothes for the dolls,” she recalls. Most of Arghwani Begum’s childhood friends were daughters of farmers from all ethnic and religious backgrounds who used to visit her haveli with their parents quite often, especially during harvest seasons and crops distribution days. “Before I entered my teens, I was officially a boy with no purdah restrictions,” she says.She learnt to read and write in Urdu at home. “We used wooden boards to write in Urdu. We’d use two types of bamboo pens, the ones with flat nibs was used for writing alphabets and the ones with narrow nibs were used for punctuation marks and dots,” she recounts. Arghwani Begum received her early and advanced religious schooling at home as well. She never went to an academic school of learning. “My father was against it. I grew up on Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi’s compilation of Islamic teachings in Urdu called the Bahishti Zewar and the novels of Maulana Nazir Ahmad Dehlvi,” she says.In 1935, Arghwani Begum and her family went on their first annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia on ship via Karachi. “I used to run around in the ship a lot. We were at sea for 10 days before reaching Mecca. We completed the pilgrimage at Mecca and Medina, and then went to Jeddah. We stayed there for about three months and returned to Karachi via Jeddah,” she says.In 1943, she was married into a family from Delhi. “It was a three-month long wedding considering the time-consuming journeys on elephants. The barat stayed at our haveli for seven days,” she recalls.By 1947, Arghwani Begum, mother of two children, a daughter and a son, was pregnant with her third child. Recalling events leading up to Partition, she said Hindu-Muslim communal tensions had begun to escalate after May 1940, when the Pakistan resolution was passed. “Before that, there was lot of unity and trust between the Hindus and Muslims. We began to see the effects of the resolution when fighting started to erupt in the villages of Sahaspur,” she says.She was 25 years old and at Rang Mehal in Delhi when Partition was announced. She was in her eighth or ninth month of pregnancy. “I really didn’t have any clear understanding of what is going on when our boxes were getting packed with valuables and necessities. My family told me that we are moving out of the haveli and nothing else,” she recalls.They set out from Sahaspar in the family’s motor vehicles with her children, mother-in-law, husband, sister-in-law, uncles and their families for the Purana Qila (Old Fort) of Delhi. “At the Fort, we didn’t have a roof to sit under as there were so many families there and it was raining immensely. One of the families at the camp, in charge of pegging tents saw us and immediately pegged a tent around us. Arghwani Begum spent the night there and the next morning went into labour. She gave birth to her third child, a son, at the Old Fort migrant camp at Delhi, a day after Partition. Arghwani Begum’s sister-in-law had started crying incessantly after holding her new-born nephew “but I didn’t register why”, she recalls. “There were no clothes for the baby. He was draped in one of my daughter’s frocks,” she says.They stayed at the Old Fort for two days and carried on to the Nizamuddin Railway Station in Delhi in the army jeeps that were expected to pick them up. “At the station, while everyone was worried about having something to eat before the train departed, I wanted to get on the train immediately. I hadn’t eaten for nearly three days but had no hunger for food. I just wanted the journey to end,” she says.During her journey to Lahore from Delhi that started on the 17th of August, her train made stops at various stations. Recalling a night’s stay at the Amroha Railway Stop, she says lots of people got off the train in desperation to get water and eatables for the journey but never returned. “At some stations that were downhill, we saw people from the hilly areas rushing towards our train with food and drinks for the refugees for the rest of the journey. It was a relief to see that but I still didn’t have the heart to eat or drink anything,” she says. As her train continued to move, Arghwani Begum witnessed the massacre of Sikh passengers in a train passing by theirs in the opposite direction. “There were men climbing and entering that train with swords and knives. I saw the sudden commotion and heard their screams and cries of panic. I also witnessed men jumping off that train with their women and girls. It was horrifying.” she recounts.Her train finally made it to the Wagah border on the 20th of August but it was not the end of the ordeal as our train had come under attack too. “It was so sudden. We immediately sealed shut the windows of our train with whatever we could get our hands on. My baby almost fainted due to lack of Oxygen in our berth. One of the male helpers in the train helped my baby get some air through the train’s main entrance while the killing spree lasted for an uncertain period. There was a lot of people, especially children from many berths of that train had been killed. I saw their bloodied bodies when we finally got out of the train when the assailants had left,” she says.From Wagah, Arghwani Begum and her family (mother-in-law, sister-in-law and children) moved to the refugee camp at Walton. They were picked up hours later and shifted to the Davis School which had been temporarily converted into a residence for migrants in poor physical shape. She was reunited with her husband and parents three days later. “They’d discovered our whereabouts through announcements on loud speakers at the railway station,” she recalls. From Davis School, Arghwani Begum’s family moved to her daughter’s future husband’s uncle’s house in Model Town where they stayed for two-three days.From there, she moved to a small independent house in Model Town’s C-Block, once occupied by the Hindu families. “There was a 10-kanal vacant plot next to that house which used to belong to an affluent Hindu landlord. My husband purchased the plot and we had a big house built on it for my children,” she says.In the 1950s, her family was allotted some lands at Dera Ismail Khan against their property at Sahashpur by the Pakistani government. “We had no roots or business in Dera Ismail Khan and therefore used those lands for agricultural purposes only,” she says. Her mother-in-law expired in 1971 followed by her husband who died of heart failure in 1975. The couple has two sons and four daughters. Two of her daughters are educated and settled in the US. “My husband had left my sons on a solid footing and taught them all there is to know about leading a responsible life. They practically took care of everything after his demise,” she says.In 1980, she visited her birthplace in India with two of her daughters Nabahat and Sabahat on train. Her daughter says, “She had practically started shaking and crying as we approached her house. It was very intense for her,”Arghwani Begum currently lives at her husband’s house with her maid, one of her sons, daughter-in-law, grand-children, and great-grand-children in Lahore nowadays.
- History and History
- Panjabi and Urdu
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- Publication Info:
- Lahore (Pakistan)
- Lahore (Pakistan), August 31, 2015
- Filmed interviews