These 3 migrant stories will literally give you chills
Today, on International Migrants Day, we bring you these stories of migration—stories filled with despair and hopelessness, where people still hold on to the last glimmer of hope.
“Of everything that I lost during the partition, losing Dalbir Bhaiya stung the most. I was 4 when the partition was announced–Dalbir Bhaiya must have been 9. He was my favourite cousin and the best older brother. He always shared his chocolates with me, picked me on his team for gilli danda and saved me from Biji and her flying chappal!
His kothi was next to ours, so during partition, when Papaji asked me to pack my bags to leave, I ran to check on Dalbir Bhaiya. But he wasn’t home…In fact, no one was home. I kept looking for him until the last minute. Even on our way to the station, I jumped from our horse only to be yelled at by Papaji.
We took 2 days to reach Amritsar. After we migrants reached the camp, I looked for him everywhere, but Dalbir Bhaiya was nowhere to be found. Still, I didn’t lose hope. I knew one day I’d hear him say, ‘Oye Amir, kithe reh gaya?’ I kept looking.
Eventually, we settled in Uttrakhand. Papa started doing kheti and when I turned 15, I joined him. A decade had passed; there was no new information on Bhaiya. So, I started asking around in the community.
Once, I overheard a relative talk about Bhaiya’s mother. So, I got in touch with them and went to the address they gave me. But I narrowly missed Bhaiya by a week; no one had any idea about where he went; I was heartbroken.
I came back home and started my search from scratch. Years melted into decades, 7 to be precise. In those 70 years; I became grandfather to five, but the only constant was my search for Bhaiya! I’d looked up the partition database and even travelled back to Pakistan, but nothing!
I was on the verge of giving up when, 3 years ago, I was interviewed by the Partition Archives. There, I spoke about Bhaiya– how I lost him and just how much I missed him. The interview went live in the evening and the next morning, I had a few missed calls from the same number.
When I called back, a man on the other side said, ‘Oye Amir, kaise hai?’ I was shocked! It was Dalbir Bhaiya! His grandson had seen the interview and gotten in touch with the team. I couldn’t believe my ears and could barely form words. We decided to meet a week later in Delhi.
The moment I saw Bhaiya, I hugged him and burst into tears. He said, ‘Aakhir dhund hi liya tune!’ Bhaiya told me how his Mamaji came to rescue his family that night. He didn’t have the time to inform me, but he thought about me every day. I kept welling up during the entire conversation. We spent a week together and before I returned, Bhaiya made a promise–‘Ab kabhi alag nahi hongey!’
In these 72 years, nothing has changed. Bhaiya still takes me in his team when we play games online and whenever I’m late for a function, Bhaiya uses the same tone as he did when we were kids and says, ‘Oye Amir, kithe reh gaya?’”
“Our ancestral home was by the banks of Jhelum in Habba Kadal, Kashmir. But I never saw it because when Maa was pregnant with me, my family had to uproot their life and leave Kashmir in January of 1990. I grew up hearing stories of vandalism and massacre.
In 1986, the first announcement was made, ‘Yeh mulk humara hai. You either stay here and die or run!’ No one took it seriously–we were Kashmiris! Why would we leave? But over the years, the ‘threats’ turned into violence.
Once, when Maa was on her way to the temple, she was stopped by men who pointed at her Dehjoor earrings, the sign of a Hindu married woman, and said, ‘Remove these and leave, warna anjaam acha nahi hoga.’ Maa never wore her Dehjoor in public again. Soon after, we started receiving chits that read – ‘You’re on our list. Leave now or regret later!’
And the worst part was that it wasn’t just the extremists… From vendors to our neighbors, everyone gave us the cold shoulder. Before long, shootings and bomb blasts became a usual sighting…Many Kashmiri Pandit families started fleeing, but even before we could entertain the thought, DadaJi said ‘No!’ Our business, saffron lands–everything was there!
But one day, in the Jan of 1990, on a grocery run, Maa saw one of her friends’ being shot in the head. When she yelled in fear, she was spotted too. She ran for her life and somehow made it home. That night, with one backpack, Dada, Dadi, Nani, Papa, my sisters and a heavily pregnant Maa left Kashmir as migrants! Maa tells me that right before they got into the truck, they saw their house blow up; they’d narrowly escaped death.
The next morning, the 7 of them made it to Jammu; that’s where I was born. A few months later, Papa got posted to Pune and we all moved there. From a 4 storey bungalow that oversaw Jhelum, we came down to a 1 room quarter–we started from 0! Dadaji suffered a heart attack after we moved and Nani fell into depression. They both passed away a few years ago, but they never got over what had happened. No one has.
In 2008, we took a trip to Kashmir. Again, Maa left her Dehjoor earrings behind. I remember us cutting our trip short by 2 days because being a ‘tourist’ in their homeland was overwhelming for Maa and Papa. Sadly, this is the story of every Kashmiri Pandit family.
Still, we did good, my sisters and I got the best of education and are doing well. Last year, my husband and I visited Kashmir. I saw our house… or well, what was left of it. And while I feared coming clean about my identity, there were some who just knew, who offered me an apology and said, ‘Aapke saath galat hua hai.’
Sometimes I wonder whose fault it was? Was it the government who didn’t intervene? Or the extremists who were blinded by hate? Regardless, it’s we who suffered. And although it’s been over 3 decades since we were driven out of our homes, it still feels like we are in an indefinite exile!”
“I was 18 years old, when Jawaharlal Nehru came to Sindh, and announced the partition. We had no idea that, that one decision was going to change our lives -- and the future of our country.
One day we were living life normally, and the next day there were riots everywhere in Karachi. People were being set on fire, houses were destroyed, and women were being raped. There was an uproar of anger, and I remember feeling so scared.
This place was my home, but now every second I stayed, I feared what could happen to me. Every nook and corner had people barging into houses and taking innocent lives. Even then I didn’t want to leave my motherland, but I had no choice. The entire Sindhi community left Pakistan, to go to India.
We took trains to cross over, and were put in refugee camps when we arrived. But it was horrific — the camps were overpopulated with migrants and facilities were very few. Even the toilets for women didn’t have any doors. We had to sleep on the ground, where insects would keep biting us and leave us in pain.
The food we were given had all kinds of rubbish in it, which made it impossible to eat. The nightmares of those nights still live with me today — how we had to be the ones bearing a burden we didn’t ask for.
Finally I managed to get my mother and wife out of there — in some time we secured our passage to Mumbai. I still remember, we had to buy a pass from a paan shop, to enter the city. But the day we entered Mumbai, was the day that things started to look up again. Through a few relatives we found a small house to stay in, and I found a job. That’s how we sustained and got back on our feet.
Today I’m 88 years old, but I shudder each time I think about how just like me, there were so many others who lost the entire foundation of their lives, during the partition. And we had to rebuild it, brick by brick. So even though that day 2 nations became free — for it to happen, it took the sacrifice of hundreds.”
Being India’s biggest storytelling platform, Humans of Bombay is all about bringing you extraordinary stories of ordinary people. Today, on International Migrants Day, we bring you these stories to highlight the challenges migrants face, and how hard they work to leave the past behind and rebuild their lives. If you’d like to read more such stories, check out our book and dive into the diverse tales of a country with a billion beating hearts!