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The partition of Indian subcontinent was the most complex divorce in history. It was a breakup of family of 400 million human beings along with the property they had acquired in centuries of living together. The Partition of India is one of the most catastrophic events calamitously dismembering lives in countless tales untold. Few stories found place in literature, but most lost to time.

Many such tales leave bitter memories of the nightmare of exodus. I came across one such poignant story while reading ‘Freedom at Midnight’, the story touched my heart. This true-life story is about an unfortunate man Boota Singh who lost his love in the horrors of partition.

Boota singh was a farmer who had liberated a Muslim girl, Zainab, from her abductor. Eleven months after their marriage a daughter was born to them and they named her Tanveer- Miracle of the sky. Few years later, Boota Singh’s nephews, angry at losing a chance to inherit his property, reported the authorities who were trying to locate women abducted during the violence. Authorities took cognizance of the complaint and Zainab was wrenched from her husband, they kept her in the camp while efforts were made to locate her kin in Pakistan.

In a state of despair, Boota Singh rushed to New Delhi and accomplished at the most difficult act a Sikh could perform. He cut his hair and embraced Islam. Renamed Jamil Ahmed, Boota Singh presented himself at the office of Pakistan’s High Commissioner and demanded the return of his wife. The meeting ended in failure as the two nations have agreed that implacable rules would govern the exchange of abducted women: married or not, they would be returned to the families from which they had been forcibly separated. For six month Boota Singh visited his wife daily, he would sit beside her in silence, weeping for their lost dream of happiness. Soon the authorities located her family, the couple embraced in a tearful farewell, Zainab vowing never to forget him and to return to him and their daughter as soon as she could.

Desperate Boota Singh applied for Visa which was refused by the Pakistani authorities. Eventually, taking with him his daughter, renamed Sulatana, he crossed the frontier illegally. He made his way to Zainab’s village where he received a cruel shock. His wife was being remarried to her cousin. Poor Boota singh was brutally beaten by Zainab’s family and was handed over to the police as an illegal migrant. Brought to trial, Boota Singh pleaded he was a Muslim and begged the judge to return his wife to him. He urged that he should be granted to meet his wife and ask her if she would return to India with him.

Moved by his plea, the judge agreed and directed for a confrontation in the court room. A terrified Zainab, escorted by an angry and possessive horde of her relatives, was brought into the chamber.

The judge indicated Boota Singh and his daughter, ‘Do you know this man?’ he asked. ‘Yes’ was the answer from trembling Zainab, ‘he is my husband and she is my daughter’. ‘Do you wish to return with them to India?’ the judge asked. Boota Singh turned his pleading eyes on the young girl who had brought so much happiness to his life. Behind Zainab, was standing an angry mob comprising of the male members of her clan warning her against trying to renounce the call of her kin. Amidst the tension that has gripped the courtroom, Boota singh stood impatiently waiting for Zainab’s call. For an unbearable moment the court was silent as the grave.

Zainab shook her head, ‘NO’, she whispered.

Boota Singh couldn’t believe his ears he staggered against the railing behind him. ‘I cannot deprive you of your daughter, Zainab’, he said. ‘I leave her to you, my life is finished now,’ he said in grief.

Zainab looked at her daughter with the eyes of despair. To accept her would be to condemn her to a life of misery. An awful sob shook her frame. ‘No’, she said. Broken Boota Singh took her daughter and left the court room without turning back.

The helpless man Boota singh and his daughter walked to the nearby railway station. Waiting on the platform for the train to arrive, the weeping Boota Singh told his daughter that she wouldn’t see her mother again.

An engine burst into the station the little girl felt her father’s arms tighten around her. Boota Singh leapt into the path of the onrushing engine. Boota Singh was killed instantly, but by a miracle his daughter survived unharmed. On his mutilated corpse, the police found a blood-soaked farewell note to his wife who rejected him.

‘My dear Zainab, it said, ‘you listened to the voice of the multitude, but that voice is never sincere. Still my last wish is to be with you. Please bury me in your village and come from time to time to put flower on my grave.’

Boota Singh’s suicide stirred a wave of emotion in Pakistan and his funeral became an event of national importance in Punjab. He became a symbol of unconditional love in those terrible days when Punjab was in flames.

 

Source of this story: FREEDOM AT MIDNIGHT by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins.

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Kartikey Misra

A student of law, co-founder eltrivate, Individualist, Narcissist. Totally believes in Nationalism. Has an interest in politics, history, religion, literature and international relations. Loves to hunt pseudo liberals and pseudo seculars.

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