Love In The Time Of Partition - Romances That Bloomed In Turmoil

Balraj Bahri and his wife Bhag Malhotra
Balraj Bahri and his wife Bhag Malhotra Aanchal Malhotra

What happens when a limb is torn from your body and made to survive on its own? Do these two parts of flesh though bleeding and aching learn to exist independently? Or do they spend the rest of their indeterminate lives longing for a reunion that will complete them? These questions still haunt those who survived the Partition Of India, when on 14th August 1947 a line tearing the Indian provinces of Punjab and Bengal, on religious demographics created a new limb; the Islamic State of Pakistan. With a notice period of five weeks close to 17 million people were forced to bundle up their childhoods, belongings, future and head towards an unknown land that was now to be their ‘home’. While reconciling with permanent separation from ancestral land and relationships cultivated over a lifetime, almost 1 million people lost their lives in a communal carnage that has been etched in the regional consciousness of the people who survived it. Our series “Love In The Time Of Partition”, commemorates the 70th anniversary of Partition and brings to you stories of love which though absent from public records, restores our faith in humanity against the backdrop of one of the most tragic events in human history.

In this article, we cover stories where despite the trying and tumultuous times, souls searching for love and companionship found each other and their togetherness today, so many years later, is a legacy by itself.

I. The Couple Who Fell in Love In A Refugee Camp

“.....he’d pick up- without fail- a string of jasmine flowers, motia, and he’d put them in my hair. That was love, it was that simple.”

Balraj Bahri, crossed the border from Malakwal, a small village a few hours outside of Lahore to Delhi, where they stayed at Kingsway Camp for the refugees; the largest camp in the capital. Meanwhile a young woman named Bhag Gulyani had migrated from the Dera Ismail Khan in the North West Frontier Province, now in Pakistan to independent India. After staying in a refugee camp in Meerut, Gulyani moved to Delhi and was allotted residence in a barrack on the Hudson Line of Kingsway camp. Bahri and Bhag Gulyani met while working for the same social work organization through the camp and fell in love. Since then they have spent 61 years together, had three children, eight grandchildren and built an independent book empire; the iconic Bahrisons Booksellers in the country’s capital. When asked whether it was love at first sight, Gulyani shyly reveals, “Mere liye toh tha, it was for me. But the proclamations of love were not as obvious or public as they are today. Unn dino chup chaap hi baatein hoti hi, in those days we were subtle about our feelings. Every night, when he would come back from the bookshop in Khan Market, he would stop at India Gate along the way. From there, he’d pick up- without fail- a string of jasmine flowers, motia, and those he’d put in my hair. That was love, it was that simple.”

This story is credited to Aanchal Malhotra. To know more about her work visit her website here.

Image Credit: Aanchal Malhotra

II. The Love That Partition Could Not Destroy

“I was told that my grandpa was the love of her life.”

Many years ago when Jason Scott Tilley was sitting with his grandfather’s photograph albums on his lap and talking to his grandmother after Sunday lunch, she looked at him and stated, in a tone which to him sounded somewhat incongruously jealous for a woman in her late seventies, “those books are just full of photographs of his ex-girlfriends”. Tilley’s grandfather was sitting opposite and either didn’t hear this remark or chose to ignore it – the snooker on the television providing a timely distraction. His grandfather Bert Scott was born and educated in Bangalore and he joined the Times Of India in 1936 as a press photographer. With trouble brewing during Partition, he along with his family fled and left all that was known to him as home far behind. Part of the few essentials Scott carried with him were several photo albums.

The albums have quite a few photographs of beautiful young women of the time of the Raj but there are an extraordinary number of photographs of one elegantly beautiful young Anglo-Indian woman whose name, was Marguerite Mumford. The photographs of her were taken by Tilley’s grandfather, during day trips to the beach or picnics by the river are infused with a certain kind of intimacy and playfulness. Tilley was intrigued. Who was Marguerite? Why had their romance ended? He spent hours scouring the internet in the faint hope that he might be able to find someone from her family who he could share her beautiful photographs with, but unfortunately he had no such luck. Recently when he was pouring over the pages of that album once more and he noticed the faded words Marguerite ‘Lovedale’ that he thinks his grandfather must have written more than twenty years ago.

Image Credit: Jason Scott Tilley's photo by Bert Scott

Intrigued as to what the word ‘Lovedale’ meant he returned once more to the computer only to find out that Lovedale is the nickname of the Lawrence Memorial Military School in the town of Ooty in the Nilgiri Hills of India. Tilley’s great-grandfather had a summer-house in Ooty and his grandfather would spend weekends with him while he was studying at St Josephs College in Coonoor. Tilley presumes that Ooty would have been the place where his grandfather must have met Marguerite and where their relationship must have blossomed.

On contacting the school in Ooty his search ultimately led him to one of Marguerite’s sisters; Gladys who told him that Marguerite was very much alive but she was now ninety-six years of age, with a dimmed memory and living in an old age home in New Zealand.

Image Credit: Jason Scott Tilley's photo by Bert Scott

When Tilley sent a photograph of his grandfather, Marguerite’s poignantly hopeful reaction was simply, “Is Bertie here?” He was later told that his grandfather was the love of Marguerite’s life even though after she had left India she had married an Irishman.

This story was originally published by Jason Scott Tilley on The Beautiful People Blog as “Finding Marguerite”

You can follow the author on Twitter @TilleyEsquire

III. The Tale Of The Couple Who Got Married By Finishing Each Other’s Poems

“Our lives were like this. Filled with these small, sweet, somewhat strange romantic gestures.”

A few years before the Partition, one Major Narenderpal Singh, posted in Syria with the British Indian Army, read a poem by the prolific young writer, Prabhjot Kaur, living in Lahore. At once, he decided that this was the woman he was to marry, without ever having seen or spoken to her. As soon as his posting ended, he travelled to Lahore to meet her and sought her hand in marriage.

“I remember distinctly,” she said, unraveling their love story, “that he pulled out a pin from his turban and asked me-May I?” Both confused and surprised, I nodded, and then he did the strangest thing; he reached over and tapped my teeth gently. Then, laughing, he said that they were so lovely and pearly white that he had wanted to check whether they were real! Our lives were like this. Filled with these small, sweet, somewhat strange romantic gestures. A few months later, in The Punjabi Sahitya- a magazine circulated within the subcontinent and to all the Indian soldiers posted elsewhere published a poem titled- ‘Rohini and Bir Singh’. Prabhjot Kaur read this poem with great interest, a poem about love and separation, and was surprised to find the name of her beloved at the end. However, she thought it was incomplete and in the next issue of the Sahitya, she continued the poem with a new verse, which he further continued with another in the following issue. This went on until the poem was complete after six verses and published through a local press in Lahore on 19th January 1947 under the title Kaafile. The couple was reunited after Partition and married in Independent India.

This story is credited to Aanchal Malhotra. To know more about her work visit her website here.

Image Credit: Aanchal Malhotra

IV. The Couple Whose Union Marks The Unity Of Two Divided Nations

“....lagti toh achi hai, she looks quite nice! chalo, theek hi hai!”

In 1946, a young woman named Sawarn gained admission into Lahore’s Hans Raj College, where she lived in the dormitory. One day, two women came to have a look at the young girl for their son.They came back home to Jhelum, and impressed with the girl told their son; Pran, “kudi dekh li tere liye, we have seen a girl for you. Meinu pasad hai, I really like her, now all you need to do is get married! Bass vyah kar li tu!” The next day, anxious and excited, Pran wrote to his friend who also studied in Lahore requesting him to go see the girl. The friend went, sought her out, and promptly wrote back saying, “dekho bhai, she goes for games and swimming early in the morning. You should take a trip here to come and see the girl. But I must warn you, badi ladaki hai, she had quite the temper, so just don’t mention anything in front of her! Daadi kudi hai

So, rather nervously, the young man made his way across to Lahore to see the seemingly hot-tempered woman he was to shortly marry. With curious eyes, he watched her as she made her way across the College grounds- short hair, twinkling eyes, smooth skin and a petite frame. Then with a shy smile, told his friend, “lagti toh achi hai, she looks quite nice! chalo, theek hi hai!’ And that was it, their union was decided, just with one glance. At the end of that very same year, in the midst of the Partition riots, a calm man Pran married the tempered woman Swaran in a city on the banks of the river Jhelum; a river that today passes through northwestern India and eastern Pakistan.

This story is credited to Aanchal Malhotra. To know more about her work visit her website here.

Image Credit: Aanchal Malhotra

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