Ratna-Harish’s diary takes us back to the days of India’s partition

Excerpts From the diary of Ratna Harish (1923 -2014).

Born in Sukkur, Sindh Province (Now in Pakistan). She penned her memories of Sindh, the freedom struggle and partition. 

She arrived in India (Bikaner) in August 1947 unaware that she would never return to her beautiful land again. Ratna and her husband Harish later came to Bombay as refugees, pursued a legal education and set up the reputed law firm DM Harish and Co. 

Written on April 14, 2006. 6 Pm 

A child in Sukkur reminiscing about her father who died very young. 

They were so satisfied with his work and sincerity that he was granted 60 acres of farmland nearby, and until Partition, in every season we used to get so much produce from it - wheat, pulses and vegetables. 

Down memory lane. Seven decades and some odd years ago I can picture a tiny girl, maybe 4, standing on the terrace of her big house in Sukkur, Sindh, now in Pakistan. There was a wooden bed and lying on it was a very sick man, thin and worn out. The little girl that is me still can’t shake the sight of the sick man, her father,and his piercing eyes pinned on the little girl, empathising with his tiny daughter who was to lose her father. 

I feel so proud of my father and my heritage. They said he was a very honest, hardworking young man, he was in an important government position, his immediate boss an Englishman. Maybe even the collector of Sukkur. They said he would travel a lot with many senior English officials. They were so satisfied with his work and sincerity the was granted 60 acres of farmland nearby, and until Partition, in every season we used to get so much produce from it - wheat, pulses and vegetables. 

Written on November 7, 2006

A beautiful Life in Sukkur and summers in Karachi  (Sindh Province) 

We have everything here in India, especially in Mumbai, so I wonder why I miss my Sindh. My Sukkur on the banks of the River Sindhu (Indus) was beautiful and the long, wide stretch of land on the river bank was great for evening and night walks. Women would walk along the ghats, while men would go for a swim in the mighty river. At the time of the Cheti Chand Mela, thousands would gather by the Sindhu river and would enjoy great food. 

Women would walk along the ghats, while men would go for a swim in the mighty river.

The Sadh Belo in the middle of River Sindhu was a great place of worship. The temple had silver doors in several rooms, and sitting on its marble floor in the summer was a great feeling. The garden in Sadh Belo was a picnic spot, where peacocks came out to dance. My God, I miss my Sukkur!

In summer we would all go to Karachi, the harbour town. The roads were great, the Victoria carriage was a great attraction. We loved to eat the large red bananas in Karachi’s big Bolen market. I can never forget the sea and swimming at Kiamari using tyre floats. The boat rides were fantastic. The pictures keep rolling on the screen of my heart, where they have a permanent abode. I share these experiences with my dear ones who are born here in India and have never been to Sindh. Long live our Sindh on the map of the world and in our minds!

Written on Jan 18 2007 

 Blessed to have this education 

We loved to eat the large red bananas in Karachi’s big Bolen market.

The Sindhu river was a fantastic sight to look at, flowing majestically through the city of Sukkur, business centre on one bank and Rohri, the abode of intellectuals, saints and Sufis, on the other bank. They were connected by two bridges, one of these being the world-famous Lansdowne Bridge, which consisted of a scissor-type mechanism developed by British engineers. Pillars could not be used to support this bridge as the river bottom was very sandy.

I was in Sukkur up to 1939. In my middle school, I was the only girl in a class of 30 students. I occupied the first bench, which was meant exclusively for me. Not many girls used to study then-in the years 1933 to 1939. All the boys were well-behaved. 

Not many girls used to study then-in the years 1933 to 1939. All the boys were well-behaved. 

There were only a few girls who finished their final years of schooling. I feel privileged that I went on to complete six years of college-pursuing a Master's in Philosophy. The last six years of education were in Punjab, Firozpur city, now in India. There was an all-girls college and a hostel for girls on campus and my special subjects psychology and philosophy, really helped me understand the various people I met.

Written on Jan 18 2007 

Inqhilab Zindabad - Long Live Revolution 

In the first quarter of 1945, the political atmosphere was hot. "'Inqhilab Zindabadl" (Long live revolution] was on the lips of every Indian. India for Indians. British go back. The khadi movement was in full force. Even though goods, English, Japanese and Chinese, were available, we opted for khadi and Indian silks. The Congress Party had a great following. I remember in 1946, several people gathered on the Indus river banks and vowed to free the country from foreign rule.

Even though goods, English, Japanese and Chinese, were available, we opted for khadi and Indian silks.

In those days, there was no friction between Hindus and Muslims. In Bengal, and maybe in Punjab, but Sindh was peaceful, even though it was Muslim-dominated. I don't remember any instance of rioting. In Sindh, apart from Congress, the RSS was a strong force and held regular shakhas everywhere – in Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Shikarpur- but their movements were secret. Our brothers and friends who were part of the organisation never gave any indication of what they were up to.

Written on Jan 18 2007 

Wedding, Freedom and the trauma of Partition 

(Ratna and Harish (DM Harish) were married in Rohri (Sindh) on March 10 1947. Following that they left for Bikaner for their business. However shortly after that Ratna returned to Sindh, while her husband was still in Bikaner) 

Bengal and Punjab were to be partitioned. The main disturbance came from Punjab. Many relatives and friends were settled in Lahore and other cities

She writes - 

Everything was peaceful in Sindh. We had regular correspondence. Then came the big news of the impending partition of the country. Bengal and Punjab were to be partitioned. The main disturbance came from Punjab. Many 

relatives and friends were settled in Lahore and other cities. They did not know where to go because Sindh, though peaceful at that time, was to go to Pakistan. They all landed at our place, May onwards, and stayed there. It was an open house. Even though it had been only a few months since I got married, with the help of my sister-in-law, we handled everything, including their food. Staying in Punjab was really bad at that time. Sindh was quite peaceful in June and July.

Hindus who had settled down in Quetta for years, panicked and rushed to Sukkur - the nearest big station.

My brother came from Sukkur to take me back to meet my family and friends who had been missing me. I reached my Sukkur on August 8, 1947. The city was peaceful with not much talk of the forthcoming partition. Iwas supposed to go back to Bikaner in a month's time. It was as normal as ever. We were moving freely from Sukkur to my in-laws' place in Rohri. August 14 and 15 came. We were listening to the radio the whole day and had lunch at my cousin's house. No riots, no tension. I returned to my home in Sukkur the same day after walking eight kilometres and riding a tonga [horse- drawn carriage] for some part of the journey. My friends and I had a glorious few days. 

People spoke in whispers, but our Sukkur and Rohri were still peaceful except for the agitated refugees from Quetta.

As I remember, on August 19 or 20, 1947, the whole turmoil started in Sindh. Hindus were being attacked in Quetta, Baluchistan. Hindus who had settled down in Quetta for years, panicked and rushed to Sukkur - the nearest big station. It was an area in upheaval with refugees all over the place. Otherwise empty bungalows in our neighbourhood were full of refugees crying and wailing. My God, heaven had turned into hell! The atmosphere was volatile. People spoke in whispers, but our Sukkur and Rohri were still peaceful except for the agitated refugees from Quetta.

Again, as luck would have it, a family friend left Quetta and wanted to go to Bikaner along with the whole family. He asked me to come along. I left on August 30 for Bikaner. There was no time to inform my husband (who was already in Bikaner) and family. To my good luck that was the last train which crossed the city of Hyderabad, the Pakistan border town, to Jodhpur, the first big town in India. But even then, when I was leaving my, the  family didn’t ask me to take jewellery out of the country to a safe destination. Nor did, as far as I know, anybody transfer any money to India even though they had some close relatives there. At least in Sindh there was no panic up to the end of August.

To my good luck that was the last train which crossed the city of Hyderabad, the Pakistan border town, to Jodhpur, the first big town in India.

The first shock I got was when my connecting train from Lahore arrived five hours late. After waiting for a few hours, when I entered the ladies compartment at lshatanda, the ladies told me what had happened in the same compartment-murders at Lahore station. The news was terrifying but even at that time our Sindh was peaceful. 

In September, the situation became more difficult. Trains were full. Railway stations especially those situated in Hyderabad, Sindh, were not safe. Sindhi Hindus were being looted, detained in jails, starving. Later on these people from Lower Sindh poured into Karachi, a harbour town, and came to India via ships and some by special planes. Some were robbed of their jewellery hidden under their clothes. Some lost their lives. It was tragic.

Sindhi Hindus were being looted, detained in jails, starving. Later on these people from Lower Sindh poured into Karachi, a harbour town, and came to India via ships and some by special planes.

My brother who had been carrying very old jewellery which we had in our possession for several years, was robbed and came to India empty-handed. Those who travelled by ship came to Bombay and were sent to various refugee camps in Bhandup, Kalyan and other places. Refugees who came by train via Rajasthan settled in Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, etc. It was chaotic. 

It was an inevitable outcome of the Partition. Sindhis were left homeless. I got married in March 1947. I am so lucky. There must be God's hand in this. If it was fixed in September it would have been a disaster.