Two Brothers: Wazed & Elahi
Wazed Baxo, 85 years old, lives in Kalinchi, Bangladesh. His brother Elahi Baxo Gazi, 93 years old, lives in Dokkhin Parghumte, West Bengal.
At the beginning of my fieldwork I had visited Wazed Baxo Gazi’s home. I had then been given the usual generic story about partition and the loss of land and honour; the feeling of betrayal and the experience of being dropped into second-class rank. After that had come the physical threats, houses being burned, women attacked and lives threatened. They had stolen away in the dead of night on their boats to Pakistan to save their skins and in hope of a more equal future.
About a year later I returned to Kalinchi. This time I had news. I started to tell Wazed Baxo that I had met his 93-year-old brother Elahi Baxo Gazi in West Bengal's Dokkhin Parghumte. He looked at me quizzically and so I pulled out my computer and said: 'You want to see your brother? Look here.' I told him he was in bad shape and showed him the photos I had taken of him and his relatives.
When I had visited him, old Elahi Baxo Gazi being in a poor physical and mental state had not been able to speak much. I had also been introduced to his relatives who now occupied only four homesteads and were reduced to a mere 50 people. The majority in the area had been Muslim. Din Md Gazi, his 55-year-old nephew told me what Elahi couldn't say out loud. In around 1950, it was declared in their area that Muslims wouldn't be able to stay there and that they had to leave.
We are originally from Kalitola, the Hindus kicked us out of there so we came here where we had family. Our whole place in Kalitola used to be Muslim. Then one day some refugees who had come from the other side announced that Muslims wouldn't be allowed to live there, that they would have to leave. Our zamindar [landlord], was on our side and said he'd defend us. But then some of the locals aligned themselves with them and along with the police started pressurising us.
They went from house to house, sometimes, raped and looted, at other times burned down our homes and our granaries. They created a lot of pressure on the zamindar and so he called us all to him and said, 'All these years I've been protecting you, but now I can't [any more],' and he left for Calcutta.
When the zamindar left, my elder brother Nur Ali Gazi left for Khupdipur. He was lucky he left, his children are doctors and school masters, they've done well. He ended up there because he exchanged some land with [someone]. We were an important family: one of my brothers Bodiyur Jamal was member of the Union Board but he too left for Kalinchi after the riots in 1950… At that time all the Muslims of Jogeshganj, Parghumte, Kalitola, Samshernagar, Gobindokati left this place.
He spoke of his recollections of partition:
My house was set on fire, poison was mixed with the straw used to feed my buffaloes; only four of my 17 buffaloes survived. Our family's land used to stretch all the way to the river, now it ends with the field that surrounds our homestead. One by one all of my uncles left but my father Elahi Baxo Gazi, being the eldest, had stayed back 'to look after the mosque and the graves of our ancestors'.
When even the Union Board President left we felt that nobody could protect us any more here and we too started to leave. More than our lives we feared losing our dignity. You know, there used to be two mosques in this place, one of them was pulled down. Five years ago they wanted to break the mosque in the next village but all of us Muslims gathered there to protect it and it was saved.
I worked in the Parghumte school for 8 to 10 years and after that I was kicked out. The headmaster's wife was given my position and I was put in an inferior post. I preferred resigning to accepting that degraded position. I had graduated in 1970 in history, Sanskrit, political science and she had barely passed high school. Now there are no Muslims in the high school, there's only one Muslim employed and he's in the Junior school. His name is Abdul Rob Gazi and he is my nephew, Elahi Baxo Gazi's son.
Previously we all wanted to leave as our leaders all left, but it's not so now. We can't go and neither do we want to go.
I now knew more about their family and so when I returned to Bangladesh I went back to the South and pressed Wazed Gazi in Bangladesh to tell me the full story.
They had stayed over to protect the graves; the Hindus have no respect for graves. They just dig out our bones and chuck them into the river and start tilling our graveyards. You know, Din Md Gazi's paddy stack was burned down. It burned for four or five days non-stop. We kept dowsing the fire with water but it wouldn't subside and die out. But Din Md said, 'I'm ready to give up my life but I can't give up the graves of my father and mother.' And so he stayed back.
But the old man stayed suspicious of me and after his chat which was mainly about the weather he whispered, 'Why are you writing this? We're not going to be sent back to India, are we?' I laughed and said, 'How can that be?' At this point I was given a glass of water and a snack. The water was surprisingly fresh and had a sweet tinge (compared to the slightly salted water one usually drinks in this area) and so I remarked on it. The old man was happy I had noticed.
When I went to Mecca a few years ago and drank the waters of Zamzam I was surprised by how sweet it was and so when I prayed I asked Allah that he gives us here water as sweet as Zamzam and when we returned we found our wish fulfilled. It's the only well with sweet and clear water, the rest is either salty or reddish.