Partition came unanticipated for the Muslims of Firozpur. “One night, our Hindu neighbours told us to leave the house to save ourselves from the mob. We left everything behind and embarked on the journey to Pakistan, a place we had heard of only in slogans.”
When asked about the journey, Ali Shah looked up with empty eyes and replied, “They killed my sister in front of my eyes. Our family had nine members; only two survived.”
However, it wasn’t just Hindus and Sikhs who committed atrocities and looting. Ali Shah saw carnage and prowlers on the way after crossing Wagah and even as far as Rawalpindi.
“The place we finally settled was Bhabra Bazaar and this is where I sit today. It was an affluent Hindu neighbourhood but the residents were forcibly moved to camps and their havelis were looted and burnt. It was heartrending, particularly seeing the elderly who spent generations at this very place, departing their homes and the shops they had built with their fathers and grandchildren.”
“Puttar, purkhon ki nishanian aur qabrain chornay se behtar hai banda mar jae [Son, it is better to die than to leave the reminders and graves of your forefathers behind],” Ali Shah said with tearful eyes.
Less than a kilometre from Ali Shah’s business stands the desolate Soojhan Singh Haveli, lamenting the times when its residents were elites of the region. Built by Rai Bahadur Soojhan Singh, the magnificent structure was once the centre of politics and a monument to opulence of those who built it.
Partition wreaked havoc on its once-beautiful architecture that is now nothing but a decaying ruin. Renowned for its grandeur, darbar mehal(king’s court), and gold carvings, it was looted and burnt to erase the identity of its Sikh owners, whose links to Rawalpindi have been buried like they never existed.