Former Strictly contestant and familiar face on TV travelled to Pakistan to find out what happened to her grandfather’s family as BBC launches ‘Partition’ series…
TV PRESENTER and personality Anita Rani has an amazing story to tell about her own family and what happened to her grandfather’s relatives during Partition.
While they perished in what became Pakistan virtually overnight, she told www.asianculturevulture.com that it was important people broke their silence and dealt head-on with the trauma and tragedy but not feel bitter about what happened.
“There is definitely a dark legacy, but my grandfather didn’t carry any weight of hatred or any bitterness, in my family the legacy is not about bitterness but goodness,” Rani told www.asianculturevulture.com.
A special BBC One documentary told in two parts will cover her family story, along with three others and it will open the broadcasters’ ‘70 Years on: The Partition Story’ series of programmes, this Wednesday (August 9).
Rani is both presenter and one of the main subjects of the new film which will see her and her mother cross into Pakistan to discover what happened to her grandfather’s family.
Her maternal grandfather escaped the carnage as he was with the British Army at the time and stationed in Pune but the rest of his family resided in Punjab, which was split following Partition.
Rani first learnt about this family history when she was the subject of ‘Who do you think you are?’ (‘WDYTYA’) programme which is made by the same production company as this documentary, Wall to Wall, and aired some two years ago.
“There was certainly unfinished business,” she recounted. “I hadn’t been able to go to Pakistan. “I knew my entire family had been slaughtered but not how.”
She travelled back to Sahiwal – her ancestral village in what is now Pakistani Punjab (the state was divided and its capital Lahore became part of Pakistan), and meets an elderly gentlemen who actually explains the events as they happened.
“My mother didn’t come to all the places,” Rani revealed when it was clear this part of the programme is very intense, and emotionally very difficult.
Earlier this year at the Sheffield Doc Fest, she spoke about her and the programme-makers’ frustration about not getting a visa in time to travel for the ‘WDYTYA’ programme, but this time as with the Butt family (British Pakistani and wanting to go back the other way from Ambala in India to Lahore), all got their visas and made special trips for the programme.
As well Sameer Butt and his father, Asad Ali Syed, from Sheffield, the programme focuses on a British Bengali doctor who had to flee his ancestral home in what became East Pakistan because of rising mob violence against Hindus there in 1947.
His British-born daughter Binita Kane makes the trip back on her own to his village in modern day Bangladesh and uncovers further revelations.
As well as these three British immigrant tales, the programme also looks at Arthur Wise, whose family had been in India for two generations and departed shortly after Partition.
He was a colonial administrator who took his own private film to record the last days of the Raj. His granddaughter Mandy travels back to Kolkata to find out more about him and his role in trying to curb the tensions and the violence at the time. In Sheffield, it was revealed that Wise had talked to Mahatma Gandhi and was regarded as an honest broker.
Rani said: “It’s amazing footage, the family still had the film.”
The British retreat from India is rarely discussed but the programme looks at men like Wise who tried to intervene in the carnage and get the British to maintain law and order.
As it was, the mobs were left alone and British casualties in the ensuing violence amounted to less than 20 – when 20 million people were displaced and around a million murdered in the largely religiously inspired mob attacks.
Rani said her original ‘WDYTYA’ had sparked a huge reaction off on social media and she was shocked by the levels of ignorance and lack of understanding about Partition more generally.
“It really upset me actually, British Asian kids did not know really. This programme is not about me so much, but the reaction to that. Even in my own family, we did not really talk about it.
“I hope as a result people are able to ask questions about their own family and people are able to sit together and discuss what may or may not have happened. It is such a deep wound and nobody has really talked about it and hopefully this programme will go some way to changing that.”
She and BBC commissioning editor Fatima Salaria stressed in Sheffield that they had been able to tell the story they wanted and both made it clear that in the UK, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities have enjoyed good relations. But both pointed out that the idea and spirit of a shared culture has been challenged again after 9/11 and Rani had reiterated the closeness of these different communities.
“The point about Partition is whether you are Sikh, Hindu or Muslim, or whatever, you are Punjabi and the culture is identical. I went to Lahore and felt so at home. It was once 50 per cent Sikh and 50 per cent Muslim and everybody lived side by side,” she said to acv more recently.
As well as this two part 60-minute programme – there is also filmmakers’ Gurinder Chadha documentary looking at the historical factors, (‘India’s Partition: The Forgotten Story’) on BBC 2. It will be released on August 22.
Two further strands looking at the diving line between the two countries in ‘World’s Most Dangerous Border’ and a one-off one-hour special talking to people who were around at the time and have witness testimony to share, will also be broadcast on the BBC. The prpgramme dates for these have not yet been released.
‘My family, Partition and Me: India 1947’ – Episode 1 0f 2 BBC One, Wednesday, August 9, 9pm; Episode 2 BBC One, Wednesday, August 16.
All pictures courtesy of Wall to Wall, photographer Lorian Reed-Drake