Vrishti Savalani is a third year Writing major and Dramatic Writing minor from Hong Kong. She loves to explore the stories that transpire from our everyday lives and hopes to tell these stories as a screenwriter in the future.
“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.” –Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s First Prime Minister
At the stroke of midnight, what was once a single country ruled by the British became two divided by their religious beliefs. What was once one big nation turned into majority Hindu India and majority Muslim Pakistan. During the years of colonization, the religious divide was blurred by the greater conflict of colonial attitude. But when that common enemy left, people found themselves dealing with a new enemy that still bullies them for their faith to this day.
On August 14th, 1947, a Hindu family living in the suburbs of Pakistan found themselves in the middle of this conflict. The family had two kids, one of which was a daughter, only six years old. She spent the first six years of her life under the oppression of the British government. Only, she didn’t see it as oppression. She was under the care of two very loving parents. She saw her brother as more than just a sibling– he was her best friend.
At the stroke of midnight, her neighbors went from being friends to foes. At the stroke of midnight, the family lived in fear that they would be targeted by extremists just because of their faith. At the stroke of midnight, her first home would eventually become a distant memory that she would struggle to recall in 75 years. At the stroke of midnight, she and her family would hop on a train with their home and their life packed in their hands and move across the border.
When that train crossed the border, they found themselves in one city after another in hopes of finding a permanent home. Starting from the West and finally settling down in the South, the family found themselves in their permanent home in Madras, or, at least it was permanent for the time being while they raised five more kids along with her and her brother.
The daughter went on to live her life. In the midst of the struggle, she found joy in her family—still maintaining that close bond with her siblings. Her parents raised their kids to live the life they wanted to lead and not the one tradition forced them to live—the kind of life that could only end in marriage for a woman; for her to become a homemaker and have her life be contained in the four walls of her husband’s house. She went on to get an education. Something women only did to pass time, until one day their moms would teach them what they were truly expected to learn—being the perfect wife. Instead, the daughter did more. After graduating, she took a job at a local radio shop, owned by one of her friend’s relatives. She spent her days skimming through records and organizing shelves of vinyl because she preferred spending her time doing something more meaningful for herself than to sit at home and learn to be a good housewife like most women were expected to do.
When she became old enough, the daughter got married– out of choice, but not out of love. Like most marriages in her family, this was arranged, but only if she agreed. This notion set the tone for the whole marriage. Both she and her husband were together purely out of the expectation everyone had for them and the choice they made to fulfill this expectation. The couple had two kids, a daughter and then a son, but they were both raised only by their mother. Her husband, their father, would eventually move abroad to Hong Kong in hopes of starting his own business—an optical shop in the quaint Chung King Mansion, a center full of small shops and business owners. She raised her family in India until her son turned 15 and the whole family ended up moving to Hong Kong as well. It’s funny how, years before this, she found herself under the control of the British and lived a life of independence from them only to find herself back under their reign when she moved to Hong Kong. She once again got to relive that independence from them, only this time she didn’t have to flee. She didn’t have to worry about her neighbors targeting her for her faith. She didn’t have to worry about the people working on her family’s land cheating them out of their money. She was allowed to stay put with her husband and her children.
Three years after the British left, she hopped on a train and crossed the border from Hong Kong to mainland China. This time, she didn’t leave because she was forced to. This time, she didn’t leave not knowing where she was going to end up. This time, she and her husband found themselves living with her son and his family, helping them raise their three daughters and teaching them how to live their life as fiercely as she did. Every now and then, when the girls ask her about her life—either in the morning while she has her first cup of tea with biscuits or as they waited in the hospital for the doctor during her monthly check-ups—she talks about those moments of struggle like they’re vague memories, but she says it all with a smile.