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'This Was Home': Gulabo Sitabo's 'Fatto' Recalls Why Her Family Chose India during Partition

Farrukh Jaffar was 14-years old when India was divided into India and Pakistan | Image credit: Special Arrangement

Farrukh Jaffar was 14-years old when India was divided into India and Pakistan | Image credit: Special Arrangement

88-year-old Gulabo Sitabo actress Farrukh Jaffar, who was 14 at the time, does not remember much from the historic event that left millions dead and even more homeless. But she remembers staying back.

Lights, camera, action.

Much of veteran actress Farukkh Jaffar's life has revolved around these three words. Jaffar, who was last seen in the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Gulabo Sitabo, boasts of a rich repertoire of names whom she has worked with. Right from Rekha to "all the Khans", as she indiscreetly puts it, and now even newer actors like Nazawuddin Siddiqui and Ayushmaan Khurrana - Jaffar has spent an eon in the world of glitz and glamour.

Now 88-years-old, the Lucknow resident recalls something else that stirs her long and strained memory. A memory that jogs back to life every Independence Day - the Partition of India.

Jaffar, who was 14 at the time, does not remember much from the historic event that left millions dead and even more homeless. But she remembers staying back.

Having spent a long and vigorous life doing what she loved, Jaffar seldom likes to dwell on the past. A bit of gentle probing, however, works sometimes.

"No one in my family wanted the Partition. My parents and other elders in my family at the time saw through the farce. It was just a political ploy," Jaffar tells News18.

Born in 1933, Jaffar belonged to a family of landlords in Jaunpur district in the United Province of British India (present-day Uttar Pradesh). She remembers living in peace and harmony with her Hindu brethren in her village Chakesar where she spent her infancy and early adolescence and having many friends among Hindus.

Today, whenever Jaffar hears the words "Go back to Pakistan" being said to an Indian Muslim, she ends up confused.

"We never felt like outsiders, India was our home. Why would we ever leave? My family loved it here," she says. She recalls, however, that after the Partition, things were a bit tense for some time. "I remember tense conversations between my father and other adults. I remember hearing about the riots and feeling scared. But in our area, things were relatively calmer," she says.

Jaffar's real life, however, began after the age of 16 when she married eminent journalist, politician and freedom fighter Syed Muhammad Jaffar and moved to Lucknow. The romance and glamour of the city stole her heart and continues to hold custody over it.

"I always loved performing. At first, I worked in radio films. People loved my voice and I loved it," Jaffar claims.

The actress started working with Prasar Bharti in 1963 and went on to transition to films in her 40s with a supporting role in the 1981 Muzaffar Ali film Umrao Jaan. "I played Rekha's mother, that was my first big break in Bollywood".

In recent years, the actress has appeared in several critically acclaimed films such as Peepli Live, Swades, and more recently, Secret Superstar. But on this phone call, her own accolades don't impress her.

As the 72nd anniversary of Partition approaches, Jaffar can't help but wonder. Did independence - azaadi - that Indians fought for-- turn out be the way we had imagined?

"It's strange to see people today rooting for division. We stayed back in the country because it was the only place we knew as home. But somehow, things are not the same anymore," she says. With a growing number of cases of communal violence against Muslims as well as discrimination, Jaffar finds it tough to tough to reconcile her reality with her idea of India she was born in and had grown up in.

As the elderly woman trails off between sighs and pauses, the actress's daughter Mehru Jaffar who is also an author, takes it up from where her mother left it off.

"We got seduced by the Nehruvian promise of a secular India. And as successive governments over the years kept up their tokenism by appointing a handful of Muslim leaders and allowing mosques to exist in the centre of the capital, we got complacent," Mehru says.

A teacher of Islamic studies who has delivered lectures in a number of reputed international universities, Mehru feels that the Partition was a waste of time, life and resources. "Jinnah never cared about Islam. He just wanted a country to rule. So he ensured he got himself one," she says.

That, however, should all have been in the past. Seventy-two years, after all, is not a short spell.

Both mother and daughter nevertheless agreed that times, they were a-changing again.

"Fundamentalism on any side is harmful. That is what led to the Partition and all the violence. Fundamentalism is leading to violence once again," she cautions.

Pained by the growing number of communalism cases, Farrukh Jaffar often likes to retreat into the world of fiction and film - a world where emotions are real and blood is fake. "Life is an endless adventure. I still don't know what I might do tomorrow," she quips. "All I want is for people to be allowed to live their lives with love and dignity and whichever country that they want to call home," she adds.

This story was published as part of a three-part series 'Preserving Partition' in collaboration with 1947 Partition Archives of India to mark the 72nd anniversary of the horrific Partition of India. News18.com interviewed three partition survivors who lived to tell the tale. Farrukh Jaffar was originally found and interviewed for the non-profit by Parul Srivastava.