About the unknown part in the autobiography of Deepti Naval, best known as an actress..
There were already many Sharmas in Amritsar. Deepti’s father didn’t want to get involved. He changed his surname – Nawal. Baba knew the art of telling stories. Reading the recently published book ‘A Country Called Childhood’ by Deepti Naval, one feels that these father qualities have also come to Deepti. Deepti says: “I remember my childhood like a movie. I didn’t just want to show the film to readers, I wanted to give them access to my life. Tanushree Ghosh of “Indian Express” spoke with Deepti Naval on the occasion of the book.
Your house ‘Chandrawali’ was adjacent to Khairuddin Masjid. The tunes of Azan and Havan hum together in silence. About this experience…
From our terrace, I could see the interior of the mosque. There was only a small path between the house and the mosque. At that time, the mosque was white. Now the embellishment is done. There is also a green color in it. Havan was played very calmly. Four or five family members sit together and perform Havan. Azan was played over speakers, but it never felt “noisy”. For 10 years after the partition, the mosque was abandoned. The colors were flying and the pigeons were fluttering over the dome. Then in 1957, the first Azan was played. Azan five times a day gradually got used and became a part of our life.
Children grow up listening to fairy tales or myths, but your childhood was filled with family stories. I would love to hear other stories.
My mother’s stories about the Burmese were myths to me. Since I was about two or three years old, my mother used to tell me about her journey on foot from Burma to Imphal. Piti (Father), however, began to express his past very late. Jalalabad means our grandfather’s village, but it was closed to us when we were children. We have always been careful not to create a negative image of it in our minds.
While in America, Baba said: ‘My son, the score was a dark time. No one talks about it, because no one lives to talk about it. (The Muslims are said to have slaughtered all the Hindus on the banks of the Beas River.) But that night, one of his cousins had come out of the village with his son. There will be others hiding elsewhere. After many years, I often started going to Jalalabad. We were hoping someone would meet. But my book is not about that damned story. Even after all of this, there was still hope, that’s all I wanted to say. A Muslim was Tangewala. He saved three Hindu girls from this violence. My mother was one of them. He rescued these girls from this riot-affected area of Lahore and took them to the Displaced Persons Camp and left them safe.
Since there is not much information available on the exodus of Jalalabad or the Burmese, you too keep traces of this forgotten era, of history…
A few years ago I went to the Phalani Museum in Amritsar. There was no information about the Jalalabad massacre. I asked Kishwar Desai, chairman of the Arts and Culture Heritage Trust, which developed the museum, why. He said no information is available on this. Then I decided to keep these records myself.
How your town Amritsar, Ambershire, as spoken by your school nun, has changed, especially Jallianwala Bagh.
But it is a disappointing experience. I love the work that has been done in the Golden Temple area, it’s beautiful. But Jallianwala Bagh.. her embellishment is childish, it shouldn’t have happened. The neighborhood should be kept as it is. Anyway, it’s done now.
In 1965, the Indo-Pakistani war started on your doorstep, but you were amused by it at that age. So your father took your sisters to the Khemkaran border, speaking of which…
Our father must have realized that we don’t take war seriously. We felt like it was fun or play. So they decided to show us a glimpse of this grim reality. We grew up hearing stories of fleeing Burma to Lahore and then fleeing again. We have always felt how exciting our parents’ lives were and how dull and monotonous ours was. I was literally addicted to all this drama. So we were excited after hearing the first bombing. Maybe we are afraid of the heart. Suddenly, a siren starts sounding, a power failure occurs. We used to cover the windows with black paper or card stock to keep the light out of the house. But there was more fun than fear, at least something was happening..
Was there hatred among the people there during the war?
I was born in 1952 and the war was in 1965. There was not a single “Muslim” we knew in Amritsar. There were only “Pathans”. At that time, we had not even heard the word mullah. We never interacted with them. It just looks. Wearing a small cap, before starting Namaz, he lifts his salwar and washes his feet in the pool. That was all we knew at that age. Seeing their light color, I said to my mother, it must be from Kashmir.
After seeing the 1960s, where do you think our country is going today? What can I say, it’s sad…poison is sown for no reason. Despite the division, we have always stayed together. People should stop for a moment and think, where are we going, where is this all going to take us? Live and let live, that’s all!