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Tale of Moti: Remembering India's Partition 70 years on

Nina's mother Gurdev (back, centre) with father Gurdip, mother Karam and sisters Piara (back left), Majnit (front right) and brother Mohinder (behind father). Credit: Nannar family

My mum tells a story of a man called Moti who would travel around the villages near her home in Rusulpur in the Punjab selling oil to families in the 1930s and 40s.

He was Muslim. They were Sikh.

It wasn't an issue, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims lived side by side in the villages and towns of Northern India. Moti could seen his village from Mum's.

Then Partition happened.

Mum was just a small girl, but she remembers very clearly what happened in those terrible times.

There were stories of villages being ransacked, people being beaten, even killed, Muslims who now found themselves in Hindu and Sikh dominated India - Pakistan, their new home, many miles away.

Indian troops pictured in 1947. Credit: AP

Still Moti came to deliver oil to his Sikh neighbours, a round that started in the early hours every day.

My Mum's uncle was horrified. What are you doing here Moti, he screamed.
Your village has packed up and is leaving for Pakistan, you must go with them, it is not safe to stay.

They could all see flames in the distance, and Moti, terrified for his safety was panic stricken.

He climbed to the top of one of the houses in the village, standing on the flat roof to look into the distance to see what was happening in his home village.

He could see fire, hear screams and realised he had been left behind in the desperate flight for safety undertaken by his family and friends who'd been unable to find him.

He died of a heart attack right there. On that roof. It was sheer terror that did it says Mum.

A boy sits on a wall of a refugee camp in Delhi. Credit: DPA/PA

There were many Motis, millions of them that day, that were forced to endure history's biggest human migration, when Pakistan came into being and India was divided. So many died.

For me the story is almost a children's tale.

It has always been told to me by my Mum like that, and that is how I pass it on, to any young ears that will listen.

Because I fear most of all that this momentous episode in the life of India and Pakistan, a story that affected just about every British Asian family settled here in the UK, will be forgotten.

It is not really taught in schools, second and third generations do not necessarily know the history. But we need to.

And so the story of Moti will always be told in my family. And it will make us think of the sacrifice and loss that occurred 70 years ago, when India gained its independence.