Old Names Die Hard: 'Karachi Bakery' In India Has Whiff Of Past

Current nationalism in post-Partition India and Pakistan can't kill the spirit of the independent businesses that embody memory and history.

Karachi Bakery in Hyderabad
Karachi Bakery in Hyderabad
Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee

NEW DELHI — They lost their land, but refused to lose the names. Partition, along with the exodus of people from both sides of the new border, also facilitated an exodus of names. It was an event that severed ties — of history and life — in one stroke. At the stroke of the midnight hour (to borrow from Nehru) when the world slept, India and Pakistan woke up to Partition, among other things.

Colonizers are prone by nature to leave such permanent gifts to the colonized. A nation is a cage, and its inhabitants, caged by territory. The world is a zoo of nations and their barricaded memories.

To come to the question of names, nations, unlike the names of memory, are marked by a border, by a territory. Nations don't just have borders, they are borders. They create borders in our borderless minds. When minds are forced to live within borders, they develop schizophrenic symptoms.

It is the name of a disorder that appears along with the new political order. (New) orders of power, produce (new) disorders. As human beings, we belong to the world, but as political beings, we belong to nations. Nations shelter our lives from threats, real and imagined, of other nations. In return, we offer it the price of collective paranoia. The deal is complete.

But the names refuse to disappear. To remember the line by Abel Martin, Antonio Machado's double (quoted by Octavio Paz in The Labyrinth of Solitude), "But the other refuses to disappear; it subsists, it persists; it is the hard bone on which reason breaks its teeth."

This other is also a name we carry within us, sometimes across borders. The names of memory subsist, they persist. These names are hard bones of memory that refuses to disappear from our borderless minds. These hard bones of memories carried across borders over turbulent waters of history, blur the walls of territory.

Territories, by political design, demand both memory and forgetting. Nations sever memory from memory, creating territories of memory, territories within memory. Every aspect that a nation touches, it turns into territory. A territory is the nation's incurable disease.

Little memories, like old habits, die hard.

It can also be said of nations that they forget more than they remember. Nations are designed to maintain the false stability of memory by removing the memories that challenge the official discourse of history. That is how forgetting piles up like a heap of bones in the nation's cellars, its basement. But forgotten memories do not die. They live away from the spotlights of memorialized memory. When they spring to life with their names, their tales, they disturb the neat narratives of the nation's official memory.

Some memories are of a third kind: They are neither forgotten nor part of the official discourse. They remain in our social spaces like little memories, retrieved from the partitioning of lives and history. These little memories live in names, people carry across borders. The minds and hearts of these people linger on old ties. They resist the beast that demands the sacrifice of old ties and memories. They tell us the story of what the Partition achieved and what it failed to achieve: They tell us the fate of memories that retain their names across the border. Little memories, like old habits, die hard.

Karachi Bakery is one such memory. Khanchand Ramnani, a Sindhi, is a refugee who migrated from the other side during Partition. Karachi was the capital of the Sindh province where Ramnani hails from. Karachi Bakery is the name of the first outlet the Sindhi refugee founded way back in 1952, in Moazzam Jahi Market in Hyderabad.

Photo: _two_bagpackers_ via Instagram

Once the brand was established, its outlets opened in other cities. The Bengaluru outlet of the bakery at 100 Feet Road, Indiranagar, bore the brunt of the nationalist mood that has taken over since the Pulwama tragedy.

On Friday, February 22, it was attacked by a vigilante. The store had to cover the name "Karachi" in the signboard with a piece of cloth, and also put up the Indian tricolour to flag its identity. The name ‘Karachi" was bandaged, to hide it from wounding the patriot's gaze.

It was scandalous for a store in India to bear the name "Karachi." In an atmosphere vitiated by hate, the mere sight of the name evoked outrage. The signboard disturbed the (rekindled) sentiment and logic of cross-border enmity.

The names refuse to disappear.

Sentiments, unlike other kinds of feelings, are completely self-enclosed, self-referential and selfish. Sentiments do not bother about ethical considerations. Ethics demand responsibility towards others. Sentiments are responsible only towards the self. In other words, the self, borders, territorializes sentiments. That is why nationalism thrives on sentiments, for nationalism, unlike ethics, is selfish.

Karachi Bakery is the name of a little memory that survived Partition, carried across the border by a Sindhi refugee. Ramnani refused to forget his ties with his old hometown and decided to make it part of the name of his business enterprise. The name stands for Ramnani's past and personal history. It also reminds the entire nation of a name that lies severed today by political boundaries, but retains its place in its small corners, its little streets, as a little memory that lingers on the nation's divided existence.

Such little memories are today paying the price of majoritarian nationalism. Karachi Bakery is the name borne across the border by a refugee, seeking refuge in today's hyper-nationalist India.

Mahwash Ajaz, a Pakistani journalist living in Dubai, tweeted in response to a query about how many shops bearing names of Indian towns and cities exist in Pakistan:

Bombay Bakery

Delhi Nihari

Bombay Chowpatty

Ambala Sweets

Meerath Kabab House

Madras Bakery

Kathiawari Chat

And that's just Karachi.

Cities and towns that were partitioned by history have managed to lodge themselves in the streets of the other nation, the nation of others, and feature in its little memories. These names bear testimony to the excess (of nostalgia) produced by the limits of Partition.

Memory cannot be barricaded by borders. Memory is a map of experience that cannot redraw its borders according to the rationale and the logic of territoriality. Memory bleeds in and across borders. A nation lives by keeping these little memories alive. If these little memories are vandalized in the name of nationalism, it will only deepen its schizophrenia.

*Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee is the author of "Looking for the Nation: Towards Another Idea of India."

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!