A catastrophe like Partition provides the perfect visual, emotional and cultural setting for what is the preoccupation of popular Indian Cinema - love stories.
And indeed Partition did throw up one such true story that would become the genesis of many love stories on screen. This is the story of two lovers brought together and later separated by Partition. This is the tragic love story of Buta Singh and Zainab.
The real story, as reported by a few newspapers during those times, as also by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins in Freedom At Midnight, goes that Zainab was a young Indian Muslim girl abducted by Hindus before she could cross over to Pakistan. Her parents gave her up for dead.
This was the case with literally thousands of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh women who were abducted, raped and murdered, or if they were lucky (or unlucky), were forced into a life of bonded labour.
Urvashi Butalia tells the story in The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India,"No one knows who her abductors were, or how many hands she passed through, but eventually Zainab was sold to a Jat from Amritsar district, Buta Singh.
"Like many men who either abducted women themselves or bought them, Buta Singh, who wasn't married at the time, performed the 'chaddar' ceremony and 'married' Zainab. The story goes that in time, the two came to love each other. They had a family, two young girls.
"Several years after Partition, a search party on the lookout for abducted women traced Zainab to Amritsar, where she was living with Buta Singh."
Sadly, the rescue committee formed on both sides of the border during Partition to look out for such women (under the Abducted Persons Recovery and Restoration Act, 1949), had a strict diktat to bring back the abducted women, despite the opposition of those women to such rehabilitation. This was done, because it was believed, that the women were not free to make a choice of their own. Thus Zainab was returned to her family in Pakistan.
However, once in Pakistan, she was pressured to marry a relative against her wishes. When Buta Singh received news of the same, he sold off his property, and despite the innumerable difficulties, managed to reach Pakistan, it is believed, after converting to Islam and becoming Jamil Ahmed in the process.
However, his hopes were dashed, when Zainab, closely guarded by her relatives and married by then, refused to have anything to do with Buta Singh.
The next day he committed suicide. His last wish to be buried in Zainab's village was also not granted by her relatives and he was buried in Lahore. When locals came to know of this tragic story, thousands gathered and called him a martyr to love.
Even today, it is said, that his death anniversary is observed at his tomb in Lahore by locals.
Image: A poster of the 2007 film Partition