Eighty four-year old Bhagwani Taneja (she guesses that she was born in 1928) recalls the time when her entire community packed up their homes from Dera Ismail Khan, in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, and moved to Delhi during the Partition.
As she faces the camera, Bhagwani talks about the tough time she and others from Dera faced while trying to build homes and new lives in a divided nation. The community took their protest to the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s bungalow who greeted them warmly and lent his garden for them to stay a few nights.
In the 26-minute film, titled Dere Tun Dilli (from Dera to Delhi), makers Shilpi Gulati and Divya Cowasji have attempted to capture the turmoil that the Dera community faced during this period. But, says Gulati, the trauma of the time is lost to the current generation. She says, “My grandparents are from Dera Ismail Khan and I have grown up hearing stories about the place but never recognised it as a part of my identity. I considered myself a Delhiite.”
The film, supported by a grant from the Early Career Fellowship programme — an initiative by The School of Media and Cultural Studies, TISS—and Sir Jamsetji Tata Trust is about storytellers who tell tales in Saraiki, the language that Dera has almost lost. There are tales of a country, of struggles across borders and of lost and found homes. It is about a journey made through time, through the past and present. A journey from a small place in Pakistan that also resides in Delhi.
The community had formed many associations where members came together and kept their age-old traditions alive. Of these, only two remain. Thakur Das, 84, who is part of one such association, says that earlier they used to have functions on Independence Day, Republic Day and Gandhi Jayanti.
The community members would sing songs in Derawali/Saraiki and youngsters would perform songs, dances and or even recite poems in their language. The celebrations typically end with a big feast where Derawali food is served, with poornis — pooris made with dal — being the most popular item. Das says that the community now meets only on Gandhi Jayanti and most youngsters stay away, arguing, like Gulati, that they are Delhiites.
Realising that the memories and traditions of her community are at the risk of being forgotten, Gulati has attempted to keep them alive. She says, “We grow up with so many memories shared by our grandparents that it is unnerving to realise that in another decade or so the collective memory of an entire community will be lost. We need to recognise the importance of creating personal histories and listening to them in the everyday.”
This is Gulati’s and Cowasji’s — both former students of Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) — third film together. The previous ones are Inside Out and No Baby. Dere Tun Dilli has been screened at Our Own Film Festival (OOOF) in Delhi and colleges in Mumbai. Their next screening is at the Fieri International Film Festival, Albania, which will be held from October 25 to 31.