'I didn't know': The new podcast 'Partition' tells the unknown human story of the 1947 partition of India
Writer Neha Aziz created the new podcast Partition to help people better understand the 1947 partition of India; that monumental and tragic event of only 75 years ago isn’t well known or much talked about — even, Aziz discovered, among families that were directly affected by it.
“I was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and I came to the U.S. just when I was a baby,” Aziz says. “And, you know, growing up in the South and being a Muslim, I wasn’t really into knowing about my culture or where I came from. It wasn’t really until I came to UT where that really changed for me, because this is such a large and diverse campus and there’s so many different kinds of people. And that’s kind of when I started learning more about myself.”
Years later, at 27, Aziz made her first trip back to Pakistan and, during a visit to the mall with her family, saw the exhibit ‘Home1947’ by Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. That exhibit taught Aziz more about the 1947 partition than she’d ever learned in school or from her parents. “You know, I knew Pakistan used to be a part of India and all of that, but I didn’t know the actual horror stories that surrounded it,” Aziz says. “Over 14 million people were uprooted, one to two million people died. My grandparents on all sides are survivors – they were teenagers in 1947. After it was done, I kind of just confronted my parents and I was like, ‘What is this? Why didn’t you tell me about this?’ And I’ve found that to be very common, where relatives and parents don’t tell their children about it, because it’s just a very traumatic event. You know, generational trauma is a very real thing.”
Learning more about the history of the partition made Aziz realize that she was far from alone in her prior ignorance. “I was like, ‘Well if I don’t know this and this is my history and legacy in a way, being a grandchild of partition, I’m sure many other people don’t know,’” she says.
The pandemic gave Aziz time to study more about the topic, and she considered writing a screenplay before pivoting to the podcast world. She entered into a podcast incubator program with iHeart Radio and was selected for a paid fellowship; the result of that fellowship is her new podcast Partition.
Starting with an idea of presenting an unbiased, just-the-facts historical account, Aziz soon realized that that wasn’t the story she wanted to tell. “As I say in the first episode, that’s impossible,” she says. “This literally is my history. It literally affects my family. You can’t be impartial to something that is inside of you, you know? I really wanted to do it with a lens of discovery, so I was like, ‘This is how I knew about it. This is how other people found out about it.’ And very rarely was it… ‘Oh, my grandma told me.’ It was like, ‘I read a book. I saw a movie. I took a South Asian history class in college.’”
That personal viewpoint continues throughout her podcast – in episode one, Aziz shares that the conversation she had with her family after seeing ‘Home1947’ took place at the KFC in the mall, where she repeated “Why didn’t I know about this? Why didn’t anybody tell me about this?” while waving a chicken strip in her hand.
Despite her family’s initial reluctance to talk about the partition, Aziz has managed (though it took a bit of convincing) to get some of them to participate in the podcast – her mother, father, and grandfather (who was a teenager in 1947 and lived through partition) all make appearances in the first episode.
Aziz is hoping to share the story of partition through the words and memories of people who lived through it, and she says that there is some hope on that front, as more oral histories are being preserved. “That’s really the only way that this history is getting out there,” she says. “Is [through] people recording them, putting them online, putting them on youtube, you know? And so if I can share some of those stories on the podcast, I really want to plant the seed for people to know more.”