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A tribute to Leela Dewan

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On February 24, just a few days ago, Leela Dewan, one of the beautiful women who shared their testimony about the partition of India in A Thin Wall, left us for a better, eternally peaceful world. She was Surbhi Dewan‘s Daadi ji and an important voice that chose to humanize the other. She was part of a precious generation that we are sadly losing – people who experienced coexistence on the other side of the border and who represent our last lived-in link to a common past and culture. This connection is especially needed now, at a time of military escalation between Pakistan and India. 

Leela Dewan was an incredible woman. More than 800 people paid their respects at her funeral – a testament to the lives she touched with her kindness and joyful energy. 

This is how her granddaughter, my dear friend Surbhi, remembers her:

My grandmother had a very apt name. Leela literally means play/amusement. Daadi ji was playful in an effortless way – making all of us laugh even at the most serious time. We carry her innocent, khule dil wali hasee, her whole-hearted laughter in our hearts.

Since the day Daadi left us, we have been overwhelmed by so many memories. One thought keeps coming to me, stronger than anything else – that my story begins with her. So let me tell you a story.

One day in 1947, a 12-year old girl, was playing with her friends in her village in Dera Ghazi Khan in Multan. Suddenly, she was asked to join her family who were preparing to leave their home. Along with her family, she narrowly escaped and crossed over to the Indian side to start a new life as a refugee. 

I can’t remember when I first heard this story about my Daadi’s journey across the border. I don’t remember because she began telling me the story before I was old enough to understand it. She also narrated stories about her happy childhood memories and her deep affection for the land across the border. Her love for her lost home in Pakistan, and her skillful storytelling, both became a part of me. 

Now I tell stories for a living and all my stories, each one of them, can be traced back to her.

I feel so thankful, so lucky, to have a Daadi who was so many things – loving, generous, kind, funny, a sugar junkie – but most importantly for me, a master storyteller, who chose to remember her stories and share them with me, who showed me the power of storytelling, who gave me a beginning to my story, in so many ways.

I know that she lives on – in our joy and laughter, in our playfulness, in all the funny, moving, fascinating stories that are yet to be told…

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