I spent the winter of 1946 with my grandmother and parents, brothers and sister in the village, on the banks of the river Chenab on the Grand Trunk Road in District Gujrat. It was cold and frost covered the land in the mornings. The sun came up shortly before noon for a few hours before people retired, and smoke from their homes wound up and settled at a height.
As a boarder at school in Simla, I had learnt the best way of spending holidays was to walk around the house, fag for my elder cousins Nasim and Akhtar, play football with the local schoolboys and read stories. The elders in the family excelled in medicine, civil service, and engineering. They were a source of inspiration for me and books around the house on the subjects were of some interest. Grandfather's desire was that all his children excel in studies and they did not let him down. Visits to the fields were interesting especially where jaggery was prepared.
Off and on news from the city filtered down to the village about a rebellion, civil disobedience, public meetings, hartals, tear gas and those who were arrested in the city defying the authorities. Some village folk who went to the city would return and tell us what happened. The word 'Pakistan' featured prominently and the village bard hoped to be sitting in the 'Coamatee' Hall!
The slogans 'Pakistan Zindabad' and 'Azadi' were engraved in my memory.
I did not have many questions but kept staring at bandaged men who narrated how they got injured - quite different from a bruise on the knuckles whilst batting or a hard blow on the shin playing hockey, or a bloody nose at the end of three rounds in the gnat weight league boxing. First class stuff for a young Boy Scouts Cub troop leader, and enough stories to tell my schoolmates when I got back.
I noticed as the jathas increased their visits to the city and the stories became more vivid and thrilling, that a green flag with a crescent, not very neat, all of different shades of green and size being carried by the village folk when they returned in the evenings. I was presented one that I carried all day long around the house shouting the one slogan I learnt "Pakistan Zindabad". I was then just short of eight years.
One person, Sita Ram, my grandmother's munshi stayed away from these meetings and by nightfall used to retreat to his home across the nullah. He had a beautiful rifle that he carried all the time.
The holidays ended and I proceeded to Rawalpindi where my father was posted after his transfer from Simla in 1946, waiting to occupy his residence at Mackeson Road. Meantime my parents were living close to the Army Chief's residence. In late February I was booked to leave home for Simla. I had no idea of the problems ahead and gladly jumped into the front seat of the bus that was to take me to Lahore Railway Station. At the bus stand it was cold and wet but I was well clad in my School blazer, grey flannels and the all-important School cap.
I was busy seeing if my box had been loaded when my grandmother called out to me from the car in which she and my mother, sister Kanta, brothers Farooq and Sheri were sitting, to say farewell to my mother. As I got off the bus and approached the car I saw that she was crying. It was the first time I saw her as such and the memory saddens me even today. She kissed me goodbye and off I went into the bus. She slipped in a Nestle bar and a dinky in my coat pocket. My sister and brothers were quiet and subdued.
The bus, run on coal gas, lumbered steadily to Lahore. It stopped en route to drop off and pick passengers the largest number at Gujar Khan. I reached Lahore in the afternoon and was glad to see staff from the School waiting to take us on the night train to Kalka. I do not remember what food we had but slept all throughout the night. From Kalka onwards the journey was a few hours and I reached the School at dinnertime, ready to go to bed.
School life settled into the routine with which I was familiar. I had been appointed a Prefect and sat at the top table for meals. Sports were very competitive and camping in the 'khud' as a Scouting Cub was thrilling. Letter writing to parents was compulsory once a week with most of us copying what the teacher had written on the blackboard. The six annas per week pocket money was enough to get a bottle of jam to last for a week and a tin of condensed milk consumed on the spot. Meringues from the Mall were a big attraction and I remembered the site where the Quaid-e-Azam addressed the citizens of Simla in 1946, which my mother attended and I went along.
Academic standards were high but I managed to hold my own amongst the top. Years later in 1999 when I visited the School and saw the honour boards in Irwin Hall I was to see the names of Humayun Khan, Pakistan's former Foreign Secretary, Jal Boga whose friendship has lasted well over six decades, Pakistan army officers Col. Mohd Sharif and General Jahanzeb Khan, holding senior positions on both the academic and sport boards.
I stood mesmerised in the great hall; there was a lump in my throat and it was hard to keep from breaking down. Much that I would have liked my name to be there too it was not to be. Tuition and extra classes were unknown with all work and learning including French and Latin to be completed in class. Turnout was always excellent. The newspaper 'The Statesman' was read out to boys by Mr Murray standing around him. Bradman and Hammond entered our minds.
In about July, 1947, whilst on the playing field almost past sunset I suddenly heard the sound of people shouting above the School in the bazar and the faint sound of 'Pakistan Zindabad' rising and then dropping. I was amazed and tried to hear the sound again but in vain. I felt that my memory chords had been touched, memories from a few months ago. Instantly my hockey stick became my flag and I strutted a few smart steps shouting 'Pakistan Zindabad', afraid that I might be overheard, some instinct telling me not to be too enthusiastic lest Mr Murray heard me.
As the days went by I noticed the shouting and sloganeering increase. One night after lights out, the teacher woke us and told us to wear our great coats over our nightclothes, put on our shoes, and stuff our toiletries in our pockets. We were marched out, all about 200 boys, lined up and led out in the darkness through the khud to the Senior School. On the way our teachers, some with guns and torches and lanterns remained close to us. A solitary enquiry 'kaun hai?' came from a house up on the hill. The way down the khud was full of fun, bushes and nettle thorns, an uneven path, darkness except for the stars... a Scouts' Cub dream of leading his pack through enemy territory in complete silence.
At the Senior School, cots had been lined up in the corridors of the dormitories on the first floor. Boys evacuated from the Prep School had a pleasant stay in the Senior School. It is located at some distance from the Bazar and slogans could not be heard there. Special classes were organised and there was plenty to do on the sports field and the swimming pool. I noticed tinned sardines were provided on the breakfast table.
The routine carried on peacefully but sometime in late August, I was summoned by the Headmaster on Flat One, where I noticed an army jeep and a Sikh police officer. The Headmaster Father Drake and another teacher were talking to the officer. When he saw me the Headmaster said, 'Son, he will take you home'. I dashed up to him and held onto his legs firmly and sobbed, "Father, I don't want to go". I was quite happy at School and did not know why this was happening. It took him a while to release my grip and he said, "Son, don't worry, you will get home soon and write to me when you get there".
I noticed some senior boys watching from the first floor verandah. I waved out to them and suddenly cheers erupted from them with clapping wishing me well. Off was the Prefect from Cotton House. Amongst the Senior School heroes which I thought had a good rapport were Agha Hashim, the School Captain, Chandulal, Durrani, Hay Jahans, Jones, Stringer, Mehra, Wamiq Rasheed, Sahibzada, Sarda to name a few who I felt were on the verandah waving me farewell.
Rubbing my eyes and trying to dry them with my handkerchief I sat in the jeep and left the School with the officer and his driver, not knowing where I was headed, ending a happy childhood stay in the finest School that I knew. Gone were my teachers, friends, my books, my stamp collection, my butterfly collection and my School cap. I thought that perhaps I would be back one day but such hopes faded quickly as I settled down to a place I did not know. I turned round for a brief moment to look at the School to which I hoped I would return.
About 60 years later I was told that the great wooden doors at the entrance to Irwin Hall were closed in honour of the Muslim boys who left the School in 1947. They were reopened in honour of the contingent from Pakistan invited to the 150th year celebrations. We presented a shield to the School. I was one of the lucky six who would participate.
(to be continued)
The writer served in a multinational as the Head of Human Resources, and later as Vice Principal and Bursar of Aitchison College, Lahore.
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
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The News on Sunday Special Report: India Pakistan prisoners more editions
We probably didn't need to do this Special Report. Newspaper stories don't matter when it comes to Indians in Pakistani jails and vice versa. In fact, 'vice versa' sums it up. We do to them what they do to us.
Except when the two countries decide to begin talking, yet again! This time a little before the foreign secretary level talks, some Pakistani prisoners were released by India (and vice versa must have happened) and some more were release....read more
For the past 2 years the Jang Group and Geo have been working on a project of great national interest; one that we hope will help usher in an era of peace and prosperity in the country and indeed, in the region. And one that hopefully all Pakistanis can be proud of. more
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