The jeep groaned past the Bazar and onto the Convent on the outskirts of Simla, where my cousins Farida and Asma were waiting clutching handbags with a few nuns. The officer got out of the jeep, met the nuns and escorted my cousins to the jeep. Somewhere past the Ridge we were transferred to big black car. In the evening we found that the ferry at Ghaggar had closed and we had to find a place to stay overnight. The officer rang a bell at a small house in an Army compound at some distance from the ferry crossing and asked the lady who opened the door to keep the children for the night. She was a kind Hindu lady and let us in and gave food. Her husband an Army officer came in late but we were fast asleep by then. I was given the sofa in the drawing room whilst my cousins presumably had another place to sleep.
Early the following morning, I awoke to see a huge Alsatian dog sitting on his haunches, head cocked and looking at me lying on the sofa. It was not aggressive but had a loving look. I stretched out and got close to it and hugged it. It stayed close to me during breakfast and went with me to the car where the officer was waiting. With a big thank you to our hosts we restarted our journey, crossed the Ghaggar. After a few hours we reached the residence of the Deputy Commissioner, Ambala and were lodged in the guest room. Years later I came to know that the Deputy Commissioner was Mr Grewal Singh, an Indian Civil Service officer, a friend and colleague of my Uncle Khalid, the father of my cousins travelling with me.
Mr Grewal met us the following morning and said that we would be living with him till evacuation was possible. I had a vague notion then of what was in store for us but my cousins were anxious, worried and always kept the curtains of the room drawn. They never stepped out but I ventured out in the verandah and one day went around the house. It was a big house with a long driveway and lawns around it. 'Dal roti' was our preferred meal and I tried to keep the room spick and span. I was wearing the same set of clothes with which I left School and did not have a change. My cousins used to threaten me that they would report me to Mr Grewal if I upset them on any count. One day he did visit us, I was left motionless when the bearer told us that the Sahib was coming. It turned out to be a pleasant visit much to the disappointment of my cousins who thought he would upbraid me for annoying them.
I cannot remember how long we stayed there but it was an awfully long period in one room with little or nothing to do. I felt listless and only when some of the DC's staff told us from time to time that a plane would be coming to take us home would there be some excitement and noise in the room. Days passed and we settled into a routine. We did not have any news what was happening which added to our misery. One fine morning we were told that we would be taken to the airport to take the plane. We got ready but it was a disappointment as nothing happened. A few days later the exercise was repeated. An older person would have his nerves all jangled with such developments but we were young and quickly went back to normal life in the room with the drawn curtains.
Finally on a beautiful day Mr Grewal Singh rushed us to the airport in his car followed by a police escort. In a short while we reached the airport and in the distance on the horizon saw a plane coming in. It was the first time I saw a plane in real life. It landed and came close to us near the airport building and the doors were opened with the engines running. Out stepped my Uncle Khalid wearing a suit. He saw us, and called out to us to run to get in. He got off, met Mr Grewal, exchanged a few pleasantries and re-entered the plane. As the plane taxied on the runway, the doors were still open. We were seated in the front part and whilst it was readying to take off, lo and behold, we saw that it was surrounded by several hundred men, women and children of all ages who wanted to get on. These were Muslims staying close to the airport waiting to take the train to Pakistan. It was an amazing sight with people trying to enter, some did and some clung onto its wings and undercarriage. It could not move.
Mr Grewal Singh who was watching, went up to the crowd and with kind, gentle words with the help of the police brought some order. Yet people were clinging to it. Gradually with great difficulty it started moving, the doors open as the staff could not close it because of the people trying to enter. It started gathering speed and from the window I saw people fall off from the wings. One had held onto the roll bar in the doorway and was pleading and crying to let him in but that was not possible; the staff pushed him out with force and closed the door. We were jam-packed in the aircraft. My immediate reaction at that time was of sadness for the persons left behind and how would they manage. We were among the few that got across safely.
The plane took off smoothly on this, my first plane journey. I could pull open a little cylindrical window cut in the big window. put my arm and hand out and feel the breeze. It was wonderful. After a short while I was taken to the cockpit where the pilot told me how the plane went up and down. Amazing, I thought. The journey to Lahore was over in about 30 minutes or less. At the Airport my father along with my Aunt Saliha, mother of my cousins and a few relatives received us safe and sound. It was a joyous and happy reuninon.
The get together with other relatives and friends took place at Uncle's residence. Lots of mubaraks and gratefulness to Allah were expressed. Suddenly I realised my mother was missing. She could not come from Rawalpindi. My Aunty noticed that I was feeling that I was not part of the homecoming celebrations and stood silently in a corner wearing the same shirt and shorts when I left School, now stained and quite filthy. To cheer me up she asked if I would have a squash. I nodded and followed her to the pantry for the drink. That gesture remains as a pleasant memory of my days.
My father and I motored down to Rawalpindi via the village. Many villagers came to see me and wish me well. In the nine odd months away from home the only language I knew was English, Punjabi and Urdu were forgotten. So the young boy from the plains of the Punjab had returned home but I was anxious to get to Mackeson Road and the tennis court there and my bicycle. It was winter and cold and a few days of food of my choice and freedom changed me. In January 1948, I was admitted to the Convent and upon my parent's transfer to Lahore, to St. Anthony's and later Aitchison College. Life at School in Simla had set me on a path to which I have no regrets. Boarding life in particular taught me self-reliance, sharing with dormitory mates, competitiveness, good manners and a host of other matters which steadied life ahead.
As the years rolled on, gone is the journey to School, the end of the Persian Water wheel in the village and the ride on the driver's seat going round and round the well, the gas lamps, the spelling competition with cousins. Sita Ram is no more and forgotten are the deodar trees of the greater Himalayas around Simla, the trek to Kufri where the flowers were taller than us young boys, Wild Flower Hall, Barnes Court, the Ridge, Flat One in the School. Gone are Cotton, Sinker, Barnes and Emerson Houses and the Prep School (now a Tibetan Centre), and so are Kathala Railway Station and the beautiful Kidar Nath Farm.
I got my tin box back and collected it from the Indian High Commission office at that time located on the Mall next to the Canal in Lahore. It was empty and I felt that it was of no use to remember the material part of life. I was glad to be home with my parents and sister and brothers. Only now can I feel what parents had to go through as there was little assurance that we would return; life could have taken a different path.
And onto matriculation, O/A levels, graduation, service with a multinational with a multicultural work force with gems from across the border, working with different ideas and values but easy for me to understand, having been in boarding with boys from all over India. I had known some of their thinking and got along with them... Amongst my seniors, Zafar Hassan from Amritsar and Lahore, Zia Shafi Khan from Shahjahanpur in the UP, and Nizam Shah from Srinagar were outstanding. There are lifelong friendships forged with Ejaz, Naveed, Anwar. Service in Aitchison College followed and more attention given in the twilight of my life to a loving family across the globe in a different setting. I married Asma; our sons Jaffar and Usman studied for their degrees in the US and are now in Calgary and Karachi respectively with their families. Grandchildren Hassan, Haider and Sonia are growing up to be good human beings.
The village prospers and the descendants of Malik Maula Baksh keep his name flying high. He lies buried there with his sons Abdur Rahman, Abdul Mannan and Abdullah Khalid with place in the graveyard for more to follow. Doctor Sahib, Chief Sahib and Commissioner Sahib are remembered to this day. But there are no slogans or eventful days and the dream that was 'Pakistan' sadly disappointed many. Only a brief period in the 1965 skirmish, as Gujrat borders the Jammu area, did the residents show the determination to succeed from the soil that made them. On a clear day one can see the Pir Panjal range in the Himalayas, beautiful and serene and standing tall and mighty unchanged as time goes by.
I will always remain thankful to Mr Grewal Singh. In the 60s, his brother Mr Kewal Singh was appointed as the High Commissioner of India to Pakistan. Aunt Saliha's father, who was also Asma's grandfather, and I called on him. Mr Singh was deeply touched by the gesture of a distinguished person around 90 years old who had made the effort. But such men and such values are few.
The writer served in a multinational as the Head of Human Resources, and later as Vice Principal and Bursar of Aitchison College, Lahore.
Friday, November 11, 2011
A young Pakistani journalist bonds with the Indians she meets on an exchange programme
at the CNN headquarters in Atlanta
By Noreen Shamsmore
The two nations had alread .....more
"South Asia 2020": Call for applications
The New America Foundation is accepting applications for participants for the "South Asia 2020" conference .....more
'Understanding each other changes mindsets'
" We tend to fear what we don't understand and this is exactly the case with Indians and Pakistanis. Our hi .....more
Long-term projects emerge from "From Pieces to Peace",
a two-hour long video conference between the youth of India and Pakistan
Rotaract Clubs .....more
Page 22 of 178
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
The Jang Group has entered into an agreement with the Times of India Group, the largest media group of India, to campaign for peace betw