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Train to India

Abha Ohri | June 25, 2020
Train to India

It was a hot oppressive day that Monday morning in May 1947. Twelve-year-old Jawahar lay on his charpoy fanning himself with his bamboo fan, when in walked Rama, his elder sister. One look at her and he knew what she was about to say. He swung his legs down and held out his hand for the tightly rolled paper that she handed him. He lifted up his kurta, slid the rolled paper into the eyelet of his pyjamas and tightened the drawstring so that the paper wouldn’t fall out.

He silently left his home and made his way through the by-lanes of Lahore. It was easy to lose oneself in the labyrinth of narrow streets in the old city, but Jawahar knew exactly where he needed to go. After all, he had done this numerous times for Rama. When he reached the dingy sweet shop, he went straight to the bald man sitting behind the counter, looked around to check whether anyone was watching and then surreptitiously handed over the rolled paper to him. The bald man took it quickly and with a smile, he handed out a sweet meat to Jawahar.

Having run his errand, Jawahar took a different route back home, savouring his sweet meat as he walked. On his way back, he heard people talking in small groups, discussing the day’s events and what was yet to come. There was uncertainty in the air and the many rumors doing the rounds did not make it any better. Jawahar however felt quite safe; after all, his father Tulsidas was a barrister in the Lahore high court. Tulsidas was also one of the most respected people in and around his locality and Rama was no ordinary woman. She was, in fact, working closely with Mahatma Gandhi and other freedom fighters. Surely, if they weren’t perturbed, there was no cause for panic.

However, as the month drew to a close, he could feel an underlying tension creeping into the conversations at home. His father would hold late night discussions with his three uncles and Rama in hushed whispers. All of a sudden, one day, he found an aunt packing some clothes, cash and jewellery into small bundles. She would then leave for Delhi along with her husband and children, saying she was going to visit her sister who lived there. One by one, each of his uncles, aunts and cousins also left for Delhi. Jawahar’s mother and elder siblings were the last to leave and he too would have gone with them, if he hadn’t suddenly fallen ill. Finally, only his father, Rama, their servant Kukkar Singh, his son Bhawani, and he were left in Lahore.

The partition is announced

And then came 3 June 1947. As they all huddled together near their radio, they heard Louis Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, make the announcement. He declared the creation of two states — India and Pakistan. In no time, riots broke out and communities who had coexisted peacefully for hundreds of years started attacking each other. Hindus and Sikhs were on one side and Muslims on the other, and both camps took on grotesque forms – murder as they did anyone and everyone who came in their path.

Tulsidas was still undecided whether to go to Delhi or not, because his next-door neighbours–all Muslims–assured him that they would let any harm befall them. And so, they stayed on in their ancestral property, without stepping out, spending sunset to sunrise in total darkness. Their neighbours, true to their word, kept up a steady flow of eatables and ensured no one got wind off this Hindu family staying on.

However, one day in August 1947, Tulsidas’ dear friend Sheikh Mohammed came hurriedly to their house and urged them to leave at that very moment, as a mob was headed towards them. He had found out about a train which was leaving for Delhi within an hour. Rama immediately went to their room, packed little bundles of clothes, cash and jewellery for each of them to carry. She then shoved all the left over family heirlooms, including the most exquisite jewellery, into two huge silver urns and threw them into the well in their courtyard. She hoped they would remain safe there till the situation became normal and they were able to return to Lahore.

Tulsidas put on his black coat over his kurta and filled every pocket with all the gold, silver and bronze coins lying in their house. He tied all the title deeds of the various properties the family owned and put them in his inner pocket. Sheikh Mohammed and Kukkar Singh drew out two tulwars which had silver koftgari decorated hilts from their red velvet scabbards and thus armed, the motley group stepped outside.

As they made their way to the railway station, they saw a huge crowd charging towards them, screaming, shouting and baying for their blood. As soon as they drew close, Tulsidas started throwing the coins and money he had kept for this very purpose. Sheikh Mohammed and Kukkar Singh, meanwhile, lashed out with their swords to whosoever came near, while Rama caught hold of Jawahar and Bhawani and kept charging ahead.

A gory experience awaited

Somehow, they made it to the railway station alive, and just in time to board the train. But what awaited them there was a sight that was forever etched in their memories. It seemed as though all of Lahore had descended onto that one platform. There were people inside the train, on its roof, hanging from every window and grab handle. The crowd on the platform surged ahead, pushing them towards the train and they found themselves being hurtled inside. After what appeared to be a life time, the train slowly chugged off leaving behind many who fell off and got crushed under its wheels. Tulsidas and Rama glanced at each other, sharing a sigh of relief that all five of them were safe and together in that cramped compartment.

But their relief was short lived. The train came to an abrupt halt at Wagah, the last station in Pakistan. Without a word of warning, the train was surrounded by men wielding knives and swords of all shapes and sizes. Tulsidas pushed Jawahar, Bhawani and Rama down, and he, along with Kukkar Singh covered them as best as they could. They could feel many more pressing down on them and feared they would all die, either at the hands of one of the blood thirsty men or of suffocation. The mob combed through each apartment hacking away at every man, woman and child. It was a bloodbath – perhaps this was how genocides played out. All too soon, every whimper, every cry and every wail gave way to a deafening lull.

The ordeal was far from over

The ill-fated train started once again and when it came to a grinding halt at Attari, the first Indian station, it was dripping blood. At first, there was no movement. But when the cries of those at Attari rang out, shouting in horror and calling out to the Hindus inside the train, first a hand, then a head, and then a leg slowly struggled to push itself out of that bloody heap of flesh and bones. Tulsidas, Kukkar Singh, Rama, Jawahar and Bhawani slowly emerged, one by one, flinging away bloodied limbs from on top of themselves.

From Attari, Tulsidas and his group, trudged towards Delhi where he managed to find all his brothers and they were once again reunited with their families. For the next two years, the entire clan stayed in tents at Kingsway Camp waiting to get a piece of land allotted to them so that they could start afresh and rebuild their lives.
In due course of time, Tulsidas joined the Delhi High Court and retired as a senior advocate of the Supreme Court. He passed on at the ripe old age of 81.

Rama never married; she devoted her life towards social service and went on to become the proud recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award for Sanskrit. She left for her heavenly abode when she was 70 owing to medical complications.

Kukkar Singh served the family till he breathed his last and after him, Bhawani took over.

Jawahar went on to complete his post-graduation in Mathematics and Astrophysics from St. Stephens College, Delhi. He passed away on 2 October 2016, leaving behind a wife and two daughters.

The rich legacies live on

Although the protagonists in this story are no more, their legacy lives on. Jawahar would narrate this story and many more, in vivid details, to his elder daughter Abha. She, in turn, has narrated it to her sons and looks forward to sharing it with her grandchildren too.

Yes, dear readers, Tulsidas was my grandfather, Rama my aunt and Jawahar was my father.

Pa never once held any feeling of revenge or anger towards the men who carried out these horrific acts nor did he ever hold any grudge against any religion. He always said, whatever happened, affected both sides equally. The only regret he held was not being able to revisit his childhood home.

He always quoted this line from Asghar Wajahat’s famous play which went Jine Lahore Nai Vekhya O Jamya-e-nai — meaning, he who has not yet seen Lahore, has not been born!

Abha Ohri

Abha is ElByte’s editor and is an early childhood educator by profession, a Toastmaster by passion, a bookworm by habit and a perfectionist by choice.

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Arti Chopra
Arti Chopra
3 years ago

Awesome read..

Rashmi Alampuria
Rashmi Alampuria
3 years ago

It was amazing reading your brought back the bitter memories of The Partition Of India and how innocent lives suffered at both ends..this story of our past should reach every citizen young or old ..very beautifully narrated n penned..while reading I was transported to the scene and could actually feel the pain of the people involved..
Ma’am I was always awed by your skills of public speaking and today I’m highly impressed by your skills of writing.. it’s also interesting to know that this is your personal story and you have wonderfully managed to carry forward your family’s legacy.
Keep writing as writers like you are few and scarce.

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