Recollections of 1947
There were those that Malik couldn’t save…

In the second of their series on the Partition, Usha and Rajmohan Gandhi bring back from Lahore more evocative accounts of an event that did not make man lose faith in his neighbour.

Jama Masjid
Dera Sahib Gurdwara
Jama Masjid (top) and Dera Sahib Gurdwara in Lahore: Faith abides despite division. — Photos by A.J. Philip

The family of Abdur Rab Malik, 84, retired director, excise, originally belonged to Batala in Gurdaspur district. "But I was born in Ziarat (hill station near Quetta). Father had settled in Balochistan."

We interviewed Malik on July 22 in his house in Lahore’s Model Town, where many well-off Hindus and Sikhs resided before the Partition. A temple stood near the house, though with no sign of worshippers.

Malik was happy to find that Usha’s Sindhi parents had lived in Quetta before leaving for India in 1947. Recalling events in Quetta, he spoke of his subordinate, Sub-inspector Sardar Rajinder Singh, whom he had called to his home to prepare a raid on a cinema house.

Rajinder Singh came at 8.30 p.m. "By this time riots had begun in the town. Outside there was an uproar. The Sardar got frightened. I said, ‘You are in safe hands, I’ll take care of you.’ "

Malik brought a burqa for the Sardar to wear and accompanied him to his house nearby, along with his own wife, also in a burqa, and two constables in uniform. He warned the Sardar not to leave his house.

The next morning Malik went to his home and "personally took Sardar Rajinder Singh, his wife and son to the railway station. Again, all were dressed in burqas. We went in a hired car and saw that they sat in the train. From Quetta to Lahore my people travelled with them. They reached their destination, Darwaza Ram Bagh in Amritsar, from where he wrote a letter of thanks."

Malik spoke too of Seth Hemal Das — "the biggest sweetmeat merchant in town" who lived three or four houses away. "The Seth served mithais free of cost to poets in his shop."

One night, at the peak of the riots, the Seth’s son Lilaram arrived at Malik’s house with a bunch of keys in his hand, the keys to their shop. "I went to the Seth’s shop, opened his safe, took out Rs 24,000 and the jewellery inside, brought the stuff home, put a burqa on Lilaram, accompanied him to his house, and delivered the valuables to his father.

The next day Malik, along with his sergeants, accompanied the Seth and his family to Machh railway station, 50 miles from Quetta, and put them on the train. "They reached Karnal safe and sound."

But there were those that Abdur Rab Malik could not save.

"Sardar Ram Singh owned a furniture shop. Mr Scott, the SP, shot down dozens of rioters. I saw 20 bodies on the road. Going on a cycle with a friend (I had a cycle those days) I saw Sardar Ram Singh coming in a Morris Minor car. He was stopped by a crowd of Hazaras and Pathans, pulled out by his hair, burnt, and placed on the engine of his car…"

"My own eyes, these sinful eyes," Abdur Rab Malik said, "have seen this sight."

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The account of Mumtaz Qadir, a 60-year-old Lahore-based man from the Sialkot region, is based on what his parents had told him

"My father Sheikh Abdul Qadir was born in 1900," he told us on July 22. "I was told that when I was an infant two Hindu girls looked after me: nehalwate, powder, surma lagate, loriyan gaate.

"Father lived in Bahawalnagar in the state of Bahawalpur and took a train to Bathinda every alternate day, working as a guard. Our railway colony was just outside the town, across a bridge.

"One day, during the maar-dhar in 1947, when father was walking on the bridge into town to buy provisions, he saw in a ditch the body of a beautiful Hindu woman. At her breast was a child trying to drink milk. Father was so shocked he turned round and came back. ‘Hai, hai,’ he said. ‘What a scene I have seen!’

"Our railway colony contained some Hindus. All wanted to go to India. Everyone was sent by a special train. But two of our neighbour’s boys, aged 10 and 12, had gone out to play. ‘Tum insaan ho, if you find them, somehow send them,’ the parents told father as they left.

"In the evening the two children came back, found their home locked, and ran to our home. My parents hid them in the storeroom. Mother bathed the children, stitched clothes for them. A railway wire came from Bhatinda: ‘Kya hua?’ Father replied by wire, ‘Chup raho, dua karo.’

"The boys were quietly put on a train to Bhatinda, in the toilet, and told not to talk. The handle-lock outside the toilet was turned to lock the door from the outside and the handle was removed, making it impossible for anyone to open the door from the outside or the inside.

"A railway wire to Bhatinda conveyed what had been done. A message came back that the boys had arrived safely. Their father said, "Jab tak zinda hain hum bhool nahin sakte." Later they sent word, "Hame Bahawalnagar ka ghee yaad ata hai." My father sent two 18 kg tins of ghee, fully sealed, with a railway guard.

"In 1947, I was only two years old. Later father would often repeat, ‘Khubsoorat aurat ret mein mar chuki thi, bachcha doodh pee raha tha.’

"Other railway guards used to go and loot trains and taunt my father to join. He said, ‘Yeh kaam main nahin kar sakta hoon’."

Mumtaz Qadir choked. He said his father, who died in 1962 in Lahore, always said, "Insaan ko pehle dekho."

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From Rawalpindi, Hashmat Begum sent us the following account:

"I was fifteen-sixteen when Pakistan was formed. We lived in Mohammedpur village in Nikodar tehsil in Jullundur zila. My father was the nambardar in our village.

"When the troubles started, Muslims began leaving for Pakistan. When news came that the beautiful daughter of Mohammed Baksh, nambardar of a neighbouring village, had been abducted, our family decided to leave Pakistan.

"But my father was not in the village: he had gone to some other place. My mother, brother, sister, and I all left the village. But in my father’s absence, my grandmother refused to leave.

"A Hindu friend of my father, Banta Khatri, of Khewa village near our village, had a shop in our village. He had declared himself a brother to my father. When he learnt that my grandmother was alone in the village, he took her to his home and kept her in his home with great honour.

"When father heard that Banta Khatri had taken his mother, he sent him a message: ‘If you are a brother as before to me, then please bring her to Purtase.’

"Banta Khatri brought grandmother and several bags of dry fruit to Purtase. My father and Banta Khatri talked together for long and cried at the thought that they would not meet again.

"I am old now and my father is dead. But I have advised my son Khalid, if he gets the chance, to go to Banta Khatri’s village and convey thanks."

(The concluding part of the series will be published next week)