Usha and Rajmohan Gandhi, in the last of the series on the Partition and the memories it has left behind, call upon people to record more such accounts ó some painful and some hope-sustaining
Samina Akram Sayed, daughter and wife of police officers, told us in Lahore of her fatherís role in 1947 in protecting Prem Pandhi, one of Indiaís tennis stars in the 1940s and later a distinguished leader in industry and education. Saminaís account put us on a trail that led to a first-floor office in New Delhiís Connaught Place where we met 86-year-old Prem Pandhi.
A son of Lyallpur lawyer Chamanlal Pandhi, Prem graduated from Lyallpur, excelled in tennis besides other sports, did MA in history at Lahoreís Government College, and later obtained law and BT degrees. A teaching assignment at the prestigous AitchisonChiefsí College followed, the tennis circuit continued, and then came a job with Bird & Co.
An older sister, Bimla, was married to police inspector Narinder Nath Chopra, who became an SP in 1947. Narinder lived in Lahoreís overwhelmingly Muslim Fort area along with his brother Kedar Nath, also a police officer, and their mother.
Along with Premís parents, Bimla and her two young sons and others in Lyallpur left for India on August 10, "just before the peak of the carnage." Prem stayed on in Lahore thinking the madness would soon end.
Around August 22, the two police brothers came in uniform to Prem Pandhiís office on the Mall Road, saying they had been transferred to Panipat and Delhi. They asked Prem to take them and their mother (waiting in a tonga on the road) to their Fort house in Pandhiís Ford Prefect, which was parked on the Mall Road. They said they were going to remove their belongings in three or four hired tongas.
Pandhi tried to dissuade them. The times are dangerous, he said. They insisted, saying the SHO in their area was a friend and had promised assistance. Prem took them in his car to the Fort home.
In three or four hours the tongas were loaded. But a couple of policemen came and said a big crowd had collected near the car and it was dangerous to go there. "Donít worry," said the brothers. "We are police officers and have revolvers."
The mother, her two sons and Prem Pandhi walked to the car and saw that the carís tyres had been deflated. A crowd of 100 or 200 persons carrying lathis and daggers pounced on the two brothers. "One brother was killed on the spot, the other seemed to have still some life left (he soon died), and the mother too was hurt (she was rescued.) But nobody touched me. I was dressed in shalwar kameez and Peshawari chappals and taken for a Muslim."
Policemen took Pandhi to the thana and asked him if he wanted to phone anyone. He phoned Anwar Ali, the DIG, whom he knew. Anwar Ali (the father of Samina Sayed) said he would come immediately and instructed the SHO to protect Pandhi. Ali arrived with two jeeps and men with sten guns and took Prem in one of the jeeps, guns pointing outside, to his home. Before leaving the thana, Anwar Ali said to Pandhi: "By now they know you are a Hindu. My men will shoot and kill, but I cannot guarantee that you will remain alive."
After two-three days in Aliís house (where he was locked up in the bathroom for safety whenever the DIG was not at home), Anwar Ali said to Prem: "You better go away. It is impossible to keep your presence a secret, with servants and all. I have found you a seat on a plane to Delhi. Here is your ticket. You will go confidently to the airport, driving my car. It will be safer that way. No attention will be drawn."
Pandhi recalled: "I drove to the airport, left the DIGís car there with the key inside, boarded the plane and reached Delhi." "I donít think I have paid Anwar Ali for the ticket," he added.
Samina Sayed visited India earlier this year and managed to meet Prem Pandhi. "We were in tears when we met. In 1947, I was a very young girl. All I knew was that this man who seemed in trouble was staying in our home and there was an air of secrecy about his stay."
Years ago we learnt from a friend in Pakistan of several of her relatives losing their lives in the 1947 frenzy. On this visit, we met (in her motherís home in Thokar Niaz Baig) others from her family, including Aunt Sughra who spent her early years in Jullundur. In 1947, Sughra was a young wife and mother in Delhi. Her husband, Abdur Rasheed, was a railway officer hailing from a family settled in rural areas near Jullundur, in villages Singhpura and Uggi.
We asked Sughra Rasheed for the names and ages of those who had been killed in August 1947 in Jullundur. She answered:
"Dr Badruddin, the father of my husband. He was 60. Fatima, his mother. She was 55. Jamila, their newly married daughter, my husbandís sister. She was 25. Tahira, their younger daughter, who was 22. Qutubuddin, my husbandís nana, who was also my dada. He was 80. Idu, a mulazim. Iduís wife Fateh. Five children of Idu and Fateh."
"The family was living in a Hindu mohalla on the main road with only two Muslim homes. Amne-samne was a Hindu family who had said to my husbandís family, donít go. I remember two girls from that family, Sheela and Dhannu.
"I donít think the family could have been involved. I think they were helpless before the attackers."
Her husbandís older brother Sharif, who was in Solan with his young wife and a two-month-old daughter, was protected by Hindu friends who helped him and his family to move across to West Punjab. But Sughraís nani Ayesha, who was part of a walking caravan trying to reach Pakistan, died on the way, as also the naniís sister Jeena.
Sughra nonetheless added: "Jullundur se itna pyar hai. As we get old itna Jullundur yaad aata hai. Jab koi Jullundur ki baat karta hai, dil mein kuch ho jaata hai."
If asked, a larger number on both sides can spell out the names, ages, and appearances of near ones who perished in the fires of 1947. If their now-distant yet still largely unmourned deaths are not to be in vain, perhaps we should remember the heroes of 1947, often simple neighbours who protected, concealed, and sent to safety men and women who went on to make significant contributions on both sides.
To repeat what we said in the opening piece: those who have access to people with recollections of 1947, the painful as well as the hope-sustaining, should make the effort to record them before the memories are lost for ever.
In these three articles we could share from only a few of our Lahore interviews of July this year, which were made possible ó we thankfully acknowledge ó through support from Friedrich Naumann Stiftung.
To get a taste of village life, check out Haveli on the Jalandhar-Phagwara highway, says Anuradha Thakur
Havelis may be a thing of the past but you can feast your eyes on such a structure on the outskirts of Jalandhar Cantonment. Haveli, a restaurant that reflects the fast eroding rural lifestyle of Punjab, offers a rich mix of the modern as well as the traditional.
The restaurant has attempted to create a rural ambience with the help of mud huts and various exhibits like folk paintings, wooden cart, earthen divas, and all kinds of statues depicting rural life ó women holding water pots, monkeys on walls, birds on roofs etc.
As you park your car and walk a few steps, you are welcomed by a fine spray of water thrown in all directions by pedestal fans set near the model of a well. The passage is dotted with small kiosks selling snacks ó both modern as well as traditional ó like chaat, gol gappe and jalebis. Traditional Punjabi songs are played throughout the day, complementing the environment.
The complex can broadly be divided into two parts. The first part comprises a big hall adorned with beautiful displays. As one steps into the hall, one is greeted in Punjabi by a darban attired in a traditional Punjabi dress: kurta, lungi and a phatuhi (jacket). Behind him one can see the statue of a munim sitting on takhatposh (traditional wooden table) and pouring over his accounts. On the other side, there are more statues: one of an old woman at the chakki (grinding flour) and the other of a father-son duo carrying fodder on their wooden cart.
The interior itself is no less intriguing. The walls of the hall are adorned with old musical instruments, folk jewellery, phulkari exhibits, old coins and the like. This section also houses the model of a truck along with its driver. The food in the restaurant is served the traditional way. You get lassi in earthen kasoras, phirni in mud bowls and mouth fresheners (including gur) in a small wooden cart.
Besides a thali that comes for Rs 55, there are a number of other tempting items on the menu. For those who donít want to have regular Indian meals, fast food is also available.
The second part of the complex houses a small shop selling rural souvenirs like models of the spinning wheel. Though the shop is named Antique Shop, one can hardly find anything truly antique. For children, video games and crazy cars provide a means of entertainment.
The second segment may be called a rural museum. You have to shell out Rs 20 to enter this section and experience the richness of the land of five rivers. Here, visitors can catch a glimpse of statues depicting village life in Punjab. Women are shown engaged in various activities like preparing food on a chulha, spinning yarn, weaving, painting walls of the house, churning curd, fetching water from a well, getting ready for some special occasion, etc. Their moments of enjoyment are also depicted by life-like statues of women gossiping while sitting on the parapet of the well, etc.
Monkeys scaling walls, parrots sitting on rooftops of thatched huts, and a cock announcing the beginning of the day lend charm and a realistic touch to the rural setting.
This part is open from 12 pm to 12 am. A restaurant situated in this part serves lunch and dinner, each comprising a welcome drink, snacks, full meal and dessert. The lunch costs Rs 90, while dinner can be had for Rs 115 per person. During evenings, a cultural programme is also held here.
Though visiting this restaurant can in no way replace the experience of visiting an actual village and witnessing its lifestyle yet for the busy city dwellers this restaurant provides an opportunity to get a taste of a vibrant rural set-up and apprise their children about the same. It somewhere re-establishes our link with our rich cultural heritage and brings us closer to our roots.
The problems of the increasing population of the senior citizens should be addressed before it is too late, writes Jeevan Asha Grover
IN the good old days, respect and honour were showered on old people. To respect the elders was such an integral part of our culture that no one could dare to disrespect elders. Even the scolding given by the elderly was heard with smiling faces by the young even though the fault was not theirs. Similarly in villages, the elderly, be they illiterate, poor or of low caste, were given due respect. Kinship was shown by addressing them as dadaji, dadiji, bebeji etc. The situation is changing and the traditional pattern seems to be changing in view of the fast-paced life of today.
In western countries, old age is not a curse because the government gives a handsome pension and those over 60 are not allowed to do any type of work. Numerous facilities are provided to senior citizens. In parks, picnic spots and airports they are provided with wheelchairs so that they can roam around independently if they are handicapped and there is no one to look after them. Even in Japan, such person are given a free bath with the help of machines and there are dolls to make lonely people laugh. In India the condition of such old people is pitiable as there are no provisions for the social security of senior citizens, leave alone their entertainment.
In India, the elderly population has grown by 285 per cent in the last 50 years and the figure is expected to double in the next 25 years. Nearly 90 per cent of the elderly have no form of official social security and over 40 per cent live below the poverty line. While the number of aged has gone up, the quality of life has gone down. Our society considers it the responsibility of the younger generation to look after the elderly but the influence of industrialisation and urbanisation has severely affected our value system.
The joint family, a natural support system, has almost crumbled. The fast pace of life and the increasing number of nuclear families have added to the woes of the aged, compelling many aged to live alone and resulting in an increase in cases of abuse.
There is need for government and NGOs to provide an effective support system for this segment of population. People should be encouraged to participate in community activities and rituals such as performing evening and morning prayer jointly. Such practices will decrease the generation gap. The younger generation will be benefited by the experience and thoughts of elders.
The time of the senior citizens should be utilised in meaningful ways. They should be employed in nurseries and public libraries. Old age is a stage of life which is full of many unfulfilled dreams. In this state, one has completely experienced the best as well as the worst aspects of life which can be ample source of knowledge for the younger generations, provided they listen. A poet has rightly said:
Yah khuda, tune yeh kya sitam kar diya
Dil jawan rehne diya aur jism burha kar diya
An increase in the population of the elderly is fast becoming a challenge for society which needs to be addressed before it acquires menacing proportions.
Donít be surprised to find your grandfather taking his afternoon snooze only to dress up and leave for work at 6 p.m. He could be heading for a call centre.
That seems to be the new trend at call centres in Rajasthan ó they are no longer the exclusive bastion of youths.
In all, over six big and small call centres and medical transcription centres are operational in Jaipur, employing around 2,000 people. And at least 20-25 percent of the employees are above 35 years of age. Some are as old as 65.
The policy that call centres in the city are following now is to take anybody who can speak English fluently. One of the major reasons for this trend is the need to work even after retirement.
ďAfter retirement I shifted to Jaipur where my son is posted. Here I have nothing to do, so I have taken up a part-time job at the call centre that starts at 8 pm,Ē said a 62-year-old who is working at a call centre but did not want to be identified by name.
After retirement, people generally have a lot of time; so the odd working hours do not affect them much. Also, the centres provide pickup and drop facilities. Thus, if the employees donít want to drive long distances, they have an easy way out. ó IANS