1947 Partition: Kuldeep Nayer's Experience -- By Kuldeep Nayer Back   Home  

August 14. I can recall that day vividly. Even after 54 years, every detail is etched on my mind. We were living in Sialkot, my parents and we three brothers, I being in the middle. We had no intention of leaving at town. My father, a doctor, was at the top of his profession. We had a lot of property: many shops and several flats. Where and why should we go? Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, had said: "You cease to be Hindus and Muslims; not in the religious sense but otherwise. Now you are either Pakistanis or Indians."

My elder brother was the only one who said one day we would be forced to leave. We laughed at his forebodings. We considered him too pessimistic. How would anyone force us out of our own house? On August 14, servants were still placing food for lunch at the table when we heard people running on the road below our two-storey house. We ran to the windows. But we could see only the fag end of the crowd.

My father shouted to ask a passerby what was happening. He said loudly some people were chasing a sadhu. It shook us. This was the first incident in our town. Muslim refugees had spotted a sadhu on the road and had followed him. The police saved him in time.

Horrified, we returned to the lunch table. None spoke. But fear was writ on every face. Then, there was a rush of feet on our staircase. Someone flung the door open. It was Arjan Das, the district jail officer and a family friend. "You cannot stay here. This is not safe. I am taking you to my place," he said. None questioned him. He was an official. He knew best. My mother hurriedly packed a suitcase. We literally sat on one another in Arjan Das' small car. The jail was on the outskirts. But the road to it did not show any untoward activity. It was partly crowded, partly empty, as usual. We felt relieved when we drove into the jail. I told my mother I should return to town to constitute a peace committee. Some of us, Hindus and Muslims, did so whenever there was tension. Arjan Das looked towards me but my father allayed his misgivings by saying: "Don't bother about what the boy is saying." Arjan Das told us that he, as a Hindu officer, had opted for India. He advised us to leave Pakistan. He had heard from his Muslim colleagues that the Hindus would have to go to the other side. My father and I did not believe him.

Behind the security of those thick high walls, the whole day we heard firing and explosions at a distance. In the evening all of us came to see the fires rising above the town:The entire skyline was on fire and the contours of houses were clearly visible. My mother tapped my shoulder and whispered: "The entire town is lit because it is your birthday." Yes, I remembered, August 14 was my birthday. Radio Pakistan was repeating Jinnah's speech: You cease to be Hindus and Muslims. You are either Indians or Pakistanis.

One Muslim family came to my father (he was their doctor) the next day and took us all to the cantonment where they lodged us in a bungalow. It was so spacious it became a mini-refugee camp. Learning of our whereabouts, some friends and relations joined us. The place became a transit camp. People would stay with us until they arranged to go to Jammu, 20 km from Sialkot or to Lahore, about 120 km, for the onward journey to India.

What should we do? It was apparent that we could not stay in the cantonment for long. But, except my elder brother, we were not willing to migrate to India. We believed it was a passing phase. This disturbance too would subside. We had experienced a few before. Normalcy always returned, Hindus and Muslims going back to their mutual relationships. This time the uneasy conditions were annoyingly long.

Refugees from India were pouring in with their tale of woes, vitiating the atmosphere still further.Our Muslim friends told us about the anger building up. We decided to go to India for some time and to return once things had settled down. It was nearing to be one month after partition. Things were more disturbing than before and we, in the small town of Sialkot, still were not aware of the destruction and killings raging through the two Punjabs. My mother and I rode in a tonga from the cantonment to our house to pick up more clothes for our stay in India. Everything was intact. The roads were crowded but there was no trouble. My mother had collected a shahtoosh shawl when we had hurriedly left with Arjan Das. She changed it for a kulu one, less expensive. I had brought with me the Modern Library edition of Jean-Christophe by Romain Rolland. I put it back in my library. I picked up a soft cover book, Poverty and People, which I thought I would throw away on my return. We relocked the house, never realising that it was our last visit. As we descended the stairs, my mother remarked that if anyone wanted to break in, the lock would not stop him.

My father was keen to send us three boys with an army major on transfer to India. He had come to thank him for having treated his family. His jeep was full. My father persuaded him to accommodate one of us. We, the three, drew lots and I was the unwilling winner. My mother was worried about me. Nawab, a friend with whom I served on peace committees, had come to tell her in my absence to send me away quickly because some people were not happy with my peace efforts.

The major's jeep was piled up with luggage. He, his wife and the orderly, who was driving, sat in front and the two children and I were put at the back with the luggage. My mother gave me Rs 150 and asked me to stay at Daryaganj with her sister, married to a head clerk in Delhi. There was no farewell or goodbye because we promised to meet at Delhi around the middle of October, a month later.

Hardly had the jeep covered 20 km and hit the main road when it stopped. There was a sea of humanity. Many rushed towards us. Suffering was writ large on their faces. Weeping, they told their stories - how they had been hounded from their homes and how scores had been put to death.

The scene woke me up from my fantasy that there would soon be normalcy and people would return to their homes. I realised that there was no going back. It was a forced migration. People going to the other side were Hindus and Sikhs. As the jeep crossed the border, we witnessed the same scene, a stream of people flowing into Pakistan. They were Muslims.

Both sides had seen murder and worse; both had been broken on the rack of history; both were refugees.

I read horrific storis of partition and saw in a straight to heart way in recent "Gadar" movie. This the another account. This article published in the Pakistan Newspaper, TheNation with the title "No Going Back".