Going in theme with our 58th Independence Day celebrations that we celebrated yesterday I wanted to share this article on XT. Extempt from any religio-political malice this article gives an insight into how a commoner went through the grooves of moving from Hindu majority India to the new Muslim state of Pakistan. Id be glad to answer any questions and would happily quench the thirst for more professional insight with more articles if asked for.
The night of August 14, 1947 was supposed to be our last one in the Indian capital, Delhi. As a central government employee, my father had opted for Pakistan and subsequently got posted at Karachi that had been declared the capital of Pakistan. Ours was a small family consisting of my parents and me only. I was a little under nine years of age at the time. We were booked on a train that was to leave from the Delhi Cantonment Railway Station for Karachi via Lahore in the early hours of August 15 what was to be the first Independence Day of India.
Delhi, like the rest of India, was also in the grip of bloody communal riots and life seemed worthless. Innocent people all over were being killed ruthlessly. My father under these circumstances thought it might not be possible to acquire a transport for going to the railway station from our place near Turkaman Gate well before dawn on the 15th. He, therefore, wisely decided to take us to the station in the evening of the 14th and spend the night there. Gathering our bits and pieces, we were done with our packing by about 6pm and anxiously awaited our memorable journey to begin. We were travelling very light as our major household items had already been shipped to Karachi a few days earlier. The shear thought of migrating to the newly-formed independent state of Pakistan brought with it tremendous happiness and joy. I particularly was extremely excited on two accounts. Firstly, for undertaking such a long trip as the train journey had always fascinated me, and secondly, we were going to a land where we would live in peace and tranquillity without the fear of communal enmity. Pakistan simply seemed Utopia to me. Being very young, I could hardly imagine the hardships and risks we could encounter on our way.
After dusk on the 14th my father with great difficulty managed to hire a tonga, as none was willing to take us to our destination at that hour. However, we were lucky enough to reach the railway station safely. I can still recall how haunted and scary the city of Delhi looked so early after the nightfall. During almost four years of our stay in the city, never had it looked so deserted. Not a soul was to be seen anywhere on the streets which used to be so lively. Terror had been let loose all over by the fanatics.
Once at the station, we took a sigh of relief. The place looked much safer as army was patrolling all around. As we were looking for a bench on which night could be spent, we luckily found that the train that was to take us to Pakistan was already resting alongside the relevant platform. My father looked up for the compartment that had been reserved for us. Having located it, we boarded the train and got settled down comfortably on our berths. It was a coupe in the 1st class. We were happy we were saved of the pain of spending the whole night on the wooden bench that would have been very uncomfortable indeed. All now looked set for the memorable journey. Before falling asleep, we wondered how far the train would be gone from Delhi when we woke up the next morning.
When we got up in the morning, we found our train stationary at a railway station. My father quickly got down to find out where we had reached. To his surprise, the train had not moved an inch forward and we were still at Delhi. The railway authorities later informed that the train could not depart as the railway track ahead had been uprooted from several points by the rioters and that the journey had been cancelled. This heart-breaking news upset all the passengers tremendously. We did not know what to do and where to go. We had already vacated our rented accommodation and could not go back to it. My father’s elder brother, who was in the army, lived with his family in New Delhi. That was now the only place where we could stay at before we got another train. As I looked around before leaving the station for the uncle’s house, I found that the upper part of the famous Red Fort was clearly visible at some distance. What I saw that very moment was that the British Union Jack being lowered and the new flag of independent India hoisted atop the fort. That was indeed a historic moment and by shear chance I became a proud witness to that.
Days went by and every morning my father would either ring up at the railway station or would go there personally to check when the next train would be available. Finally, we got booked on a train for Karachi via Ajmer, Rajasthan, Khokhrapar, etc. The train was to depart from the main railway station of Delhi in the evening on August 26. We were very happy that finally we were leaving India. To our dismay, however, due to the deteriorating Hindu-Muslim riots, curfew was imposed in Delhi on the very day we were supposed to leave. It was very frustrating. But by the noon, we got hopeful when we learnt that the road leading to the railway station from the uncle’s place was free from curfew. It was dark in the evening when a taxi was called on the phone to take us to the railway station. A big taxi driven by a Sikh soon arrived at the house. Two Hindus were accompanying the driver. Seeing a Sikh and two Hindus we became nervous and my mother flatly refused to travel with those people. She thought it was not safe and that they would kill us on our way to the station. My father somehow persuaded her to take our chance, since no other means were available to us. As a precaution, we decided that as far as possible we would not talk to each other on way lest they found out we were Muslims. However, if it was absolutely necessary to speak, at least I should call my parents as “Maatajee” and “Pitaajee” so that our religion was not disclosed. It was a terrifying journey lasting only a few minutes but thank God, we made it perfectly well.
At the railway station, another problem awaited us. In our 1st class coupe compartment, besides three of us, the fourth fellow traveller turned out to be a Hindu guy who strangely enough had opted for Pakistan and was also going to Karachi. Again, my mother got scared and was hesitant to go by that train. As nothing could be done, we were forced to undertake the journey with the man we thought could harm us.
The train steamed out of the station probably at 10 in the night. We decided to stay awake the whole night to keep a watch on the fellow Hindu passenger. At whichever station the train stopped, the guy would disembark. At that my mother would go pale with fear thinking he would come back with hooligans who would kill us. When late into the night, the train stopped at a station and the man got up from his seat again to get down, my father asked him reluctantly why he did that. He said he was a habitual alcoholic and knowing we were Muslims, he did not want to offend us by drinking in the compartment. That was the reason of his getting down at every halt. This cleared all our suspicions about him and now we felt easier in his company. During the rest of the journey, we found him to be a thorough gentleman.
The morning broke and thus far things had gone smoothly and we all were heading merrily. At a remote place, however, our train for some unknown reason slowed down and another train crossed us in slow speed from the opposite direction. What I saw there, I will never forget all my life. The other train surely had been attacked by the rioters and was full of bloodstains. Various body parts of slain human beings were hanging out of the compartments. It looked as if nobody had survived except the engine crew. What nightmare those poor creatures must have gone through. It was the most horrifying scene indeed. Even now when I think of it, my eyes get filled with tears.
We had our breakfast in the train, but like most others we did not have anything to eat during lunch and for the rest of the journey. We could hear children cry with hunger, but no milk was available to them. All had run out of whatever eatables they had been carrying. Even drinking water was scarce. The food stalls at all the railway stations were empty. At Ajmer railway station, the train stopped for a few hours. Here, naans were being baked at some food stalls. The passengers frantically rushed for these, as nothing else was available to eat. Suddenly news spread that a passenger was carrying a large jar of pickles with him. Everybody wished he shared his pickles with them. The passenger was gracious enough to distribute his stock of pickles among as many people as possible. Many, including us, got a share no matter how small in quantity it was. No food anywhere in the world could ever taste better than naans eaten with pickles at the time. It was simply marvellous. I can still feel its taste in my mouth even after 58 years. The jar of pickles virtually knitted all passengers aboard into one single family. Many new friendships were formed.
Next, the train stopped at Maarwaar where luckily steaming hot tea was available at tea stalls. All eagerly rushed for it but unfortunately what we got tasted horrible. It seemed as if instead of sugar, tons of salt had been added to each cup of tea. Whosoever took a sip spitted it out. It was revealed that tea in that part of India was prepared with camel-milk, which is exceptionally salty. This was yet another strange experience.
The next morning of August 28, 1947, was the last day of our great journey. Some time before noon, I do not remember how people came to know that the train had entered into the Pakistani territory at some distance from Khokhrapar. All the tension, anxiety and fear suddenly vanished, as we felt absolutely safe now. The passengers congratulated each other in the running train for having arrived in Pakistan at long last. Everybody got mad with joy and excitement. All heads were stretching out of the windows of the moving train chanting sky-reaching slogans of Pakistan Zindabad and Quaid-i-Azam Zindabad. There was no eye that did not carry tears of joy. It is impossible to describe that greatest moment of my life in words.
Exhausted with hunger, thirst, tiring and fearful journey, we arrived at Hyderabad at noon where hundreds of local citizens had gathered to welcome the passengers with slogans of Pakistan Zindabad and Quaid-i-Azam Zindabad. They did not leave any stone unturned to make our short stay at the station as comfortable and memorable as possible. They had made exquisite food arrangements for every one on the train at very nominal charges. The food not only was lavish but was abundant too. Brotherhood in the true spirit was seen there. Hospitality was at its best. Pakistan had become a reality and certainly it was time to celebrate and rejoice. We all were welcomed with open arms and great enthusiasm. That made our journey a truly unforgettable one. We learnt later that every time a train arrived from India after August 14, passengers got similar treatment.
Karachi was our final destination. The train came to a halt at the Cantonment railway station sometime in the afternoon. The government of Pakistan had made amazingly fine transport arrangements for shifting the passengers to the Transit Camp near the station. Hundreds of tents had been erected there with neat and clean beddings for the new arrivals to spend the night comfortably. Plenty of quality food was also available. The government had provided every thing absolutely free of charge. Since the passengers coming from Delhi by our train were all government employees, they were handed over their allotment orders for official accommodation the very next morning. Not only that, they were also provided with government transport free of cost to move to their new dwellings. Unlike present-day practice, no money extortion or delaying tactics whatsoever were involved at any step.
It is very unfortunate that we remained staunch Pakistanis for only a few months after the inception of our homeland. Thereafter, we started disintegrating into Balochis, Bengalis, Mohajirs, Pathans, Punjabis, Sindhis, etc. Perhaps we got bored very soon. All the enthusiasm for taking our newly independent state to the top of the world vanished into thin air in no time. We had come here to live in peace and harmony as independent and honourable Pakistanis. But what happened to that dream? Why did we become so intolerant? Why did accumulating wealth overnight become the order of the day? Who turned us into a nation of the dead? Everyone knows where we stand in the comity of nations today and yet no one bothers. Many downtrodden nations around us, who got their independence much later than us, have now turned into giants. We, on the other hand, keep falling rapidly deeper and deeper into the ditch of deterioration. What a pity. Thank God, my great leader, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, did not live long enough to see this day.