Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Time for peace

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This is a very personal piece inspired by the letter of Khalid A from the United Kingdom ("War and peace", Daily Times, November 4). He writes of an Englishman riding a taxi in Dresden and commenting to the cabbie about his father being one of the bomber pilots who levelled that city during World War II. The cabbie tells his fare of the death of his mother during those raids.

It turns out that the night the German mother died, the father from England was on a sortie. The driver stops his taxi, gets out and says to his fare, 'Now we shake hands'. Khalid A aptly ends his letter, 'There is a time for war, but it must be followed by a time for peace.'

The year 1947 was a time for war. Folks who had lived amenably side by side for generations were riven apart and when the land went into labour to deliver a new country, two million people died. My grandparents, two aunts, great-grandfather, the family's servant with his wife and five children became part of this macabre statistic. The place it all happened was Railway Road, Jalandhar.

No one spoke of partition in our home; it was too horrible a memory. Save a couple of photographs there was no other record of life in another country. Then in 1985 an uncle visited Jalandhar and returned with a colour print of the Railway Road house. It was this picture that guided me to the place last March when I went across the eastern border for the first ever time in my life.

Habib Manzil, the home that Dr Badruddin had built in the 1930s and named after my uncle stood intact in what is now called Chowk Bhagat Singh. One of the two shops on the ground was a hardware store was run by a young Sikh, Iqbal Singh by name. I introduced myself saying, 'Bhai Ji, you run your business in my grandfather's premises.' Iqbal Singh came around the corner to hold me in a long and warm embrace. It was only later I learned that while the dreadful horror was unfolding for my family in Jalandhar, his parents were fleeing eastward with their lives from a place near Sialkot.

Most of my five days in Jalandhar were spent with Iqbal Singh, Ram Lobhaya Golati next door and Kailash Sehgal across the road. I told Iqbal of the loss of the family and that I had come to Jalandhar with the hope of piecing together what I could of those final days. But I never mentioned my grandfather's name or profession; not be design, it simply slipped.

About evening on the first day, Iqbal Singh suddenly reached across the counter, put his hand on my arm and asked, 'Was your grandfather a doctor?' The question how he knew writ large on my face, I looked at him in near shock. Then he said he had heard all about the end of time in Jalandhar. He spoke of someone being flung from the roof into the courtyard below. Iqbal said that it was one of his regular customers who had told him everything; one of those elderly icons of Jalandhar.

But Iqbal Singh could not remember who exactly it was and we ended up visiting a couple of boring octogenarians and asking all round. On the third afternoon I began to suspect that Iqbal Singh remembered all right, but he was not sure how I would react upon meeting the person who had killed my grandparents. When I told him he could trust me on that one account, his denial was genuine: he simply did not recall.

I was in Oghi, the ancestral village some ways out of Jalandhar, when I received a call from an animated Iqbal Singh. He remembered and the gentleman wanted to talk to me, he said excitedly. I hurried back to meet Mohindar Kumar Sehgal, seventy-three years old, very spry for his age and a fast and ardent talker. As he took me by the arm and led me into my grandfather's home, I was in a sort of daze not fully comprehending his words. All I understood was that they did not die in this house. Then he was leading me down the alley into a side street to the house of the Chopras who had provided refuge to my family. Angrily, he kept referring to, 'bevakoof, tung nazr' people who ganged with other ignorant savages to wreak havoc in peaceful Jalandhar.

In my daze I was still struggling how Mohindar Kumar, who was only thirteen at that time, could have been part of a violent mob. As we were entering the Chopra residence, I blurted out, 'How do you know all this? You could not have been part of the mob!'

He whipped around and glared at me to tell me that it was his foolish father, not he. I was surprised anyone could refer to his own father like that. It was the servant, he related, who was hiding in his room in my grandfather's house and who bolted when he heard the approaching mob. Making straight for the Chopra home, he gave away the hiding place. The door of the room where my family hid had a hole in one of the panels. Someone put a shotgun through it and fired a single shot witch got my grandfather in the eye. He died instantly.

The door was then broken open and the others were cut down with swords and knives. My aunts, I asked. They were young, what became of them? The question that had rankled most of my life was answered: 'No one, not one soul, left this room alive.'

The servant, when he dashed into the courtyard found the door bolted from inside so he ran up the stairs to hide on the roof with his two year-old son. Mohindar Kumar's father followed him upstairs. There he stabbed old Eidu to death and flung his infant child into the courtyard below. The corpses were then hauled to the firewood taal and burnt.

I asked how Mohindar Kumar had all these vivid details. He said his father was very repentant after the madness. Weeks after the event, the senior Sehgal spent in remorseful withdrawal. 'He kept repeating that doctor sahib and his family were good people and that he had committed a great crime by joining the mob', Mohindar Kumar said. The senior Sehgal, I was told, did not quite overcome his regret until his dying day. It was his father who had told him everything. Not once, but again and again over the years. Mohindar Kumar and I spent a couple of hours together. When it was time to say farewell, we both somehow did not want to go. We just stood around talking aimlessly. I felt that as I had inherited grief, he had inherited guilt and we both sought to be delivered of our respective demons. When we finally did part, we held each other in an embrace for a good minute or so.

Two days later I was back in Lahore. Then I realised I had felt no hatred for Mohindar Kumar. And now several months later I wish to return to Jalandhar to see him again and to spend time with him talking about his father and what else he remembers from that horrible time.

As Khalid A wrote, the time for war is behind us. It is now time for peace. Everlasting, unbroken peace.

Odysseus Lahori one year ago: Bunni Bungla - a rest house and a memory

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 17 October 2014 at 10:19, Blogger Pat said...


At 17 October 2014 at 14:48, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jalandhar eh ..........

In late 1970s, a Sikh gentleman accompanied by a local lawyer came to our house on Queens Road in Lahore. We were in the process of shifting to better locales and the house was almost empty. He said that this was his ancestral house. I showed him around and still remember the pain in his eyes as he went around the place. He didn't say much but the agony of the moment said it all.

Many many years ago while visiting India, I went to Jalandhar to offer Fateha on the graves of my ancestors buried there since over 400 years. Instead of my ancestral graveyard I found a posh colony built over those graves which our people had maintained for centuries with great care. I just stood there grief stricken remembering what my grandfather and father and others told me about where my great grand parents and many other good people were buried. History was also bulldozed by those who thought that they created new history.

My ancestor built the first Basti in 1609 in the outskirts of Jalandhar, and was named Basti Sheikh Darwesh. He saved the life of third Sikh Guru Gobind Singh from the Mughal army, and hid him in the Baowli (water well with staircase going down to the water level, also having a small adjoining living place for summers) in the local mosque. The Sikhs later paid back by burning two of the later built Bastis. Much later they also destroyed the graves of those who helped save the life of their own third Guru.

Salman Sahib, you went back and atleast saw your grandfather's house, which luckily may still be standing. I never went back and don't intend to, as there is nothing left for me to go back to.


At 17 October 2014 at 15:15, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 17 October 2014 at 21:51, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry for your loss.


At 18 October 2014 at 13:32, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Devi, the loss could have been ameliorated had we made something of Pakistan. We have destroyed it. Alas, the blood was spilled in vain.

At 18 October 2014 at 18:57, Blogger Brahmanyan said...

Moved by the poignent piece of writing. Pity God has given us every thing free to share with love, but we destroy them in His name with hate.


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

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Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

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