Lahore — as it’s etched on my mind

Almost seven decades have passed since my parents, two elder sisters and my elder brother had to leave the city when communal violence started spreading all over the city

Lahore — as it’s etched on my mind


The rooftop of our house situated at the right side entrance of Rasala Bazar, Purani Anarkali, Lahore from where I saw fire all around the city during August 1947, which started from Shah Almi Gate, is one of my earliest memories.

The Anarkali Police Station was situated at about 200 metres and from our rooftop and its courtyard was completely visible.

At times, wailings of the convicts were clearly heard.

Almost seven decades have passed since my parents, two elder sisters and an elder brother had to leave Lahore when the brutal killings took place all over the city. Amazingly, the recollections of my home have not faded, even though at that time, I was a little less than five years old. I was born in October, 1942 in Lahore.

On the fateful day of August 14, our office-cum-domestic help Sita Ram put two steel trunks, a recently purchased ‘Ferrenti’ radio receiving set and a Singer sewing machine in a horse driven tonga. It was all we could carry along with us for our onward journey to an unknown place across the border determined by Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a former member of British Bar and chairman of Boundary Commission, resulting in the divide and consequent killings – perhaps, the largest holocaust in the world history of human mankind.

While leaving, my father handed over two buffalos and Rs 20 to one of our Muslim tenants living on the ground floor, for taking care of the cattle. He, like many other Lahoris, had an illusion that they will return back shortly. But, the reality was different. As we never knew that we were leaving our much-loved Lahore forever!

We reached a refugee camp created at DAV College, Lahore and from there next morning the luggage and the family were put in an Army truck to be shifted to a third-class railway compartment moving towards Attari Station.

The clogged and overcrowded train driven by a steam locomotive carrying living human bodies packed much beyond its capacity took more than eight hours for covering a mere distance of 30 kilometres between Lahore and Attari. The starving and thirsty passengers got some food – roti, daal and achaar – through volunteers at Attari station.

It was a horrific sight. My ailing mother fainted and getting a glass of water was impossible. The stink of the dead bodies coming from outside the compartment and smell all around made the position appalling and dreadful. I must admit that even after a considerable passage of time, until this date I have not forgotten the sight and the stink. The scene and sniff of the filth and dead bodies are still alive in my memory. In spite of my best efforts, I cannot describe the images created in my psyche.

The train moved a little ahead and abruptly stopped. It was to every body’s amazement that all the passengers were directed to vacate the train. All around there was a stampede. Someone was sobbing, another crying.

Nobody knew what to do. The families along with their bags, trunks, children and elderly members were shouting and running. A few hours later a sizeable mob was pushed into army trucks for its onward journey to Amritsar refugee camps.

Muslims coming from East Punjab for their onward journey towards Lahore occupied the vacant train coaches.

As we were leaving, my father handed over two buffalos and Rs 20 to one of our Muslim tenants living on the ground floor. Like many other Lahoris, my father had the illusion that our family would return shortly. But, reality was different. Little did we know that we were leaving our beloved Lahore forever!

On our way to Amritsar, the sight on both the sides of the road was dreadful. Convoys of people were going on foot, lorries, bullock-carts and other vehicles. In view of all around rush and chaos, Army trucks were virtually crawling. Consequently, it took almost six hours to reach Amritsar covering a distance of about 30km.

All the passengers were offloaded in different schools, which were already overcrowded. These schools were converted into refugee camps. After a day’s stay at the camp, our family somehow shifted to a distant relative’s house where we stayed for about 10 days.

A unique piece of my childhood reminiscence!

From the window of that house, I could see a rare circular narrow gauge train, which carried garbage and human-waste of the entire Amritsar city, as during those days, the city had no sewerage.

Since my father was in the business of share broking in Lahore and there was no Stock Exchange at Amritsar, he decided to move to Delhi.

Once again we boarded a train going towards Delhi, without knowing as to where it will depart.

The ghastly journey to Delhi covering a distance of about 450km took more than 48 hours. The coaches were driven by a steam locomotive and it appeared that the engine was suffering from asthma or some chest-disorder, as its speed never exceeded more than 20km per hour.

On its way, after a large number of brief halts, the train stopped at Ambala. To everyone’s utter amazement, the station was full of all kinds of insects, flies and mosquitoes. It was frightening!

A dreadful stink was coming from another train standing at the adjacent platform. It was simply ghastly! The passengers who got down to fetch water from the platform told that all the coaches of the adjoining train were full of dead bodies.

The fractured train carrying Muslims from Delhi was going to Lahore.

After a halt of about five hours, the train moved again carrying living human bodies, which took about 18 hours to cover a distance of 200km before it reached Delhi!

 

The writer can be reached at satishchopra@rediffmail.com

 

 

Published in Daily Times, August 11th 2017.