Memories of India’s Partition

Jai Gopal Sethi


I was born in Kohat, now in Pakistan. After partition, my family migrated to Delhi. After my B.E. (Civil) Engineering degree in 1962 from University Of Roorkee, I worked as an engineer in UP’s Irrigation department, and retired as a Superintending Engineer. Now I live in Saket, New Delhi and am the President of M-Block (NE) Saket Cultural and Niwasi Welfare Association, New Delhi. I also served as honorary secretary of the Association for 4 years. It is my endeavour to serve humanity at grass root level

Editor's note: Mr. Sethi's life before Partition is described in Memories of pre-1947 Kohat.

Along with my mother and sisters, I moved to Toba Tek Singh in 1947. My youngest sister was born on 10th August 1947.

I remember our Nanaji (Late Amir Chand Kohli ji) used to live in Toba Tek Singh. This was a good city, where the Sikh, Hindus and Muslims population were almost equally divided. Our Nanaji had a big house. Here there were so many ponds and canals for irrigation. Our Nanaji had five daughters namely, Shanti (my respected mother), Sumitra, Ram Rakhi, Ram Pyari, and Murgai, all of whom have are now expired. My tearful Shraddhanjali to all of them, whom I now miss.

In summer holidays, all our masijis (mother's sisters) along with their kids used to assemble at Toba Tek Singh at our Nana's place. Our eldest masi used to live in the next lane. I remember that all of the masijis used to churn milk in front of their rooms in Vehras (courtyards). They used to give plenty of butter, Lassi and makki ki roti to all children equally.

The story goes that my Nanaji was concerned that he did not have a son - only daughters. Some fakir told him that if he was ready to make his son a Sikh, and he prayed in a Gurudwara, then he would be blessed with sons. By the grace of Guru Nanak Ji, my Nanaji was blessed with sons, whom he named Sardar Bishan Singh (a Sikh), Shri Ram Kohli and Shri Inderjit Kohli. My tearful Shraddhanjali to my Sardar mamaji, and Shri Ram and Shri Inder mamaji.

Our Nanaji had two oxen, two buffalos, one cow, and one bullock cart. He had a fertile land. These agriculture plots used to be called murabbas. Nanaji and the others in the area grew mostly cash crops, such as kakries (cucumber) kheeras (gherkin), kharbuzas (muskmelon), tarbooze, (watermelon), and Pethas, etc.

I still remember that I used to play in the pond, and went there to get the buffalos to drink water and take wash. The water of the pond used to be very slushy and green in colour. There used to be worms, called jaon, which would stick to the buffalos, and suck their blood.

The weather here used to very hot, and in summer there were dust storm s almost every day.

Our Nanaji had one domestic servant, Maaghi Ram, who used to take care of the fields and other household duties.

Nanaji used to sit at the entrance of the house on the first floor, in a room called the Baithak.

One day, in August 1947, all of a sudden we heard a thundering sound. All the families started running here and there. I was told that there was an invasion by Muslims in the back lane, and they were looting and burning the houses of Hindus. My Nanaji ordered all the ladies and children to save their lives and immediately take shelter in the next lane. All my masijis and my mother took her daughters and other members, and ran for safety in the next lane. All the family members were running leaving behind all the households' goods. My mother could not carry anything, but she threw the potli (a bag of cloth) of her gahenes (valuable ornaments) into the bhusa (husk) room -where looters would not expect them to be.

My Nanaji was very much worried about his Sardar son as the Muslims were butchering Sikhs first. It was our belief that the Muslims were sparing the ladies and children. So our Nanaji then requested Sardar Bishan Singh ji, to cut off his kes (hair), and dress up as a woman. When we all were running to safety from lane to lane, we came to a dead end. Now the Muslims surrounded us. They were carrying all the weapons like swords, knives, long chhuras, lathis, and spears.

There I saw the Pakistani police, who were there supposedly for safety but all brutalities were being committed in the presence of the police and military. All of us, along with hundreds and thousands of other people, were ordered to march towards the anaaj ki mandi (grain market). All along the route, the police and Muslims were following us. I can still see the dreadful faces in my memories. Our servant Maaghi Ram had not accompanied us and it was a question at that time what had happened to him? But strange was the betrayal that our servant accepted Islam and helped the Muslims to loot our houses.

There was bloodshed all over. I was witnessing the brutality being thrust upon by mankind towards the other their fellow beings. Such a great sin that could not be forgotten in the history. Where was the teaching that Mahazab Nehi Sikata Apas Mein Bair Rakhna (religion does not teach you to be hostile to others)?

We were told that this area was now part of Pakistan. We were being kept as refugees in the grain market till the Indian military came to take us to India. This anaaj ki mandi was a small place\; the whole Hindu population of the city was huddled there like animals. We used to sleep in the open. The drainage and sanitation conditions were terrible, and there was an outbreak of cholera fever. Once my youngest sister fell in the foul drain, but we pulled her out. We were short of daily rations, with almost starvation conditions. My other sister also fell ill but due to natural medicines, she recovered. My mother was suffering from asthma and used to worry about our Bauji (my father), who was not with us at Toba Tek Singh. My mother was in a sad mood all the time.

All the four gates of the anaaj ki mandi were locked and there was Pakistani police to guard us as prisoners.

Every day the Muslims used to throw shoes, chappals, and nasty abuses from the other side of boundary wall. All of us used to pray to God to save us from the atrocities of Muslims, and we used to look for the Indian military to take us to India. There were rumours the Muslims might butcher all the people because there were stories that the trains coming from India were full of dead Muslims. So, the local Muslims would retaliate and kill us.

One day, all of a sudden, it was announced that that we could see our homes for the last time, after which we would be sent to India. My mother was asked by my Nanaji that she might find something which might be left after the senseless looting and ransacking. Accordingly, my mother went to see the house for the last glimpse. She found the potli that contained the gold ornaments. Nothing was left in that house as the servant, Maaghi Ram, who became Maaghi Khan, helped the Muslims to make a clean sweep of that house.

At last, a message from the Indian government came, and we were told to hurry up for the train bound for India. I, along with my sisters, mother, masijis, and Nanaji had all lived in the anaaj ki mandi for about two months or so.

Soon, we all were sitting in the awfully over crowded train like goats or sheep. All the persons were remembering God and some were reciting Gurbani. All wished that they should reach India quite safe and sound.

Our train was heading towards Lahore. Some of the passengers got sick feeling thirsty but there was no water to drink. When the train stopped near one nallah (dirty water drain), people drank the filthy water. Those who could not hold their thirst drank urine just to survive.

At last, our train reached Lahore station. This station was the final point when our fate was to be decided. When I looked outside the train I found that all along the platform there were Pakistani Police and Muslims carrying weapons. All water taps on the platform were dry as the water connections were disconnected, so that we could not get water. Our train was waiting for the train from India. As luck would have it, the train from India arrived quite safe and in good condition\; all the passengers were quite happy and raising slogans Pakistan Zindabad, Allah Hu Akbar etc. Seeing this, our train was spared and sent to India via Wagah border to Amritsar.

I remember that it was Diwali Day when our train entered India and the Golden Temple was shining with coloured shining electric bulbs. We were greeted with garlands. Our train was terminated in Patiala and we were shifted to Patiala transit refugee camp, which was set up by Indian Government.

When we united in India, we inquired to our Bauji as to what happened to him and his Sikh partner. When the riots broke, my father had gone to the field carrying a bowl of water to answer the call of nature. So he saved his life and caught the train, which was ferrying Hindus families to India.

His Sikh partner suffered more. As he was running, a member of a Muslim mob stabbed him in the stomach, and his intestines, etc. came out of his belly. But, he did not lose hope, pushed the whole muck back into his stomach, wrapped his stomach with his turban, and took the train to India. He was given first aid by the fellow passengers. My tearful condolences to our Sardar Bhayaiji as he expired after living a life full of struggle in Delhi. By dint of hard labour, he established a good business in Delhi, and his second generation is still remembering him and his good deeds.


© Jai Gopal Sethi 2013


Thank you. I and my immediate family survived - we had moved East before 15 August. Many other relatives.... Enough said.

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