by Sh. K.N. Koul
It was March 1947 and I felt a longing to pay a visit to Hardwar. There was no clear picture as to what was happening down in plains, except sketchy news in broad contours that was getting through the borders. Hari Singh, Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, had yet to exceed to union of India or Pakistan. Precise division of territories between India and Pakistan had yet to be known. Sheikh Sahib was fully committed to nationalism, and did not subscribe to policies adopted by Jinnah. Jinnah on the other hand did not want to have Pakistan without Kashmir and not to accept division, without this State. In last moments being disgruntled, he was thinking of approaching Nehru for being ready to agree to United India.
Jinnah had his ego as well to sustain. He thought, that he was great enough to form a country by the name Pakistan, a holy land, which Muslims, he thought, would love to have, and for which he had struggled a lot. Jinnah equally felt keen to get a place of honour, in history, for having initiated and being successful in having a separate homeland. Maharaja of Kashmir, Jinnah felt, was sure to join only India and envisaged Pakistan in no case. Sheikh Sahib had cast his dye with Nehru and contributed to the slogan “Sheikh Sahib Ka Kya irshad, Hindu Muslim Sikh Itehad” Jinnah was therefore, justified in his chaotic thinking. He could not be decisive either, with regard to adoption of any methodology to fulfil his objective. He had deceit and nefarious ways, in his mind, as the only way, to annex Kashmir. He wanted the territory, somehow and/or any way. At the same time Jinnah was nervous and felt unfavourable circumstances abounding him all over. How to deal with Sheikh Sahib, was equally a dilemma for Jinnah and he did not know precisely as to how to deal with the former.
Sheikh Sahib’s, policies created in our minds a feeling of safety visa-a-vis communal hooliganism in various parts of India. With mind and thinking being conditioned as per the prevailing circumstances in Kashmir, we felt some measure of safety and proceeded on 5th of March 1947, by bus, to Rawalpindi. We were to board train there for Saharanpur, where we were to reroute ourselves for Hardwar. We were oblivious to conditions that we were throwing ourselves into. I was asked to take along my grandmother and an old relative, who were equally anxious to have Ganga snan.
We reached Uri and bus driver decided to stay there for the night. He was known and as such, obliged us by leading to a temple. People travelling to Rawalpindi stayed generally there overnight. We obeyed and condescended to position prevailing. We could hardly have even a wink of sleep. The pujari had warned, to be careful, as anybody could drop in, with a view to steal. He would say repeatedly “Bua band kar dena” and we could hardly make out as to what he meant by bua,-the gate. In the morning out of our enthusiasm, we were the first to reach the place where our bus had stopped for the night.
The onward bus journey was somewhat onerous, especially when we started ascending the hill leading to Muree. We had option to proceed via Abottabad, but since route via Muree, was clear, bereft of snow and nearer as well, we preferred this route in comparison to Abbotabad. At Muree we had our lunch. A number of sardars and others were managing small eateries and we found rajmah chawal more or less congenial to our taste. From Muree we started ascending the hill and were in Rawalpindi in the afternoon of 6th March. We stayed in a dharamsala, in one of the Hindu dominated areas and felt better after having rice and potatoes and cauliflower as our menu for dinner. We had carried a small kerosene stove and that was useful for the purpose.
As night started, there were communal riots, and hell broke down on us all. All sort of cries vitiated the sky and everybody felt unsafe and fearful. Cries of “Nalai Taqbir” reciprocated by the slogan “Har har Mahadev” raked the sky all over. Gun shots were heard from opposite sides and these instilled fear all around. Some bullets even crossed over our heads. People of the locality prepared for all possible eventualities. Gun holders formed the vanguard in marches undertaken by young men, and the rest in the back wielded lathies. We being on the roof were asked to store stones for throwing if attackers could be nearer. The night was fearful and agony stood writ large on all faces. There were reports, that trains in Lahore and other places, were being searched for Hindus, who if found, were massacred. Hindus were reported doing likewise in trains around Delhi and bound for Pakistan. Question of our proceeding for Lahore did not arise. We were keen to get back to Kashmir by any possible means. We were also joined here, by two pundit gentlemen who wanted to run back along with us.
Next day position was a little better, and I along with some local people was able to reach, transport market, where I contacted a known Kashmiri Pundit, who was established in transport business. He booked for us two taxis with Kashmiri Muslim drivers. They promised to proceed early morning next day and pass Chaklala Cant. in early morning darkness. To our dismay, nobody turned up that early, and we could do nothing, but to wait. The drivers however, turned up around 10 O’clock and asked us to board the taxis. They also assured to help us under all circumstances. We felt reassured, and boarded the taxis for our back home journey.
We had to change our disguise for being recognised and the problem seemed to be not that easy. We wrapped grandmother with a white sheet with her eyes only visible. Others purchased fur caps from a Kashmiri shop which had just opened for a while. With the dress we felt better placed and started for our onward journey. Just while we were crossing the Cantonment, a group of Pathans stopped our taxis and started questioning our drivers. They were equipped with all sorts of gadgets for the kill. Kudos to our drivers, who swore by the name of Quran, that we were all Muslims and if they wanted to kill their brethren, they would not be following their religion. They desisted from taking action and allowed us to proceed.
Somehow we reached Muree. The place wore a deserted look. All non-Muslims had either been killed or had run away. I was a non-smoker but with a pack of 50 cigarettes was smoking without respite not knowing what else to do. The drivers decided to have tea much to our discomfiture, and I kept on smoking till they were free. All looked at us unsuspectingly. Perhaps they could not expect any non Muslim to be in the taxis. The drivers also played their part to save us. We started onwards to reach Kohalla. The ascent from Muree was as usual convenient. En route we found two Pathans wearing clipped human heads, round their necks, which sight was repugnant. An Englishman travelling ahead called them, and questioned as to why they were holding on to these human heads, which were dirty and smelling nasty. One remarked, without remorse, that they wanted to show, as to how many of our enemies were killed and felt happy for the same. The Englishman looked bewildered and left thereafter, without uttering a word.
We crossed Kohalla Bridge and heaved a sigh of relief. After crossing, we found cadets busy with their drill getting perhaps military training to fight Maharaja’s dogra army. Something to dislodge Maharaja was brewing to take place.
We reached Srinagar in the evening. People got round us to have news as to what was happening down in plains. We thanked our drivers and rewarded them with cash for saving our lives
We suffered from nightmares for a long time and feel so nostalgic about the events even now. We shall never think of Rawalpindi any time here after.
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