I was a young school boy studying at Bishop Cotton School, Simla when partition took place. After 60 years I was invited to the School for its 150th Anniversary and I then decided to write about myself and the journey from Simla to Lahore made possible by the kindness of many from both sides but mainly from the Indian side. The story is
factual. I shall be too glad to answer any queries.
A Schoolboys story – 1946/1947:
The winter of 1946 was spent with my grandmother and parents, brothers and sister in the village on the banks of the river Chenab on the GT Road in District Gujrat. It was cold and frost covered the land in the mornings. The sun came up shortly before noon for a few hours before people retired and smoke from their homes wound up and settled at a height.
I was a boarder at BCS in Simla and as I had learnt the best way of spending holidays was to walk around the house, fag for my elder cousins Nasim and Akhtar, play football with the local schoolboys and read stories. The elders in the family excelled in medicine, civil service, engineering and were a source of inspiration for me and books around the house on the subjects were of some interest. Grandfather’s desire was that all his children excel in studies and they did not let him down. Visits to the fields were interesting especially where jaggery was prepared.
Off and on news from the city about a rebellion, civil disobedience, public meetings, hartals, tear gas and those who were arrested in the city defying the authorities filtered down to the village. Some of the village folk who used to go to the city would return and tell us what happened. The word ‘Pakistan’ featured prominently and the village bard hoped to be sitting in the ‘Coamatee’ Hall !
The slogans ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ and ‘Azadi’ were engraved in my memory.
I did not have many questions but kept staring at bandaged men who narrated how they got injured quite different from the bruise on the knuckles whilst batting or a hard blow on the shin in hockey or a bloody nose at the end of three rounds in the gnat weight league boxing. First class stuff for a young Boy Scouts Cub troop leader and enough stories to tell my school mates when I got back.
I noticed as the jathas increased their visits to the city and the stories became more vivid and thrilling that a green flag with a crescent, not very neat, all of different shades of green and size being carried by the village folk when they returned in the evenings. I was presented one which I carried all day long around the house shouting the one slogan I learnt ”Pakistan Zindabad”. I was then just short of 8 years.
One person, Sita Ram, my grandmothers munshi stayed away from these meetings and by nightfall used to retreat to his home across the nullah. He had a beautiful rifle which he carried all the time.
The holidays ended and I proceeded to Rawalpindi where my father was posted after his transfer from Simla in 1946 and awaiting to occupy his residence at Mackeson Road. Meantime my parents were living close to the Army Chiefs residence. In late February I was booked to leave home for Simla.I had no idea of the problems ahead and gladly jumped into the front seat of the bus which was to take me to Lahore Railway Station. At the bus stand it was cold and wet but I was well clad in my School blazer, grey flannels and the all important school cap. I was busy trying to see if my box had been loaded when my grandmother called out to me from the car in which she and my mother, sister Kanta, brothers Farooq and Sheri were sitting. to say farewell to my mother. I got off the bus and approached the car and saw that she was crying. It was the first time I saw her as such and this memory saddens me even today. She kissed me goodbye and off I went into the bus. She slipped in a Nestle bar and a dinky in my coat pocket. My sister and brothers were quiet and subdued.
The bus ,run on coal gas, lumbered steadily to Lahore. It stopped enroute to drop off and pick passengers the largest number at Gujar Khan. I reached Lahore in the afternoon and was glad to see staff from the school awaiting boys to take the night train to Kalka. I do not remember what food we had but slept all through out the night. From Kalka onwards the journey was a few hours and I reached the school at dinner time and ready to go to bed.
School life settled into the routine with which I was familiar. I had been appointed a Prefect and sat at the top table for meals. Sports were very competitive and camping in the ‘khud’ as a Scouting Cub was thrilling. Letter writing to parents were compulsory once a week with most of us copying what the teacher had written on the blackboard. The 6 annas per week pocket money was enough to get a bottle of jam to last for a week and a tin of condensed milk consumed on the spot. Meringues from the Mall were a big attraction and I remembered the site where the Quaid e Azam addressed the citizens of Simla in 1946 which my mother attended and I went along..
Academic standards were high but I managed to hold my own amongst the top. Years later in 1999 when I visited the School and saw the honour boards in Irwin Hall I was to see the names of Humayun Khan, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary, Jal Boga whose friendship has lasted well over 6 decades, Col. Mohd Sharif and General Jahanzeb Khan, Army Officers holding senior positions on both the academic and sport boards. I stood mesmerized in the great Hall ,there was a lump in my throat and it was hard to keep me from breaking down. Much that I would have liked my name to be there too it was not to be. Tuition and extra classes were unknown with all work and learning including French and Latin to be completed in class. Turnout was always excellent. The newspaper ‘The Statesman’ was read out to boys by Mr Murray standing around him. Bradman and Hammond entered our minds.
In about July,1947,whilst on the playing field and it was almost past sunset I suddenly heard the sound of people shouting above the school in the Bazar and the faint sound of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, rising and then dropping.. I was amazed and tried to hear the sound again but in vain. I felt that my memory chords had been touched, memories from a few months ago. Instantly my hockey stick became my flag and I strutted a few smart steps shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ afraid that I might be overheard some instinct telling me not to be too enthusiastic lest Mr Murray hears me.
As the days went by I noticed the shouting and slogan sessions increasing and one night after lights out we were woken up by the teachers and told to wear our great coats over our night clothes, put on our shoes, and stuff our toiletries in our pockets. We were marched out, all about 200 boys, lined up and led out in the darkness through the khud to the Senior School where cots had been lined up in the corridors of the dormitories on the first floor. On the way our teachers some with guns and torches and lanterns remained close to us with a solitary enquiry ‘kaun hai’ from a house up on the hill. The way down the khud was full of fun, Bushes and nettle thorns , an uneven path, darkness except for the stars…a Scouts Cub dream of leading his pack through enemy territory in complete silence.
Boys evacuated from the Prep School had a pleasant stay in the Senior School. It is located at some distance from the Bazar and slogans could not be heard there. Special classes were organized and there was plenty to do on the sports field and the swimming pool. I noticed tinned sardines were provided on the breakfast table. The routine carried on peacefully but sometime in late August I was summoned by the Headmaster on Flat One where I noticed an army jeep and a Sikh Police officer. Father Drake the Headmaster and another teacher were talking to the Officer and when he saw me he said ‘Son, he will take you home’. I dashed upto the Headmaster and held onto his legs firmly and sobbing said ’Father, I don’t want to go”. I was quite happy in School and did not know why this was happening. It took him a while to release my grip and he said ’Son, don’t worry, you will get home soon and write to me when you get there’.
I noticed some senior boys watching from the first floor verandah. I waved out to them and suddenly cheers erupted from them with clapping wishing me well. Off was the Prefect from Cotton House. Amongst the Senior School heroes which I thought had a good rapport were Agha Hashim,the School Captain, Chandulal. Durrani, Hay Jahans , Jones, Stringer, Mehra, Wamiq Rasheed, Sahibzada, Sarda to name a few who I felt were on the verandah waving me farewell.
Rubbing my eyes and trying hard to dry them with my handerkechief I sat in the jeep and left the School with the Officer and his Driver not knowing where I was headed which was ending a happy childhood stay in the finest School that I knew. Gone were my teachers, friends, my books, my stamp collection, my butterfly collection and my school cap. I thought that perhaps I would be back one day but such hopes faded away quickly as I settled down to a place I did not know. I turned round for a brief moment to look at the School to which I hoped I would return.
About 60 years later I was told that the great wooden doors at the entrance to Irwin Hall were closed in honour of the Muslim boys who left the School in 1947.They were reopened in honour of the contingent from Pakistan who were invited to the 150th year celebrations. A shield was presented to the School. I was one of the lucky 6 who would participate.
The jeep groaned past the Bazar and onto the Convent on the outskirts of Simla where my cousins Farida and Asma were waiting clutching hand bags with a few Nuns. The Officer got out of the jeep, met the Nuns and escorted my cousins to the jeep. Somewhere past the Ridge we were transferred to big black car. We settled down on our way I did not know where but in the evening we found that the ferry at Ghaggar had closed and we had to find a place to stay overnight. The Officer rang a bell at a small house in an Army compound at some distance from the ferry crossing and asked the lady who opened the door to keep the children for the night. She was a kind Hindu lady and let us in and gave some food. Her husband an Army officer came in late but we were fast asleep by then. .I was given the sofa in the drawing room whilst my cousins presumably had another place to sleep.
Early the following morning I awoke to see a huge Alsatian dog sitting on his haunches ,head cocked and looking at me lying on the sofa. It was not aggressive but had a loving look. I stretched out and got close to it and hugged it. It stayed close to me during breakfast and went with me to the car where the Officer was waiting. With a big thank-you to our hosts we restarted our journey, crossed the Ghaggar and after a few hours reached the residence of the Deputy Commissioner, Ambala and were lodged in the guest room. Years later I came to know that the Deputy Commissioner was Mr Grewal Singh ,an Indian Civil Service officer and he was a friend and colleague of my Uncle Khalid, the father of my cousins travelling with me.
Mr Grewal met us the following morning and said that we would be living with him till evacuation was possible. I had a vague notion then of what was in store for us but my cousins were anxious, worried and always kept the curtains of the room drawn. They never stepped out but I ventured out in the verandah and one day went around the house. It was a big house with a long driveway and lawns around it. ’Dal roti’ was our preferred meal and I tried to keep the room spick and span .I was wearing the same set of clothes with which I left School and did not have a change. My cousins used to threaten me that they would report me to Mr Grewal if I upset them on any count and one day he did visit us which left me motionless as soon as we were told by the bearer that the Sahib was coming. It turned out to be a pleasant visit much to the disappointment of my cousins as they thought he would upbraid me for annoying them.
I cannot remember how long we stayed there but it was an awfully long period in one room with little or nothing to do. I felt listless and only when some of the DC’S staff told us from time to time that a plane would be coming to take us home would there be some excitement and noise in the room. Days passed and we settled into a routine. We did not have any news what was happening which added to our misery. One fine morning we were told that we would be taken to the airport to take the plane. We got ready but it was a disappointment as nothing happened. A few days later the exercise was repeated. An older person would have his nerves all jangled with such developments but we were small and quickly went back to normal life in the room with the drawn curtains.
Finally on a beautiful day Mr Grewal Singh rushed us to the airport in his car followed by a police escort. In a short while we reached the airport and in the distance on the horizon saw a plane coming in. It was the first time I saw a plane in real life. It landed and came close to us near the airport building and the doors were opened with the engines running. Out stepped my Uncle Khalid wearing a suit. He saw us called out to run to get in. He got off, met Mr Grewal ,exchanged a few pleasantries and reentered the plane.
The plane taxied to the run way and we were seated in the front part .The doors were still open and whilst it was readying to take off, lo and behold it was surrounded by several hundred men and women and children of all ages who wanted to get on. These were Muslims staying close to the airport waiting to take the train to Pakistan.. It was an amazing sight with people trying to enter, some did and some clung onto its wings and undercarriage. It could not move.
Mr Grewal Singh was watching the huge crowd which surrounded the plane and went upto them and with kind, gentle words with the help of the Police brought some order. Yet people were clinging to it. Gradually with great difficulty it started moving, the doors open as the staff could not close it because of the people trying to enter. It started gathering speed and from the window I saw people fall off from the wings. One had held onto the roll-bar in the doorway and was pleading and crying to let him in but that was not possible and the staff pushed him out with force and closed the door. We were jam-packed in the aircraft. My immediate reaction at that time was of sadness for the persons left behind and how would they manage. I was one of the few that got across safely.
The plane took off smoothly, this being my first plane journey. I could pull open a little cylindrical window cut in the big window and took my arm and hand out and feel the breeze. It was wonderful. After a short while I was taken to the cockpit where the pilot told me how the plane went up and down. Amazing I thought. The journey to Lahore was over in about 30 minutes or less. At the Airport my father along with my Aunt Saliha, mother of my cousins and a few relatives received us safe and sound. It was a joyous and happy time.
The get together with other relatives and friends took place at Uncles residence. Lots of mubaraks and gratefulness to Allah was expressed and suddenly I felt my mother to be missing. She could not come from Rawalpindi but my Aunty noticed that I was feeling that I was not part of the homecoming celebrations and stood silently in a corner wearing the same shirt and shorts when I left School, now stained and quite filthy. To cheer me up she asked if I would have a squash. I nodded and followed her to the pantry for the drink. That gesture remains as a pleasant memory of my days..
My Dad and I motored down to Rawalpindi via the village. Many villagers came to see me and wish me well. In the 9 odd months away from home the only language I knew was English, Punjabi and Urdu were forgotten. So the young boy from the plains of the Punjab had returned home but I was anxious to get to Mackeson Road and the tennis court there and my bicycle. It was winter and cold and a few days of food of my choice and freedom changed me. In January 1948, I was admitted to the Convent and upon my parents transfer to Lahore in St. Anthony’s and later Aitchison College. The life at School in Simla had set me on a path to which I have no regrets. Boarding life in particular taught me self reliance, sharing with dormitory mates, competitiveness, good manners and a host of other matters which steadied life ahead.
As the years rolled on, gone is the journey to School, the end of the Persian Water wheel in the village and the ride on the drivers seat going round and round the well, the gas lamps, the spelling competition with cousins. Sita Ram is no more and forgotten are the deodar trees of the greater Himalayas around Simla, the trek to Kufri where the flowers were taller than us young boys, Wild Flower Hall, Barnes Court, the Ridge, Flat One in the School, Gone are Cotton, Sinker, Barnes and Emerson Houses and the Prep School which is now a Tibetan Center, and so are Kathala Railway Station and the beautiful Kidar Nath Farm.
I got my tin box back and collected it from the Indian High Commission office at that time located on the Mall next to the Canal. It was empty and I felt that it was of no use to remember the material part of life. I was glad to be home with my parents and sister and brothers and only now can I feel what parents had to go through as there was little assurance that we would return and life would probably have taken a different path.
And onto matriculation, O/A levels, graduation, service with a multinational with a multicultural work force with gems from across the border working with different ideas and values but simple for me to understand as I was in boarding with boys from all over India and had known some of their thinking and my way of getting along with them…Amongst my seniors Zafar Hassan from Amritsar and Lahore,, Zia Shafi Khan from Shahjahanpur in the UP, and Nizam Shah from Sirinagar were outstanding and there are lifelong friendships forged with Ejaz,Naveed,Anwar . Service in Aitchison College followed and more attention given in the twilight of my life to a loving family across the globe in a different setting. I married Asma and our sons Jaffar and Usman studied for their degrees in the US and are now in Calgary and Karachi respectively with their families. Grandchildren Hassan, Haider and Sonia are growing up to be good human beings.
The village prospers and the descendants of Malik Maula Baksh keep his name flying high. He lies buried there with his sons Abdur Rahman, Abdul Mannan and Abdullah Khalid with place in the graveyard for more to follow. Doctor Sahib, Chief Sahib and Commissioner Sahib are remembered to this day. But there no slogans or eventful days and the dream that was ‘Pakistan’ sadly disappointed many. Only a brief period in the 1965 skirmish as Gujrat borders the Jammu area did the residents show the determination to succeed from the soil that has made them. On a clear day one can see the Pir Panjal range in the Himalayas, beautiful and serene and standing tall and mighty unchanged as time goes by.
Thanks could not be forgotten to be given to Mr Grewal Singh. In the 60’s Mr Kewal Singh, his brother, was appointed as the High Commissioner of India to Pakistan. Aunt Salihas father and who was also Asma’s grandfather and I called on him .He was deeply touched by the gesture of a distinguished person around 90 years old to make the effort. But such men and such values are few.
In conclusion I can sum up my experience in real life as truly rewarding. I was never unsure about my capabilities and fear did not ever cross my path.
July 15, 2011
The author, Mr. Malik, is an Old Cottonian. He was at BCS from 1944 to 1947.
Mr. Malik was the Head of HR at a Multinational company and later took up position as the Vice Principal and Bursar of Aitchison College Lahore.
Iftikhar Ahmad passed away 2017
20th November 2018
From: Jai Joshi MD
Subject: A SCHOOL BOYS STORY by Iftikar Malik
Last night I read again A SCHOOL BOYS STORY and was moved to tears. I wanted to know how the author was doing so I googled him and was saddened to realize that he had passed away
Iftikhar Ahmad Malik, former Vice Principal (Admin)/Bursar and an Old Aitchisonian sadly passed away on March 13th, 2017.
Jai Joshi MD