Humayun Khan was born in 1932 to a Pashto-Hindko speaking family in Abbottabad, Hazara Division in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP, now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). His father was a District and Sessions Judge at the judicial commissioner’s court in NWFP, which is now known as the Peshawar High Court, and his mother was a homemaker. Mr. Khan’s paternal family is from the Yousafzai Clan, hailing from the village of Amazogray in Mardan. They were landlords with ownership of over two hundred acres of lands in the village that depended on wells and rainwater irrigation systems for harvesting wheat. Mr. Khan’s maternal ancestors hail from Dera Ismail Khan and Peshawar. They were traders engaged in businesses with merchants from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Mr. Khan spent his early years of upbringing in Peshawar with two elder brothers and two younger sisters, and at age seven, he was sent to boarding school at Murree where he studied for two years. In 1941, he was enrolled at the Bishop Cotton School in Shimla where he studied until Partition. Recalling life at the boarding school, Mr. Khan says that there were about two hundred boys from all faiths and backgrounds. “It was considered one of the best public schools. There was a great emphasis on teachings of morals and ethics like fair-play, being truthful, and self-sufficiency. I was always a good student and used to be first in the class,” recounts Mr. Khan. He was also an avid cricket player and competed on the school’s team. “We’d study in school for nine months out of the year and then be with our families. There was no such thing as discrimination in our school. We were never looked upon each other as anything but fellow classmates,” Mr. Khan recalls.
Speaking of his experiences at home during the holidays, Mr. Khan mentions that he enjoyed the traditional Peshawari way of life, including the food bazaars and the hujra (courtyard). “It used to be a romantic life. We would dine at my grandmother’s house, where she used to have these stoves on the ground. She would sit on a low stool all day and cook for the entire family. We never used knives or forks on the table,” he says. Mr. Khan spoke Pashto and Hindko at home.
At the time of Partition, Mr. Khan was at school in Shimla. “On June 3, 1947, all the senior boys were invited to the house of the senior master to listen to the broadcast on the radio, where Jinnah, Nehru and Baldev Singh spoke. We were so out of touch with reality there — we really didn’t take much interest in it. When the trouble started we remained unaware of it. We heard about riots in Shimla and Punjab but our political knowledge was heavily limited inside the school,” Mr. Khan remembers.
In early October of 1947, Mountbatten visited Shimla and spent one day at the Bishop Cotton School, as Mr. Khan remembers. “At lunch, the headmaster told him that he had 40 ‘odd’ boys who ought to be in Pakistan. Mountbatten advised to let those boys stay until they complete their studies. However, our parents in Pakistan were extremely worried. Some of them, including mine, were in powerful positions. They approached the then-acting governor of NWFP and urged them to get their children back from Shimla,” Mr. Khan says. In late October, the governor arranged a special convoy comprising of trucks under the supervision of Gurkhas to pick up the boys from Shimla. “We were loaded onto the trucks and taken to the Ambala Cantonment where we spent the night in barracks. The next day, a Dakota airplane was arranged by the governor to pick us from Ambala from where we flew to Lahore, and then Karachi. Some of the boys had families in Lahore and they were reunited with them. Some of them were flown to Karachi. There were seven of us from Peshawar, and we were dropped off at the Lahore airport and picked up by Mr. Leghari, the Commissioner for Refugees.”
Mr. Khan and the other boys stayed at the commissioner’s home for two days and slowly started to understand what was happening. “We didn’t initially realize the danger we faced because everything had always gone so smoothly for us, in our state of isolation. Two of Mr. Leghari’s sisters, who were students at the Auckland Girls High School in Shimla, had also travelled to Lahore, but by car. They had told him in our presence what they had seen on the road — the refugees and the violence. That was my very first impression of what was going on outside the walls of our school,” Mr. Khan recalls.
From Lahore, Mr. Khan and the other boys boarded on a train procured by the commissioner for refugees, and Mr. Khan was eventually reunited with his family at the Peshawar railway station.
“The clashes in Peshawar had died down by the time we arrived. My mother had very close relations with Hindu families. We used to virtually live at each other’s houses. My mother’s best friend was a Hindu lady. When I returned to Peshawar, I found out that they were all gone but had left their valuables — cars, furniture and carpets — with us,” Mr Khan recalls. “Some of the families managed to send representatives to Peshawar from India after Partition, so we were able to give them the belongings. Unfortunately, we’d later heard that these folks were looted at the border,” he says.
Sharing his observations on post-Partition life in Peshawar, Mr. Khan says that behavior patterns of the middle class remained very “English” for several years after their departure. “Even though there were very few Englishman left, the clubs and the cinemas kept going for several years after Partition and so did the civil structures — only now they were managed by Pakistani posts. We didn’t really find much of a difference in life. The roads and neighborhoods were safe. As boys, we used to go to the cinemas on bicycles at night. We did not live in any fear of being harmed,” Mr. Khan says.
Mr. Khan continued studying for his bachelor’s degree at Lawrence College, and then at the Edwardes College in Peshawar for one year. In 1950, Mr. Khan went on to study economics and law in the Trinity College in Cambridge, graduating with honors in 1953. His degree was later converted into a master’s degree, and in 1954, Mr. Khan joined the Lincoln’s Inn and became a barrister of law. “I had dreams of being a successful lawyer but my complete lack of knowledge of reading legal documents in Urdu held me back,” he says. “At the Bishop Cotton School, we were only taught lower Urdu [basic alphabets and conversational phrases].”
In 1955, Mr. Khan became an officer with the Central Superior Services of Pakistan for the Frontier Cadre and offered his services for seventeen years in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [Waziristan and Malakand]. After 1971, Mr. Khan, secretary for the North West Frontier Provinces government at the time, was transferred to the foreign services office where he served for another eighteen years, beginning from his posting in Soviet Russia. In 1984, Mr. Khan was sent to India as the Pakistani High Commissioner. “Apart from Shimla, I’d never known India. This was my first chance to discover the country,” he says. He recounts his tenure in India to be the most difficult in the midst of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, and the resulting violence.
In 1961, Mr. Khan married Munawar Humayun Khan. (Read her story here: http://on.fb.me/21p1DGn They have three daughters. Sharing his thoughts, Mr. Khan offers, “We should…focus on the politics of reconciliation, instead of confrontation.”
This interview was conducted by Story Scholar Fakhra Hassan. The summary above provides a brief glimpse into the full interview. The complete video interview is expected to be public in 2017. Browse more stories on the STORY MAP: http://www.1947partitionarchive.org/browse
Appropriate written permission has been obtained from 1947partitionarchive.org to reproduce this article and photograph which are Copyright © of 1947 Partition Archive.
Hamayun Khan was at BCS Simla from 1941 to 1947 in Rivaz House.
I had the privilege to meet Dr Humayun Khan every year in London in June from
2000-2012 at “every OCA luncheon”.
( I was on the OCA committee and later Chairman OCA after Gay Niblett Esq handed over the reins to me).
Dr Khan’s sense of humour knew no bounds; subtle sometimes daring jokes always kept us in splinters. Dr Khan was also present when we UK Old Cottonians travelled to Kent to pay respects to Freddy Brown Esq at his funeral. Dr Khan too arrived; he stood in the same row as me in the Chapel singing the departing English hymns with sadness yet gusto. For him too as myself, our School Chapel was the grounding of our education, teaching us complete tolerance and understanding of all religions.
Dr Khan was amongst the august group of Pakistan Old Cottonians each illustrious be it in their Foreign Service or Army, some Generals and Air Marshalls who made the effort to cross the Border ( Thanks to the Indian OCs who meticulously arranged their travel through Wagah Border ) to attend the sesquicentennial celebrations of our Alma mater in Simla in October 2009.
What a reunion as the OCs from Pakistan entered past the School Gates and were escorted up the steps to the Irwin Hall… nostalgia is a tame word; heart rendering emotions from these gentlemen as the Centre Door of the Hall was opened for them after 62 years to welcome them back.. the door had been shut in 1947 when these gentlemen then youngsters had to leave school and partitioned India for their homes in new Pakistan.Yes .. the centre door was opened again in 2009 after 62 years …!
Rest in Peace Dr Khan Sir.
You were a grand pillar of Bishop Cotton School Simla
Capt Vivek ( Bonnie) BHASIN
My father Dr Humayun Khan passed away on 22 Sept, 2022, aged 91. I visited his school in Simla ten years ago, and was so happy to see his photos as captain of cricket and other teams. He was so respected and loved in India during his time as a diplomat there and after. He truly believed in peace and stability in our region. Indo-Pak dosti was his dream.