Arun Gaur 2005 batch (10th) is being awarded the Sena Medal bar for [the second time!] gallantry ops on the Kashmir valley – on the 26th of January 2020 by the President of India. It’s a rare honour as bar in military terms means he has received the same award before.
Early last evening I took a call from Arthur Jones (L 43-48) who lives in Cambridge to say watch BBC2 at 8 pm & follow Michael Portillo – Indian Railways journey – Amritsar to Shimla.
Very nostalgic as both Arthur & I used to make the journey from Lahore (now Pakistan) along the same route.
Rehearsing through the programme starting at the Golden Temple at once brings to mind, on a visit to Indiaaah, how kindly obliging OC Santosh Singh in Amritsar arranged for Napinder Singh (C 43-50) & I to visit the beautiful Temple & later to watch the Tamasha at the Border Gates at Wahga Wahga.
Then a day or so later to be joined with Nappy’s late wife Parvesh spending the afternoon & lunch with Sukinder Singh’s Sister in Amritsar – onto Ludianah stopping to have lunch at a well known Dubba (restaurant).
That Railway line from Kalka to Simla rests in each BCS schoolboy’s memory forever – through Barog tunnel and for me the Ghurka band playing when the Sesquicentennial Special pulled in and stopped for a puri-tac lunch & on to Simla.
Finally, Portillo talking with OC Rajah Bashin who’s legendary knowledge of the town’s history filled me with proud pleasure. Reminded me once again of Old Cottonian hospitality when Rajah invited Maggie & me to a late reception for the wedding of his niece in the basement banqueting hall of the famous Gaiety Theatre.
Memories – memories how can any Ole boy forget?
Peter Stringer (Lefroy 43-47)
At the Golden Temple Amritsar 2006
With Sukhi Pravesh and Nap
Lunch with Pravesh and Napinder along the Grand Trunk Road
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
Dear Old Cottonians
We make a fervent appeal to all OCs around the world to donate generously to those ravaged by the floods in J&K. Mr Junaid Azmi Mattu can give give specifics as to how donations may be channeled either by the OCA or by individual members.
BM Singh [President, OCA India]
Dear Fellow Old Cottonians,
I am staring at the haunting screen of my computer wondering where to start. I am writing to all of you spread across the world to describe a natural calamity that has devastated Jammu & Kashmir and displaced more than a million people, rendering most homeless as cruel, cold winters stare us in the face. The floods that inundated most of Srinagar City and washed away hundreds of villages throughout the length and breadth of the State have left an indelible mark on my heart and mind. Having survived an almost certain death during a rescue operation, I still come home guilty and anguished every night thinking of those who couldn’t make it.
There are heart-rending stories – of a bride’s body in her bridal dress that was fished out days after the floods, of an entire wedding party of fifty disappearing into the waters including the just-weds, tales of mothers jumping into the furious rage of the floods after infants were pulled out of their laps by the gushing fury and swallowed by the waters forever. I have seen people die and disappear up close during the darkest hours of the floods when there were no rescue boats to pull people out. I took a rescue boat into the worst hit area in Srinagar (Jawahar Nagar) the first morning after the city got drowned up to two floors of water and saw people clinging on to straws and stuck on steep rooftops in some of the most affluent neighborhoods of the city – the fabled ‘Paradise on Earth’ – now a big vast pile of crumbled and crumbling houses. Their cries for help, their wailing and their screams will remain with me till I am alive.
Unofficial estimates of the death-toll keep getting revised every day as more and more bodies surface from the receding waters. In my estimation around 1,000 to 1,200 people must have lost their lives in the State. Around one million (10 lakh) people are displaced and homeless with their clothes, food, ration, belongings all swept away. The damage to both public and private infrastructure is incomprehensible and could be upto 100,000 crores.
Entire localities have been devastated. Our hospitals in the city were up to two floors under water – ruining expensive diagnostic equipment, destroying blood-banks and sweeping away supplies and stocks of medicines. The night the Jehlum waters breached the embankments, almost all critically ill children in our Chidren’s Hospital died for want of oxygen and incubation. Numerous pregnant women lost their lives due to complications resulting due to lack of access to doctors and emergent care as Srinagar’s Maternity Hospital got flooded up to the second floor and became inaccessible.
Now, while the rescue operations have officially concluded, we are looking at a human tragedy the scale and magnitude of which is incomprehensible. Hundreds and thousands of people are without drinking water, food, warm clothes and shelter. The threat of epidemics and water-borne diseases looms large over the capital city. The Tourism and Private Sector is almost entirely wiped out – rendering a death-blow to the State’s Economy after we had just started to recover from the devastating political turmoil the State had witnessed. New roads, bridges, public infrastructure, buildings, schools, dispensaries – everything seems to have been swept away like it never existed. Around 1,200 government schools have been swept away – floor, ceiling and roof in the fury.
I write to all of you – my brothers – not as a politician and certainly not as a resident of Jammu and Kashmir alone. I write to you as an Old Cottonian who believes that we could and should all pool in and organize an effort true to the charter, motto and spirit of Bishop Cotton School. This is unambiguously one of the worst National Disasters to have hit India in recent history – comparable perhaps only to the Gujarat Earthquake. While the Government, the Armed Forces, the Air Force has done and will continue to do all it can – this tragedy merits an enormous civic action and effort. Numerous NGOs and thousands of individuals from across the country are pitching in – some even having flown in to personally assist and help. And every hand, every penny and every single quilt that we receive is one small step towards rebuilding and rehabilitating the lives of a million people.
I make a humble appeal to all Old Cottonians’ Associations across the world to contribute and organize a systematic charitable response to this almost apocalyptic catastrophe in India. While the OCs in Punjab could help by collecting and sending off rice, flour and pulses, the OCs in Delhi for instance could focus on bedding, clothes and medicines. A lot could be done by OCs in USA, UK, Canada, Australia and elsewhere too. Once the wheels are in motion initially, we can then organize and delegate distinct areas among various OCA groups and chapters – attempting to put forth a holistic, comprehensive relief and rehabilitation effort. I request Presidents of respective OCA Chapters to come forth and help in coordinating an Old Cottonian’s Operation in response to this challenge thrown our way.
Let us all please help in overcoming this tragedy and rebuilding lives.