Refugee 2

Refugee 2

Jammu was connected to Punjab and the rest of India by rail and a good hard surface road. The rail line and the road ran parallel and within sight of each other. They led to the city of Sialkot in Punjab about 25 kilometers away to the west. As the country was divided Sialkot fell in Pakistan. So Jammu was cut off from India. The only way left was a gravel road running parallel to the Pakistan border, but it was not fit for vehicular traffic. Not only the surface was soft, but also there were no bridges over several mountain streams that crossed it. After every rain the road was impassable for hours, sometimes days.

So we were virtually stuck. I was anxious for news of my father and two sisters, my brother in law was desperately waiting to know the fate of his family in their village just 40 kilometers away. The grapevine news was grim; all of our relatives in Punjab might be dead.

After waiting for about 7 months my brother in law’s patience ran out. He started walking. Horse cart or other such transport was available for short distances, but he had to walk most of the way. Amritsar is about 150 kilometers away from Jammu. He reached safely in about three weeks. But there was no way for him to inform us.

I too was getting anxious and left after two months on the same trail. Twice I had to stop in villages to let the torrents pass. Up to Pathankot I walked most of the way. A military vehicle gave me lift for about 25 kilometers to a town named Gurdaspur. From there Amritsar was about 60 kilometers and I had to walk most of it. On the way I saw a lot of dead bodies on both sides of the road, a gory evidence of horrific violence.

On reaching Amritsar I tracked down my brother in law. All his family had safely come but they had suffered extreme hardships and mortal danger many times. My cousins and their families too had come safely; also my oldest sister and her family had come together with my younger sister. My father had not yet come but we got news that he was safe and expected to come to Bombay by boat.

My brother in law decided to settle his family in a town named Batala about 24 kilometers from Amritsar. Many of our relatives were also attracted to Batala. My sister and I went to Batala also. Here we waited for my father. We moved into a house abandoned by Muslims together with another uncle’s family from Daska. Soon after my cousins invited me my sister to join them to Bareilly in U.P. where they wanted to set up a hardware shop. We were there for about 3 months and I had a taste of running a small retail shop. Had it been necessary I would have continued but I did not quite like the idea of sitting and waiting for customers all day, day after day. If there were many customers, like in some more popular shops in town, I still would not be attracted. About the middle of 1948 we heard that the Punjab University was organizing a high school exam for the refugees. I wanted to take it and decided to head back to Amritsar. My younger sister came with me and began living with my sister in Batala. 

I found a childhood friend who was my classmate for 5 years in Karachi. He invited me to live in his family’s big house. We joined a coaching school to prepare for the examination. Both of us took and passed the exams with good marks. My grades were impressive enough to open the doors of the most prestigious of colleges in the area. 

I was visiting my oldest sister in Ludhiana. My brother in law thought that I should join the famous D.A.V. College in Jalandhar. So he enrolled me there and put me in a hostel. Since I had no money he paid for everything and gave me a couple of hundred rupees for out of pocket expenses. He opened a bank account in my name and we put the cash in it. Luckily in those days tuition and boarding were modestly priced. After my brother in law left I felt quite lonely for I did not share the style of other students.

Because I had good marks the college automatically put me in a science course. I did not like it and wanted to change to the arts course after a month. Our Chemistry professor noticed this and called me to his office. He said I would be better off in life with a science degree because the future was moving in that direction. I appreciated his concern but stuck to my decision.

Sometime later my father came and wanted to settle my sister and me in Batala. I then migrated to a small Christian college in that town and in three years graduated with a respectable standing. College was highly enjoyable and a rich learning time for me. A got to know several professors including an American named Lester Williams from Philadelphia, Mr. Kurian from Kerala who taught us economics and our Quaker Principal Mr. Chet Singh. He chose me to participate in a fortnight long residential seminar in Kodaikanal in southern India organized and funded by the American Friends Service Committee. I lived and learned in the company of students of many nationalities and resource leaders of outstanding merit and extraordinary character. Two of them, a British Quaker Donald Groom and an Indian mystic poet Gurdayal Malik changed my thinking and life forever. Also some of the fellow students I met have remained my friends to this day. 

Today when I think back, those five years from 1945 to 1951 appear as a crash course in the art of living. The Great Wisdom that surrounds us, or God, was my mentor and guardian. I was being prepared to do Life’s work. All of us are. I know for sure I had neither the wisdom nor enough strength. But the One who held my hand had both. I felt privileged then and all my life.

I do not know if I proved worthy of the trust put in me. Only thing I can say is that I did the best according to my light. With all my failings I hope to continue doing my assignment through the evening of my life. 

November 5, 2008