On first Independence Day, 15th August 1947, I had woken up in Jammu where I had come the previous. I was 16 and a refugee like millions of others. This meant that all the moveable and unmovable property of my family was gone. The home and shop that my great grandfather had built in Daska was gone. So was the house and shop my father and his brother built in Jaranwala. My father was still in Karachi but it was apparent that he would soon have to leave empty handed. I was in a territory I had visited perhaps once before as a child to attend a wedding. All the places I was familiar with were now in a new country named Pakistan. Till that day I believed that I would return and be a Pakistani. But almost within a week I knew that I would never go back, except perhaps as a visiting foreigner.
I had a couple of hundred rupees in my pocket and two changes of clothes in a little bag. That is all. But somehow I was not afraid. My sister and brother in law had recently moved to Jammu. I was taken in as a member of the family, mainly as a brother, but also that was the prevailing spirit of the time. Relatives and friends coming in as refugee were accommodated even when space was cramped and money short. I settled in and quickly began to move around to find new friends and things to do.
The city was rapidly filling up with refugees and tension between them and the local Muslims was increasing. The refugees felt that the Muslims should be sent to Pakistan and their houses and other property given to them. This they felt was justified because as Hindus they were driven out of Muslim Pakistan and their property was taken over by Muslim refugees and locals. Soon the situation deteriorated to open violence. The communities clashed for several days. Some Muslims were killed and most others were sent across the border to Pakistan. In such a situation there was a lot of work to be done. I volunteered and became so busy I hardly saw my sister and brother in law.
I often worked on clean-up teams. For some time my work was to help collect food from families for large groups of volunteers working on various urgent projects. I also worked as a laborer helping to stretch the local runway needed to bring in troops to stem the hordes of Afghan mercenaries entering Kashmir. I did guard duty, transport of goods, and social work to help the refugees.
After about six months things began to settle a bit. My brother in law felt that I should be admitted in the local school to continue in the tenth grade where I had reached in Karachi. The school was good but it was not yet in its normal flow. I enjoyed it, especially the English course. The teacher was very able and very friendly. I became his favorite student partly because I was about the top of the class. Most local students came from Punjabi speaking families where no one spoke or read English.
Food and other essentials were inexpensive. Refugees by and large were used to simple, rather Spartan life. They had come from tight knit villages where joint family tradition was alive. People were used to simple living and gladly sharing what was available. All this helped the refugees to survive in those hard times.
25 October 2008