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Beeji, My Sister Toshi, and Our Family

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Jatinder Sethi was born in Lyallpur, now Faisalabad, in pre-Independence India. He finished his M.A. (English) from Delhi University in 1956, and went off to London to study Advertising in 1958. He passed his Membership Exam of The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (M.I.P.A) in1965, and joined Rallis India in Bombay. Later, for over 20 years, he worked for the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. Now retired, he helps his son in his ad agency in Delhi.

Some old grannies, with lot of time on their hands, keep themselves busy by knitting, for their great grand (even yet unborn) children mojas (socks) and dastanas (gloves) using different colour leftover wool balls.

Similarly, I am trying to knit a tale of my family, especially my mother and sister Toshi (Santosh) from the left over tit-bits of talks with my brothers and sister in later life. It may seem disjointed but it will, like the grannies' mojas, come out colourful. I hope so.

It is a story of the turbulent times of India's Partition and after - late 1940s and early 1950s.  But it is NOT the usual gory tale of partition like hundreds of others.

It was the time when young Indian girls, including Hindu girls, had to wear long salwar, shirt and Chunni on her head, with long hair gut with, preferably, paranda. Yet, girls were allowed to study in co-educational colleges like Government College, Lyallpur. The concept of boy-friends was taboo, even in liberal families like mine, where girls went to Government College for FA and BA - but no boyfriends

The origin of this story is in the immediate post-Partition days. The days when Delhi was full of refugees from parts of India that had been partitioned. They were essentially Punjabis. These were the times when Punjabi women, young and old, showed the strength of their character and resilience to adapt to the drastically changed circumstances.

It was the times when taboos and social inhibitions were fast fading away. The old rigid ideas of girls not working with boys, or not having love affairs were being thrown to the dustbin of gone-by life. Willingly. Or by force of circumstances. Scars of partition were forgotten - had to be if one was to progress.

My story here relates to two women - one almost 70 years old then, and the other just about 20 years old. And their strength of character that took them through this new way of life. Late 1940s, 1950s, and later. The two women were none other than my mother, called Beej, and my sister Toshi (Santosh).

Kaka and Kaku

I was the eight and the last child of my parents, born years apart from my elders. My eldest brother, Rajinder, was born on 15 September 1913. And I, Jatinder, was born on 28 October 1931. Almost 18 years later. In our family, the eldest son was known as Kaka, and the youngest (that's me) was called Kaku. Even today, at the age of 86, I am known as Kaku uncle. My eldest sister, Pritam Behnji, was born on 10 March 1915.She was called Niko by my parents.

These two pictures show you the gap of years between me and my elders.

Sethi clan Lyallpur 1936
Sethi family. 1936 Lyallpur.

The picture above shows me holding Shashi, the daughter of Pritam Behenji, who has her hand up. Behind me is my mother, Beeji, my sister Santosh (Toshi), and my elder brother Satinder.

Sethi family 1936 Lyallpur

Sethi family. 1936. Lyallpur.

This picture has my parents in the front. At the back, there is my fourth brother Ved, my brother Satinder, me, my eldest brother Rajinder and sister Toshi. The two brothers missing are Nath Bhaji, the second eldest, and Prem Bhaji the third eldest. I have no idea why they are not there.

These picture shows you the age differences between my siblings and me.

Where my family members were at the time of Partition

Just before the riots and Partition, I was 16 years old. My eldest brother Rajinder, after completing his graduation, had got married and gone away to Mansurpur (UP) to work in a sugar factory, known as Sir Shadilal Sugar Mills. Pritam Bhenji, after completing her FA from Government College, had got married and moved to Sargodha.

Next, Nath (Narinder) Bhaji, after finishing his BA, had completed five year course in Fine Arts from the J J School of Arts, Bombay. He had started working in an Art Studio in Delhi. Prem Bhaji, after doing his MSc from the Lyallpur Agriculture College, stayed on in Lyallpur, working in Punjab Canal Department.

Ved (called Vedi) wanted to go to London for further studies after his BA. But, I believe, Pitaji put his foot down saying "No way." The nationalist and independence movement was so strong that father didn't allow his son to go to London. I believe, so Toshi tells me that Vedi cried for two days. He eventually managed to get a job in an ordinance factory in Cawnpore (Kanpur).

My sister Toshi was in the final year of her BA in Government College, Lyallpur. Next, Satinder after doing his FA, had luckily got into the well-known MacLagan Engineering College near Lahore, Mugalpura.

I was in the10th class - bad student right from start. I hardly had the opportunity of interaction with my elders, with that kind of age difference.

Partition

So when the actual Partition came, the only family members in Lyallpur were my father, Beeji (mother), Prem Bhaji, Toshi, and me.  Most of the Hindus and Sikh families living in our area had already left and crossed over to Amritsar. My father, being now the only Hindu family in the Jama Masjid street, was being told by his friends to send out his young daughter at least, to be on the safe side.

When the situation became critical and anger against Hindus reached new heights, my father asked Prem Bhaji to take Toshi and me to Mansurpur, where my older brother was employed, and to Delhi where Nath Bhaji was at that time. After leaving Toshi and me safely in India, Prem Bhaji went back to Lyallpur to be with Pitaji and Beeji. They eventually managed to reach Delhi safely.

With God's grace, our whole family, including our elder sister, Pritam Behnji from Sargodha, was united in Delhi, except Vedi.  He was working in an Ordinance factory in Kanpur. He had lost his job as the Ordinance factory had shut down after the end of the Second World War. But Vedi also eventually managed to come to Delhi to Nath Bhaji's place.

New beginning, new life

At this time, we never thought of the problems one faced due to Partition. We were too busy sorting out our new life, and finding ways to restart our lives again. My family was living partly in Mansurpur with eldest brother, and some members staying at Nath Bhaji's Art Studio, which was located on top of Hindustan Times Press, opposite Scindia House, Connaught Place.

This small place was Nath Bhaji's place of work and residence. Hence family members had to get out in the morning, before opening of office time. The day was spent looking for jobs and other information. Information was the key to resolving problems of accommodation (evacuee properties) education, and compensation for lost assets, both moveable and land holdings.

No Google. The only source of information at that time was All India Radio (AIR) and some Help Centres, organized by the citizens themselves.  In fact, AIR did a great job in those days conveying/broadcasting messages of people, to people,

My brother Satinder goes to Engineering College at Roorkee

One day the All India Radio announced that all those students who were studying in MacLagan Engineering College, Lahore, Mugalpura can go and join the Engineering College at Roorkee.

It was the first happy and good news for my family. Satinder was admitted without any problem. He eventually completed his Civil Engineering from Roorkee. Then, he completed a course at the Imperial College London. He then got a good senior job in Water Power Commission to look after the construction of dams, which Prime Minister Nehru had initiated. Satinder eventually retired from there and now lives in Delhi. He is about 89 years now - the only other surviving brother of mine.

Ved eventually managed to get into the Government of India job, after working for few years with the Commerce House of Thapars.  Later, he got a job with United Nations, and spent many years in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After retirement, he settled down in Delhi. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 94.

Prem Bhaji also got a senior job in the Water Power Commission, the same office where Satinder was working. Surprisingly, this department was headed by Mr. Prithvi Ahuja, (England trained) who was our mamaji's elder son, and very close to Beeji, and our whole family,

Now we come to my sister Toshi. One of the women this story is about.

Toshi and I were staying with our eldest brother, Rajinder, at Mansurpur. One day, Toshi decided to go to Delhi (about two hours' journey by train) to check about her college admission. She stayed with Nath Bhaji at his New Delhi studio/cum office.

The next day, she went to Delhi University where refugee students from all over - Sind, Punjab, Kashmir, etc. - were gathered to check about admissions, examinations, and further studies. Toshi, although a BA (Final) student of Government College, Lyallpur, was, like a lot of other girls, rather shy and lost among boys. Still, everyone, being in the same tragic situation, was trying to be friendly and sympathetic with each other.

Suddenly, a tall, lanky, loose-limbed boy, very fair complexion, who seemed to be popular with the girls there, came over to Toshi. He introduced himself as refugee student from Kashmir. He was Sikander Malik.

He helped Toshi to the right office, got her to fill up all the required forms about her background and details of school, college, and parents etc. Malik, as he was called by other girls, spent the whole day with her, and got her an appointment with the Placement officer.

Next day, Toshi met Malik again at the University for Final Details. She was ordered to go to Kurukshetra to do social service in the Refugee Camp there set up by Lady Mountbatten, wife of India's last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten.

The Government had decided to provide degrees to students after doing Social Service for a certain length of period in hundreds of camps that opened up for accommodating millions of refugees. Toshi informed Pitaji, Beeji and Nath Bhaji about her being sent to Kurukshetra.

Since there was no other option, they agreed.

All other student, both boys and girls, were exactly in the same position, and willingly agreed to do social service to help their refugee brethren. The spirit of oneness was very strong at that time. Sufferings had united them, till yesterday, unknown to each other people, both girls and boys.

Love of human kind was there in the air.

Next day, Malik again met my sister Toshi and took her to Kurukshetra. Somehow, this good-looking, very fair and cheerful, likeable boy, left every other girl and stuck to Toshi. Helping her in everything. Obviously there was some chemistry that was working between these two refugees of BA final class -one from Punjab and the other from Kashmir.

Having agreed to keep in touch, he left Toshi in the company of Lady Mountbatten. I don't know how long she worked before she got her BA degree. But she, like Malik and other students, did get their degrees.

Now Toshi was a qualified graduate. She was still working in the camp at Kurukshetra when she got a call from Malik from Delhi, telling her that Dr. V. K. R. V. Rao (known as ABC Rao - he later joined Nehru's government), had decided to start an MA in Social Sciences at Delhi University. And Malik had got admission for himself and Toshi to join as the first batch of students for this new course.

Toshi was rather surprised by this turn of positive thing.

Bur she told Malik (that's how she always called him), now on good friendly terms with him, that it will not be possible for her to join this MA Course as she and family cannot afford to pay the fees. (By this time, our father had stopped working. The only working brothers, Prem Bhaji and Satinder were supporting the family.)

Malik kept insisting her to come back to Delhi and fill up the admission papers anyway. Two days later, Malik again rang and told Toshi that he has got Dr. V. K. R.V. Rao to grant her a scholarship. And no fees. "fees maff ho gaee hai," he said in Punjabi.  Next day he came to Kurukshetra, took Toshi back straight to Delhi University, and got her admitted for MA in Social Sciences.

Prem Bhaji, working as a senior officer in the Water Power Commission, was turning to spiritualism and had become a serious chela (disciple) of Swami Satyanand Ji Maharaj. Prem Bhaji took Santosh to Swamiji, who told her to continue her studies, and everything will be according to the will of God.

Prem Bhaji met Malik also and thanked him for helping his younger sister in pursuing her higher studies.

Prem Bhaji and Toshi
Prem Bhaji with Toshi (later on)

Prem Bhaji had done his MSc in Agriculture College, Lyallpur, and understood the importance of higher education in life. Moreover, he liked Malik, and his very positive and cheerful attitude towards life. And his affection for our sister, who was about six years younger than Premji.

And two years later, Malik and Toshi, inseparable pair, passed out with distinction from Delhi University.

Metamorphosis of Beeji and Toshi in new home.

By this time, our family had moved to the allotted House in Nizamuddin East. My memory of this period is little hazy, and there is no one I can check with. I think all of us - Pitaji, Beeji, Nath, Prem, Ved, Santosh, Satinder and I were all staying there.

Later on Nath and Ved moved to their homes after their marriage,

Toshi, just before passing out of Delhi University, brought Malik home for the first time to meet Beeji. The open veranda in the single story house was used more as a sitting room with couple of manjees (cots).

Beeji was sitting here when Malik, a little taller than the door frame walked in with Toshi. When Toshi introduced her friend Malik, Beeji's face went red and started sweating. (This is narrated to me by Toshi herself)

Beeji said," Kudi Munday Nuon Ghar Ley Aaee Aiy (the girl has brought home a man.)

Beeji was shocked. And when Beeji was told that that the two of them intended to get married after passing MA, Beeji was dumbfounded. Sweating and looking at both of them.

Prem Bhaji, who happened to be at home, sat down next to Beeji and started pressing, massaging Beeji's legs (He did this to everyone as a sign of his love, and to pacify agitated nerves. He was a Yoga expert.) Prem Bhaji then got Malik to come and sit next to Beeji.

I don't know what took place next, but Beeji accepted Malik. (Swamiji's blessings?)

Something touched Beeji's heart. Or, she realized the fait accompli that there was an upheaval of the whole old life and system. Or, it was the soothing touch of Prem Bhaji massage (and silent prayer?) that Beeji, at that one moment looked pleased.

And she blessed Malik and Toshi!

This moment was the moment that would make this Nizamuddin house of Beeji into a sanctuary for lovelorn couples to take refuge and get married. This I believe was the one presence of personality of Malik. Malik was always cheerful, happily optimistic in every situation, bad and sad, believer that everything will turn out to be perfect.

Like, I when desperately looking for a job and not finding anything. He would, with confidence, tell me," Bhaji, sub theek ho jaiy gaa, don't worry." And it did happen (that's another story).

Beeji's metamorphosis, and especially the entry of Malik into the Sethi family, was like fresh air from the Himalayas, and fragrances of different hues.

Later, this ignited the little flames of love-affairs that blossomed between Nath Bhaji and Jatinder Bhabi, Ved and Nirmal, Satinder and Hazel, and finally Jatinder (me) and Uma. By then, Malik Sahib was a member of Sethi family, and he was the biggest support pillar for everyone.

Malik and Sethis

L to R: Sikander Malik, Pritam Bhenji, Jatinder (with goggles), Toshi (Mrs Malik) Shashi (Pritam Bhenji's daughter), Uma (my wife. (Cannot recognise the two kids in the front and other kids at back. At Lodi Gardens, Delhi. 1958.

Slight diversion here to Beeji and her Avatar of now becoming the "Godmother" after blessing the First Love Affair of the family and seeing Toshi marry Malik. That had ignited more flames.

The house of this new Godmother almost became the Love-Nest where the love birds got blessed and married off to set their own nest. I am not sure of the order but briefly chronical each one.

After Toshi-Malik, it was Nath Bhaji, the artist, who fell in love with a young beauty, studying in Delhi University and living in the girls' Miranda House Hostel.

I believe Nath Bhaji, one night, brought this girl from her hostel with her trunk of possessions to the house in Nizamuddin, without her family (Sikh family of 12 children) knowing about it. And before her family could do anything to stop it, Beeji, I believe, got them married in a simple ceremony at home. Since then, Jatinder Bhabi was almost the head of the family.

Nath Bhaji
L to R: Front: Anuradha (Malik's oldest daughter, now a senior professor at JNU) Ritu (Malik's daughter), Medha (Malik's daughter), Vinit (Nath Bhaji' son).
Back:  Nath Bhaji (Moustache man), Toshi, Jatinder Bhabi, Nitin (Nath Bhaji's second son). Delhi.

 

Beeji and grandson

Beeji (on munjee) the Godmother, with a grandson (Nath Bhaji's first son, 1953) in Nizamuddin East

By this time (1953 onwards?), Prem Bhaji was fully devoted to Swamiji and RAM NAAM. He never married.

Next, Vedi's love affairs are not known to me. What I did learn recently from Nirmal Bhabi, unfortunately after Ved's death, is that he got involved with Nirmal Bhabhi after being rebuffed by his earlier friend. However, this marriage of Ved and Nirmal proved to be a happy, everlasting affair with three daughters and a son.

Jatinder 80 birthday

Jatinder's 80th birthday celebration at our Gurgaon Home. 2010.
Front L to R: Ved, Santosh, Uma, Nirmal Bhabi, Jatinder, Jatinder Bhabi
Back: Some of our children

After Nath and Ved moved out to their own houses with their families, the Nizamuddin house had Pitaji, Beeji, Prem Bhaji, Satinder and me. I was the only one without a job. The house was being run, I think, by both Prem and Satinder.

This house of Godmother - the sanctuary for love-birds - was going to see a few more love marriages. The son of our Masi (Beeji's elder sister), a landlord from Ambala, came to Beeji with his runaway girlfriend, being chased by her family. It was again the Godmotherly touch that she got them married before the girlfriend's family could do anything.

Then Satinder, my brother, who had got posted in Bhutan, met Hazel, a Catholic girl, and fell in love. He eventually married her after coming back to Delhi.

Satinder at back with dark glasses with Hazel' family at their daughter Pia at extreme left front row.  After Church ceremony. Delhi.

And the last love affair that got the blessings of Godmother Beeji was mine, her ladla (loveable) youngest son and Uma. After we got married, Uma and I left Delhi and went off to London.

Beeji passed away while we both were in London. Here is the picture of that sad moment of Beeji passing away.

Beeji passing away
Beeji's passing away. Front Nirmal Bhabi and Toshi, Pitaji at the back. 1961

This was the end of an era when the binding glue of the Sethi family, the Godmother, Beeji, passed away.

Today, after Ved passed away in 2016, the only original members left are Toshi, now the eldest, Satinder, and I, the youngest, Kaku.

Three siblings
Three remaining children of Beeji (Lajwanti) and Pitaji (Chaudry Jai Ram Dass Sethi)
L to R: Toshi, Jatinder (author), Satinder. Gurgaon 2012.

Two brothers

Two brothers. Kaku, left, with Ved (before he passed away). Ved's house at Kailash, Delhi. 2015.

Back to Toshi

Now let's go back to the story of my sister Toshi, and admire her for her everlasting love of Malik, her husband, and the father of three daughters, Anuradha, Ritu and Medha. And admire Toshi for her courage, fortitude and determination to bring up her three daughters, the gift of her College love, Malik.

Malik family
Malik and Toshi's family. The third daughter was yet to be born (1957)
Front: Anuradha (now a grandmother), Ritu (mother of two grown up daughters).

Unfortunately, Malik Sahib, at the height of his profession, passed away at a very young age in 1966. I think he was about 44 years old at that time. This left Toshi alone to bring up three little girls. Which she did. With grit and grime. Courage and sacrifices. She had never worked after marrying Malik, who, after completing his honours at London School of Economics (LSE), had top jobs in one of major companies at Hyderabad. Toshi had set up a totally new house that the company provided.

After Malik's death, she had to leave this house and Hyderabad, and go and restart her life in Delhi, where she had no home. Pritam Bhenji, our elder sister, offered Toshi to come and live with her. Pritam Bhenji, in the meantime, had built a house on the allotted plot in Lajpat Nagar. (In fact, Satinder, our brother being a Civil Engineer had got that house built, like he had done for Nath Bhaji.)

So, Toshi, with three young daughters, came and set herself in elder sister's house. After some effort, Toshi found a school, and got her three daughters admitted there. Somehow the school's Principal found out that Toshi had an MA degree from Delhi University. So, the Principal asked Toshi to become the head of the Primary School. Toshi willingly accepted, as she had no other means of livelihood to support her family.

Toshi worked hard in school. Her work was appreciated. Then, the Principal offered her to take up teaching senior school, on condition that she got a B. Ed. degree.

Now imagine. She was teaching in school, studying to take examination to get her B. Ed. degree, and looking after three daughters, and their studies. Hard work, year after year. But she never faltered. The girls - all brilliant like their late father and mother. Plus, they had the blessings of Premji Maharaj.

Years passed. Girls grew up. All scholars.

Anuradha, the eldest daughter, got her MA from JNU, New Delhi, and doctorate from Cambridge. She became a professor in JNU. She, in turn, fell in love with her colleague, Kamal Chenoy, a Parsi, and settled down in JNU.

Ritu, the second daughter, did her MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute in Bombay, and started her NGO -   Craft Revival. One of her daughters now is a set-designer in Bollywood. The other is an artist.

Medha, the youngest daughter, while doing her Doctorate in Kings College, Cambridge, fell in love with her classmate and married him. Now both of them are teachers in Singapore University.

You may well ask what happened to their mother, my sister Toshi, Mrs Sikander Malik?

Now over 91 years old, she spends six months with Medha and her husband Ganesh, at Singapore. And the other six months she divides between two daughters, Anuradha and Ritu in Delhi during summer.

With the grace of God, and Ram Kripa, she is still quite active, both mentally and physically. On the Teeka and Raki days, Satinder and I, her living brothers, still go to her if she is in Deli to get her blessings

Toshi's struggle till today reminds me of Ghalib's couplet:

qaid-e-hayaat o band-e-Gam asl me.n dono.n ek hai.n
maut se pahle aadmii Gam se najaat paa.e kyuu.n

Here are some pictures of Toshi on Teeka Day, 2017 after Diwali, in Delhi at the home of Ritu, Toshi's daughter.

Toshi applying
Toshi, left, applying Teeka to Ved's daughter. Delhi, 2017.

Toshi and Sethi family
Uma (my wife), Toshi (my sister), Jatinder (me). New Delhi. 2017.

Sethi clan

Extended Sethi clan. 2017. Delhi.

Finally, here is the recent times picture of the extended Sethi family. Let introduce you to my family I have been talking about,

Front row is grandchildren.

In the centre sofa you have my Jatinder Bhabhi, on left, then my sister Toshi, next is Nirmal Bhabi, and my wife Uma. Extreme left, from the viewpoint of the people in the photos, on sofa is my brother Satinder (with spec).

Standing behind Jatinder Bhabi is Anuradha. Behind Toshi is Kishori, my daughter-in-law. Extreme right back standing is Robin, Satinder's son. Extreme left is Nitin, Nath Bhaji's son. Next to Nitin is my son Amal.

At the back, standing, are Alok and Mickey, sons of my eldest brother Rajinder.

On the extreme right, from the viewpoint of the people in the photo, sitting is me.

_______________________________________

© Jatinder Sethi 2017

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