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Growing Up in Turbulent Times, 1947-1956

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Satinder Mullick received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1965 in Operations Research and Industrial Engineering, with a minor in Economics. He was Director of Economic Planning and Research for Corning Inc., where he worked on different consulting assignments for improving growth and profitability for 30 years. Later, he helped turn around Artistic Greetings (40% owned by American Greetings) and doubled the stock price in four years. He received Lybrand Silver Medal in 1971 from Institute of Management Accountants.

Turbulent times have affected many all over the world. Having met some people from Europe and USA, I realized that some hard times are forcibly imposed, like Holocaust, and some were economically imposed like depression of 1930’s.

Upon reflection, I realized that my family, specially my father and mother, experienced the worst of times during the 1940's -first with World War II, and then with the political change in 1947.

In this article, I write about my school days in Lahore and Delhi, both of which were sweet and sour.

Dharampura

In my 5th grade, I was studying in DAV School in Dharampura, part of Lahore, close to the Cantonment where my father worked. I recall that this school also had Muslim students, and one was my classmate was Ahmed, who lived in the Muslim section of Dharampura. Yes, Dharampura had two sections, divided by a main road. One side had only Hindus and Sikhs, and the other had only Muslims. Perhaps there were also a few Christians, but I did not meet them, nor was I aware of them. I remember Ahmed was tall, about 4 inches taller than me, with crew cut-short hair compared to my full curly hair.

In March 1947 people near Rawalpindi villages were attacked, displacing nearly 80,000 Hindus and Sikhs. It is estimated between 2,000 to 7,000 people were killed and the British Indian Government sent in the military after one week to stop the killings. Khushwant Singh happened to be in Rawalpindi on a legal case and was returning to the railway station when a Sikh military truck saw him and moved him to their truck and took him safely to the Rawalpindi railway station for his journey to Lahore where he lived not far from us. Some of these refugees came to Lahore and were accommodated in the Arya Samaj temple and the Gurudwara in Dharampura. We collected blankets for these refugees.

Later, in June 1947, it was announced that India will be partitioned. One day, my uncle (Chachaji) was returning from work in a truck driven by a Muslim. When it slowed down, someone dropped a bomb in their truck- killing a few, injuring many. Luckily my uncle was standing behind the truck driver and was saved. He then forced the driver to speed up and go to a nearby hospital. The news of this incidence reached my father who took a military truck immediately and went to the hospital. In Dharampura, my mother was crying and saying why did my father bring him from Bannu to Lahore for work? Anyhow he was not hurt. But my father sent him back to Bannu to be with his wife whom he had married in 1945. My father had lost his younger brother in 1941, when Pathan smugglers had pushed his motor cycle down in Abbottabad, where he was a Police Inspector. My father was in Iraq at that time. He lost another brother to some infection while he was a medical student in Rawalpindi. We were glad that Lachman chachaji was safe.

Back to my friend Ahmed: Our contact was lost in July 1947 as nightly slogans of Allah Hu Akbar and Har Har Mahadev; Jo Bole So Nihal, and Sat Sri Akal created fear among neighbours. DAV School opening was postponed in July 1947.

Dalhousie

My father sent us to Dalhousie away from turbulent times.  He followed us in early August 1947, to take us back to Lahore. But heavy rains damaged the narrow road between Dalhousie and Pathankot, and so we remained stuck in Dalhousie.

On 14th August 1947, the Station Staff Officer Captain, who lived across from us, hoisted the Pakistan flag in the middle of Dalhousie city - three miles from the Cantonment. He was a Muslim officer attached to Gurkha Regiment. Then suddenly we found that he left his home in Dalhousie on August 16th, 1947 with a few trucks full of Gurkha soldiers. Next day we learnt that Dalhousie was part of India. So a tall Sikh person hoisted the Indian Flag replacing Pakistan's flag. On 15th August 1947, while we were walking from the city to the cantonment, someone fired a shot. My father, Captain Mullick, fired back, and the other shooter stopped.

My father went back to Lahore Cantonment in early September 1947 with a Gurkha truck and 6 soldiers to retrieve his belongings. When he entered his office, his British Commander was surprised to see him. He told my father to leave immediately as he could not safeguard him against a militant mob. So my father collected a few things in his office, stopped at Grindlay Bank to pick up his pay check and returned to the border. Luckily his junior officer (a Muslim) was on duty clearing up "Dead Bodies" with their heavy machinery like tractors and bulldozers. He cried seeing my father. He told my father that he had managed to reach our house in Dharampura but was too late, and it had already been looted. He could recover my baby chair, table etc. and said he would be glad to give them back.

My father asked him to escort him to the police chowki at the border crossing. The Police demanded to search the truck, despite seeing that my father was an Army Captain. My father's Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) got angry and told the police to open the crossing, declaring, "Open or I will shoot you for disobeying a senior Military Officer". In this way, my father and that truck left Pakistan and made it to Indian side safely. However, one of the tires was punctured and so they spent the night at the Indian Border. Next morning, they could leave for Dalhousie.

We were forced to stay in Dalhousie until October 1947, as there was no transportation available, or provided by the military to move my father's family, even though he was an officer in the Royal Engineers. Finally, a military truck moved us from Dalhousie to Pathankot, and then to Jullandhar. Since I suffered from carsickness on the curving roads from Dalhousie, my father put me on the front seat next to the driver for the drive up to Pathankot.

To Delhi

The military truck dropped us in Jullandhar with a MES Officer who knew my father well from Dera Ismail Khan and Bannu days. The truck proceeded to Pakistan to fetch Hindu-Sikhs refugees, while we took a train to Delhi, via Ambala and Kurukshetra Camp.

In 1947, there was no formal railway station at Kurukshetra, just a huge refugee transit camp. The train stopped on rail lines with broken stones. My older brother took me to a bathroom as my father would not allow me to do it near the tracks in the stationary train.

Finally, we reached the Old Delhi Railway Station, and went to my mother's uncle and first cousin's house on 7 Hanuman Road, near Connaught Place's Hanuman Mandir. My father reported for duty at Kashmir House, where the Military Engineers Centre was located. My father had worked there for one year during 1945-46, but got transferred back to Lahore as my eldest brother was finishing his BSc. studies at Foreman Christian (FC) College, Lahore.

Paharganj and Gole Market

During those days, getting admitted to a good college or school was very tough. I experienced it in November 1947 as only the DAV School in Paharganj, which was located 4 miles from our house in Jodhpur Mess, India Gate accepted me. My uncle in Ferozpur was an Arya Samaji who got me admitted. First week at DAV School was very tough ­­-I got spanked every day in the Hindi class as I could not read Hindi, and the teacher was tough. After a week, I started skipping Hindi Class and awaited my Dhamija Mamaji's return from Ferozpur. He talked to the Principal, who decided to create a special class for refugees where we could take "Urdu classes" for the 1947-48 academic session year in 6th grade.

We were told that we would be moved to a school for "refugees" in Gole Market in 1948, where tents would be erected to house our classes. Gole Market was safer to bicycle from India Gate via Ashoka Road.  During May-June 1948, I took tuition to learn Hindi, and so I was better prepared. This school required us to learn Sanskrit in 7th grade.  I was a top student, so the teacher would break a tree limb and ask me to spank students who had not done their homework. I did not like this task and spanked lightly - but the teacher showed how to spank by spanking me on my hand.

Well, now I was in trouble! Two students lived near my house. They brought a "Hunter"-a metal electric wire - and hit me on Ashoka Road. One of them was called Mangal Sain Madhok. I begged him to come to my house where I could help him in his homework. That brought "truce," which became converted to friendship. Mangal's father was an Air Force Officer and his father's younger brother, D. N. Madhok, was a famous song writer. He had written the lyrics for the songs in Naushad's first film, Prem Nagar, and for Rattan (1944), which was a big box office success for its music. Two songs of the film Tansen, namely Barso Re sung by Khursheed, and Diya Jalao sung by K.L. Sehgal, with lyrics by Madhok are still cited as the 15 ‘recommended songs' of 1940-49.

Madhok ji came to Delhi for inaugural showing of his new movie Nao in 1948. He took Mangal and me to Novelty theatre in Old Delhi in his big car. He was staying with his older brother on Wellesley Road, just a two minutes' drive from Jodhpur Mess.

So this was my first movie at the age of 11. Before this, I had often heard K.L. Sehgal's songs, which my father used to play on his gramophone in Lahore during 1944-47, but as we were not allowed to go to see a film, I had not seen the movie ‘Rattan' in 1944.

Mangal's father retired from the Air Force and they moved to Bikaner, Rajasthan in 1949. I lost touch with Mangal. Two years ago, I spoke to his cousin, Dr. Prithvi Madhok in Bombay, a paediatrician and married to film star Dev Anand's sister. Prithvi is Dina Nath Madhok's son, and he informed me that Mangal retired as DIG Police in Jaipur.

In my 7thgrade, I often sat next to a student who was also refugee. I saw that his leg calf was severely damaged. One day I asked him what had happened. He told me that Muslim goondas had attacked their village and killed his parents. They cut his leg badly, leaving him bleeding, while his sister hid somewhere near the house. A Muslim neighbour helped them after the goondas left, and bandaged his leg and protected the brother and sister until they could find a big refugee Jatha (group) migrating to India. In India, they found their uncle in Delhi, and this uncle was now taking care of them. I lost touch with this classmate in my 9th grade, but much later saw him overseeing some visually impaired who were doing chair repairing using new canework in our Jodhpur Mess. This organization for the Blind was located near Karol Bagh area, and I learned that he had found a job in that in 1952.

I moved to DAV School in Paharganj in 9th grade and that is how I had lost touch with this classmate. I wrote a story in Hindi called Gareeb in the school's magazine about this classmate of mine in the 9th grade. I also wrote an article in a magazine in Hindi called ‘Mera Favourite Poet', and received an award. Later, I published an article in English in my school's magazine when I was in the 11th grade. I also took part in a Delhi championship on General Knowledge, as I read The Hindustan Times newspaper every day. Luckily, I stood first.

I also won the top award in the 8th grade for public speaking in my Gole Market School. That was the day the Indian Cricket team was playing against England's team at Delhi stadium. After my speech was over, I rushed to see Hazare and Vijay Merchant play. Later, I organized a cricket team at India Gate, with students from different schools. I also was runner's up in Delhi's Junior Table Tennis tournament and winner of Junior Badminton tournament in Jodhpur Mess. Major General Williams, Engineer in Chief, who was my father's boss, gave me the Cup. He told my father next day. This was a surprise for my father, as I had not told him about my award till then.

Memories of adventures and events

Another event that I distinctly remember is that one of our neighbours invited me to meet Dhyan Chand, a famous hockey player, and took me to Dhyan Chand Hockey Tournament in National Stadium, India Gate. This neighbour was Sports Secretary for the Indian Army.

Luckily for me, for the first Asian Games were held in Delhi. They were seeking a Junior Under-15 as a St. John Ambulance Division volunteer. I took the written and oral exam and was selected as the sole Under-15. For roughly 10 days I sat in front. Once I had to help a football (Soccer) player with a bleeding head by rubbing ice on his head. Another time, I was sitting in the front row of the swimming competition, when Indira Gandhi ji with both her sons came and sat behind me.

Few more interesting adventures and events are worth mentioning. The first one is that I climbed India Gate several times on its steps and got to see full view of New Delhi especially the Governor General's (now President) house and office. The other is watching the opening ceremony of Children Park, opposite Jodhpur Mess, initiated by General Cariappa in 1949. The military built a concrete slide for the children.

Cariappa loved children and families of military officers. His focus on adopting a friendly approach in Bannu in NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunwa) in 1946 by building a water tubewell for village women and treating tribal area elders with respect left a big impression on Nehru who was visiting Bannu in 1946 with Frontier Gandhi Badshah Khan.  Nehru was shot at when his plane arrived in Razmak; after Bannu and Razmak, his program was cut short.

When Rajendra Prasad ji became India's First President, I was a Boy Scout in my school. We were put on duty to oversee the crowd during long procession of Rajendra Prasad ji. I received a medal for that service, but it was misplaced during our move in 1956 from Jodhpur Mess when my father died. I had a big stamp collection, which my mother gave to our neighbour boy. So perhaps that medal became his also. In those days, my books and clothes were given to a cousin of mine who was two years younger to me as his father had no job.

Another story needs to be mentioned. My father was allotted four rooms and two servant quarters. A Brahmin Pandit, Kalu Ram (slightly deaf) migrated to Delhi from Bannu. He had no place to live. So my father offered him to share our fourth room for the nights as he used walk to the Jamuna for bathing and then visiting his clients for Puja. He used to tell us interesting stories every Thursday evening before dinner.

My mother was a very generous lady, always thinking of others and making favourite meals for visiting relatives. Those arriving after 9 PM, when coal fired stove was off presented a problem. My mother would send me to India Gate Grounds where refugees had set up "Open Dhabas" near Railway Building. These dhabas prepared delicious food, and so I bought that by bicycling to these shops. These dhabas were relocated behind Jodhpur Mess-on Pandara Road market in 1956.  Summers used to be very hot, and my mother would ask me to serve free lemonade water to people passing by in the afternoon on Wellesley Road outside our side door. She told me that blessings from these people might bring you better times.

So I turned those turbulent years into pleasant years by remembering "Tough Times do not last - Tough Do Last".

Banaras and uncertain times

In 1954, Banaras Engineering College, part of Banaras Hindu University (BHU), admitted me as a "Refugee" as I was still in limbo in the transition years of rented houses. The college allocated seats to each State according to their quota system started in 1921 by each State in India. My father was part of NWFP (North West Frontier Province) quota when he had joined Banaras Engineering College in 1922. So he travelled over 1,000 miles to reach Banaras from Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan, which took him a few days.

"Turbulent Times" became "Uncertain Times" as my father suddenly died in June 1956, after suffering one heart attack in the morning and a second attack that same night.

My father had become a Major in 1949, and then an Executive Engineer in Charge of Heavy Equipment for the Army in 1952. He had become a Civilian officer in the MES - Military Engineering Services - in 1926. But he joined the military in 1940 to fight in World War II. So he served the Army from 1940-52 as a military officer with a rank, but had previously served as a civilian officer from 1926-40, and then again was Civilian Officer from 1952-56.

My sister and I quickly arranged the funeral services while my elder brothers travelled from Pune and Kulu to reach Delhi. One of them met us after funeral procession had left the house. My father's neighbour, Somana, a Major in the Indian Corp of Engineers, had helped us inform my brothers by telephone on the night of the death; this was a time when few people had telephones.

After my father's death, my mother and sister moved with my eldest brother, and I moved back to Banaras to complete the third and fourth years of my course. Then to Rourkela for my first paying job with Larsen & Toubro - but that is another story.


© Satinder Mullick. Published June 2019.

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