A Child’s Horrifying Memories of India’s Partition

Bimla Goulatia
Bimla Goulatia

Bimla Goulatia got her doctor’s degree (MBBS) from Government Medical College, Amritsar, and then joined the Indian government's Employees' State Insurance Corporation, India (ESIC). She rose to the rank of Director in their Headquarter at Delhi when She took voluntary retirement from this organisation.

Editor's note: A related story written by her oldest brother, Pran Bhatla is available here. Mr. M. P. V. Shenoi has faciliated the writing and publication of this story.

In the 1940s, my parents were living at House No.7, Galli (Street) No.7, Guru Nanak Pura Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), which is now in Pakistan. I was five years old. I had two older brothers, who were 13 and 7 years old, and a younger sister, who was 2.5 years old.

My father, H.R. Bhatla, was a Professor of Physics at Government College, Lyallpur. My grandfather, Rai Sahib Bishan Das Bhatla, had retired in 1938 as a Garrison Engineer, a high rank and status held by only a few Indians in those days. After he retired, the Government re-employed him because World War II had started, and it increased the need for experienced engineers. As a result, he continued working till he died in 1943.

We were a happy and prosperous family. We owned a Kothi (big house) in Meghiana, a house in Rawalpindi, and a villa in the hill station Murree. We always enjoyed our summer holidays at Rawalpindi, Murree and Meghiana.

Bhata family in Muree

The summer of 1947 was totally different. That summer, one day I saw my father milking our buffalo, a job that was normally done by our milkman. I asked my mother, “Why is Papaji milking the buffalo?” She replied that the milkman would not be able to come to our home because there was a curfew, which meant that people could not leave their home. The same curfew hit us, as we children were not allowed to move out of the house to play.

One day we children were told that our father gone to Meghiana, where my grandmother and bhua (father's sister) lived. In his absence, a family friend was staying with us. We used to sleep on the rooftop, which was cooler than the inside of the house on the hot summer season. Whenever there was some commotion in the street, our friend would get up, take out his knife, and tell my mother, "Sister, they are coming." We could not understand what he was talking about, and used to laugh at him.

On the day the curfew was relaxed, we were taken to Meghiana by a relative sent by my father. One day, at lunchtime, I vividly remember the servant was making rotis on the tandoor, and  the dhobi (washer man) had come to take clothes to be washed. Life was normal.

Suddenly, everything came to a halt. We had to leave our house in a hurry. I picked up my dolls to take with me. We were all taken to a bank for safety. The bank manager was a distant relative. The bank also had police protection.

That was the last time we saw our Kothi in Meghiana. Once, my father did go back from the bank to the Kothi to pick up some things including my grandfather's double-barrel gun. On his return, he told us that many things were missing from the house.

The stay at the bank was horrible. There were three families - ours, the bank manager's and my dad's uncle, who would shout all the time in pain because of urine retention. The elders were concerned about the fate of the women and children in case of an attack, mob managed to get into the bank, overpower tem and take women. So, the elders had made a pact that in case of an attack on the bank, they would kill the children and women themselves before fighting the attackers. Two or three times, there was fear of a successful attack. We children had decided that instead of using boiling hot water to make tea, we would throw the hot water on the attackers. Each time, the women and children were herded into a small room, but the attackers were not successful. At nights, there were disturbances and shouting, and we could see fires that had been lit by mobs.

The bank manager was a clever man. He told the police that we would be willing to give them lots of money if they would take us safely to a camp from where we could go to India. My father gave them gold coins. At last, the police asked us to get ready for the camp, take only three clothes each.

The police searched every one before we got onto the police van. They even broke my dolls to check whether we had hidden any money or gold inside them. So much so, they even broke the rotis we were carrying - just in case we had hidden anything in them.

My mother did not want to give up her earrings. She begged the police to let her keep them. So my father gave them more money, and they allowed us to keep the earrings and wedding rings. My mother gave her valuable clothes to the bank manager, in the hope of getting them later in India, but she never got them.

On our way to the camp, after a short while, the police halted us. There were people with weapons running in the street in front. Some were playing cards on the roadside. My father was very disturbed because his young unmarried sister was with us. He pleaded with the police for protection, and promised to give them more money. Better sense prevailed, and the police took us back to the bank.

After few days, we were again taken in the van, and this time we made it to the camp. For me, the sight at the camp is unforgettable, even till now. Every body looked dirty and hungry, running here and there in search of food, shelter or loved ones. We slept on the floor. My younger sister made a lot of ruckus and wanted to go back to her home. My mother pacified her with great difficulty.

A day came when we were asked to walk down to the railway station carrying what little possessions we had. I had my broken dolls - the reason I still have fascination for dolls. We had to come back to the camp for there was not enough Sikh military with the train for safe passage.

Ultimately, one day we boarded the train to India. It was the height of summer. But we were not allowed to open the windows or doors of the train. There was no water to drink so people gave their urine and sweat to the children to drink. We all had sore eyes because of conjunctivitis.

The train stopped near Lahore for a while, and every one came out to have fresh air. People were sitting on the railway lines and on the roof of the train. There was a sudden noise and my mother was hit on her head by some utensil falling from the train top. We were shocked to see her head bleeding. My father crossed over the railway tracks to get some help for her.

After many hitches, our journey ended at Attari, a border town in India. Here we got boiled black channa to eat. That was the most delicious food I ever ate!

Soon, we reached Jalandhar, where we entered a house that belonged to a potter. It was full of earthen pots. Then, my father went to Prof S.N. Sehgal, his friend, who offered us food. The dal was tempered with ghee. It was heavenly! Then we moved to Hoshiarpur, where my father was posted at the University College as a Professor of Physics. The house allotted to us was not vacant, so we stayed with Prof. H.R. Gupta, who taught Mathematics. He kindly gave us a barsati (a small room on roof) and kitchen. That summer, the rain gods showed their anger with torrents of rain, lightning, and hailstorms.

We had very few clothes. My father went out and bought two thans (rolls) of blue check cloth and a yellow cloth with lines. All the family members got their clothes stitched from the same material!

We shifted to our own house and started life afresh. My father was missing for few days. On his return, he had quite a bit of baggage with him. We were surprised and shocked to learn that he had gone to Lyallpur with some other professors. The baggage he brought was kept in the college for safety by Prof. Hashmat Khan, our Muslim friend.

Every time I think back on those days, I always wonder how my Dad never thought about his own safety. Initially, he had gone from Lyallpur to Meghiana to look after his mother and sister. Then in the train, when my mother was injured, he never thought twice, but went out into the Muslim area to seek help. When we were finally settled in our house in India, he again went back to Pakistan to get things for the family.

During those days, I often used to ask my mother, “Who are these ‘Muslims’?” The same question was asked by a Pakistani girl about “Indians” when I visited Lahore (Pakistan) in 1999. Then she said, “Oh, you are like us.” I told her, “Of course, we are born and brought up here now what is called Pakistan. We speak some language and have same culture.”

During my visit, I saw my Rawalpindi house.

Bhatla family home in Rawalpindi, 1999

The bungalow in Murree had been demolished, and flats built in its place. I could not go to Lyallpur (now Faislabad) and Meghiana, which I would have loved to see. My visit brought back all the memories of that summer of 1947, when we left our home forever.

© Bimla Goulatia 2012


this was wonderfully written dr Bimla i need to re read it thank you for this gift .with the passage of time these stories will be forgotten .it is very similar to anne frank .Reena

Very well written in simple child like language.though I am born post partition but felt the pain and anxiety of many fellow brothers and sisters who have undergone the trauma of partition.

Hello Madam, this post of yours took me in past, I read the entire post as if I was author. I could sense the pain and trouble you had faced. Thank You.

Bimla Didi, I read out your memoir to your dear Bua and my mother,the last living member of that generation. She is amazed how you being so small, could remember even finer details so vividly. Thanks for sharing with all of us Sunil Sikka

I can feel the pain between each line and the comfortable life and beautiful house left behind.Very vivid photographs.We also came from Gujrawala where we left behind our joint family house and factories.

Dear Bimla, I have just finished reading your post. I admire your memory that you could evoke the events of sixty-five years ago. The cruel fate that landed Hindus and Muslims on artificially drawn line of their homeland was bad enough. Worse is still the hatred and enmity that has flourished after the partition. The comment you heard from a young girl during revisit in 1999 reveals the depth to which we have kept the younger generations ignorant of our past. Both communities suffered similar atrocities and heartbreak . I think your writing humanizes a story only a child can sketch in indelible terms. Perhaps breaking of your dolls has more meaning to you than your mother losing her jewellery! You should write more.

Its beautifully written, very touching, depicting in simple language the trauma of partition which millions of people went through. Keep writing

Its beautifully written,very touching,reliving the trauma of partition which millions of people went through. Keep writing

It is a heart rending account!!I used to hear my mother and masis discuss various atrocities committed during partition and the extrmely dangerous and precarious situations through which our near ones and dear ones faced but Bimlaji reading this descriptive narration is truely mesmerising.I have felt as though i had been in that situation and went through the whole ordeal.May god give sense to politicians all over the world so that no humans have to suffer such barbaric acts and inhuman behaviours of a few senseless and mindless so called human beings!!!It is great to see how you till date have not forgotten your memories---may be. they were worse in the minds of your parents and uncles who had to leave behind all their material posessions.God is great that atleast all of you came to this country and thrived succesfully.Hope to read more accounts and write ups in the near future--CONGRATS!!!

wow...my eyes are full of tear as i was reading your painful migration form one home to an other home, peoples from both side of the boarder suffer with emotion &pain..if any one want help or need it to visit there birth place .....in rawalpindi or murree i do feel happy to do any think for visitor ... best of regards amjad my email pindimurree@gmail.com

Dear Dr.Bimala I feel so very honoured and lucky to fly you del-chicago. Your tryst with partition is heart rendering...you have put your memories of angst and pain so lucidly..now I reflect back and visulize your face and demeanour which was so full of motherly love and affection. I wish you and Dr. Mr.Goulatia all the happiness and good health.

Incredible. I cannot imagine that a child of only five years could have such a vivid memory to pen down detailed account of events that took place so many years ago. Extremely well written.[size=medium][/size][color=blue][/color]

I am Furqan Niaz and living in the same area which you have described above. My residential address is street#7, Muhallah Gurunanak Pura, Faisalabad. we are also living here since partition.

Dear Furqan Niaz,Great to know that Gurunank Pura is still known as Gurunank Pura. Changing names is like wiping out History.

It was very nice to read a child's experience about the partition. I had always heard the horrible stories from elders but never really thought how the kids must have felt at that time. It is great that you remember so clearly even though you were so small. I am glad that you had the opportunity to go back and visit your old home. It is a well written and very touching story.

Dear Bimla Your internet write up is absolutely incredible. It is a formidable treasury of unforgettable memories of a 5 year old of unimaginable anguish and trauma during and after the partition of India. There were the indiscriminate sectarian riots when a prestigious Bhatla family with iconic status was made to descend deep into a perilous despair by a simple stroke of a fountain pen to draw the lines of division in the land of Punjab. But despite that it was your family, Bimla, especially, your father Professor HR Bhatla whose Inherent courage, perseverance and determined resolve that was instrumental, in a large measure, to bring the family safely from Meghiana to Indian Punjab. Later to rebuild and rehabilitate the family life once again. Dear Bimla, your precious childhood memories, so vividly and beautifully captured in print is a remarkable feat in itself. It is also a testament to your family's resilience and vigour. Congratulations .

Hello maam. I was searching for a school where my maternal grandfather used to study in lyallpur and ended up reading your experience.his name was jagdish chand suri who had to leave peshore(his hometown) when he was just in class 10.he wanted to pursue his studies in medical stream and dreamt of becoming a doctor but could not.unfortunately my great grand parents died in the train on their way to india and he was all alone with his 3 younger sisters and a younger brother.my mom also told me how hard he worked to feed them all and after how much hardships he had pmanaged to set up a motor parts factory in new delhi. I wonder how would i reacted if were him. People like him and you makes me more responsible and inspire me a lot .thankyouu so much for sharing your experience.

Prachi Chopra There were only two schoolin Lyallpur,One was DAVArya School--located at MAI-DI=JHUGGi(and primary at Douglas Pura)headed by well-known head master Shri, Ram Lal Sapra.We all 6 brothers and two sisters studied under him. The School was MB(Muncipal Board)School,where most of the non-rya Samaji children used to go.

Dear Bimlaji I got this link with courtesy Subodh Mathur.Having been born in Lyallpur myself in1931--and left like everyone else in1947-I loved reading your journey through Partition.One,no longer likes to go through the trauma of those days .Very surprising when you mentioned that your father was a professor of Physics in Govt College Lyallpur,because our first cousin--Prof.Vidya Sagar Sethi ,was also Professor of physics in Govt.College Lyallpur.After partition he joined Govt.College Ludhiana. He had written a book on Physics also.Secondly his father and my father-both brothers-belonged to Jhang-Meghiana where we had agriculture land.(we eventually got our land in Sonepat) Your post also reminded me of milking our buffalos,inspite of having a Gujar for that job,and drinking milk while milking. I also keep getting lot of messages from Lyallpur even now after my post .Lets forget the bad memories and enjoy and share the happy times. Must admire all the comments written by every one. I salute all of them

I m from Lyallpur and live in rawalpindi now. I remember i have seen this house in Rawalpindi... ur narration brought tears...God bless u

madam bimla ji ,reaaly trye and tragec story of partition of great punjab,my parents migrated from amritsir and after that settled in gobind pura street no 2 LYALLPUR,just next mohalla from gru nank pura .it will pleasure for me if u come and see your LYALLPUR,wellcome

My birth year is 1940 which means I was 7 years old at the time of partition.My story is also similar to this which I have written.How to share it with you?

I want to add to your narrative a different sort of conclusion for the record.The Bhatlas got a settlement compensation in 1949 of Rs 16,000 for the three properties we left behind, namely, a 25 plus rooms house,a large attached Kothi on an acre of land in Meghiana, and a bungalow in Murree. The compensation granted was less than 5% of the value of these properties.

Incredible reading---writing this account with such vividness and feelings is numinous.Account brings forth the eternal question-Why do we torture each other. Partition must not have happened - I too have seen at first hand what it led to - the human anguish and sufferings of unbearable order.Add to this the fact that turmoil still continues. It is fascinating Punjabi pride and wisdom in "Punjabi Idioms"-It is rarest of rare writing packing so much practical and spiritual wisdom. May I suggest that this booklet be translated into Hindi and incorporate detailed comments on each idiom (In Hindi and English)- Madam , YOU MUST SHARE THIS WISDOM WITH WIDER AUDIENCE AND LET MANY MANY MORE RECEIVE THE ESSENCE OF SO MUCH CULLED WISDOM. Best wishes always to you both and the family

Very well written article. My name is Rajesh Seth, residing at Jalandhar. My father was born and brought up at Lyallpur. His name Sh Prithvi Nath Seth, my taya ji Sh Raghu Nath Seth, chacha ji Sh Som Nath Seth all born at Lyallpur. My father was a student of Government College, Lyallpur at the time of partition. My dadaji Sh Bhawani Dass and his brothers Sh Nanak Chand, Sh Sita Ram had joint jewellery business. The name of the shop was ? Nanak Chand Dhanpat Mal Saraf? , in Rail Bazar. They resided at Mandir wali Gali. One of my dadaji?s brother Sh Sunder Dass was an officer in the railways.

Dear Rajesh, first of all I must thank Subodh for forwarding your mail to me for info, since I also belong to Lyallpur.I vaguely remember the shop you mentioned, as we used to go Rail Bazar for all our purchases of school books, after the class results were out. In fact one of the Lyallpur jeweler has s shop in Karol bagh,Delhi,caaled Lyallpur Jewllers".

hello Bimla ma'am, your post has left a deep impact on me. I'm currently working on a project which covers the horrors women an children had to face during this traumatic nd life-shattering time.Ma'am I would forever be in your debt if you could offer me some insight into this matter.I believe our generation has much to learn from you people who survived against all odds and became the people you are today. i salute your bravery and the courage you,and millions of people showed on those times and I can only wish That I was even 1/4 the humans you were. my email id is aditideshwal@gmal.com if you or anybody else,(especially if you are currently based in Delhi) would be able to help me out. thank you so much for enlightening us

Thanks Bimla Ma'am and Mr R.K.Gulatia sir who has given the book. Thank you so much again mam very nice Akhkhaan (Idioms).

Hope one day all partition families who were banished can come back to their ancestral land in Punjab after so long time.

hi,, please tell the location of house inrawalpindi

very well written. it is duty of older generations of India and Pakistan to teach younger ones of our combined past and tell them we can still live in peace with each other

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