At the end of the Second World War it was decided to host the World Jamboree of Boy Scouts. The battlegrounds where the fierce battles were fought in north of France were selected as the venue. In all about 70,000 Boy Scouts from all over the world attended it. The Indian contingent consisted of 165 Boy Scouts from all parts of India. The Rajasthan contingent consisted of seven Boy Scouts from Mayo College, Chanchal Singh, Nahar Singh, Prithivi Singh, Bhim Singh, Guman Singh and myself, and Aftab from Jamia Miliya of Ajmer. Jasdev Singh and Kaul (I have forgotten his first name} from Jaipur State, and in Nasrulla from Bombay's Daly College joined us. Mr. Dhanmal Mathur of Mayo College was our Scout Master. Mr. Thadeus was the leader of the Indian contingent.
We sailed from Bombay in August 1947 in an Italian ship that had been captured in the war. It showed the scars of the war. It was a great exciting day for all of us. 165 scouts from all over India. Each one of us made friends, and very soon we became a large family. We did not know the difference between North and South, East and West. Language was no barrier. There was no difference of caste and creed, and above all of religion. It was the brotherhood of united India we all sang together Sare Jahan se achcha Hindustan Hamara.
It was the monsoon period when the Arabian sea is rough. This was our first experience of sea, and that also of an angry sea. It can be most frightening experience, when one sees the nose of the ship, which was about 25,000 tons, going up towards the sky pushed by the high waves, and then dipping into the large whirlpool of the ocean. Almost all the passengers were seasick and most of them were confined to their berths. Amazingly one person was not seasick – he belonged to the desert of Rajasthan. He was Bhim Singh of Khuri from Bikaner.
Our first halt was at Aden, and then we entered the Suez Canal. It was specially arranged for us that we could leave the ship and by cars to visit Cairo and see the Pyramids. Because of seasickness and bland western food, we all were dying of hunger. In Cairo at lunch we all were served with Kofta curry. When we were about to pounce upon the dish, it came to my mind that it could be beef. We enquired from the waiter, and I was correct. We refused to eat and even our Muslim friends also did so. We from Rajasthan gave our plates to our Muslim brothers and requested them to enjoy. When we caught the ship at Port Said, Mr. Dhanmal called us and reprimanded us for not eating well. We shyly told him that it was beef. On hearing this, he leaned on the railing and vomited. It was the first time that I realized how deep is the faith. We all had a good laugh at it.
After spending some time in London, we crossed the English Chanel and alighted at Port Dieppe. From there we were taken to the camp site. It was a huge village where 70,000 Boy Scouts were accommodated. Each country had a camp of its own. There was a train which used to go all round the village with open bogeys which were used for carrying wood. One could jump on it, and jump off where ever one wished. There was no police around. There were post offices, where we could post our letters, banks, hospitals, fire-fighting equipment – all managed by the French Rovers and Guides. Amazing. It was the greatest ensemble of universal brotherhood that I have seen in my life. An experience which is difficult to forget.
We all lived in love, affection, and peace till 15th August 1947 when the Partition took place and India received its independence. Things changed overnight. In the morning of the 15th, two patrols were deputed to hoist the flags of Pakistan and India among the flags of the rest of the countries. Rajasthan’s patrol was selected to hoist the national flag, and I was deputed to lead. It was a great honour for all of us, when with help of others I hoisted the National flag.
I was one of the few who were deputed as the ADC to Mr. Thadeus. In the night of 14 August, he called me and told me that there is a big problem as how the three flags – Scout flag, India flag and Pakistan flag – can be hoisted on one flag post. As we were secular, he ordered the Rajasthan scouts to find a solution. Secretly, in our tent all of us sat and tried to find a solution.
We came upon the idea that there should be another post horizontal with the three flags. The Scout flag would be in the middle, with India and Pakistan on the both ends. We gave a demonstration to Mr. Thadeus. He liked it but we saw his grim face. He said that the representative of India and Pakistan would fight to keep the pole straight. Even some of the scoutmasters from both the countries had strong views. In the afternoon, at the flag hoisting ceremony where all the dignitaries from all countries, the Chief Scout of the World and the scouts were invited. It was a great gathering. But we were ashamed to see that several boys including the Scout Masters, from both countries, if they were facing any of the flags, they turned their faces.
There was no logic or reasoning. The tragedy had fallen, friendships were broken; enmity took place. Those who were very close friends – they neither faced each other nor spoke to each other. They became strangers. It was indeed very heart rending. On our way back from Southampton on the ship Strathmore, Mr. Thadeus once more called upon us and told us very frankly that the situation was very grave. There was a danger that someone might push someone into the sea. He gave us the orders that we had to guard the decks in the night to assure that this did not happen. From Southampton to Bombay we had to perform our duty. Whole night we used to sit on the deck, and time to time go to the hull and see that no one was missing. I experienced that sea can be very alarming and frightening in the night. The darkness spreading right up to the horizon, and the gurgling sound of the waves, frightens in loneliness and helplessness. The journey of 15 days was traumatic.
On reaching Bombay we were informed that riots have taken place. There were English and Indian officers, who asked each of us “Who are You? Are you a Muslim? If so, then you go to Pakistan.” We had two Muslim boys. Nasuralla and Aftab. Nasuralla belonged to royal family of Sachin, and as his father was staying in Bombay. So, he went home. The officers told Aftab that he had to go to Pakistan. We pleaded that let him go to Ajmer and know whether his parents have migrated to Pakistan. First, our pleas fell on deaf ears. All of us had no option but to threaten to sit on dharna. Finally he was allowed to go with us.
Aftab became a very special and precious commodity for us as it became our solemn duty to save him from the treacherous hands of the rioters. First, we gave him a Hindu name. We made him sleep on the floor of the first class compartment; all of us slept around him, pulled the windows and successfully completed the night journey up to Ahmedabad. There, we had to stay for the whole day. It was dangerous, but our scout uniform saved us.
Next morning we reached Ajmer. Our Principal Mr. MacCancil and other senior teachers were waiting to receive us. Mr. MacCanlis told me to hand over Aftab to his parents who were standing there. A tearful adieu was given to Aftab who happily joined his parents. Thus ended our journey full of experiences, which were happy and sad. That was the first time I realized as how the gulf and hatred was created between Hindus and Muslims.
© Ranbir Sinh. Published June 2019.
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