We arrived at Gul-e-Rana. And what a miserable and chaotic scene greeted us. Gul-e-Rana was a splendid large two-storey house in one of the poshest areas of New Delhi on Aurangzeb Road. It had large manicured lawns, and huge living and dining rooms as it was used for big political meetings and dinners. But when we got there, a multitude of people were strewn all over the lawns. And inside, it was even more crowded – with people sleeping shoulder to shoulder on the carpet in the living and dining room. The servants had left but their quarters were also filled with families. There was no food and the ‘refugees’ were surviving on the scraps some brave souls would venture out to buy. Out of deference for her, one of the bedrooms upstairs was emptied and given to Amma for her family.
Gul-e-Rana is now the residence of the Pakistani High Commissioners in Delhi. It has been well maintained and in 2009, when in Delhi to attend the launch of Shahryar Khan’s book on cricket co-written with Shashi Taroor, the High Commissioner there, Shahid Kamal, showed me proudly how he had restored Liaquat Ali Khan’s study replete with wood paneling and the original old photographs there. He also took me upstairs so that I could revisit the room allotted to Amma and us in September 1947.
This small room had housed, at one point, our Nani amma (maternal grandmother), our younger khala (aunt), us five siblings and all the children of all the brothers. And so, some 15 of us huddled into that one room. There was no food and people were starving. But on doing an inspection of the people there and the house, Amma found a small corner room, locked with a big padlock. On enquiring about it, she was told by some of the earliest arrivals that when the servants left, they had locked it and said it was not to be used and that one person was sitting outside it guarding it.
Amma was a fiery lady in her time – very much a favourite of my uncle Liaquat and Mr. Jinnah for that reason. She ignored the person guarding the room and ordered the padlock to be broken. Inside were ‘boris’ (sacks) of ata (flour) and rice and sugar. That day, everyone got a meal.
We, too had been starving. I remember that all the children, from the lawns and other rooms, were collected on the patio on the roof and made to sit in a line. We were given one chapati each, layered with butter and sprinkled with sugar. After two days without food it was a feast, but we could not understand why Amma was ‘discriminating’ against us by treating us like all the other common children! Very soon the ata was gone and we were being served salted boiled rice on pieces of newspaper, along with the other children. But we still looked eagerly to when lunch was announced, there being no dinner.
We were far from happy – and in fact, crushed by the multitude of people, with no proper washing or toilet facilities. But one incident stands out with trauma. The teenaged Phulloo Bhai, not being able to take our hunger and pitiable state any more, sneaked out to buy some biscuits and other edibles for us five siblings. On his way back he got surrounded and stabbed by some Hindus but an Englishman living on the same road saved him and dropped him off at Gul-e-Rana. His arms were still clutching the ‘goodies’ that he had bought for us. He survived the stabbing, only to die of the same internal wound later on in Karachi.
Hindu and Sikh mobs would identify Muslims by forcing them to strip. If you were circumcised, you were dead.
When the food was exhausted, Amma managed to get a message to Nehru that she could not run the camp without proper food supplies. Nehru sent a message that he would arrange supplies and administrative staff to manage the camp, and also charter a plane to fly Amma and us out in a couple of days – so she should be ready to travel. At the same time, Abba also sent a message that Delhi-Lahore flights had started and he was also arranging to charter an Orient Air Dakota, and that Amma should get out and go to Pakistan for the children’s sake. He would follow as soon as he could, after all the people in Abbasi Sahib’s house had been vacated. The supplies arrived some days later, along with the cars to take us to the airport. We were driven to the airport but there was no plane, as it had not arrived from Lahore. We returned despondently. The next day, though, there was indeed a small Dakota plane waiting for us. We – Nani amma, Amma, my youngest maternal uncle who managed my father’s lands and estate and was a personal assistant and advisor to him and our Governor responsible for our education – boarded the plane which had only us as passengers. We landed safety in Pakistan at Walton Airport in Lahore.
We spent a fortnight or so with my Amma’s first cousin, a Prof. Abdul Hamid who taught at Government College Lahore and lived on 4 Waris Road, at that time a very posh area of Lahore. His teenage daughters took us children in their care and did their best to make us forget our recent ordeal. The daughter, who was fondest of us, would grow up to marry and produce two very talented daughters. One was Samina Ahmed, a Pakistani icon and famous stage, TV and film artist, who has also acted in Bollywood and is one of the leading cultural and intellectual figures in Lahore along with Salima and Muniza Hashmi. The other daughter, Shaheena, married a well known CSP officer and worked for the UN.
From there we flew to Karachi and were given a room in the house of one of Abba’s friends, Mr. Hameeduddin. He was in the Railway Service and having opted for Pakistan, had been posted in Karachi on a senior post. He came from a rich and renowned family of Delhi, and was the younger brother of the future Chief Justice and one time Governor of Sind, Qadeeruddin Ahmed. He had a very large apartment in the Railways compound on Kutchery Road (now Dr. Ziauddin Road) and had quite a few families who had fled from India staying with him. Abba arrived soon afterwards, saw us cramped in a small room, and at the first opportunity went to see uncle Liaquat. He came back disgruntled and frustrated and immediately returned to India, telling Amma he would only return after he had sold some lands and had money. And so he left for Delhi.
What transpired between the two brothers and frustrated Abba was related to me by Amma when I had grown up and asked her about it. It seems that first Abba had to wait outside uncle Liaquat’s office for some time as the American Ambassador was inside, which hurt his ego. Then when he went in, he found a military general sitting there and my uncle did not send him out. He instead told my father, “Koi baat nahi. Kaho jo bhi kahna hai” (It’s OK. Say what you want).
Abba told him about our situation and how his whole family was cramped into one room and had no money. Uncle Liaquat considered this quietly then in a soft voice and Karnali dialect told his brother “Dekh bhai Sadaquat, agar tou tain (you) mahajir ban ke aya hai, tou afsos ke saath kahoonga tujhe bohot intezar karna hoga. Agar menh apnay khandan ke wastay kuchh allot karta hun tou meray saray ke saray afsar bhi yehi karnay lagain ge. Tumharay paas kamrah aur khanay ko tou hai, yahan kitnay log sarkon per bhookay sorahay hain. Woh bhi mahajir hain aur unka haq teray se ziyada banta hai. Aur gar tain (you) bhai ban ke madad ke liye aya hai tou yeh dekh mujhay aaj hi tankhwah mili hai. Aadhi mein menh guzara kar loonga aur aadhi pehli tareekh ko tu leliya kar, jab tak kuch aur intezam hota hai” (If you have migrated here, I regret to say that you must wait quite a lot. If I allot something for my family, my officials will do the same. You have a room and food to eat, while there are many here who are sleeping hungry on the streets. They, too, immigrated here. And if you have come to me for help as a brother, look I got my pay just today. I’ll make do with half of it, and you can have half of it every month until some other arrangements can be made”
Abba, the spoilt brat of the nawab family, left in a huff. I am not sure but seem to remember being told that the salary cheque was for Rs. 5,000.
Some days after Abba’s departure for Delhi, a military truck and jeep drew up in front of Hameeduddin Sahib’s house. A smart young major asked for my mother and informed her that he had been sent to bring her and her children as arrangements had been made for her private independent accommodation. There was very little to pack so they waited while we collected our few belongings and were escorted to the Baluch Regiment Officers Mess, in Saddar on what was then Somerset Street, in the heart of Karachi. It is still there next to Avari Towers Hotel. But at that time, this very area – where now one cannot cross the street due to heavy traffic – was so quiet and peaceful that one could walk around the whole block in the evening after dinner without encountering more than two or three persons.
A spacious upstairs apartment, very simply furnished, in a beautiful brown stone building was given to us. Another more senior Officer came to welcome Amma and ask if she needed anything more. Amma thanked him and said that if he meets the Prime Minister, he ought to thank him on her behalf and she would also do so at the first opportunity. The military officer seemed a little embarrassed and said “Begum sahiba, unse zikr na karain tou behtar hoga. You see, he does not know about this and if he does not find out it will be better for us all!” The major who had escorted us would retire as a Colonel and would one day be my immediate boss in the Foreign Service. He would fondly recount this story to me many times.
Accommodation sorted out, Amma’s attention turned to her next most important priority : our schooling and education. In a Karachi unprepared for the sudden heavy influx of people of all denomination, diplomats, bureaucrats, businessmen and army officers, finding a school would be a major problem – the only good school being the English Grammar School. But this problem was to be resolved and I would find my lifetime closest friend, Waheed Murad!