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It was June 1947, just before the rioting started. My father Sardar Sahib Piara Singh was a police officer, working for CID, Confidential and Investigation Department, Calcutta. My mother, my only brother Harmander, sisters Iqbal and Updesh, and I were in Rawal Pindi, our home town, preparing for the wedding of my brother. We were planning a grand wedding, with the bridegroom on an elephant, and all the paraphernalia. My father had news through his office of impending unpleasant events. He telephoned us and started pestering us, sending us telegrams, he couldn’t talk about it in public, so he kept telling us to abort the wedding and to come to Calcutta, since he wasn’t feeling well. He said to hurry. We stopped the wedding preparations, packed up the bedding, rice, wheat etc, locked up our house at Gawal Mundi near Company Park and travelled to Calcutta by train. When we got there my father was waiting for us at Howrah train station. We were happy to see him in his uniform all smart but we were puzzled as he seemed well, all hale and hearty. My mother chastised him saying, ‘You look fine to me. Why the hurry and the panic?’
My father said, ‘In a short time you will see why and you will be thankful that you are here.’
We never went back to Rawal Pindi. My father’s father, his brother and sisters were left behind in Rawal Pindi or Kahota, our home village -they didn’t escape- and they were put into a refugee camp. My father later on went to visit them and took them clothes and money, food and sympathy.
At the end of July, when it was very hot, my father was transferred to Amritsar, where refugee trains were running backwards and forwards. I remember him telling me that people had lost all sense of humanity. Once my father was giving water to the thirsty; Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. A trainload of Muslims arrived. An old lady on board said that she was very thirsty and asked for a sip of water. My father gave it to her. The Hindus shouted; ‘Kill that Sardar (Sikh)! He is giving water to the enemy!’ My father replied;
‘ I’m giving water to an old woman. I don’t distinguish between Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. To me she’s just an old lady.’
By August 1947, the riots were in full swing; human beings went berserk and there was madness; people were killing each other just for the sake of killing. In Southern Calcutta, in Kali Ghat, there was a cinema being built in front of our house Jaidka Bari. The artisans doing the construction work were Muslims. I witnessed these innocent people being caught, their hands and fingers being chopped off and I watched them being beaten about the head with sticks and then killed. These artisans even quoted Hindu scriptures but the mob did not spare them.
As told to Ajeet’s daughter Rani Singh.
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