Friday, April 10, 2015

I – Indian Independence - 1947

Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village   
 These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.   
The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.

Prelude : H - Honfleur, France 1944

Indian Independence - 1947  

The Second world  war ended with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in April 1945.

Kittu, carrying the ashes of Harpal Singh returned to an India, caught in a turmoil before the impending independence. Lord Mountbatten had announced the date for the Independence, while the negotiations were still on between Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru on a separate state for Muslims called Pakistan. There was uncertainty and anxiety all over the north and west of India.  

Kittu was on a mission to fulfil his duty, He was carrying the ashes of his dead friend for three years now. When he arrived in Lahore, he had no trouble locating Harpal’s family. They were well known among the traders and cloth merchants and lived in a sprawling Haveli (mansion) in what then must have been a posh neighbourhood in Lahore. The atmosphere in Lahore was rife with the rising Hindu-Muslim tensions and rumours about the possibility of creation of a separate Muslim state.    

 It was not good news that he was going there to deliver. He was filled with trepidation on how the family would take it.  The news of Harpal’s death may not have in all probability reached his family, because after that terrible incident in June 1944 the war had intensified and had got murkier across Europe, Japan and parts of South East Asia. Soldiers who died were buried in mass graves in Normandy and other regions of France and Italy, unsung and unheard.

Kittu was determined to spare his friend that mass indignity.  Soon after he passed away, the deft Sapper that Kittu was, he dug a grave, collected wood and cremated his buddy under a sturdy  olive tree alongside the banks of River Seine in France.  He hoped to return there someday and to mark the place, he engraved a stone for the Brave Sapper Harpal Singh before he moved on. He packed the ashes in a bag and covered it up and carried it along with him wherever he went and guarded it as his most  precious belonging. It took him three years to return to Delhi and then to Lahore to meet and convey the news to Harpal’s family.

Harpal’s mother was inconsolable in grief. She uttered what she would never have uttered in a weaker moment in front of her husband.  She cursed Mohanlal Karamchand Gandhi for the disasters that had befallen her family.

This was July of 1947. Gandhi’s firm refusal to heed for a separate state for the Muslims went unheeded by the stubborn demands of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Gandhi was threatening to go on a hunger strike should a decision on the partition see the light of the day. Despite Gandhi’s stubborn stand, what went on between Mountbatten, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru would have a profound effect on millions of people across the Indian subcontinent later during that year. 

The partition would kill and displace millions of innocent Muslims and Hindus from both sides of the border. In the turmoil that emerged, the Muslims and Hindus with means migrated to England to settle down after partition. Among the many who fled from Lahore, on the days preceding the Independence of Pakistan and India on 14th and  the 15th of August 1947 respectively, were Harpal Singh’s father, mother, sisters and his widowed wife.

They were spared the brutality of what millions of others were witness to. Kittu with a foresight on what could be happening as the D-day inched closer, convinced them to pack up atleast temporarily and move on. The family packed up as much jewellery and other memorable belongings and safely tucked them in cloth pouches beneath their Shalwars ( loose trousers worn by women)  hidden by the long flowing Kameez ( long tunics) .They left behind their huge mansion, memories and generations of claim to what they had always assumed to be their own homeland.

Kittu accompanied them safely into Indian borders and into a refugee camp in Delhi. They were spared the brutality of what the refugees who arrived later in the week had been through. Many of them were witness to their wives, daughters and sisters getting raped, maimed and killed . Men, women and children from the same families got separated in the chaos. If they were lucky they found themselves reunited in the number of refugee camps that had sprung on the banks of Yamuna in Delhi for many months to come.

Harpal's family did not have to stay in the refugee camps for long. Kittu arranged for them to move out of the refugee camp into a rented house after a few weeks.

A few months later they undertook the journey to Varanasi to immerse the ashes of Harpal Singh into the Ganges and to do his last rites.

It was not until an year later that Kittu summoned up the courage to ask for Parminder’s  hand in marriage  and fulfilled the promise he had made to his dying friend on the banks of River Seine on a warm summer afternoon in 1944.

Parminder Kaur started a new life as Padma. 


  1. As we look back at the past, the partition still hurts us when we look at the strategy that unfurled. Thanks for sharing the history of India.

  2. Amazing account of Indian history. Didn't Kittu get to play a role in Indian Independence. In a way I am thinking, if India got its independence from Gandhi, or because the Britain in a way got occupied with wars in the European region.


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