|The final leg in the partition of the subcontinent was the division of the Great Indian Army. Brother officers who had fought shoulder to shoulder, helping each other in times of crisis, and who had stood behind each other like rocks, were to part. But none of them had any bitterness in them. That was the tradition in which they had grown up. How can they, who had fought together as one in the North African and Burma theatres? And on the hot plains of NWFP? Or in Italy? The Indian Army was truly ‘secular’ or catholic in its outlook, and religion was always personal. Not regimented. When the time came to opt, while many Muslims chose to go to Pakistan; quite a few chose to remain back in the land they were born in, thinking that they would be treated at par with the others. None of them exhibited or carried any bitterness in them, and if at all, their parting was a great heartbreak. They were however under the illusion that they would be meeting one another in their respective Army mess, once things had settled down.
Meet, they did. But not in any Officers Mess, or under Nature’s canopy of blue with the stars twinkling above, under a camp fire, with liquor flowing free, and the delicious smell of roasting meats and a lovely moonlight to brighten up the evening.
Instead, they would meet, facing each other with their rifles, trying to defend their positions in accordance with the ‘Order of the Day’.
| I had been reading ‘Freedom at Midnight’ by Lapierre and Collins for the second time, and have once again re-lived through the anguish, pain, hatred and Love, Faith and Hope among people of the subcontinent that was exhibited in those bitter day of partition. From these pages, there is a story of two brothers, both of the great Indian Army, one of whom went to Pakistan, and the other who chose to remain here with his mother. Based on this, I have written this piece, and have tried to bring out the emotions, the love, the mental turmoil, and finally the total respect for their respective Flags that these soldiers showed in the line of duty. They were not alone. Even those in the lower ranks, amongst friends, showed such devotion and love. Such stories have been the tragedy and curse of the subcontinent. Will we ever get close together? With deep sorrow, I think this will never happen- at least as long as politicians continue to have the upper hand, and the terrorists their way.
At the Army Mess in Delhi, there was the final party being hosted by the Indian Officers to their Pakistan ‘brethren’, who would be leaving in the next few days to their new country of adoption. The Indian side comprised Hindu, Sikh, Parsee and Muslim Officers. There was the ‘burra khana’ and toast after toast was being raised to the departing men. Stories of how they had fought alongside in World War II regaled the listeners, of ambushes, bravados, skirmishes, and of gallantry. Of how one had helped the other from the jaws of death. And how they had made Mussolini’s and Hitler’s men run when the Indian Army made the final charge and assault on their positions. Or of how they had sat in the bars in Rome, out drinking one another, till they had to be carried off to sleep away their stupor. Much bonhomie was shown, and addresses taken, and promises to keep in touch, or to attend weddings were made. There was a lot of laughter, but more often than not, men, who had braved the machine guns and spandaus of the German Army without fear, wept unabashedly in each other’s arms at the final parting.
Similar scenes were witnessed in Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi too, where the Muslim officers bade their Hindu, Muslim and Sikh officers their farewells. Here also, there was high emotion, and promises of meeting either on the polo ground or in the cricket field.
When the time came to bid Col. Mohammed Idris goodbye, there was not a single dry eye in that ‘macho’ gathering. Idris had led them in some of the toughest and bitterest of battles in the Great War. And he had led from the front, encouraging his men, irrespective of which religion they belonged to. To him, they were all the most valiant of men of the Indian Army. To them, he was their ‘role-model; and to quite a few, a father figure. “Kudah Hafiz, my Boys!” he said, trying to put in a brave front. But he couldn’t hold it for long. And as Major Krishna Rao came into his arms, he held him and wept. Krishna Rao had saved Idris, from a concentrated German attack at al Amein in North Africa, blasting ten German Army soldiers with his hand grenades, himself wounded by a bullet, before carrying off his commander to the safety of his men. “Bye my son. Don’t forget our times together” was all he could say. “How can a son forget his father, Sir”, was Krishna Rao’s reply, who too was shedding tears.
At the Delhi Gymkhana Club, was the most touching of farewells. The air was poignant with memories and many of the men had massive lumps in their throats, while some of them were not ashamed to cry.
When the time came to say the final ‘goodbye’, Brigadier Cariappa of the Rajputs regiment, stood on the raised platform, and the hall fell silent. He told them that this was only an ‘au revoir’, and only an au revoir’, and that they would ‘again meet in the same spirit of friendship that has always bound us together’. He said that ‘our history is inseparable.’
(Later on, he had risen to the rank of General and had gone on to become Free India’s First Commander-in-Chief, and far later, recognizing his contributions, honored, much after his retirement as India’s second Field Marshal.) And when he had finished, he went behind the curtains, brought out a covered silver trophy and offered it to the senior Muslim officer there, Brigadier Aga Raza, as a parting gift from the ‘Hindu’ officers to their ‘Muslim’ comrade-in-arms. The trophy showed a Muslim and Hindu sepoy standing side by side with their rifle trained on a common enemy.
As the Muslim officers left, the Indians went to the door, ‘formed an aisle down the steps and out on to the lawn’. One by one, sadness written all over their countenance, the Muslim officers slowly walked down that aisle, out into the night. The Indians raised a final silent toast to the friends that they would never see again.
Of course they would meet. But not on the polo ground or the cricket fields, but on the battlefields of Kashmir!
Now, it is necessary to go back a few back to know the story of the two Khans.
Major Yakoub Khan was a young officer in the Viceroy’s Guards. His father was the Prime Minister to the Nawab of Rampur. He too, had to make his decision on whether to stay back or move on to the newfound land. He went back to his family mansion in Rampur, where he had spent so much time, happy in nature’s surroundings, a part of the hundred odd guests dining in his house, of Christmas, of Divali, of the Id festivities of the hunts, of the line of luxurious cars, and it went on. He moved around the house reliving his childhood, and the games that he had played with his brother and other friends. That evening, the dining table was laden with the delicacies that Yakoub loved, all Mughlai style, prepared by Ramlal, who had virtually brought him up. As they finished their dinner, and were conversing, he broke the news to his mother of his decision to move to Pakistan. The lady was shocked and angry. “I have thought this over for sometime now Ammi, and I have come to this decision. Don’t stand in my way. Let me live my life. You have had yours”, is what he told her. For her, they had lived there for over two centuries, tracing back their ancestry to the Great Ahmed Shah Abdali, and had lived through the Mutiny, where the British had executed Yakoub’s great grandfather for his role.
The young officer tried to convince her that living in Lahore or Karachi would be like living in Delhi.
The next morning Yakoub Khan bid his farewell to his mother, who was draped in a white sari, a sign of mourning. Saying a few verses from the Holy Koran, she waved back, erect and dignified in sorrow. Ramlal, their cook for over twenty-five years and Kundan Singh their driver for over fifteen were there at the gate, their facing streaming down with hot tears. “Kudah Hafeez Baba”, they said. Lassie, his German Shepherdess was barking and whining away, knowing that her young master was never to come back again. Yakoub’s heart was filled with sorrow. Was he doing right, he thought.
He promised he would come back to collect all his trophies and mementoes, once he had settled down.
A few months later, Major Yakoub Khan was leading a battalion of the Pakistan Army on a slope in snow bound Kashmir, going on an offensive against a position held by men, who a few months earlier had been together.
One of the regiments of the Indian Army was the valiant Garhwal Rifles, which was not only holding on to its position, but was stemming the tide of the Pakistani soldiers offensive. Its commander was also a Muslim, who had made his decision to stay back in India, the land of his birth. He was leading the Garhwals and made a counter-offensive attack, leading his men, and going into thick of battle. He too was a Khan, Younis Khan, and was Yakoub’s own brother. The two battalions rushed towards each other, guns blazing, no quarters given, none taken. It was a fight to defend the holy soil of the Motherland. The Khans were not aware that the other was there, leading his men. Suddenly, in the thick of battle, the brothers met face-to-face, both with their Sten guns spitting out the bullets in rapid fire. And then, Younis Khan’s bullet had his brother Yakoub’s name written on it. Yakoub took a full volley ripping his chest. He fell like an oak, mortally wounded.
At this, the Pakistani’s surrendered. It was then that Younis found time to grieve. “What have I done? Why had this to happen in my own hands? What do I tell Ammi and Appajan?”
“Don’t grieve Chote. We are soldiers, and we did our duty. I die in full glory and I am sure God will take me to Him,” replied Yakoub. His throat felt parched. “I am thirsty. Give me some water.” Younis held his water bottle to his elder brothers lips, and the dying man took in large gulps. “Chote! You know? Water never tasted so sweet.” He fell silent for a while. Then he uttered his last words on earth. ”Tell Ammi not to grieve for me, but to think of me kindly. And tell her I died on our great soil. I die happy.” So saying Yakoub let out his last breath.
Younis, with his men surrounding him, heads bent, for his brother, and for the friends that they had to kill in defense of their motherland, were weeping. And as a mark of respect for those fallen soldiers, they all, to a man, reversed arms. And in a further show of deep love and concern, the men of the Indian Army got out their woolen blankets and covered each of the fallen Pakistani soldier, as if protecting him from the bitter cold.
The Corp Commanders’ Room was filled with five of the Senior Commanders, who were directing the Kashmir Operations. They were Maneckshaw, Jasbir Singh, Osmani and Thimaiah, and D’Cruz, all of them of the rank of colonels The table was holding five steaming mugs of black coffee laced with rum, while the five of them were poring over the Ops Map, and marking the captured terrains with colored pins.
There was a distinct knock on the door, and is it opened the Havildar Major announced the visitor. “Come in! Come in Major,” said Maneckshaw
In walked Major Younis Khan, and as he executed his smart salute, Col. D’Cruz said, “At ease Major! And what news have you brought?” “Mission accomplished Sir,” said Major Younis Khan to his Commanding Officer. Coming away from his table, and putting a friendly hand around Younis, the C.O. said, “I know Major. It was commendable what you did. And I am really sorry for Yakoub. I knew him well and respected him. In fact, we all did” He paused and looked out of the window at the falling drifts of fresh snow. “That is how wars are, and this what war does.” His words conveyed the agony of five grieving hearts. And Colonel Jasbir Singh, turned back, wiping his tears.