Fazal Khan Tareen – The Road to Lahore
Enjoying his vacations in Murree, Fazal Khan Tareen (my nana) had no idea that he would suddenly find himself in a completely separate country from his family. The day of August 14th, 1947, he was in what was known as Pakistan while his family was in Patiala (one of the Phulkian states), which its Rajah had ceded to India.
Riots had broken out in Pindi. The independence of Pakistan that led to the deaths of many Hindus enveloped a wave of anger as the hindus started exacting a bloody revenge. Stricken with panic my nana commenced a journey back to his home in India. Arriving at their villa he discovered his family to be gone, their home empty.
“The same people I had grown up with (Hindus and Sikhs) now looked at me with loathing eyes.”
Here a Sikh neighbor of his family took him under his wing. He disguised my nana as a Sikh and smuggled him out of Patiala. He came to know of how his father, Ashiq Muhammad Khan, the Kotwal of Patiala had been warned of an attack on their house by a Sikh DSP, Baidi, and had decided to migrate with some 2000 Muslims under his charge. Later his father told him how they left on the day of Eid with nothing but the clothes in a backpack and having buried their gold in the backyard. They had then taken refuge in a haveli belonging to a Shia, Haadi Hassan.
Meanwhile, my nana took sanctuary in a graveyard in Panipat. He would eat the food left behind on the graves as offerings.
“It was the only place safe enough at that time.”
This was also the time when libraries full of precious literature were brought down to ashes. Books, especially those written in Urdu, could be found lying on the streets.
“I would gather those books and read them by the light of the candles lit at the headstone of the graves.”
At night he would sleep in the graveyard on the insect ridden ground. In fact, one day, he woke up to find himself lying on a grave that belonged to none other than the Urdu writer and poet, Altaf Hussain Hali. My nana’s older brother, Khalil-ur-Rehman Khan, had been serving in the police force in Delhi, so he tried to secure a path to the city. However, the state of affairs was atrocious and he failed, thus, after spending several weeks in the graveyard, he finally secured a route to Pakistan by train.
The streets he travelled on, were littered with dead bodies. The trains themselves were subject to frequent attacks by bloodthirsty Hindus and Sikhs. During these raids he would hide himself in the stations and mount the train again once the danger was past. In the course of one of these attacks, a 19-year-old witnessed one of his companions being killed. He also saw a man jump into a well and kill himself rather than face the wrath of the Hindus. Mothers would sometimes toss their children into the moving train as they themselves were left behind with nothing but the hope that their child will reach somewhere safe. Reaching Pakistan, he was reunited with Khalil-ur-Rehman, in Lahore.
“We both embraced each other crying. We thought our entire family had been killed because we still didn’t know where they were.”
Waiting there, he saw trains turning up one after the other, full of dead bodies. While they looked for the dead bodies of their family members, my nana and his brother were told that a large number of Muslims camped in the Bahadurgarh Fort in Patiala. They later found out that their families had had taken refuge there. The Fort belonged to a Sikh and they stayed there for 3 months. Throughout this time Hindus and Sikhs would bring them food in the morning. The wife of a Sikh friend even offered to assist them in any way they needed.
“They told her of the gold they had buried and she brought it back for them. She gave them half of it and sold some for medicines for my father and the others who had fallen sick.”
It was to this fort that my nana went to, with several trucks and escorted by soldiers. He was reunited with his family and brought them back to Pakistan. He came to know the woes of his family who had traveled the long road to the Fort by foot with no food or clothes with them. At the same time, he also became aware of his father, having to leave 3 of his sons behind; one in Delhi, the other in Aligarh and the third in a surrounding district of Patiala. Later they were reunited in Pakistan. However, their struggle did not end there. Their eldest daughter, Rabbiyah Khan and her 1-month old son passed away in this struggle. Her eldest son, Abdul Aziz Khan, met an accident while serving in the army in Sargodha which left him paralyzed for 18 years till his death.
To this day, memories of the carnage refuse to leave him. The sounds of people dying still rings in his ears.
By Amna Khan