The Battle Within - Brig. Mirza Hamid Hussain, PA33
INTRODUCTION TO MY FAMILY
As repeatedly told to me by my uncle, Mirza Shakir Hussain, (Barrister-at-Law), it was drizzling on the day that I was born at my ancestral home located on Qasim Jan Street, Old Delhi, on the 4th of July 1914, at four in the evening. The street is named after my ancestor, Nawab Qasim Jan Bahadur, a Moghul who migrated from Yarkhand, with two of his brothers - Arif Khan and Alam Khan. Nawab Qasim Khan held a high position and was the ruler of an estate called Hatin. His nephew, Ahmed Bukhari, was the agent of the Alwar Raja in his dealings with Lord Lake and the British. He so favourably impressed both the Raja and the British that he was given the district of Loharu in hereditary rent-free tenure by the Raja and the principality of Firozpur Jhirka by the British.
The State of Loharu is well known in the history of India for the mystery of the murder of Frazer who was the British Resident of Delhi. As a result of an enquiry into the assassination, Nawab Shams-ud-din who was the ruler of Firozpur, was sentenced to be hanged. Firozpur was annexed and Amin-ud-din, the younger brother, was left in possession of the disputed territory of Loharu. The state still exists under the nominal rule of my cousin, Captain Aminuddin Khan who served with the army in Mesopotamia in 1951.
Loharu is also known because of Ghalib, the famous poet who married in the Loharu family, and perhaps received from here, his initial start to fame. It is certainly true that it was in Gali Qasim Jan, the street running through the old quarter of Delhi, that Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869) poured his angst out in poetry.
My mother was the great grand daughter of Syed Mohammed, brother of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of Aligarh University. I, therefore, claim descent from Nawab Qasim Khan from my father's side, and Sir Syed Ahmed's family from my mother's side.
As luck would have it, I am today the senior most among the male members of the Qasim Jan family. Amongst my family, is the widely spread Loharu family that has almost eight hundred members, most of whom have made the new state of Pakistan their home. They have, thus, left behind the desert-like but precious little state that now forms part of Rajistan, where except for the tombs of our ancestors, nothing of its previous grandeur remains.
It was not normally possible for Moghuls to marry their sons to girls who were Syeds, but my father was very fortunate to secure for himself a bride from the famous Syed family. I am told that my grandfather, Nawab Khizar Mirza, was responsible for this marriage. He was a devout Muslim who spent almost seventy years of his life in contemplation and prayer at the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and Khutubuddin Kaki - two great leaders in the time of the great Chishti family of India.
My old grandfather, who was a great friend of my mother's father, Syed Mohammed Meer, a reputed and well-known lawyer, had no other alternative but to cast his holy turban at the feet of Syed Mohammed Meer, to secure the hand of his daughter for my father, Mirza Riazul Hussain.
My mother was only sixteen years old when she gave birth to me. She had three other sons and a daughter; but apart from myself, only one other son survived. When she died at the age of fifty-six in 1946, she left behind as her chief mourners her two sons - myself and my brother, Lieutenant Colonel Mukhtar Hussain Barlas, who was six years younger than I was.
A for Allah and Alif for Allah
My early education was under the direct supervision of my mother, and my first lessons were confined to the learning of the Holy Quran. A maulvi or religious teacher came to the house every morning at about 8 A.M., and stayed on for two hours with the sole purpose of drumming into my head the bare principles of Islam, and the greatness of my Creator. Lessons were followed by stories of the great saints and their glorious achievements in this world.
My mother's greatest interest lay in Hazrat Ghaus-e-Azam of Baghdad, so I learned all about him at a very early age. The effect of all this training on my young mind was responsible for creating in me a sense of confidence; perhaps, even to an exaggerated degree. I had the confidence, at a very young age, to speak my mind and to express and hold my own views about most things.
However, this quality often got me into difficulties, both in my younger days and later on in life. As a young lad, I remember being thrashed both by my mother and father for speaking my mind before being asked to do so. My younger brother used to feel very upset and hurt whenever I was beaten. In fact, in order to drown the sound of my cries, for I cried loudly and long, he would play some records on the old family gramophone.
Although we were a small family, we were very united. My mother had this great conviction that the only way to bring us up was to ensure a rigid religious regimen that would instill in us the fear and love of God. In fact, it is this very fear and love for my Creator that has helped me in my hour of need. It helped me especially, when at the age of eleven, I lost my father and had no real guardian or advisor. All I experienced at that time was the severe hold of my beloved mother and all I felt was this great and total belief in God and His kindness.
The first six years of my life were taken up with learning the Quran, getting elementary lessons in Islam, and reading about the courageous life stories of the great saints. In this education, my mother was the sole driving force and she took it upon herself to teach me the theory of religion. However, I learned a great deal about life in general, by just being in the company of my paternal grandfather who lived at the shrines of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and Khutubuddin Kaki.
It was by observing my grandfather that I really came to understand the realities of life. I saw with great amazement, that my grandfather had chosen to live amidst thousands and thousands of graves of saints, kings, queens and generals. It was here that I first learned that the world is made up of various phases and units of time, with some drinking up the cup of life earlier than others.
Always holding me by my index finger, my grandfather would take me to the tombs of Hazrat Nizamuddin and Khutubuddin Kaki, depending on where he was staying at that particular time. I remember that he used to stand near the grave, put his head next to mine, and cry. I could not, at that tender age, realize the significance of his action but would always worry when I saw my grandfather's eyes were red and filled with tears that he would hurriedly try to wipe away.
My grandfather, Nawab Khizar Mirza, lived to be a hundred, and died when I became a Major in the Indian Army at the age of twenty-six. I recollect, even today, the last time I saw him at Khutubuddin Kaki's, looking much like a saint that one sees in the holy pictures - his head surrounded by a halo of light.
I remember that it was almost eight in the morning, and as always, he caught me by my index finger and took me to the shrine, and once again covered me with the ‘ghilaf’, and sobbed, but this time I heard him say: “Huzoor, main ne aap ke supurd kia.” (Sir, I entrust him to you.) He then told me that his life was drawing to a close. These were the last words I heard him utter, for he died while I was still serving in Kirkee.
My mother took it upon herself to teach me my elementary prayers and made sure that I said my evening prayers with her. Sometimes, we prayed in her room and at other times in the courtyard of our house.
The house of the family was a large one built in the old Muslim style. It had two main 'dalaans' or halls facing each other with a small lawn and trees in between. On the flanks were the 'sehanchees' - small longish rooms with arches. This arrangement was very logical because it catered to the requirements of all seasons; the big halls served well during summer when it was very hot and the long narrow rooms during winter and the rainy season. Normally, the big halls faced north and south, and the narrow halls faced east and west, so that we got the maximum benefit of the sun both at sunrise and sunset.
In my time, certain conversions had taken place both in the design and furnishings; for example, the 'dalaans' had been fitted with doors and the inner rooms had curtains instead of the thick quilted blinds of white and blue stripes. These had actually served the purpose rather well, for they acted as airspace between the outside and inside temperatures. The only other place where I saw these blinds or screens was in Spain and they were used in great numbers in the mosque of Cordoba.
My grandfather, very early in his life, had divided his property and given away portions of this big house to his two sons and two daughters. My uncle having sold his share to his own sister, the house was roughly divided on a two-third and one-third basis, the smaller portion being the property of my late father. This, he in turn, had given to my mother in payment of her dowry money of twenty-five thousand rupees.
The larger section belonged to my aunt who had married Nawab Zamir Mirza, brother of the Nawab of Loharu, Nawab Aminuddin Khan. He was not only an able scholar of Arabic and Persian, but a devout follower of Ahle Hadis (a sect in Islam) and as far as I can remember, his only occupation was praying, reciting the Quran, and studying the Fiqh and Hadis or Jurisprudence and Traditions.
These religious surroundings had a great impact on my young mind, and religion became so much a part of my life, that there were times when I felt that my concept of a problem was totally at variance with the generally accepted view. To illustrate further, I would say that I am a confirmed fatalist, believing that I cannot change what has been destined for me. I have derived comfort from this stand and attitude whenever confronted by difficulties and obstacles.
What I remember of the routine of my early life was that I got up rather early. My mother washed my face, combed my hair and then dressed me in a white ‘kurta’ that was hand-embroidered on the collar and shoulders, and a pair of white pyjamas that were slightly tapered at the ankles. In the winter, I wore andachkan’ and a Turkish cap.
As soon as I was dressed, breakfast was served, and this normally consisted of ‘kachauries’ and potato ‘bhujia’, and some ‘halwa’. All this I washed down with a cup of tea. I recollect that breakfast was always laid out in the verandah on a ‘takht’ covered with a white cloth and a red ‘dastarkhan’.
The maulvi arrived at about nine and kept me at my lesson until about ten-thirty. Besides reading the ‘sipara’ or chapter of the Quran, I was made to write on a ‘takhti’ covered with a glaze of white chalk. For writing on this surface, one needed Indian black ink and a reed pen. In addition, I used a small stone slate on which I wrote numbers that I would add, multiply, subtract and divide. This was arithmetic or ‘hisab’ as it was referred to in those days. Every day, before I retired for the afternoon nap, I had to wash my slate and my board. On the latter, I spread a paste made of yellow clay, and left it out in the sun to dry.
Afternoons were spent in a small room attached to the entrance of the house with two ‘khas ki tatti’ or straw mats covering the two doors of the room. When these mats were sprinkled with water, they spread a fragrance and made the atmosphere cool and delightful. In addition, there was an overhead ‘pankha’ or fan pulled by a boy or an old woman, depending on whosoever was available during the summer months, to provide the power for the fan. A box containing ice and sawdust and a pitcher of water were the only other luxuries at hand.
My brother and mother shared the room with me, and the occasional guest staying after lunch was also allowed to be with us to benefit from the cool comfort of the room. Since the room was small, it could be covered with the small Chinese mats that were then available. Scattered here and there were a few pillows that were covered with white covers.
Resting time came to an end at about four in the evening, at which time, we were sent to the municipal garden that was a mile or so away from the house. We were nearly always chaperoned by an old male servant who was employed as a watchman and whose usual duty was to guard the house, and open and close the door as and when required. There being no electricity, bells were unknown and were substituted by the clanging of the iron chain that had a dual purpose. One was to announce the caller, and the other was to hook itself to a loop, thus acting as a locking device.
There was an unwritten law of the house that we had to return home just before sunset. After a wash and change, an early dinner was served and just before we went to bed at about 8.30 P.M., we were compelled to have a glass of milk.
In the summer, we slept in the courtyard, on light beds woven with a kind of rope that was soaked with water, and this was in effect like air-conditioning the cot. I remember falling asleep whilst watching our mother sitting on her prayer mat, reciting her prayers in a broken voice and asking for God's help for a better future for her children. I could also hear, from the other side of the partition wall, the whisperings of my aunt and uncle absorbed in the recitation of their last prayer of the day, thanking God for His kindness and for all that He had given us.
I normally woke to the same sight and sounds as when I went to sleep; my mother would be on the prayer mat and my aunt and uncle could be heard reciting their prayers from the other side of the wall. This surrounding of religious activity around me could not but leave an impression on my young mind. I have often felt that it was only this exposure to religion and the training I received that prevented me from drinking, gambling and engaging in numerous other vices that I could have so easily picked up.
There were certain norms that we adhered to while conducting our daily lives. Unlike European children, we were not allowed to go shopping, neither were we able to accompany our mother, who observed purdah, on her shopping sprees.
The daily marketing was the responsibility of the doorman. The monthly rations were, however, delivered by the shopkeepers, directly to the house. Larger purchases, such as those for weddings, were made through the respective salesmen who brought their wares to the house and set them up in the entrance hall.
The jewelers and silk dealers, who came to exhibit their goods, were those who had been dealing with the family for years; for instance, the jeweler of my family had been connected with our family for over five generations. His name, which I remember so well even now, was Badru Das and he had a shop in Dariba.
When an uncle of mine got married to an English lady and she arrived in India and went out shopping in Meerut for fruit, she was severely reprimanded by my mother. The poor lady could not find any logic in what my mother said, till I explained to her that in the east, there were some rules which were without justification but which, nevertheless, had to be followed.
Yet another incident that I well remember in connection with shopping was the time when I got a severe beating from my father, when he saw me carrying in my shirt, some mangoes which I had bought from the fruit seller who visited our house. Although this incident occurred almost forty years ago, the memory of the punishment inflicted on me is as fresh as ever and even to this day, and although I am now an old man, I hate shopping for fruit because of the fear associated with it. It once took me several hours to explain to Mr. S. I. Huq, a friend of mine who was in the Indian Civil Service, the reason why I hated or was so afraid to visit the shops or bazaars.
Life was comfortable, because in those days servants were easily available and came cheap. In our modest home, we had a woman who cooked for us, another woman who did the cleaning, and a ‘dhoban’ or washerwoman. We also employed a small boy to run various errands, and a doorman who was on duty twenty-four hours of the day. This important employee had numerous duties to perform and one of these was to teach us the small courtesies of life. These lessons, I remember, formed a very important part of our curriculum.
The servants remained the same from year to year, and were only replaced when they died. It was also an insult and a crime of a very serious nature if you kept the servant of another family that was known to you. Such an action could lead to a great deal of misunderstandings and, in some cases, even to the breaking of ties between friends and family members. We had to treat these domestic servants with great respect, and were certainly not allowed to complain about them, or deal with them directly.
THE DIVIDE AND THE DIVIDED
Life moved, but ever so slowly. Commuting did not present any great difficulty. Most of the men folk just walked from place to place, for the distances from house to house and street to street were not that great. If longer distances had to be considered, private carriages and ‘tongas’ were in plentiful supply. This mode of travel, however, was reserved for the gentlemen, and ladies were expected to travel in ‘dolies’, which were a simpler version of palanquins that were carried by two men on either side of the sedan chairs. At times, one could observe a mound of stones heaped at the main entrances of houses - these stones were sometimes placed in the carriage and served to fool the ‘kahars’ or the carriers who carried the ladies, so that they could not guess the weight of the inmates. It was customary for the host to pay the hiring charges for the carriage for one way.
The traditions and customs of my maternal grandparents' house and his family were very different from those of the paternal side of my family. I was, therefore, fortunate to have experienced both cultures and could choose from the vast selection of experiences offered - this I did to my best advantage.
My maternal grandfather, Syed Mohammed Meer, came from the family of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of Aligarh University. He was a very learned and educated man and was a lawyer of great repute who practiced equally successfully at Delhi and Meerut. In addition, he was a rich man who owned extensive property in both these cities. Besides being a very successful lawyer, he used his opportunities in the field of trade, commerce and agriculture to amass a great deal of wealth. He owned a huge grain market, an ice factory and had numerous other financial and commercial interests in Meerut. He also possessed a vast estate consisting of many villages in Ujjan that he started to colonize. He had as many as thirty children but I recollect and remember well only eighteen of them - eight uncles and ten aunts.
Syed Mohammed Meer had a large and spacious house in Meerut, which was built on European lines and covered an area of six acres. This house was located next to the Town Hall with its vast gardens. I used to be thrilled whenever I stayed there, for the atmosphere was healthier here than at Gali Qasim Jan, and I was afforded an opportunity of enjoying the long walks and the exercise in the garden.
I remember that breakfast was served with my grandfather sitting at the head of the ‘dastarkhan’, and because I was the eldest grandson in the family, I was nearly always invited to sit beside him. There were times when there were thirty to thirty-five people sitting around at meal times, and I noted with much amazement, that there never seemed to be a shortage of food.
Grain for the family was purchased during the rainy season and buried in deep well like structures called `bhatties'. Sometimes as many as twelve such structures were dug outside in the compound, and I was always forbidden from going in that direction for obvious reasons. I quickly learned to blackmail my family, and whenever my demands for toys went unanswered by my uncles, aunts and mother, I would threaten them by venturing a visit to the `bhatti' site. This worked like magic, and almost immediately, I was assured that I would have my demands met.
Good horses and carriages were always in attendance, and it used to be a great event in the course of my visit to go to Nauchandi where every year there was an exhibition and fair for which Meerut was particularly well known. It was here that I first met Bundu Khan, now the millionaire ‘kababi’ in Karachi.
As a child, I was both intrigued and impressed by the atmosphere of Meerut. I loved to watch the great number of people who came from far and wide to attend to their various legal cases that were pending at the Meerut courts. There were times when I would accompany my grandfather to the court, but the sight of prisoners with their hands cuffed and tied depressed me so much that I often returned home feeling sick and ill, and continued to be uncomfortable for many days. Everyone would think that the climate did not suit me and so I would be packed off to Delhi to be with my paternal grandfather and my father's sister, Begum Zamiruddin, to whom I was devotedly attached and with whom I spent most of my time while in Delhi.
I found a great difference between the kinds of life that my maternal and paternal side of the family lived, and was quick to notice that their objectives in life were not only different but also even at variance with one another’s. When I was in Meerut, my young mind formed an impression that one had to work very hard to get on and achieve the good things in life; that education was a must, and that to be educated required a great deal of effort. When I returned to Delhi, however, I got the distinct impression that life was there to be enjoyed, and education, except for a deep understanding of religion, was not at all necessary. Music, bird- keeping, kite-flying, exercising, remembering and reciting poetry and dressing well, were the only things that mattered in life, and one just had to do these really well.
I found life was easier when I was in Delhi. My paternal grandfather wanted nothing more than my happiness, and my aunt nothing more than my good health. As young minds are more interested in play than work, I found the atmosphere a relaxed one and I began to slip in my studies. One day, the private tutor who was employed to educate me reported adversely on my progress in my studies, and as usual, this got me the expected beating from my mother. Of course, I cried and howled as loud as I could to attract attention and sympathy.
My grand father, who used to visit Delhi at the end of each month to draw his pension, entered the house in an agitated state of mind and my aunt made her way in, from her side of the house when they heard my cries. I was promptly released from my mother's hold and taken away. I remember that both of them looked at my mother with disdain and often muttered: ‘Cruelty! Cruelty! You are cruel. You are a butcher. You will kill him. What does it matter if he does not become a lawyer or an educated man? We are Nawabs and our motto is merely to live happily and to enjoy ourselves.’
My respected mother, although not educated in English, was well versed in Urdu and Arabic. She had studied the Quran in detail and knew a great number of `wazifas' or special prayers. She was the second eldest sister in her family and her brothers without exception were highly educated, and because she belonged to the family of Sir Syed, the great educationalist, she attached great importance to academics. She was known to have an iron will, great determination and lofty ideals but she was also short-tempered and far too frank. In spite of her great hold on me and her great influence on my life, I was not always ready to listen to her sermons.
I was far more inclined towards the easy way of life in my father and grandfather's house. As I understood it, their doctrine in life was to be physically strong, have enough money to meet one's basic requirements and devote one's life to prayers and contemplation. My grandfather was a Sufi and believed that higher education was only a qualification for a job and that it was not enough to give you peace of mind and contentment. I found in him the necessary supporter for my own easy ways and so, continued to neglect my studies. The matter was eventually reported to my mother's father, who also believed that nothing worthwhile could be achieved in this world without laboring in education.
One day soon afterwards, my maternal grandfather arrived at our house and told me to get dressed in my walking attire.
'Come along!' he roared, 'I shall put you into a school'.
I was huddled into a car - the only one available in our locality, and taken to a convent about ten miles from the house, to be admitted there. At first, I was most impressed by the nuns and the convent building and was quite happy to become a part of that environment. Life seemed more orderly and quieter here, but, even as I thought about that, I felt quite lonely and homesick. Before I had time to grieve, I was taken away by a nun to be shown the classrooms and the playing field. I left my grandfather to discuss my future with a lady that he kept addressing as 'Reverend Mother', and who I thought looked and talked very much like his own wife, my grandmother.
I returned home and was told that I would start my studies at the convent just as soon as my uniform was ready. However, the decision was not put into effect because both my aunt and paternal grandfather were against the idea of my being brought up in a convent and being exposed to ‘Christian’ ideas. This point of view was also strongly supported by my uncle, Zamir Mirza, who was a staunch Wahabi and excelled in the knowledge of Islamic Law and Traditions. After a meeting between my uncle, aunt and grandfather materialized to discuss the ‘terrible’ consequences of a convent education, my mother was summoned. I still remember my grandfather's words to her: ‘Kafir ho jai ga - Har giz nahin.’ (He will become an unbeliever. Never! Never!) Anyway, the project was soon shelved; but a week later; my maternal grandfather made an appearance once again.
Once again, he took charge of me, but this time he walked with me to a school about five hundred yards from our house to a street called ‘Murghon wali Gali’ (Street of Fowls). I believe this was the street where one of my grandfathers lived. His name was Nawab Saeed, and he was very fond of keeping cocks that he used for cockfights - a sport, which I understand, was even popular amongst the Europeans and the British.
The school that I was taken to this time was perhaps a municipal one. My first impression of it was one of slight repulsion. I was quick to decide that I did not want to be educated there, for there appeared to be no organization or discipline; young boys of my age were roaming around the square courtyard, along which, the school building was constructed. The school offered education from Class I to Class VI. I noticed that the headmaster talked with great respect to my grand father, and hardly even noticed me standing quietly beside him. Then, suddenly he looked in my direction, and after taking a general glance at my size and demeanor, announced that I was fit for Class IV. I did not know whether this was good or bad or whether I had got admission into this particular class because I just happened to look fat and prosperous. I was told, soon afterwards, that I would be able to start school from the following week. And then as abruptly as it had started, the meeting ended.
On the way back home, I cried silently for a while and then plucked up enough courage to tell my grandfather that I had no intentions of attending the school we had just visited. I added that if I were in any way forced to go there, I would go and live with my grandfather at Nizamuddin Auliya's mausoleum. My mother's father reacted immediately, and he was furious. For the first time, I received a slap that was infinitely harder and more impressive than the ones I was accustomed to receiving from my mother. I bit my lip and cried all the way to the house, and the people walking along the street, and those who were familiar with both my grandfathers, looked at me with a great deal of sympathy. This, however, only made me cry a great deal more, and a great deal louder.
My grandfather seemed thoroughly disgusted with the whole episode, and when we reached home he pushed me towards my mother, retorting angrily: ‘Vakalat kabhi nahin kar sakta! - He will never manage to be a lawyer.'
He may have been right, but then I had no desire or intention of becoming a lawyer. While all this was happening, my aunt who was my father's sister and who loved me greatly entered the room. Since she had no children of her own, she showered all her affection on me and would often shield me from my mother's outbursts of temper. Much to my mother's irritation and anger, she immediately took me by the hand and led me away. Just as she was about to leave the room, she looked at my mother and declared, quite vehemently, that Allah would provide for me whether I studied or not.
Fifty years later, I realized the truth of her statement. My mother, meanwhile, became even more determined, and in the face of this opposition, her resolve became firmer, her prayers a little longer. In her mind, she had decided to find a way to remove me from my environment by putting me in a boarding school. This, she felt, was the only way to lessen the influence exercised on me by my father's family, who she felt, spoilt me greatly and were responsible for my carefree and careless ways.
TO ALIGARH - PERCHANCE TO LEARN
My mother soon divulged her plan to send me off to Aligarh College - an institution that was the brainchild of her great grandfather. The planning was carried out so secretly that no one knew about it except my mother herself, and perhaps my maternal uncle, Khan Sahib Syed Ahmed Rashid, and a few other close members of her family. I was persuaded by my uncle to undertake a journey to Aligarh by train to meet a few of my family members, particularly my aunt who was married to Justice Mahmood. It was only when we reached Aligarh, that I was told that the purpose of my journey was to seek admission in the college of my family's choice.
The year was 1923, and I was just nine years old, when I became the ward of Syed Ahmed Jalil, a professor at the college who had the honour to act as a guardian to my four or five uncles and my elder cousin, Shah Khalid. I started school as a day scholar, living in one of the rooms in the main building near the clock tower known as "Pucci Barrack".
After I joined, my uncle took me shopping to buy the clothes required, and I was soon fitted out in a black sherwani and a red fez cap. My uncle was an old Aligarian and had been a famous hockey player at the university, so he took a certain kind of pride in watching me don the clothes and headgear. We had gone into town on a bicycle that my uncle paddled while I sat uncomfortably on the bar. However, on the return journey, my poor uncle was exhausted and could not make it up the famous railway bridge, so he asked me to get into a pony-drawn cart called an 'Ikka'. Now an Ikka was thought to be a very lowly means of transport, and in a place like Delhi, was considered to be most inappropriate for travel, so I refused to do as he bade and said I preferred to walk.
And walk I did, with my uncle by my side. However, I had already made up my mind that this was not the life for me. I felt tired and homesick and much to my uncle's consternation and disgust, I cried the entire journey back to the university.
The school was about a mile away from my living quarters and it just meant that I had to walk that distance every day. Of course, I hated the idea. I was admitted into Class V, and I found all the subjects, except Islamiat or Religious Instruction, hard to tackle. However, I enjoyed playing games - in fact, I was so enthusiastic that it was all I did. Naturally, my studies suffered and my six-monthly report showed ample evidence of this downward trend. Almost immediately, my grandfather, who was now more or less in charge of my life, and particularly of my education, wrote back to my guardian that I was to be placed in a boarding house for I needed to be disciplined. Hence, I was shifted to a place called Zahoor Ward, where I was introduced to my housemaster - someone called Kassim Ali, who it seemed, was well known for his discipline and very strict demeanor.
The only bright spark of my life here was my old servant Daroga who had accompanied me to Aligarh. In addition to watching over my general conduct, he was responsible for all my clothes and finances. Moreover, he felt he must stay close to me at all times as he was deeply attached to me. My pocket money, which was deposited with him, was just five rupees, and I think his own pay was fifteen rupees. I remember that a total of twenty rupees was sent to us by money order, and I waited patiently for the postman to come our way at the end of each month.
Before being put into Zahoor Ward, I was sent to English House. My grandfather, however, who used to write regularly to my guardian, thought that English House was too luxurious, and perhaps a trifle too expensive. On his instructions, therefore, I was shifted to Zahoor Ward, where life though interesting, was very, very disciplined.
The one thing I really enjoyed here was the opportunity for playing team games. I enjoyed playing cricket to such an extent that I sometimes bunked classes. The result was that as I progressed in cricket, I deteriorated in my studies. By the time the academic year came to an end, I had failed in my class, and this, much to the disgust of my mother and her family who had set out to educate and reform me. My grandfather, however, came to my rescue when he unexpectedly announced that all good students start by failing, and this cheered me considerably, and made my return home a little less traumatic.
On my return to Delhi for my summer holidays, I was upset at the attitude of my mother and my uncles. They appeared to think that I would not be a success in life and that I would turn out to be like the rest of my cousins, all of who were all talented in music, dancing and fashion and had little or no interest in academics. I felt this could be true, and though I did not want to admit it, I was honestly depressed and unhappy with my own performance.
Daroga Jee, who had returned with me from Aligarh, complained to my father's family, and particularly my grandfather that he was unhappy in Aligarh, for his pay was inadequate to keep his soul and body together. This dear old soul was so attached to me that he could not bear to see me go without money to buy things from the shops or the ‘kheer-walla’ who was a frequent visitor to the neighbourhood.
Mumtaz Kheer-walla, as he was popularly known, was a famous vendor who sold this milk pudding all over the university. His business was a roaring success, and he was so busy that he could not make it to Zahoor Ward more than once a week. The five rupees that were supposed to last me the entire month lasted only a few days, for I spent them as quickly as I got them. My favourite haunt was the restaurant near the swimming pool, so when I was not buying the rice pudding from Mumtaz, I was busy spending whatever I had left, on eating whatever I could or could not afford, at the restaurant.
When I had no money left, which was more often than not, I used to console myself by watching others eat their rice pudding. Daroga Jee could not bear to see me in this state and would loan me money that he knew he would never receive back. By the time the year ended, poor Daroga Jee was in debt and owed seventy rupees to his creditor, the local shopkeeper, who used to supply meals to him. The man threatened to report him to the authorities if he failed to pay the bills before he left Aligarh. Daroga Jee came to me and told me of his plight, so I went to my guardian and asked for his help. He plainly refused, and I was at a total loss as to what my next step should be. I had no possession of any value save a gun that my grandfather had given me - an air gun which was named Daisy by its manufacturer - and which I treasured beyond all else. I had brought this with me from Delhi and would sometimes venture out secretly and take an odd shot or two at a crow or sparrow.
It so happened that on the following Sunday, I went to see my guardian and took the gun along with me. After lunch, I thought of going into the garden across the road for a sparrow shoot. My guardian wanted to know where I was headed, so I merely pointed my gun in the direction of the garden. To my excellent good fortune, my guardian assumed that I was going to knock down the large bulb that hung along the main gate, so he shouted from where he stood and said he would give me the money if I refrained from destroying the bulb. I realized that I had an advantage, and that my guardian was scared lest I break the university bulbs for which he would be liable to pay. I struck a bargain with him and surrendered my gun to him in return for twenty rupees that went towards paying part of Daroga Jee's debt, and which in turn enabled both of us to return to Delhi.
Throughout the time I was in Delhi, I felt that my future was uncertain. I could see and feel my mother's tension rise. She appeared worried, and took it upon herself to consult almost everyone and anyone about whether I should return to Aligarh or not. As was usual, she listened to all but finally came to her own conclusion, and informed me that she would give me yet another chance that she assured me would be the last. I was, accordingly, taken shopping and some items of clothing were purchased for me for both summer and winter. With these, safely packed away in two boxes that were to accompany me, I was put on the train.
This time around, however, I was denied the privilege of taking my loyal and faithful ally, Daroga Jee, and was told to look after my own clothes, my own money, and my own self. I felt sad at leaving my friend and keeper behind, but I was secretly delighted to find myself in full control of my finances. In addition to the five rupees pocket money my mother gave me, I was given an extra five by my paternal grandfather, and the rest of the relatives came up with another fifty rupees.
Equipped with what seemed to me to be a small fortune, I was almost happy to board the train and have an opportunity to spend the money as and when I wished. In the general excitement, I wished everyone good-bye without so much as shedding a tear.
I arrived at Aligarh a few hours later, and was received by my uncle who was doing his B.A Final from Aligarh University, and who lived just half a mile away from Zahoor Ward. I had always looked up to this uncle, Syed Shafique Ahmed, and admired him for his great and deep knowledge of poetry and literature. He was a great Persian scholar, and knew Diwan-e-Hafiz and the poetry of Omar Khayyam by heart, and quoted copiously from both whenever he reflected on life and its aspects. This uncle of mine was a great philosopher, and I admired him for taking everything in his stride. Nothing ever seemed to upset him, and he bore all burdens with a cheerful smile. I remember that once he had received no allowance from home to enable him to pay his examination fee even up to the last date, but he did not let that upset him, and calmly went to the examination hall to discover that the money had arrived after all. To record his feelings, he started his paper with a couplet from Hafiz and ended it with another one. He translated them both for me in Urdu, and I thought they were really beautiful.
My uncle was devoted and greatly attached to my mother who had brought him up and looked after him, as elder sisters were apt to do in those days. In fact, it was the duty of sisters to supervise the upbringing of the younger brothers and sisters, so that they were better equipped to handle the upbringing of their own children at a later stage. Syed Shafique later joined the Burmese Customs, and to the misfortune of the family, contacted a tropical fever of which he died at the very young age of twenty-seven. His love for my mother was so great that he traveled all the way from Rangoon to Delhi to be with her, and actually died in her arms.
An incident relating to my uncle that stands out very clearly in my mind about him, happened in 1926. He had accompanied my parents to a hill station where I also later joined them. We were without a washerwoman for some time and one fine morning, my mother instructed my uncle to do the washing. Without a word, this learned philosopher set about the task with so much ease that I was truly baffled. Throughout the time he was beating and soaping the numerous items of clothing, he hummed the verses of Hafiz. When I asked him how he felt about doing such a menial task, he replied without looking up at me: “God has his mysterious ways of using people, and so here I am washing clothes, even after doing my Masters.”
My uncle, who was waiting for me at the station, accompanied me to school, and so it was that I started my second round at Aligarh. Once I reached school, life started as usual, and as usual I forgot all my good resolutions and the promises I had made to my mother. I concentrated more on cricket, hockey and swimming than on my subjects. This term, as there was no private attendant for company, I made more friends whom I would often generously entertain to treats of rice pudding. In their company, I also visited the swimming pool, where we would order grilled chops – a luxury we could ill afford.
I soon discovered that the little ‘fortune’ that I had brought with me was fast dwindling, and that my friends were dipping into my clothes chest, and helping themselves to my stock of shorts, pajamas and socks. In the absence of Daroga Jee, my keys were not so well guarded, and my friends realized that I had no idea of the contents of my two boxes and so would not really miss an odd vest or two.
I did not, at least not until the day of the exhibition finally arrived. In Aligarh, there used to be an annual exhibition, where arts and crafts from various cities of Northern India were displayed; but the stalls that attracted us most were the ones where food was sold, especially the restaurant where excellent `kabab and parathas’ were served. The desserts were also of an excellent quality. In Zahoor Ward, as in most other houses in Aligarh, the food was not at all to our liking, and especially not according to my taste because I came from Delhi, a place which like its sister city, Lucknow, was known for its excellent cuisine. I was used to eating food that was not only delicious but also delicately flavored, and cooked without the use of too many spices.
We, therefore, looked forward to this great event and many of the students made provision for clothes and money to meet the expenses that such an occasion warranted. I, hesitantly but hopefully, wrote to my mother for money; but she wrote back expressing her indignation at my request, and reminded me that I had taken fifty rupees at the beginning of the term, and that only three months had lapsed since then. She further stated that my demand worried her, as she felt sure that I had lost all my money. She concluded the letter by noting her displeasure at the way my guardian, Professor Jalal, was supervising my affairs. I was disappointed, to say the least. It was not only that I did not have any money; I did not have many clothes either. After looking through my trunks I discovered, much to my amazement, that all I had left to clothe me for the rest of the term were a few flannel shirts and a couple of pajamas.
I was bewildered and at a total loss of ideas as to what my next step should be. If I reported the matter to my housemaster, it would get me into trouble with my colleagues, and I feared their collective revenge, so I held my peace, and tried to face the dilemma alone with all the fortitude I could muster. With no money in my pocket, and no clothes for the occasion, I decided not to visit the exhibition on the opening day. I remained back in the hostel, while my friends whom I thought I had treated very generously, left for the outing without even so much as a glance in my direction.
My young mind reacted very strongly to this, and to this day, the impression is fresh in my mind. The next day, at lunch, and as luck would have it, I got a money order for five rupees from my paternal grandfather. Along with this, came a letter from my father who was then under training in Agra for cantonment administration, to say that he would be coming over to Aligarh to visit me. This letter depressed me, for I knew that I would be expected to be adequately well dressed but I had no decent clothes to wear, and no money to replace the clothes I had lost. Even a pair of socks, I felt, was hard to come by.
The five rupees that arrived were in my hands for just as many minutes, for I had to clear my debts, at the end of which I was left with exactly eight annas or half a rupee. It was just about enough to allow me to enter the exhibition grounds and perhaps manage a glass of sherbet. So, much against my better judgement, I decided to visit the exhibition in the evening. I remember that it was a fairly hot day and the flannel shirt under my black coat made me uncomfortable and warm, but I had no alternative, because I found that my box, apart from the flannel shirts, contained only a few towels and some warm clothing.
It was while I was drinking the sherbet, and sweating profusely at the same time, that I saw a car pass by. Since a car was an uncommon thing in that area, I looked up and to my horror I could identify my father sitting with a friend in the back seat. For a moment, it seemed he looked up, and directed his gaze in my direction; so, I hastened to disappear among the crowd. I looked back, and saw that the car had moved on. I heaved a sigh of relief that my father had not seen me, for I felt ashamed to greet him in my greatly altered condition. At the same time, I realized that my father was in town and so I rushed back to the boarding house, only to find it empty, for everyone was away at the grounds.
I felt lonely and miserable and could not stop the tears from flowing as I made my way to the prayer hall. It was here that I totally broke down and prayed to God to help me in all the ways he could. The prayer had a strange effect on me, and for the first time, I sensed a kind of loneliness flood my being. This feeling was so strong that to this day I occasionally find myself enveloped by it, and am deeply moved by the loneliness and helplessness it arouses within me.
The next morning, as expected, my father arrived, bringing with him a huge basket of fruit, which I installed safely in my room. When we were on our own, he asked me to take him around Zahoor Ward, and to the dining quarters. I, therefore, took him to see my housemaster, Mr. Najmuddin, who was famous for his knowledge of religion, and for imparting training in the subject. When we concluded our tour, I observed that my father looked somewhat disappointed, particularly when he saw the dining area. He asked me if I were happy, whereupon I started crying and could neither stop myself nor control my emotions. This had a very strange effect on my father, and he looked agitated and unhappy and blamed my poor mother for all my misfortunes.
When I had stopped crying and was more in control of myself, he asked me why I had avoided him the evening before when I was at the exhibition ground. This question took me a little by surprise, but I gave him a straight answer and told him my reason for doing so. For the first time in my life, my father pulled me towards him and kissed my forehead, and held me against his heart for what seemed to my young mind, an eternity. When I was released, I saw that my father’s eyes were brimming with tears, which he was quick to wipe away with his silk handkerchief.
It did mot take my father very long to make up his mind to remove me from the school and he merely informed me to be ready to leave with him for Agra the next morning. With that, came to a close my stay and studies at Aligarh.
We left for Agra the following day by car, and arrived at a hotel called Larry’s, where my father had a suite of rooms. In the evening, my father took me to a tailor, whom he addressed as Manikchand, and I was fitted with all the clothes that a child of my age would desire or consider necessary. Later, we went to a toyshop and my father purchased for me a new cycle that I could not wait to learn to ride.
Of all the days of my childhood, these must have been the best. I thought of myself as being very fortunate indeed to have a new cycle, with its shining bright bell, and other plated accessories. Upon my request, a few extras had been added, and so I had a stand for carrying books, and an excellent light that used carbide to give the necessary gas for illumination. All this seemed magnificent to me, and I could hardly believe my good luck.
In the evening, I visited the cantonment area, and saw the office where my father worked. Dinner time brought its own joy, and the food looked so good that I could hardly take my eyes off it and needed no urging to have my fill of it. By the time I was ready for bed, I realized that I was in for a lot of luxury, and that night in my own childish way, I thanked my God for my changed days.
The very next day I had something to look forward to, as my father told me that he would show me the Taj Mahal by moonlight. Major M. A. Rahman, my father’s good friend, accompanied us. We reached Agra in time to see the most awe-inspiring sight of our lives. To me, it appeared almost unreal and aroused in me deep emotions which I could not understand. All I knew was that I suddenly felt lonely and homesick, and wanted to be with my mother.
My father was busy talking to his friend, and so I walked around and saw some photographers, with their cameras poised on tripods, engaged in capturing the magnificent sight that greeted us. I knew that I would never forget the pearl-like beauty of the building awash with a milky glow, and even now, so many years later, I remember the way it looked and the feelings it inspired within me. I remember, as if it were just yesterday, the flickering oil lamp that lent its light to the graves of the king and queen of yore, and the silence and calm that prevailed. I stood there and felt the same awe as I did when I was amidst the graves at Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s.
It was quite late when we returned to the hotel and I soon fell into a deep sleep, and had the most wonderful dream. Life seemed relaxed and I was happy. My mornings were spent learning to ride my cycle, and my afternoons in cleaning it with the utmost care and devotion. My future, however, remained indefinite and unknown to me. I knew that there was some kind of correspondence going on between my parents about my life, but I could not be sure of the final outcome.
After a wonderful month with my father, I was told that I was to proceed to Delhi to join my mother, and that after giving my examinations at Aligarh, I would return to be with my father who had been transferred to Saugor, a town in Central India.
While I was in Agra, I became well acquainted with my father’s good friend Major Rehman and his two children, both younger than I was. He also had a most charming wife, who reminded me a great deal of my own mother. The only difference was that my mother observed purdah, and Begum Rehman did not. I was a regular visitor to their house, and while my father was away at his office, I studied and played with the youngsters under the supervision of their very efficient Anglo-Indian maid. The Rehmans were a very advanced and modern family, and lived very much on the same pattern as the British did. I found their lifestyle very impressive and learned a great deal about a different culture. It was here that I had my first desire to become an army officer, and live in the same style, manner, and fashion as the Rehmans.
MY LOHARU CONNECTION
I left Agra with a heavy heart, and reached Delhi to be with my mother at our home in Gali Qasim Jan. This street got its name from my forefather, Nawab Qasim Jan, the elder brother of Asif Khan whose son, Nawab Ahmed Bux Khan, became the ruler of Ferozpur Jhirka and Loharu State. It would not be out of place here to mention that my ancestors came from Yarkand that is now in China. The three brothers, Qasim Khan, Alam Khan and Arif Khan left their homeland and journeyed to the plains of Hindustan. The eldest, Qasim Khan made a name for himself as an artillery commander, and so distinguished himself in the field, that it is said that he aspired to become the ruler of India. This, I gathered from the official records which are in the possession of a nephew of mine, Lieutenant Colonel Najmuddin who is a grandson of the famous Dewans of Loharu.
The family history, if outlined, would fill an entire book, but for my children and grandchildren, it would suffice to know that my ancestors came to India in 1779, and first settled in Loharu in the days of Mughlani Begum, whose husband had been the governor of Punjab. After his death in an accident, she declared herself to be the governor, and was accepted as such by the people. It was about this time that my family settled here, and soon gained strength and increased in number.
Qasim Jan, who had an estate, called Hatin in Tehsil or district Nuha in Delhi province, gradually lost his great wealth. The second brother Alam Khan was not able to hold on to his wealth either, and was without issue. The third brother Arif Khan had two famous sons, Nawab Illahi Bux who was popularly referred to by his poetic name “Maroof” and Nawab Ahmed Bux. The former was a good poet of his times and was the father-in-law of Ghalib, the well-known poet of India. The latter, with his great diplomatic ability, was able to secure for his family, not one but two estates; the first one was known as Ferozpur Jhirka that he secured from the British ruler, and the second was Loharu, from the ruler of Alwar State. It is from here, that the famous though small Loharu State traces its beginnings.
As there are many references to the Loharu family in Indian history in connection with the assassination of Sir William Fraser, I would like to briefly narrate what has been told to me by my aunt and grandfather in the form of a story. Ahmed Bux Khan, in his youth, was married to a local girl, who did not boast an aristocratic lineage, and was in fact from a simple family. From this marriage, Ahmed Bux had numerous children, but the most famous of them was Shamsuddin, a man of great character, strong ideas and lofty ideals. When Ahmed Bux Khan gained wealth and power, he thought of improving his stock and so married yet another lady from a well-known and well-recognized family and had a number of children by her. Among her many sons, there were Aminuddin Khan and Ziauddin Khan. Their eldest daughter, Maharukh, married my great grandfather Hyder Hussain Khan.
The story, as it proceeds, is a tale of intrigue and conspiracy. At the deathbed of Ahmed Bux Khan, a Nawab of not one but two estates sat Shamsuddin Khan, the eldest of his sons. The dying Nawab addressed his eldest born and requested him to give the smaller of his estates to the two younger brothers, keeping the bigger one, Ferozpur Jhirga, for himself. Upon hearing this, Shamsuddin Khan rose to his feet and said: "Oh my lord and respected father, I would have no objection if you gave not one but both the estates to my two younger brothers." Whereupon, the dying man, having been assured that there would be a fair division of his property, passed peacefully away.
Shamsuddin Khan was true to his words, and he kept only Ferozpur Jhirka for himself, and agreed to part with the smaller estate of Loharu in favour of his two younger brothers. Apparently, this uneven distribution of the property started off an intrigue that is extremely lengthy and painful, and so is best avoided in this writing. The final result of the episode was that Nawab Shamsuddin found himself on the British gallows and Aminuddin Khan was in possession of only the smaller state of Loharu. Ferozpur Jhirka, the real prize, was taken back by the British and merged into a British district, and so ended the intrigue for possession of the property.
My own ancestor, Nawab Qasim Khan who had the title Sharfudaulah Sohrab Jung, had besides the state of Hatin, considerable property in Delhi, that exists even to this day. I have been told that one of the grandsons of Nawab Qasim Khan thought that the management of an estate was irksome and difficult, so he applied to the ruling power to take back the estate and in its place award him a monthly pension. This was done, and the pension continued to be received for sometime, but was suddenly stopped. I was not given any satisfactory reason to account for the curtailment of this privilege. I have, however, seen a paper in which my own grandfather made a representation to the heir apparent of the British Empire when he was on a visit to India, for the restoration of the state to its rightful heirs, but to no avail.
Nawab Qasim Khan, as I understand from the family papers, left a very large house with the widow of Kale Sahib, who was a famous mystic of his times. It has not been satisfactorily explained as to whether it was a sale or a gift, but the house still exists and is named after the saint Kale Sahib. A mosque, a well, and a few shops to support the financial running of the mosque were also left as ‘waqf’ and still exist on Qasim Jan Street.
My father, who was the sixth generation of Nawab Qasim Khan, inherited a house that was in actual fact a portion of yet a larger `Haveli’. Our portion also consisted of two shops and a piece of land on which my father, or rather, my mother, constructed two garages with a flat above it, so that she could receive some rent to augment her income. In addition to this amount that my mother received from the property, my father was able to send her money that he earned by serving in various positions. My father continued to work and supplement his income very successfully, till the last year of his life. Then, quite suddenly, he died at the very young age of forty-three leaving behind a widow of twenty-nine years, two sons aged fourteen and nine and a daughter who was just two years old.
Upon my return to Delhi from Agra, my mother told me that I had to return to Aligarh to take my annual examination and that my future would be decided after considering the results. I observed that I was not very warmly welcomed at Delhi and that my mother was not so happy to see me return home before completing my second year at Aligarh.
My maternal grandfather, Syed Mohammed Meer, having passed away, my mother was left alone to battle against the paternal side of my family to secure some kind of an education for me. She realized that my father's family was more concerned about their past glory and their present position as owners of the street on which they lived with its numerous shops and buildings, to bother overmuch about academics.
My own grandfather and his only younger brother led a fairly relaxed life and were happy and content to let things slide. I could appreciate my mother’s point of view because I was witness to the kind of lives led by my grandfathers, who were the direct descendants of Nawab Qasim Khan, and the sons of Nawab Hyder Hassan Khan. The latter had been a devout Muslim who only left his house for his five prayers that he always said at his own mosque. He made no other calls and spent his entire life praying or reading religious books and literature. His wife got a reasonable pension from Loharu and this, together with the rent collected from the various shops, was adequate to meet the required expenses.
My grandfather was appointed Naib Tehsildar, which was the highest appointment awarded by the British at that time to members of trusted and worthy families. He served in this capacity for a number of years and finally retired as an advisor to Malirkotla State. For these services, he received a monthly stipend of one hundred and twenty-five rupees.
When I was born, he was already retired and receiving a pension, and living a solitary life at the shrines of Nizamuddin Auliya or Qutubuddin Kaki from where he made a monthly visit to Delhi to collect his pension. This visit always followed a certain pattern. In spite of having stayed up all night in prayer, he would get up very early in the morning and go to a nearby mosque known as Kaararoki mosque that had originally been a mint in the time of the Moghuls. He would return just after the sun had risen and have breakfast that consisted of two ‘kachorees’ with some vegetable curry, which he washed down with two cups of very sweet tea. He would then leave the house, and sit on a platform in front of the house facing the main Kasim Jan Street.
I remember that there was a stone bench covered with a carpet, and half a dozen small straw stools placed around the platform where he sat. Almost anyone of any importance passing the street would stop, sit down and wait for an opportunity to talk to him, before taking his leave. Their length of stay, of course, depended on the time available to them, but I saw about fifty to sixty such visitors stop by to meet him, on any given day. A plate of betel leaves was always at hand and was offered to the visitors at intervals. It seemed to me that they talked on almost any topic ranging from poetry to politics and included any recent information regarding births, marriages and deaths of people who inhabited the street in particular, and the city in general.
In between the coming and going of visitors, he would glance at numerous Urdu newspapers and other reference books in Arabic, but I believe that he did not have much time to do this because he read the papers after lunch for almost an hour.
He had lunch by twelve, and then rested for about an hour or so before preparing for the afternoon prayer, which was followed by tea that he had with a large biscuit. He nearly always said his evening prayers at home, and then left the house for a mosque in the area, known as `Sabz Masjid' (Green Mosque), which was at a distance of about eight hundred yards from where we lived. He stayed there till the late evening prayers were over. He had a special corner in the mosque, where I often saw him sitting surrounded by people from all walks of life - Sufis, dervishes and qalandars. His evening meal was very simple, after which he sat with us for some time before preparing himself for the night prayers, which he usually said at home. He went to bed early, but soon got up and prayed and meditated till the early hours of the morning.
My grandfather, lovingly referred to as Nawab Khizr Mirza, was a very devout Muslim and had a great number of followers. According to what I have been told by family and friends alike, he was considered to be almost a saint by the end of his life. My family was not fully aware of his greatness as a ‘wali’, until after his death. However, I have known many people who have benefited from his prayers. Among these were some well-known people such as Sikander Hayat from Punjab, Din Mohammad, the late governor of Sind, Dr. Abdul Huq of Jinnah Hospital and my own maternal uncle, Syed Ahmed Ashraf, and many other relatives and friends. It was really his sincere prayers that saw us through life, particularly when my small family went through a most difficult period after the death of my father and in which time things appeared totally out of focus and the future seemed dark and bleak.
After a month's stay in Delhi, I found myself back at Aligarh, preparing for my final examination. I must say that I really tried my best to get through this examination, but my mathematics paper was very difficult, and I was almost sure that I would not be able to pass in this much-dreaded subject. However, I kept this fact a secret and returned to Delhi after giving all my papers, and assured my mother that I had done rather well and hoped to pass. My mother was delighted at this assurance, but I feared she had read more meaning into my statement than I had intended. Things seemed to move smoothly for me for a few months, and in fact right up to the time that my results were received.
I still remember that terrible morning when the much awaited but sorely dreaded event came to pass. I gulped when I saw the famous monogram of Aligarh University on the envelope, and immediately had visions of my mother threatening to destroy me. I decided to attempt a careful opening of the envelope by using an old razor blade. To my utter disgust, I found that I had failed, not in one but three subjects - Mathematics, Geography and Islamiat or ‘Dinyat’ as it was then known.
I carefully closed the envelope and put it back and decided that life was certainly not worth living, so I took a hurried ride to the Jumna River, to contemplate on my further course of action. I did not know which was better, to run away from home or drown myself in the river. It was this decision that engaged my attention for the better part of the day that I spent without anything to eat. Many hours later, and with still no definite decision taken, but hungry and tired, I returned home to find that search parties had been sent out to locate me. As I entered the house, my mother who was by this time completely worked up with anger and worry, got hold of me and gave me the beating of my life. All kinds of weapons - shoes, sticks, books, in fact anything that was handy or that my mother could find, were thrown at me or used against me.
I shouted, I shrieked, I cried to attract the attention of my aunt who seemed to take forever to come to my rescue. When she eventually did arrive, my mother proved to be too strong for her, and I discovered that instead of helping me, her presence was detrimental to my interest for I was thrashed all the harder and all the more. My younger brother, who perhaps could not bear the beating I was getting, or perhaps just for the fun of it, started playing the family gramophone, and so further increased my humiliation. This royal beating went on for almost half an hour, though to me it seemed more like half a day, with my aunt muttering: "You will kill the boy, you will kill the boy!" My mother merely responded to her mumbling with an increased intensity in her beating.
This episode had a very deep effect on my childish mind, and I thought of all sorts of plans to get out of Delhi and look around for a job. The job that I most wanted and cared for was that of a gatekeeper at a way out railway crossing, where I could have a small hut and a small green vegetable patch. The idea of this job even now attracts me, for it offers solitude and a life of leisure in which one can contemplate. I was then too young to achieve the dream, and am now to old to realize it, and so it will always remain - an unfulfilled desire, in the deep recesses of my mind.
The news of my failure and the beating that I had received soon reached the ears of the few friends I had, and I felt so low and ashamed that I avoided meeting them, and so became a very lonely child. My mother, noticing my condition, arranged to have me share an instructor with two other boys, thinking that it would relieve my depression and loneliness. The teacher, however, was a very rigid and severe man, and the two boys lacked a sense of humor, so it did nothing to make me feel any better.
I temporarily joined the Anglo-Arabic College, and was informed by my mother that my future had been referred to my father who was presently serving in Saugor in C.P. I was also told that until such time as something materialized, I would have to continue receiving some kind of education at the institute where I was presently enrolled.
An incident of interest occurred during the time I was jointly tutored by this very stern tutor, who was given complete and total power over me. In addition, he had the permission and authority to be strict in his dealings with me. The teacher used to live with our family and had his own apartment, and it was here that the three of us were given instructions in all subjects including religion. I discovered that he wielded great influence, and all sorts of people used to come and see him in the afternoon and be enlightened on matters of religion.
One day, he was speaking on the subject of ‘spirits’, and proudly announced that he could not only call the spirits of the dead but also summon into his presence people who were alive but away from their homes or engaged elsewhere. This lecture on 'spirits' was very interesting, and I was intrigued by his claim; so, in the presence of all his visitors, I asked him if he could summon my father so that I could enquire from him about his future plans for me. He immediately replied in the affirmative, and declared that it was an easy thing. He then handed me his rosary, which he said I was to place over my eyes, and then proceeded to cover my head with his large scarf. He started reciting a prayer, and then after a decent interval enquired if I could see my father. I replied in the negative, and this annoyed and upset the old man for he seemed to be losing credibility with the group of people who were now anxiously awaiting the result of his claim. Without any warning, he slapped me hard on the face and at the same time declared in a very agitated manner that I was not speaking the truth and in fact, I was hiding facts.
I was taken aback, not only for being insulted in the presence of so many people, but also for receiving a punishment for merely telling the truth. I made a quick exit, and later in the day, I went to my grandfather and related the incident to him. My grandfather summoned the teacher and became quite angry with him and made up his mind to remove me from his charge. This action had the effect of considerably lessening the reputation that the maulvi had succeeded in building up.
Not too long after this incident, word arrived from my father to say that I was to join him at Saugor. So, at the end of 1924, at the young age of ten, I was ordered by my mother to pack and proceed on the long three-day journey, all by myself. She further informed me that if I were not able to make the grade in life, it would be better all around if I got lost on the way, and that in actual fact this was the reason why I was being sent off alone.
My grandfather, who was at that time living at Nizamuddin Auliya's, was the first person I visited in order to bid him good-bye. He was indeed delighted to see me, and I was taken to the shrine of this great saint, and all of a sudden a strange feeling seemed to envelop me and I discovered that my depression instantly vanished, and life appeared to promise me happiness and reasonable prospects. When I bowed my head in reverence, standing at the saint's feet, I started to cry and prayed that I be helped, now and in the future. After receiving fifteen rupees, I left my grandfather to take the Saugor bound train, which was scheduled to leave at three in the afternoon. At the station, I wished my relatives, who had come to see me off, goodbye and received gifts of money and many hugs and kisses. Thus it was that I left for the first time, alone, on my first really long journey.
The second-class compartment, in which I had a seat, was virtually empty, but I noticed that the seats had placards that read `Reserved from Agra Onwards'. I was later informed by the guard that I would be on my own up to Agra, but that he would look in on me and see that I had everything I might need. I had been given a large amount of eatables that included an assortment of fruit and sweets. Moreover, for the first time, I was handed a key chain that had two keys, one for my box and the other for a small leather case that contained my toiletries such as soap, brush comb and a small towel.
I suddenly remembered my mother and her warning that whilst I had permission to get lost, the keys were not to be misplaced! I was also reminded that I was travelling on a half ticket, and that my age was ten and not thirteen, as I was apt to describe myself. I do not remember the incident, but I believe that once when I was travelling with my mother, I had let her down by giving the wrong age, and this had resulted in her paying a fine because she had not bought a ticket for me.
At last, the train whistled out of Delhi station. I felt neglected and alone and in fact, I felt so sorry for myself that tears came to my eyes and I cried my heart out. I remember crossing Nizamuddin Auliya station, and this brought to my mind the memory of my beloved grandfather living at the threshold of this great person and saint's shrine. I could think of nothing else but my God and I kept pleading with him to grant me a successful life with reasonable comforts, and an end similar to that of my grandfather's.
Agra station came and went, but no one turned up to occupy the reserved seats, so I was by myself. Later in the evening, the guard showed me the way to lock myself at night. Left alone, I opened the 'tiffin-carrier' that had been packed for me, and found in it a great assortment of food that had been prepared by the members of my family who knew exactly what I liked. They had also seen to it that I had an abundant choice and supply.
I had an excellent meal and filled myself till I could eat no more and soon fell into a deep sleep. I awoke the next morning when the guard knocked on the door, and discovered that it was almost ten. I looked out of the window and saw that the train was passing through the most beautiful countryside, and the slight drizzle made everything outside look fresh and wonderful. This beautiful sight made me feel somewhat better, raised my spirits and gave me courage to face whatever might come my way.
The next day at about ten, the train came to a grinding halt at Saugor station, and I must admit, I was relieved to see my father awaiting my arrival. We traveled to the house by car and I observed that it took almost three-quarters of an hour to reach the bungalow. On the way, my father noticed that I appeared somewhat unsettled and anxious and so he assured me that I was too young to worry my head over the future, and that God willing everything would turn out just fine. His words of comfort went a long way to ease the heavy burden in my heart.
My father's bungalow was a large one and had a delightful view of a large sprawling school that lay straight ahead at a distance of about a mile. The compound outside the house extended to about six acres, with many fruit trees, flowering bushes, and stocky banyan trees. Once inside, I observed that the rooms were large and airy, and very bright. Located as it was on the top of a hill, the position the house occupied, was to say the least, magnificent. Later, I was told that it was by far the best bungalow in terms of location, in the whole cantonment area.
I was most intrigued by the beautiful garden that lay at the foot of the hill and which could be approached by a winding path that went through the trees, bushes and `satee' monuments which were many in number. Satee monuments are big and small masonry works that mark the place where satee had occurred or where a Hindu wife had given herself up to be devoured by flames and so had ostensibly proved to the world her loyalty to her dead spouse. Some of the satee platforms were decorated with stone figures representing the face and figures of the women who had so burnt themselves. One figure, I particularly remember was that of a full sized woman, about five and a half feet high, and I got the impression that the woman it represented must have been a beauty of her times, for the sculpture itself was nothing if not a masterpiece of art.
After spending a few days looking around the town, and generally taking stock of the situation, I was admitted to a local school. In addition, I was to be tutored by two instructors. One of these would come to our house to help me study Islamiyat or Religious Instructions, and the other would assist me with my school subjects. The school itself was located about a couple of miles away from our bungalow, and so it was possible to reach it by cycling there every morning. The road to the school was lonely and deserted and lined with huge trees; and the end of the road skirted the ‘saugor’ or the big water tank that was in the center of the town, and from which it derived its name.
The school building was somewhat small or so it appeared to me after the vastness of Aligarh University where I had spent the last few years. As time went by, I discovered, much to my dismay and disgust, that caning was permitted, and in fact was generously used to discipline the kids. It did not take me long to make up my mind that no mater what the consequences, I would resist caning and make sure that I would never be thrashed.
As luck would have it, I arrived late at school one day because my cycle had a puncture. I reached school exhausted and a little flustered, and entered the classroom, mumbling an apology. But, the teacher stopped, looked in my direction and asked me to come forward and extend my hand. To my utter dismay, I received two sharp cuts on the palm of my hand; however, when he tried to inflict the third, I caught hold of the cane and refused to let it go. This action infuriated the instructor who then hit me across the face, thereby causing the skin near my eye to cut and bleed. I was soon taken to the school dispensary and attended to but I felt angry and insulted and thought of all kinds of plans to get even with the perpetrator of this ‘crime’.
At the end of the day, I went to the compounder at the dispensary and asked him to bandage my head with a thick bandage. I promised him that if my plans went right, I would ask my father to have him promoted. On my return home, my father saw me all bandaged up and enquired the reason. I immediately began recounting the story and added that I had nearly lost my eye in the process. This last detail really upset my father and he immediately sought pen and paper and wrote out a complaint to the headmaster, informing him that I would not be attending his ‘wretched’ school anymore. My plans had worked out to my advantage, and I was informed that a better school would soon be found for me. I gathered that the ‘better’ school could be the Jesus and Mary Convent of Saugor.
A few days later, I was escorted to the convent and was interviewed by the Reverend Mother. An objection was raised regarding my age, which apparently was too old for boys to be permitted in a convent essentially meant for girls. However, as a very exceptional case, I was given admission in the convent for a year, and was told that I could commence my studies from the following Monday. I was further informed that instead of being in a class that was full of girls, I would be given instruction in the music room, where Reverend Mother herself would teach me the various subjects.
I was most impressed by the way the convent was kept, administered, and organized, and thought that nowhere else could one be educated in such efficient surroundings. Although I was really glad to be out of the local school, with its primitive and humiliating methods of disciplining the inmates, I missed a friend that I had made and grown fond of while I was there. His father was a local `beeri' maker and he came from a humble and small family. His name was Ghani and he was a very good and talented dancer.
There was an unusual practice, and one that I have never witnessed anywhere else in the world, that was carried out in Saugor in the month of Muharram. It was a ritual, at this time, for the youth and old alike to paint their bodies to resemble panthers or tigers, and to dance on the streets to the beat of drums. It was in one such competition that I proudly saw Ghani getting the first prize, and wanted to befriend him for the excellence of his art. Even today, when he is no longer in this world, the sound of the beat of drums brings to my mind his supple young body moving in graceful rhythm, and my eyes fill with tears whenever I think of him and the good days we spent together.
Since Ghani was from a poor family, people did not think well of my visiting his rather small house in the middle of town. The matter was eventually brought to my father's notice, and he ordered me to have nothing to do with him. It was at about this time that I realized that I was born with a will of my own, and could not be so easily influenced - not even by my own father. For the first time, therefore, I went against the advice of my father and boldly informed him that his orders were both unreasonable and unfair. Coming as this did from a child who was under ten, it shocked even my father who was known for his very calm nature, and he slapped me for what was perhaps the last time in his life.
My convictions were so strong that I felt like running away from home rather than giving up my friendship. I thought once again with renewed vigor of joining the railways as a gatekeeper, and so I made discrete enquiries from the stationmaster but was told that this was impossible and that I would just have to wait until I was at least sixteen to entertain such thoughts. That night, I prayed as hard as I could to reach that age so that I could become independent and be in control of my life. I became sulky and left off speaking to my father; in fact, I hardly sat down to have any meals with him and made myself scarce whenever he was around.
I was depressed and lonely once again, and so one day I climbed to a nearby hillock to sit there and drown in my sorrow. When I reached the height, I was surprised to find a grave there, surrounded by jasmine bushes. This scene reminded me of the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and I sat there totally engrossed in my thoughts until I suddenly realized that it had become quite dark. However, I felt as though a heavy load had been lifted off my shoulders and then a warm feeling seemed to pervade my body - in fact I felt so good that I decided to make up with my father. The one thing I discovered in the process was that I was very stubborn by nature. This facet of my nature has led me into many difficulties in life, but it has also increased my trust in God, and this in itself, is one of the greatest supports that one can have in life. I am proud that I am gifted with this implicit faith in God, and it is my earnest prayer that when I finally close my eyes, I will do so with this faith intact.
I attended the convent regularly and enjoyed being educated in such fine surroundings, but I was lonely for I had no friends, and there was little chance of making friends in a place where I was segregated. Some of the older girls did come into the room where I labored with my studies, but this was to take music lessons from Reverend Mother, who was not only a great administrator but a very talented musician too. One day, I picked up enough courage to request Reverend Mother to let me attend classes with the other children. I found that she had no plausible excuse to offer, as there were two or three other boys of my age in the class. After hesitating for a few minutes, she explained to me the real reason for not being allowed to attend, and that was that I was a `black' child. I immediately unbuttoned the sleeve of my shirt, raised my hand for her inspection and retorted: `I am as fair as you are, and you can compare the color of your skin with mine, if you wish.’ The poor lady was at a loss for words and for the first time I saw her lose some of her usual composure. She cleared her throat, and said most apologetically that the school was run entirely for British or Anglo-Indian children and that I had been taken as a very special case and that this was indeed a great favor to my father.
For the first time, I realized and understood that I was considered inferior to the other children, and I felt insulted and humiliated. Disappointed as I was by this knowledge, I did not disclose any of this to my father, instead I went to the grave on the hilltop and sat there and meditated and went over what had happened that day. I prayed that I should have enough courage to hold my own against what was termed `the superior class' and which referred to the British and the Anglo-Indians. My prayer must have been heard for I have never felt inferior to this class of people, even though I must concede that I have respected a few individuals from among them for the quality of their character and the strength of their beliefs.
Reverend Mother must have regretted her words to me, and also taken note of the bold manner in which I insisted that my skin was perhaps a little fairer than hers, because the very next day she sought me out for a favor. She ordered that one of the boys in my class who was called Malcolm keep me company in the music room.
I did rather well in my examinations and much to the surprise of all and sundry, I came third in English Language. My father was delighted and I was taken one evening to meet the Officer Commanding of the Equestrian School at Saugor. The officer invited me to accompany him on a round of the stables so that I could see his many horses. Some of the animals I saw there were beautiful, and when I showed great interest in them, he asked me why I did not aim to join the Indian Cavalry.
I really did not know what that meant, but I was overjoyed at his suggestion and immediately wanted to know how this could be achieved. My father, who had accompanied us, and who loved horses and was a superb rider himself, had to interrupt my racing thoughts which he did by reminding me that I was still too young to decide and could not anyway enter the army before I turned eighteen. I heard the colonel asking my father if he were aware of the Indian Army Order about the new plan for recruiting suitable young boys for the Indian Army. My father admitted that he was not, and the colonel promised to send him particulars about the scheme the next morning.
The Colonel's House was the first really ‘English’ house that I ever visited. It was superbly clean and everything was methodically put together; his living room walls were covered with paintings of horses, and his dining room had many shelves that were burdened with silver cups and shields, and other trophies. I noticed that the colonel was about the same age as my father, and had a typical cavalry figure and gait; that is, he was tall and thin with very strong hands. I also met his wife who seemed very young and looked very much like a senior girl I had seen at the convent by the name of Tiny O'Brian.
A few days later, my father asked me to come with him to his office, and showed me a paper giving details of the newly formed military school at Dehra Dun. It was known as the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College because the Prince of Wales had specially inaugurated it when he had visited India. It replaced the old Imperial Cadet Corps, where princes used to go for military training. The course at the academy was of about six years duration, at the end of which a cadet had to complete further training at Sandhurst, England, before he could receive his commission.
My father looked at me and said I could try to get admission but added that it was an expensive school, and he wondered if he would be able to afford the expense involved. However, he said, he would sell some of his property to make it possible for me to complete the course. Then, after a while I saw him smile, and looking at me with what might have been a feeling of pride, he said: `It would be the greatest day of my life to see my son become a cavalier in the Indian army'. Then, for no apparent reason his eyes misted with tears and he took out his handkerchief and wiped them away. He then told me to think over what he had said and dismissed me.
For many days later, I thought about that meeting with my father, but could not fathom the reason for the tears that I saw in his eyes. I thought that it could be because his finances did not permit him to allow me to undertake the course or maybe he feared that his life would be too short for him to see me successfully complete my training. Now that I write this, so many years later, I realize that it was a combination of both these things that caused him to weep, for he died quite suddenly two years after I joined the Royal Military College. After his death, there were only limited finances available, but with the grace of God and with my mother's tenacity of purpose, I became an officer at the age of nineteen - the youngest in my term. So, my father's dream was fulfilled but he was not there to witness the day that would have meant so much to him.
My father must have mentioned his plan to Reverend Mother the next day, for she congratulated me on my resolve and agreed to pray for me in church that evening to solicit God's help for my selection. Suddenly, the whole music room was full of people, and all the children of my age, together with the teachers of the school were congratulating me, and I must say that I felt quite a hero. In my own heart, however, I was not sure whether I should be receiving all these messages of congratulations and wondered why such a fuss was being made over something that might not even come to pass.
A few days after this incident, my mother joined us. She informed me that I was soon to proceed to Pachman, the summer capital of the Central Provinces to be interviewed by the Governor who was the most important person in the province. I was cautioned to be on my best behavior, and told to be very polite; particularly, I was not to give my opinion and views on any matter unless they were asked for, and I had to appear humble and look at the floor while speaking to this great Englishman.
After what seemed to me to be many formalities were completed, and I had been equipped with all the necessary clothing, I accompanied my father to Pachman. Here, in this beautiful hill station, we stayed in the best hotel in town. It was also very conveniently located, for it was very close to the Government House. My father, God bless him, rehearsed with me all the likely questions that would be put to me by the Governor, and I tried my best to satisfy him with the answers, and I think I somewhat succeeded. The big day finally arrived, and I was dressed for the occasion in a blue blazer and white flannel trousers. I also sported a ‘pugree’ made of fine pink muslin that was skillfully arranged on my head by my father's servant, Shabbir. He had also taken great pains to shine my shoes because my father said that since the English liked to wear well-polished shoes, I must make sure that I did the same.
A FIRST STEP... A FIRST FALL
I still remember the time when an ADC took me into the Governor’s study, and recollect how scared I was to proceed. My father looked at me fondly and realized that I was nervous and ill at ease; so, he patted me on the shoulder and asked me to be brave. I entered the study and found the Governor sitting at his desk talking to another army officer. When he noticed me standing before him, he rose and shook hands with me. He then introduced me to the other gentleman and bade me sit opposite him. I did not quite know what was expected of me or what questions would be fielded at me but I decided then and there to give it my best shot. I listened carefully to the questions that he proceeded to fire at me. He wanted to know my reasons for joining the army and asked me which branch I would prefer to be in. He also asked me whether I played any games or not and whether I could ride.
Soon after the interview, my father was asked to come in and join us. We were offered tea and biscuits that were served in shining bright silver, in what I thought, was a very impressive tea ceremony. After we had finished, the Governor shook hands with me once again and asked me to wait in the sitting room while he talked to my father. It seemed like a very long time that I sat there waiting for my father, though I doubt that it was more than fifteen minutes later that he joined me. By the time he arrived, I was so tired that all I wanted to do was to go home. I think that my father realized that and so he took me by the hand and led me to the waiting car that was to take us back to the hotel.
I was not sure what the outcome of my meeting with the Governor was and preferred to wait until my father decided to tell me of about it. I did notice, though, that my father looked pleased and this made me feel less anxious. He said nothing until we were well on our way. It was then that he turned to me and told me that I had been selected from C.P. He said that I had been selected to go to the Prince of Wales College in the August term of 1926. Neither he nor I said anything after that, and each of us seemed lost in his own thoughts.
In the evening, I took a long walk with my father and he was happy and relaxed as he showed me the club. The gardens really impressed me, as did the beautiful surroundings. Suddenly, everything appeared to have fallen into place, and I felt happy and relieved that it was all over. I was not quite sure what I had achieved but drew great comfort from knowing that I had not let my father down and had somehow come up to his expectations.
Back in Saugor, I got a hero's welcome. The convent nuns were overjoyed at the news of my selection and threw a reception in my honour, and my name appeared in the local press. It was the first time that I saw my name in print, and it certainly made me feel very important. Telegrams were sent out to my grandfather and other relatives and generally I basked in everyone's admiration. My father informed me that I would be going to the most expensive and exclusive school in India, but that unless I made the grade, I could not be kept there. He further stated that my course would be of six years duration, after which I would go to England and return as a second lieutenant in a cavalry regiment. I listened and wondered if I had the ability to tackle all that lay ahead of me. It seemed unreal, and I was too young to understand the implications of his dreams for my future.
That evening, my younger brother and I were told of our father's dreams for the two of us; he wanted me to join the army and my younger brother to go to the navy and work in a submarine. He went on to explain to us how he wanted us to conduct ourselves and described what he had visualized for us in the future. He even made us imagine our roles by giving us some vivid examples. I tried to imagine my younger brother ordering a submarine to merge by uttering various words of command, but since neither my brother nor I had ever even seen a submarine, we found it difficult to imagine the situation, leave alone live it. However, we both enjoyed his explanations and comments and we became very enthusiastic about our future opportunities. Suddenly, both of us wanted, very desperately, to live up to his expectations and make all his dreams come true.
It was about this time that I had a terrible accident. My father who was very interested in horses and riding had bought a small pony for my younger brother, and one evening he asked me to teach him how to trot and make figures. The pony was stubborn that evening and would not move, and my father who kept shouting out instructions to me only made matters worse, for no matter what I did, the pony would not budge. This made my father angry, so he took a pole and hit the pony on his hind sending him into a temper that in turn made him throw me crashing to the ground.
To my utter confusion and misfortune, my foot got caught in the stirrup that was adjusted for my very young brother, and the pony dragged me for a considerable distance. I shouted and screamed but the pony would not stop. The servants ran to save me and I thought my end had come. Luckily, my shoe came off and so I was thrown off and left on the ground with the pony disappearing down the road. My father was with me in a split second and quickly picked me up, but I felt weak and sick when I saw the blood on my legs and hands. Also, when I moved my wrist, it made me wince with pain. My father was quick to realize that I had broken my wrist, but he did not want to alarm me by being over concerned, so he merely said: ‘That is alright, we shall get it fixed up soon.’
I was immediately rushed to hospital where the orderlies on duty transported me into another world. Suddenly, I felt cold and scared. I was taken to the surgical ward, from where I was wheeled into the operation theatre. By this time, all my courage had left me, and I lost all fear of my father standing near me, and started to howl and cry as loudly as I could.
The surgeon was soon with us. He looked at my hand, carefully removed my bandage and seemed disturbed at what he saw. He took my father aside and talked to him, and I could see that my father was upset by what he heard, for he started wiping the beads of sweat off his forehead. When he came to me, he pleaded with me to be brave and reminded me that all army soldiers were supposed to be brave under all circumstances, and that sustaining minor injuries always formed part of a soldier’s career. My father’s story about big, brave men, which was really about me as a brave young boy, so pacified me that I stopped crying and agreed to go under anesthesia.
The last thing I remember was a picture of a few ghost-like figures wearing clean white aprons and bending over me.
I awoke to find my mother and father leaning over me, and myself lying in a clean and comfortable room. I was assured that my right hand that was now covered with white plaster had been expertly set, and that I would soon be as good as new. I did not like the look of the thick plaster that encircled my hand but I must admit that I felt more comfortable for the pain had, for that moment, miraculously disappeared.
I was taken back home that evening, but suffered extensive pain again at night. That night, lying in bed and alone with my thoughts, I turned to God and prayed for complete recovery, fearing that otherwise I would not be able to join the Prince of Wales Military College in August 1926. I bargained with God that I would, in return for my complete recovery, be regular with my prayers that I had neglected since leaving Aligarh College.
My hand soon healed, and even though I sometimes felt a slight jabbing pain in my wrist, I very quickly forgot that I had ever injured it. For a few weeks after the accident, I was as good as my word and I was very punctual and regular with my prayers, but as the condition of my hand improved I forgot all about my prayers, till one day an amazing thing occurred.
I was returning home from the convent at about one in the afternoon; the sky overhead was cloudy and the road appeared deserted, for I saw virtually no one else on the cantonment road. The only sound that was audible was the whispering of the trees above and the continuous whining that comes from the movement of a cycle's tyres on the concrete road. Suddenly, I passed a very lonely spot on the left, surrounded by high trees, and I could make out a winding path that seemed to creep up the steep hill.
Almost involuntarily, I dismounted and started walking, and then almost at once the rain came pouring down in sheets of water accompanied by loud sounds of thunder and claps of lightning. I took refuge under a tall tree, hoping that the storm would abate, that the clouds would disperse and the sky would once again be calm and blue. But contrary to my wishes, the storm raged in all its fury and all around me the trees seemed to throw long shadows and everything became dark and dreary. My courage failed, and I felt frightened and nervous as I moved from tree to tree trying to close my ears so I would not hear the terrible noise, and to shut my eyes so I could not see the lightening flashes.
I left my cycle under the tree, covered my face with my hands and tried to focus my gaze on something that would give me courage but all I saw was myself - a lonely, frightened little boy who was totally lost. Minutes passed like hours, and with each passing second the lightening and thunder dazzled and deafened me further, so much so, that I thought my end was near. Completely drenched and absolutely alone in this thickly wooded forest, with the lashing of the thunder, and the cracking noise of lightening that fell in streaks above my head, I began to think of the promise I had made to God. My conscience began to disturb me, and I felt this was some kind of retribution for not fulfilling the promise that I had made to God about praying regularly and punctually. Indeed, I felt so guilty, that I fell on my knees, and pleaded for mercy, crying and sobbing until the raindrops and my tears were one with each other, and I did not know which was which.
Within a few moments of uttering this prayer, I felt a strange sensation, the like of which I had never experienced before, and have not experienced since. I got up and felt a kind of peace flood my being, and then almost at the same time that I rose, the rain seemed to stop; but the water running down the edge of the road moved so fast and was so noisy that I stood transfixed to the spot. I looked up and saw that the darkness had cleared and the severity of the thunder had abated, and I found that almost involuntarily I kept moving my lips, repeating my promise to God that I would never forget Him.
Eventually, after what seemed like many hours, I managed to reach home. I was terror stricken, and it was with great difficulty that I managed to get into the house which was all locked up from inside. My mother was shocked to see me in that state and nervously helped me to change my clothes and get into bed. Once in bed, I felt very strange and I could not reconcile what I had witnessed with what I felt, and even to this day I cannot fully describe my experience of that afternoon.
Soon, I fell asleep, but on awakening, I discovered that I was trembling like a leaf; my forehead felt hot and moist and my temperature was unbelievably high. I remember that I was ill for many days after that and my mother had to nurse me throughout that time when I was often delirious.
I am grateful to nature for the lesson that I learned from my experience of that day, for I have kept my promise to God ever since, even when it has been difficult for me to pray, such as, when I was on active service and during office hours. However, since that terrible day, I have, without fail, bowed my head in prayer five times a day, and recited the whole prayer of that particular time. When I entered the Prince of Wales, I found it was not easy to say my morning and night prayers because of the strict rules that we were not to leave our beds during sleeping hours, but I somehow managed to honour my pledge to God even then.
FOR BETTER...FOR WORSE
Soon after my twelfth birthday on the fourth of July 1926, which was also incidentally the last birthday that my father attended, we left for Delhi on our way to Dehra Dun where I had to join the college in August 1926. My father was visibly moved and clearly proud of the fact that I was entering a military college that would lead to my becoming a commissioned officer in the Indian Army. This was considered to be a great honor, for in this profession there were very few Indians who were King's Commissioned Officers. In fact, it was only recently, that it had been opened to the Indians, for before this decision of the government of those days, the maximum that one could possibly achieve was to be a Viceroy's Commissioned Officer. If the family rendered some outstanding service to the British government, one could manage to get a direct Viceroy Commission and start off as a Jamadar, the junior-most rank in the Viceroy's Commission.
Before I joined college, my father was at pains to impress upon me the fact that my education would entail a great deal of money, and mean a recurrent expense for six years. In fact, he very clearly told me: "Your mother is a very brave woman to want to put you in this school, for I can barely afford it even when I am employed and in service. If anything happens to me, I have no idea how you would be able to complete your education here. However, I leave it to God and your very able mother."
I learned, much later that my father had some trouble with his lungs. I was aware that he suffered from severe attacks of acute asthma, but what I did not know was that his deteriorating lung condition meant that his life could be brought to an abrupt end. At the time of my joining R.I.M.C., my father was less than forty years old, and so when he spoke to me of the uncertainty of his life, I was not able to understand quite what he meant. I specially could not make much sense of this, because I observed that my grandfather, who was his father, was in robust health even at the age of eighty.
As soon as we reached Delhi, my father first took me to visit my grandfather who now lived all his days and nights at the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. He was, by now, totally detached from worldly desires, and had settled his children and divided whatever he possessed in terms of worldly goods amongst his children - two sons and a daughter.
This was the first time in my life that I saw my father and grandfather together. I watched closely how my father kissed my grandfather's feet and cried softly while he did so, and I observed how my grandfather in turn kissed his son's head and said " May God preserve and keep you happy Allah Bande." He often referred to my father by that name which meant "Servant of Allah'. I also noticed that my grandfather kept wiping away the tears from his eyes whenever he looked towards my father, and I realized only too well that he really loved his youngest son immensely.
My grandfather then turned towards me and held me close and kissed me on my forehead. Later, he took us both to the Durga Sharif, and much in the same style that a Prime Minister presents dignitaries to a king, he escorted us to the last resting place of this great saint. My father rested his head at the feet of the saint and my grandfather knelt close to him and recited some couplets in Persian. I too fell on my knees beside them, and heard the end of the verses that my grandfather was reciting and was able to clearly decipher the word "supurdan" meaning "in your safe keeping". After some time we left and went towards my grandfather's modest lodgings, where we had lunch together, and my father filled him in with the details of my future education. My father, once again, talked about the finances that would be involved to complete the project, whereupon my grandfather lifted his hands in prayer and said: "Inshallah, God will be kind to him."
After our afternoon prayers, we made our way to Old Delhi, where we were the guests of my aunt, who was I think, about four or five years older than my father. She embraced me and kissed me many times before she set me down. I knew she loved me dearly and thought of me as the son she never had. My aunt's husband entered carrying a package, and I remembered that this was also an additional service he performed for the people of the neighborhood. He was so trusted that all sorts of people kept their money with him, and he was treated almost like a local bank that charged nothing for the facilities offered. The cash deposit or valuables were neatly kept in red cloth bags, checked and tied up by my poor aunt, an almost illiterate lady, who was nevertheless, gifted with a most wonderful memory.
My uncle, Nawab Zamir Mirza, was the youngest son of Nawab Alauddin Khan who was the ruler of Loharu, and the youngest brother of Sir Aminuddin who succeeded his father as the ruler of the state. He spent all his life in Delhi, living in the house that my grandfather had given to my aunt. He received a monthly allowance of one hundred and twenty five rupees from the estate of Loharu, and in fact that was his only source of income, for I do not recall that he served in any capacity. All I remember was that he spent his entire life, and all his waking hours in meditation and prayer and in the service of the less fortunate among us.
The next fifteen days of my stay in Delhi were spent visiting Kashmir Gate, where there was a shop called Ranken that the British generally patronized. It was here that I purchased and ordered all my requirements for the Prince of Wales, and these requirements seemed non-ending for I had never before seen so many items of clothing and toiletries in my entire life. These purchases filled two large steel trunks designated as uniform boxes - long, narrow containers, the likes of which I had not seen before either. I remember the shop very well, for it was, by far the most impressive shop, I had ever visited, and also the most expensive one in the city. I was totally over-awed by the way the staff attended to me, and till partition in 1947, I maintained an account with them. They, in turn, gave me great service and even extended their loan facility to me when I needed it most. They were great friends of my father, and were true to his memory for the twenty years that I had dealings with them.
The day of my departure finally arrived, and we started for Dehra Dun in the evening. Many of my father's friends came to see me off at the station and several ‘Imam-Zamins’ were draped and tied around my upper arm, and everyone wished me luck and a safe journey to my destination. I could not sleep the whole night for the excitement of it all. When I did finally fall asleep in the small hours of the morning, I dreamed that I was a grown man, riding a horse and wearing the uniform of a cavalry officer of the Indian army, while the members of my family watched me with pride and cheered loudly.
We got to Dehra Dun railway station at about eight in the morning and were received by the Adjutant, Lieutenant Sardar Khan. A few cars awaited our arrival, and it was here that both the old students and the newcomers had assembled. The old students could be clearly recognized because they were attired in blue blazers and white shorts that made up their uniform. The new recruits, on the other hand, were in the clothing of their choice.
It was here that I first met the new batch of young boys who were joining the Prince of Wales in the August term of 1926. We were six, altogether. Two of the boys wore turbans, and I was informed that they were Sikhs, who in accordance with their religious beliefs never cut their hair. This was, in fact, the first time that I had seen or encountered a member of the Sikh sect.
After travelling for almost fifteen minutes, we suddenly entered very clean and orderly surroundings. I observed the houses that were half hidden behind tall, elegant trees and surrounded by green patches interspersed with vibrant colors. As we crossed these delightful houses, I realized that we had now entered the cantonment area. This was my first view of Dehra Dun, and the adjective ‘beautiful’ is a cliché and perhaps over-used, but that was the word that came to my lips as I beheld the scene before me. The huge hills seemed to circle this peaceful haven of pure delight, and the rolling plains of bright emerald stretched for miles before they disappeared at the foot of the hills. I immediately likened it to Saugor, except that this place looked larger and had many more soldiers strolling about.
We soon came to a halt in front of an impressive white building with the Union Jack fluttering atop. We were informed that this was the Flagstaff House, where the officer commanding resided, and I must say that this information made the house look even more forceful and imposing than it was. We soon moved on and entered an equally impressive gate that had a brass board to the left of it that announced in very polished alphabets that we were now on what was a private road leading to the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College. The road wound through thick trees and culverts, and was flanked on either side by bright white pillars crowned by globes that concealed the electric bulbs. What struck me most about the lighting was that there were no loose wires or visible wiring of any sort, and this must have impressed me in some way, because it is a fact that I remember to this day about the R.I.M.C.
The very thick growth cleared eventually to give place to what appeared to be a well-tended park, and I saw groups of old English styled cottages set artistically within this area. There was a freshly painted trophy gun placed on a cemented platform, and this immediately added a military dimension to what otherwise may have appeared a very exclusive residential area. All this created a deep impression on my mind, and I suddenly felt very young and very inexperienced.
The car finally pulled up near a group of buildings that were perfect in symmetry and as neatly laid out as the flowerbeds that outlined the length and breadth of the garden. We entered a building and then an office where a board indicated that we were now in the presence of the Commandant of the Royal Indian Military College. It was here that I received a folder that contained some papers giving me all the required information about the college, and told that I was to be posted to the Roberts Section for the entire length of my stay at the college.
Later, we were conducted in batches to the Mess and the dormitories. As there were six of us, we were paired up and divided into three sections that existed in the college and each of which was named after a former commander-in-chief of the Indian Army - Rawlinson, Roberts and Kitchener. The young boy who was assigned to the Roberts Section with me was Taj Mohammed Khanzada, who later went on to become a famous soldier of the Indian Army and was the proud recipient of the most coveted of military awards - the Distinguished Services Order and the Military Cross. Strangely enough, we both joined the same Indian Regiment when we passed out of R.I.M.C.
Our parents, who had accompanied us thus far, prepared to leave us, and my father took me to one side and wished me good-bye and the very best of luck in my new surroundings. Once more, I remember his eyes filled up with tears, but this time he made no attempt to hide them and I saw them roll down his cheeks. My heart sank, but I checked my own tears and felt a stinging pressure in my lids as I kissed him good-bye.
I soon settled down in my new surroundings and found the college to be the best in the whole of India, for I had seen both the Aitchison College in Lahore and the Chief's College in Ajmer and neither of them compared favourably with the R.I.M.C. The layout of the College was delightful and the field guns that dotted the landscape gave the surroundings a very martial look. The block that housed our living quarters was in the shape of a large square, and had a beautifully kept lawn in the center with a wide path running along the middle of the grassy square. No one, barring four boys, were allowed to cross the lawn, and these were the Section Commanders and the Cadet Captain who was named thus because he was the senior-most cadet at the college.
When I joined, the total strength of the college was about one hundred and fifty, but it had increased to about two hundred when I left the college, six years later. Each section at the Academy had two dormitories, one for the boys below sixteen and the other for those above sixteen who were referred to as the seniors. The juniors were never allowed to enter or loiter on the premises that were reserved for the over-sixteen.
The course at college ran into twelve semesters or six years of two semesters each. However, some were known to have stayed for seven years in case they failed to clear their final competitive examination in the required time.
Except for the first few days, I never really had the time to think of home or to miss it. The program was a very full one for it started at six in the morning and ended at nine-thirty at night. It all began with a wash and tea in the morning hours after which we went off for forty-five minutes of physical training. Later, we changed into our uniforms and after breakfast in the Mess, we proceeded to our classes where we studied until one in the afternoon. We had a half-hour break at eleven, when we were allowed to go to the Coffee Shop for a lemonade and a piece of cake for which we had to pay in coupons. These coupons could be obtained from our Section Master on presentation of a cheque form, and normally we were not allowed to draw more than three rupees worth of coupons a week. However, this restriction was waived on special occasions when we were allowed to go on picnics or to the movies. Then, we could draw up to four rupees but we were never allowed to exceed our drawings beyond fifteen rupees a month.
Lunch was always served in the Mess where we were seated section-wise with the seniors occupying the centre table. We were allowed to enter the Mess only after the Cadet Captain had come in, and we left the table at the end of the meal soon after he made an exit. After our mid-day meal, we had an hour or two to change, rest, read papers and magazines or just simply chat; but by four, we had to be at the different playing fields, taking part in organized games. Although, we were allowed to play tennis or squash, the emphasis was mostly on team sports such as hockey, football and netball.
Soon after the games period, we returned to our quarters for a bath and change of clothes, and then wearing our uniforms we congregated downstairs to attend the religious parade. We lined up according to our religious beliefs and marched to our respective places of worship. There were three main religions, that of the Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims and we fell in line in accordance with the number of people in each religious group. This meant that if the Sikhs were more in number then they took the front position, the Hindus and Muslims, depending on whichever group was greater in numbers, occupied the second position.
During the entire period of my stay of six years at R.I.M.C., the Muslims were always in the last row, thus showing not only the poor economic condition of our people but also the lack of enthusiasm of our community for joining this profession. It always struck me as strange that the British who ran the school and were so very anxious to keep religion as far away as possible from the boys during the day, would in the evening, without fail, undertake the duty of separating us into various religious groups. This, I presume, was to impress upon us that we were really different people following different religions. Whether this was intentional or accidental, I do not know but it reduced their good intentions to a farce.
After finishing our evening prayers, we marched in formation to our Mess, and after dinner went to the college building for forty-five minutes study called `Preps'. When we returned to our living quarters, we changed, brushed our teeth and were in bed before the last bell rang and lights were put off at 9.30 P.M. After six months, I gave my term exams, and by the grace of God, topped the list of successful students. I remember that when my name was read out at a formal gathering in the rosewood-paneled hall, I was overjoyed and elated and thanked my God for a good start.
Soon after railway reservations had been made, we left the college in batches to spend our holidays with our families. I went to Allahabad, and was accompanied by another boy called N. S. Bhagat who was the elder brother of Bhagat, the famous Victoria Cross winner in the Second World War. Incidentally, he had the honor to be the first Indian Commissioned Officer to be awarded this high award for valor.
Upon reaching my destination, I found out that my father was away at Saugor, while my mother was staying with her elder sister at Allahabad. I, therefore, spent my leave with her. My father on receiving my report from R.I.M.C. was overjoyed and wrote me a very loving letter in which he expressed his satisfaction and prayed for my future success. My family, as a whole, seemed to be pleased and everyone went out of their way to entertain me. Before I knew it, my holidays were over, and I was back at College.
Since this was my second term, I felt a little more relaxed and comfortable in my environment. I soon got busy with my studies and physical training. I represented my section at the Inter-Services Competition and felt that this was a great honor for me. The college community consisted largely of boys from the Punjab and the Frontier, but there were a few from the United Provinces, two from the Central Provinces, and I think, one from Sind. It was at college that I first heard Pushtho and Punjabi being spoken.
I also learned here that the people of India were divided into two classes - one was supposed to be martial and the other non-martial. This intrigued me, and I sought more details regarding this classification and came to know that the British rulers had grouped the Indians on the principle of their ability to fight. I was once arguing this point with another Sikh cadet (who later became a General) when he said that except for the Punjabis, no one could retaliate, and with this statement he slapped me. I was taken aback and could hear the other boys laughing at my predicament. Some shouted that I should retaliate, while others shouted that I was a coward. I was a little confused because I had been warned by my parents not to get into any fights for they could just as easily get me out of College; but the remarks I heard were too much to bear. I, therefore, threw caution to the winds, and caring naught for my expulsion, I decided to put up a good fight. It was somewhat easy because I caught hold of his long hair and within minutes, he was at my mercy.
Soon the bell rang, and we were separated, but not before I had given a good account of myself and demonstrated amply, my fighting abilities. When I moved away, I felt happy about myself, and knew that I had earned the respect of my colleagues. God was kind and my contemporaries never bullied me again. I, however, gained more confidence, and once attempted as a trial run to go for a bigger fight and an even greater fighter. This time I chose to fight another Sikh, Bhagat Singh who was a great sportsman. I got a thorough beating, but realized that even if you get beaten, the enemy always respects your courage to start a fight, and to put up a good show.
During my second term, my mother informed me that my father had lost his job, and I was asked to be very careful about my expenses at college. I tried to keep my expenses under control; I also tried to work hard and do well in the exams. I was successful in both, and looked forward to seeing my family at the end of the term. This time, I was to spend my holidays at Meerut where my father had temporarily settled in the house that belonged to my grandfather. My father was delighted to see me and was pleased to hear that I had done well again in my second term. He generally appeared to be cheerful but I noticed with concern that he looked a little weak and was not his usual sprightly self. However, I put this down to his not having a job that I felt must worry him, particularly because he had to take care of my education. I soon realized that he was determined to see me complete my education, for I heard him say more than once, that he was prepared to sell his house and the other small property he owned, to see me through college.
He talked to me often, and told me that he was trying to get another job that he hoped would soon be offered to him. In fact, before I returned to college, he had been successful in securing a job in the railways. I knew the job was not to his liking, but he accepted it all the same, because of his great desire to see me complete my studies at any cost.
I was worried about my father, but was soon involved in my third term at college. This time I felt completely settled in my section. I also received a double promotion and was put in a higher class; this of course meant that I could take my diploma exam at fifteen instead of the usual age of sixteen. Of course, I had to study much harder to keep up with my brother cadets, and I found that this was no easy job. However, with my father's picture in mind, I made up my mind to lessen his load and put my complete effort in my studies. I started to study even on Sundays and there was many a day that found me studying while others enjoyed a leisurely game of cricket.
At the end of my third term, I went to Lucknow, where my father was stationed. He had rented a small house that was situated in the very neat and clean cantonment area. During this vacation, I made friends with boys of the Anglo-Indian community that formed a majority in the railway department where my father was working. It was here that I learned a lot about their way of life and their attitudes. I carried with me the impression that they belonged to a somewhat different culture, that they had more liberty and that they tried very hard to live up to the British standards. The boys were on the whole good sportsmen and played most games well, and the girls were pretty, spoke English fluently, and had a definite social standing. Their lifestyle impressed me greatly because it was the first time I had been exposed to a community that was referred to as an ‘advanced’ community. I compared them with members of my own family, and found that there were many differences in the way they were brought up and the manner in which they conducted their lives. I concluded that the Indians were more conservative than the other communities and were consequently considered less advanced and enlightened by the British who often gauged and classified the people they ruled according to their own standards.
My father’s job entailed a great deal of travelling that he did not enjoy, but he continued working for financial reasons. He never really complained, but I observed that his health was failing, and every night before going to bed, I prayed for him. With every passing day, I felt worried about him and something within me told me that things were not too good, and this disturbed my peace of mind.
I returned to college in my fourth term and was considered qualified enough to be moved up to the senior dormitory. So, I took leave of my juniors and installed myself in my new abode where I got the last bed available, and in fact the last of anything that was at hand.
It was here that I met Masood, who later became Brigadier Tommy Masood and who was one and a half years my senior. He was a tough chap who would pick up fights with each and every one and that too without any apparent reason. I had the misfortune of getting into many scraps with him and always came out of them, a little the worse for wear. No matter how hard I tried, I never got the better of him, but one thing came out of these encounters, and that was a mutual respect that we developed for each other, which we share even to this day.
At the end of the term, I received a long letter from my very dear uncle, Syed Ahmed Shafique, who had by this time completed his Masters degree but remained unemployed and was, therefore, not financially well off. With his wonderful memory and his great passion for the poetry of Hafiz, he had learned many of his verses by heart. He could quote one in reply to every question that was put to him and would often say that Hafiz had a solution to every problem that we faced if only we could understand the depth and significance of his poetry.
My uncle had a very deep attachment to my mother, and would think no task too lowly if she asked him to do it. In the same way, my mother would look after him like her own child; she would never eat her meals without him, and would devote many an hour looking after his clothes and tidying his boxes of belongings and books. I remember that he was a prolific writer and filled a number of notebooks, but God alone knows what happened to his writings. I was, at the time I knew him, too young to appreciate his way of life and thinking, but now when I reflect back upon his approach to life, I cannot but help admire his great qualities. I hold him very dear, so much so, that he has become an ideal for me, and I have often longed to follow in his footsteps. It was our great misfortune that he died at the very young age of twenty-eight and left behind only a wonderful impression of the kind of person he was and the life he led.
My uncle's letter informed me that my father had become seriously ill, and had been moved on medical grounds, to a hill station in Simla. I was informed that I should come to the hill station to be with my father just as soon as I started my leave. My uncle and my mother were already present with him. The letter was full of details in which my uncle had described the hills, the valleys and the journey through the forest, much as he would have described life itself.
As soon as the term ended, I made my way to Solan, and this was the first time I saw the Indian Hills, and the summer capital of India - Simla. I enjoyed my journey by railcar from Kalka to Solan, and was much impressed by the efficient way in which the train was run, and the fine manner in which every comfort was provided to the passengers. I still remember the experience of going through dark tunnels and the zigzag track on which the wheels seemed to move without much effort.
My uncle was at the small railway station to receive me, and immediately found a porter to carry my box. The porter proceeded to tie it on his back with the help of a rope, and I marveled at the dexterity with which he managed to lift and carry it. My uncle then took me by the hand and after crossing the road, we started climbing a huge hill by treading a very narrow trail. I was short of breath, in spite of being physically fit, and my uncle started to explain why this was so. After making very slow progress, and stopping a number of times to catch our breath, we arrived at what looked like a small hut but which I later discovered, had three bedrooms and a small verandah.
My mother and father welcomed me and greeted me affectionately. I was taken aback when I saw my father, for even in that dim light, he looked very frail and very pale. I was told that my father had a serious infection of the lungs, and had been advised by the doctors to move from the scorching heat of the plains to the cooler environment of the heights. I was very disturbed regarding my father's rapidly failing health, and could easily discern the marks of worry and anxiety on my mother's face. My uncle, however, was determined to keep my spirits high. He would take me to visit all the beauty spots of the hill station, and at the same time, explain to me that there was nothing to be achieved by worrying. He said that the best course in life was to leave most of one's problems and pains to nature and time, to solve and to heal.
I returned to college somewhat depressed and anxious about my father's failing health, but was cheered by the news I received a few days later, that he had recovered his health sufficiently to return to Meerut. He had, however, lost his job in the railways, and so was unemployed. Worry about my domestic affairs, and the rapid promotion I had earlier received combined to affect my progress in college, and as expected, my results were not too good. I was genuinely upset when the fourth term came to an end, and I discovered that there was a definite drop in my grades. But it was not just my lack of progress that worried me; it was the remark in my report by the Section Master, Mr. J. M. Allen that really upset me. He wrote in the report: ‘this cadet finds it difficult to look into the eyes. He must develop confidence and speak out his mind, if he is to be a successful officer.’
When I reached Meerut on the termination of the term, my father called me and told me of my shortcomings, and asked me to think about the reason for the remark that I had received. I was given a day to consider the circumstances that could have led the officer to make such a comment. The next day, I reported to my father an incident or chain of incidents that could have prompted the remark. I told him that in my last term I was interviewed about four times by my Section-Master who wanted to know the reason for the sudden drop in my academic standards. I remembered that I had not looked him in the eyes, perhaps because I thought that it was disrespectful to do so and maybe because I had been taught that it was rude to do so. My father accepted my explanation as satisfactory, and ordered me to get over this fault by ‘staring him in the face’ for ten minutes every day. This exercise has left me with the habit of looking into the eyes of anyone I meet, irrespective of his status in life. It has also often earned me the unfair remarks that I consider myself to be too great and appear to be too confident of myself. The world, it seems, is a difficult place to live in, and it is difficult to satisfy everyone, no matter what stance you adopt.
When I returned to college, I was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal, and I now began to feel that I would soon be able to do my Diploma Examination, which was the halfway mark in the long course of six years at the college. The double promotion I had earlier received, had an adverse effect on my progress, and I had to work very hard to achieve good grades. I also found it difficult to organize and schedule my time efficiently; I was always falling behind schedule, so I began to study at night, under the cover of a blanket and with the aid of a torch. I then made notes in the morning and committed these notes to memory. After two years of intense and dedicated study, I knew Indian history from 1526 to what was then currently 1929, almost by heart because waking or sleeping, I would recite to myself all the important events. I began to feel that my memory was good, and that I could surely do well with practice and hard work.
In the middle of the second term of 1928, I was informed in a letter from my father, that I now had a young sister, who was the latest addition to our small family, and that she was indeed a beautiful child. I was delighted to hear this news, for I had always longed for a younger sister, and I could not wait to reach home and hold her in my arms. Everything seemed to be going well for me; I was doing fairly well in college, my father was feeling better, and I was blessed with a sister that I could love and care for. This fortunate phase of my life did not last long and just as I began to feel complacent about life, I got the news that my father was feeling unwell again and had proceeded to Sapatu, a hill station, in order to spend summer there.
I returned to Meerut, and was delighted to see my little baby sister who had been named Beguma and who had the most beautiful face I had ever laid eyes on. My mother told me that my father was quite unwell and that she worried a great deal about him. Soon, my father who was anxious to be with me and to see his newborn child came down from the hills. This was much against the advice of his doctors but he was adamant. I went to receive him at the railway station of Meerut City, and was unable to recognize him for he had become extremely thin and had lost his usual healthy complexion. His steps were not steady and he held a walking stick to aid him. I silently wept to see him in this condition, for he was then only forty-two years old.
We came to my aunt's house where we were occupying a three-room unit, and it was here that I recollect the last days that I spent with my father. It was the last time that I saw my father stand firmly on his feet, the last time I heard him talking and giving advice, and the last time that we were together as a family. During my two-month's leave he had almost exhausted himself and his condition steadily deteriorated. I remember that my father was very gentle and loving to his daughter and would not part with her even for a few moments. I also remember that he spoke to me many times about my future responsibilities and how I was to conduct myself with my mother, brother and baby sister. I remember too that tears would sting my eyes and roll uncontrollably down my cheeks whenever he spoke to me of this matter. On seeing this, he would immediately remark that I was a young man who would soon be an officer and that God was always there to look after me in this world, even after he was gone.
To me, and I was only fifteen years old at the time, looking after my family seemed a huge responsibility particularly since we did not have much financial security. I realized and understood that my father was not a rich man, and that his entire wealth consisted of a house, a flat with two shops and maybe enough money to see us through for a few months or so. Selfishly, I was also worried as to how I would complete my studies at the most expensive college in the whole of India. I lost a great deal of sleep, thinking about my predicament and taking long walks in the huge municipal garden adjoining the house. I also wept bitterly every night, and prayed to God with all the strength I could muster and sought His help.
I could see my father losing weight from day to day, and he was soon confined to bed. His only interest was his little eight-month old daughter and his God, before whom he wept five times and more, a day. Whenever I went into the room to see him, he would smile and say: ‘Well, Sir, how are you?’ I could see his eyes well up, but he showed no outward signs of anxiety, and was in total control of himself. His strength, by now had ebbed to such an extent that I found he was unable to squeeze the pomegranate seeds, the juice of which he would like to spray into my little sister's mouth.
By the time I was ready to leave for college, I found that my father was really weak and pulled down. So alarming was his state of health that I felt unhappy about returning; and so, I requested him to get my leave extended by another week or so. He called me to his room and showed great surprise at my request to miss college because of his illness. He stated, somewhat sadly, that my staying back could not in any way help him get better, and insisted that I leave that very night for Dehra Dun. As I went into his room to take my leave of him before going to the railway station, he bade me sit down next to him and held my hand and said the words that even now haunt me: ‘Live in this world like a man and a gentleman.’ With these words he kissed me and wished me good luck and good-bye. I left for the station immediately after, little knowing that I was not to see my father again, ever.
I had been in college for just a week, when one evening I was called by the Adjutant to his residence. After inquiring about my affairs, he broke to me the news of my father's death and promised to make arrangements for my return to Meerut, if I so desired. My father had apparently told my mother that I was on no account to be disturbed in my studies; and this message had been passed on to my superiors who then conveyed it to me.
This event took place in September 1929, and was a turning point in my life, for suddenly, I was uncertain and unsure of my future. I did not know if I would be able to continue my studies at this very expensive institution, and whether my father's dream of having me become an officer would now come true. These thoughts kept haunting me and I felt like a wooden puppet. I also discovered that I could not shed any tears when all I wanted to do was cry. With a heavy heart and with every breath a sigh, I returned to my room, and found solace in the person of Ajaib Khan, a Sikh friend of mine who helped me through those difficult days. I was, in fact, so impressed by his sincerity that I remained his friend till India was divided in 1947, when I unfortunately lost touch with him.
I left for Meerut a few days after my father's death and was received at the railway station by an uncle of mine. I recall that it was very early in the morning on a very hazy and cold day. The journey from the railway station to the house was the most depressing event of my life. I arrived to see my mother dressed in white, and looking very pale and agitated. My younger brother and baby sister also looked thin and depressed.
Just a few hours later, and I was on my way to Delhi to visit my father's grave, for he had been buried in our family graveyard located in the vicinity of the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia. Here, I met my grandfather who was now about eighty years old, and who had brought his son's body from Meerut to Delhi to be buried a few yards away from the small room where he lived, surrounded by graves, and at the feet of the great saint's resting place. My grandfather was very calm and collected and said: ‘Look at me, my dearest grandson, and see how I have taken this shock at this old age, because I must bow before the will of God, and surrender to His will.’
He then accompanied me to Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia's tomb where he stood for a long time, his hands raised in prayer. I heard him repeat the words: ‘I entrust him to you’, three times. He remained behind at the shrine and sent me to visit my father's grave, about fifty yards away. I stood there for a few minutes, silent and bewildered and then, I suddenly felt very cold. After my evening prayers, I took leave of my grandfather who told me not to worry about anything and to have trust in God who had created me and the world in which we lived.
I returned to my mother at Meerut, full of comfort and hope. My father had left very little cash and my mother was worried about how my education would be completed, so she stayed up with me for a large part of the night, working out and calculating the amount required for me to complete my education. The situation looked gloomy on paper, but my mother was determined to see me complete my studies, even if that meant that she would have to sell her jewelry, her flat, and the shops, and so deprive herself of all sources of income.
The next morning, my uncle's friend offered me a lift to Dehra Dun, for he was going to attend the annual `urs' of Hazrat Sahib, the great saint who lies buried at Kaliar near Roorkee, which is only a few miles from Dehra Dun. I had always wanted to visit Kaliar Sharif, and at this particular time in my life, I wanted to reach out and find comfort in worship and prayer. I felt depressed about leaving my mother, but knew that for her sake and mine, I would have to be brave. So, I held back my tears, and after comforting her, and wishing her goodbye, I left for my destination. We arrived at Kaliar that night, and I visited the mausoleum and paid my respects to the pious saint. I also prayed to God for help and assistance and entrusted my affairs to His great mercy.
The next morning I reached Dehra Dun, and soon after, I went to see my Section Master and explained my financial position to him. He, in turn, promised me all the help he could give in securing a scholarship for me from the Government of India. This done, I got down to my studies and worked as hard as I could. The term ended, and I once again returned to Meerut for my holidays, but this time I spent most of my time arranging finances for the coming term.
My young sister was growing up to be a beautiful young girl, and one day on a sudden impulse, I took her to be photographed. It is ironic that this is the only photograph of hers in the family. While I was still in Meerut, my sister developed a small boil on her shoulder, and my mother sent her with her maidservant, Piaree, to the Civil Hospital next door. The attendant apparently cut the boil, with the result that she developed blood poisoning and became scarlet. To our extreme horror, she passed away in the early hours of the morning at the hospital. My mother was totally shattered, and she broke down completely, totally unable to bear this second great shock within a period of eight months. My cousins and I accompanied by our very dear uncle, Syed Ahmed Ashraf, who was a tower of strength for my mother after the death of my father, went to bury my beautiful, little sister in our family graveyard at Meerut.
I returned to college, broken-hearted and very distressed. I felt that, somehow, everything was going wrong for us, and we were in for some very hard times. Throughout this difficult period, however, my mother kept writing me fine, encouraging letters that kept up my spirits. I shall never forget her kindness, her strong will and her immense trust in God, for truly I have never known a more courageous person in adversity than she was. May God bless her soul for the example she set for me, and the persistent way in which she financed my education, made me complete my course, and forced me to stand on my own feet. How can I recount the ways in which she helped me to be what I am?
In 1930, I appeared and passed my Chief's College Diploma, which was the first hurdle in the six-year long course at the College. I now entered the Army class, and started preparing for my final examinations for admission to the R.M.C. Sandhurst, England, for an eighteen-month course, before getting my commission.
I was by now almost sixteen years old, but was still the youngest boy in my class. I had to wait for two and a half years before I could appear for my final examination that could only be taken at the age of eighteen. Finances were my constant problem, and my poor mother sold all her possessions including the flat and the shops, to see me through college. By the time I had completed my education, she had only the house we lived in, left. At one stage, I was offered a direct Viceroy Commission but my mother point blank refused the Government of India.
During the time I was struggling to arrange finances for my education, I came into contact with the Auditor General of India, Sir Ernest Burdon, whom I will always remember as a kind, gentle and helpful person. He spared no effort in trying to help me throughout his life, and was directly responsible for getting me into the King's Shropshire Light Infantry stationed at Delhi, with which British battalion, his own son, Peter Burdon, was attached. I passed the year studying for my final examination, and as there was sufficient time available to me, I had a fine opportunity to do some general reading, which I did regularly at the very well equipped library that was attached to my college.
I now had to make up my mind as to the branch of service that I wanted to join, so that I could undertake the study of some special subjects that each branch specifically called for, that are Maths for the Engineering Service, Science for Signals, and so on. The services that I could join were engineering, signals, artillery, cavalry, and infantry. After my father's death, it became apparent to me that I could not think of joining the cavalry, which required a great deal of money and was possible only for those with ample private means. The three subjects that were compulsory for this branch of service were Ordinary Math, Additional Math, and General Science. While I did not mind Ordinary Math, and in fact enjoyed doing it, the Advanced Math course was way too advanced for me, and I soon discovered that I had no aptitude for it, and that it was useless to try, because I had no real interest in the subject. Even after one year of really hard work and a great deal of practice, I knew that I would not be able to pass the course, so I changed my subjects and consequently my choice of arm. I, therefore, started working to pass the infantry course, hoping all the time, that by some odd chance I could get into the cavalry, if my finances somehow improved.
My leave at the end of each term was spent mostly in Meerut, where my uncle, Syed Ahmed Ashraf, always welcomed me. He lived in the cantonment, which offered an opportunity for me to take long walks, and permitted some healthy exercise. My mother observed that I was not interested in living in the crowded streets of Delhi, and so began planning to sell our family home so that she could buy a small house in Meerut. This decision of my mother brought about such tremendous opposition from my grandfather and my aunt, that she gave up her plan, and instead made it a point to be with me in Meerut whenever I was on leave. In those days, and perhaps even now, the cantonment areas were very clean, organized and methodically planned and had their own societies, cinemas, clubs and shopping centres. The cantonment was mostly occupied by the members of the armed forces, but there were a few civilians who were fortunate enough to be able to live in that area.
My mother was a very strict disciplinarian, and whenever she had the chance, kept a very strict and careful watch over the kind and number of friends I had in my childhood. She was so rigid in her standards, that I had only a few friends - one was Keramet Elly, and the other Yasin Ghani, but not even with these two was I allowed to spend as much time as I wanted. According to her, the main objective of my life was to complete my studies as soon as possible, so that I could be independent. She often said that I could spend as much time as I wanted, with as many friends as I wanted, once I had attained my goal. It is largely due to my mother's lectures and teachings that I have never smoked or touched drink. I was always encouraged to exercise as much and as frequently as I could, and drink as much milk as possible. Both these things, I have relished and enjoyed all my life.
While I was away in college, and that was most of the time, my family's interests were looked after by my younger brother, who though only ten years old, was extremely capable and well trained. To compensate her for her reduced income, after the sale of the shops and the flat, my mother was advised to purchase a motorbus that could ply between Delhi and Meerut and be used as a public conveyance. The management of this project was in the very able hands of my very young brother, who in spite of his limited knowledge of English, rose to the occasion and daily talked to various British officers to achieve his objective. This training made him strong and gave him all the confidence he needed. I had lost two brothers who died in their infancy and so my younger brother, Colonel Barlas, was the only brother I had. He was actually my mother's advisor regarding both financial and domestic matters, and so my mother in the absence of any other family member, often relied on him and his judgement.
I know that my mother's ambitious plans for her two sons, did not seem to please her family and gain her their support, but she carried her resolve right through, and was indeed a woman of class, and the most wonderful person I have ever known. A woman of lesser caliber, would have buckled under family pressure, and had me removed from the expensive school where I was studying. A woman with lesser determination would not have undertaken to run a transport business that she did in spite of the very strict background from which she came, and in spite of observing purdah during her early years of widowhood. My younger brother, with quiet determination, and the same spirit that my mother had, did so well that the transport business flourished, and soon he was able to purchase yet another bus. He was also able to get an interview with the British Commissioner, who hired one of the buses for attachment to the Jail Department at a flat monthly rate. These experiences and challenges helped to create a sense of great confidence in my younger brother, and because of the training he received at such an early life, he was always better able to withstand the vicissitudes and adverse circumstances of life better than I could.
I, for my part, kept up with my studies and sports. I was an all rounder and good enough to be considered for the post of Section Commander, the second highest post for a cadet at the Military College. All my end-of-term holidays were spent with my mother and younger brother, and it seemed to me that both were determined to see me become an officer in the shortest possible time. They both worked tirelessly and prayed consistently for the day to come when they would see me realize not only my own dream, but also theirs.
During my stay with my family, I used to observe my mother pray till very late at night and rise again to offer her prayers very early in the morning. Whenever I looked towards her, I observed her crying and asking God for help in being able to successfully rear her two sons. My mother was young and beautiful, and one of my uncles thought that it would be a good idea for her to remarry, so he wrote a letter to me and expressed his wish to see his sister settle down. I merely replied that it was her own affair and her own life and I did not think that I had the courage or audacity to dictate to her. My uncle, not satisfied with my response, dared to speak to her directly on the subject but was cut short unceremoniously and told to refrain from interfering in her affairs. She also made it amply clear to him, that her sole and primary concern was to bring up her two boys, and nothing would deter her from giving it her best possible effort. Later, when I came home on leave, she told me of the incident, and I was impressed with her tenacity of purpose, the great deal of love she bore for her children, her selfless attitude and great spirit of sacrifice. She won my admiration and respect and made me realize that she was the very epitome of motherhood.
I was so impressed with my mother's attitude, that I decided to do my very best in order to please her, and so I devoted myself to my studies and in 1931, I became the head of my division. I was only seventeen years old, and everyone felt that it was no mean achievement at such a young age. I met with tough competition from another cadet, Surendra Singh who was older than I was. My Section Master and my commandant gave each of us two trials of three months duration before making the final decision. This procedure had never been operative before and has never been used since.
One day, we saw in the newspaper a demand by some Indian gentlemen referred to as `politicians' for Indianisation. The terms ‘politician’ and ‘politics’ were taboo at the college, and any independent views or anything that was even slightly pro-Indian, got you out of college at the earliest possible opportunity; hence, nothing was ever mentioned, leave alone discussed, by any cadet on this subject.
Our training was based on British standards, and an all out attempt was made to create dark Englishmen or ‘Kala Sahibs’ out of us. The longer I spent in college, the more I drifted away from my own culture, way of life, and manner of living. I must admit that I found the English way of life, and the manner in which they ran their households, infinitely superior to ours. There was none of the inconvenience of living with innumerable guests, of keeping the fire burning in the kitchen at all times, or of having to deal with all kinds of relatives. I, however, missed the informal atmosphere of our homes, where people relaxed over a cup of tea, where children felt free to come and go, and where all were more or less allowed to do as they wished.
The many years I spent at the college being exposed to the British culture gave me reason to wonder at the snobbish attitude of the British towards the Indians, of the rulers toward the ruled. For example, I recall that at the Prince of Wales R.I.M.C., the Indian staff members who consisted of some highly qualified teachers lived on one side of the campus, whereas the British lived on the other. There was no common ground between them and each kept his distance, but it was obvious to all and sundry that the British lived in distinctly superior quarters. In my young mind, I went over the injustice of the system, but could not give voice to any of my feelings. Silently, however, I felt the pain.
One day, we were summoned by the Commandant of the college, and were given a brief lecture regarding a group of Indian gentlemen, who were to visit the college in connection with the Indianization of the Army. It was briefly explained to us that a demand was being made to let Indian army officers take control of the Indian army, thus replacing the British officers. This was the first time that we heard of the term `Indianisation'. We were further informed that a mission would soon be visiting our institution to take stock of the situation.
A few weeks later, the mission arrived and went around the campus and many of us had the honour of being introduced to the members of the team. Apparently, they were so over-awed at the manner in which we lived, and the expense the cadets had to incur, that they referred to the Prince of Wales as ‘too grand a school’, and this comment appeared in bold type in all the newspapers the next day.
The army class that I joined in 1930 was fairly large, and each cadet waited for his turn to appear in the final examination in Delhi under the auspices of the Public Service Commission. To be able to appear for the examination, a cadet had to be at least eighteen years of age and be in a fit state of preparation. As the date set for the examination was in June, I was not sure whether I would be selected to appear in June or six months later. Since this was up to the board to decide, I continued to revise my courses, and prayed to God for help. It was eventually decided that I was to take the exam on the third of July, and so have the honour to be the youngest boy in my term to appear for the final exam.
The matter being settled, I proceeded on my Christmas holidays, and I must say that I felt both relieved and happy that I would not have to wait indefinitely. I resolved to put in my best effort so that I could do well enough to be considered for the R.M.C. Sandhurst Course by the end of 1932.
On the day I was travelling to Allahabad, where I was to spend my holidays, I read in the morning newspaper, a news item that stated that India was to have its own ‘Sandhurst’. It went on to declare that nationalization was to be speeded up, and that the Indian Military Academy would soon be opened up in Dehra Dun. The news startled and surprised me for I had not expected that the scheme to have an Indian Sandhurst would materialize so quickly. I was honestly disappointed, for I was really keen to go to Sandhurst and have a chance to benefit from being in this very old, very established, and very popular military institution that had trained all the officers from the British and Indian army. So far, all the cadets from the Prince of Wales had automatically proceeded to Sandhurst for training.
As no date for the commencement of the I.M.A. was given, and as I had not observed any new buildings coming up in Dehra Dun, I put my fears to rest and hoped that it would take some time to get things started. I also hoped that if I were able to clear my exam the first time, I would in the normal course proceed to the United Kingdom by September 1932. So, after having made these mental calculations, and having decided that time was in my favour, I arrived at my destination. I informed my mother about the examination to be held in July and begged her to pray for my success in the first attempt.
I knew that I had three chances to qualify, and could take the exam till I was twenty, but knowing of cases in which cadets had failed all three times, I was honestly scared. The thing I feared most about the final exam was the fact that the authorities had reserved five hundred marks for the interview and records, and the minimum passing mark was 150. Irrespective of how well one did in the theory, one could not pass the finals without also passing in the interview.
My leave was short, and I spent my time either studying or visiting relatives. My relatives were as keen to spend time with me as I was with them because this would be my last leave as a cadet in India. The college reopened soon after New Year and I returned to the Prince of Wales for what was ostensibly my last term at the institution where I had completed six years of training, and six very important and vital years of my life. Everything at the institution was a part of me, and I spent many nights weeping at the thought that I would soon leave a place where I had grown from a mere lad to a young man about to reach the age of eighteen. I felt sentimental about this place that was responsible for moulding my thoughts, my personality, my idiosyncrasies and in fact my entire outlook on life. It was here that I inherited and learned certain principles, and it was here that I learned that regardless of the consequences, I had to defend what I thought was right.
The period that followed my father's death, in which there was no one I could relate to and seek advice from and no one to whom I could turn for any financial assistance, made me a very lonely young man. It also gave me an implicit faith in God, and I was quick to realize that without the help of God nothing was attainable, and that likewise, if His help were there, there was nothing that was not attainable. My belief in God was doubly strengthened by the circumstances in which I found myself, and to this day my belief is so strong that it is the driving force of my life.
I must here acknowledge with much gratitude the role of all those who trained me, for they were indeed people that I will always look upon with great reverence and love. In the absence of my father, they were all collectively and individually responsible for placing me on the threshold of this very difficult world, where values are so often traded for expediency. To me, all my teachers appeared as so many guiding spirits, and I often wondered how I would plan my life and future without their guidance and watchful eyes. Once I left college, I would have to leave behind all these dear people, some of whom I would probably never again set my eyes upon. Such thoughts were depressing and brought about a great change in my being; a sort of melancholy feeling grew within me, formed itself, and became a part of my nature.
The last term at college had wings, and before I knew it, it was over. We were given the option of either staying at college and then proceeding to Delhi for the final examination, or reporting directly to Delhi for the examination which was to be held at Metcalfe House by the end of June 1932. In order to obtain assistance from the few teachers left at college, and to utilize the facilities of the excellent library, a few of us decided to stay back. The last few months were spent in revising the subjects, and since the college was officially closed and the surroundings quiet and peaceful, it made it easy for me to concentrate and work efficiently.
At the end of the stipulated period, we left for Delhi where my mother had made arrangements for me to stay at a bungalow located very near the venue of my place of examination. There was a servant there, who looked after my needs, and cooked the food. My very kind and affectionate cousin, the Nawab of Loharu, was gracious enough to give me a car for my use during the examination.
By this time, it had become known that the R.M.C. Sandhurst had been closed to all Indian officers, and that the successful candidates from the Prince of Wales were to go to the Indian Military Academy that would be functional by the end of the year. It was to be located at the Railway College that had only recently been inaugurated at Dehra Dun, and where all cadets including myself, had been invited for the opening ceremony. I remember being thrilled by the layout of a huge model of electrically operated trains with all the machines that were required to run a large and sophisticated railway system.
I did not realize at that time that in a few months this magnificent institution would become the Indian Military College. I did not think that the hall where I stood gazing in wonder at the model railway system, would soon become Chetwood Hall, and that the institution would produce the future Commanders-in-Chief of the Indian and Pakistan Army.
When I reported at Metcalfe House the next day, I was surprised to find that there were about three hundred boys who had applied to take the examination. This was indeed surprising, because there were normally just about twenty or thirty candidates for four or five vacancies. To sift from this rather large number of candidates, the authorities had decided to hold four preliminary board examinations, and the successful candidates were then permitted to appear for the written examination to fill fifteen vacancies for the first term at the Indian Military Academy.
Having collected the necessary papers and program, I walked around to see the other candidates who had come from all parts of the country, and from various institutions in India. I gathered that most of the applicants were from northern India, and a large majority of them were from Government College, Lahore; and Islamia College, Peshawar. The universities of Aligarh, Allahabad and Benares were also represented.
All these young men had turned out in their best attire, and it was an impressive sight. Somehow, I felt a trifle uneasy, because most of the candidates looked not only older and more experienced, but had lived and been educated at universities and colleges where there had been more freedom and less discipline than what we had endured at the Prince of Wales. We, the students of the Prince of Wales, were attired in our uniforms, which meant grey trousers, a blue blazer with the Prince of Wales crest of three ostrich feathers on the left breast pocket, and a college tie.
The preliminary board interviewed me for a long half-hour, during the course of which they asked me several general knowledge questions; some questions related to the subjects that I was appearing for, and a few questions were about the branch of service for which I had applied. I was then ordered to report back two days later, to know the outcome of my interview. I spent these two days, which were more like two months, in agony and tension, and could not wait for the hours to pass to know the verdict of the board. I was nervous and worried, for I was the youngest of all those interviewed; and so I thought I might be turned down on that account. As usual, I turned to prayer; and together with my mother and my grandfather, I asked for help from the All Merciful.
When the day finally arrived for me to find out about my results, I hurried to the appointed place, only to discover that the announcements had already started. I heard the roll numbers of the candidates that were being announced in order of sequence, followed by a short, abrupt pronunciation of the words ‘Rejected’ or ‘Accepted’. I stood there waiting for my number to be called, and this was the first experience I had of making a concentrated effort to will that I be accepted. I broke out in a cold sweat, and could even feel the beads of perspiration running down my collar. When I touched my forehead, it felt damp; my eyes filled with tears and my vision became cloudy. The words `Rejected, Rejected' rang in my ears, and were repeated so often that my heartbeats seemed to echo the words. I felt nervous, troubled and worried as I looked down at my roll number that I had written on a piece of paper. Suddenly, the number called and the number on which my eyes were focused was the same, and immediately after, I heard the word I was longing to hear but was almost afraid of hearing; the word ‘Accepted’ rang out loud and clear. I stood still, unbelieving, then gradually the full impact of the word hit me, and I mumbled a ‘Thank God’, as I hurriedly left the hall and made my way home so I could give my mother the good news.
My entire family had gathered there and all were waiting anxiously for me to return with the news, and it seemed they had already made up their minds that the news had to be good. They all started to congratulate me, and I was hugged and kissed by anyone and everyone who was present, and that meant quite a number of embraces. Many congratulated me on my good luck rather than my achievement, but I was happy to be congratulated at all. For a few minutes, they were under the mistaken notion that I had already become an officer, and had to be reminded that this was only the first of many hurdles that I had to clear. They finally dispersed, wishing me further luck in my forthcoming examination and interview.
That night, I was restless and could hardly sleep. I, then, got up and bowed before my God, and prayed in great earnestness, throughout the dark hours of the night till the early hours of the morning. I cried a great deal and all sorts of thoughts crossed my mind. My hopes and dreams of success depended on God, for I had no other backing. I was, after all, just an orphan and my mother was too proud a lady to ask anyone for assistance of any kind. After praying, a kind of calm seemed to descend on me and my heart was filled with great hope.
The very next morning, I went to Metcalfe House and after depositing the necessary entrance fee, I was given a number, the schedule for the written examination, and the date for my final interview. The interview carried five hundred marks and there was a basic requirement score of two hundred to qualify for entrance to the I. M. A. or the Indian Sandhurst, as it was popularly referred to in the early days of the Academy's life. I looked around to see how my colleagues had fared in the preliminary examination, and was surprised to find that one of them had dropped out, leaving just about seven of us to sit the final examination. After talking to the others, I discovered that about one hundred and fifty had been selected to appear in the examination, and out of these, only fifteen would be eligible for training at the Indian Military Academy.
Examinations were to commence the next day and there were to be two papers a day, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. There was a gap of a few days between my final Urdu paper and the interview. I did fairly well in the papers but I felt anxious and worried when I considered that it might not be good enough in the face of such tough competition - fifteen out of one hundred and fifty meant a very slim chance indeed.
Finally, the day of my interview arrived. I dressed carefully, albeit nervously, and reached the place of interview a good hour before the required time. There were about ten candidates to be interviewed that morning, and my name appeared fifth on the list. It was normal practice to be interviewed by a board consisting of about five members, headed by a senior soldier, normally from GHQ India, and belonging to the Directorate of Military Training. The interview lasted an average of about twenty minutes and questions on general knowledge and current affairs were normal favourites. At the end of the interview, one was not usually informed about the result, but one could often satisfactorily conclude the outcome.
Although no meeting with the preceding candidate was allowed, signs, notes and general information regarding the atmosphere in the boardroom filtered across to those who waited their turn before the board. The candidate who was summoned immediately before me came out looking a trifle unhappy with the result of his interview, and I could make out from his expression that things were not too easy behind those closed doors. Taking a deep breath and uttering a small prayer, I clenched my fists and summoned enough courage to enter the all-too-forbidden territory.
On entering the large well-lit room, I observed that a General sat at the head of the table flanked by an Indian on his right. The chairman then asked me his first question regarding my age, and when I told him that it was my eighteenth birthday that very day, he rose and shook hands with me and greeted me with: 'Happy Birthday". When the chairman got up, the others rose too and suddenly fear deserted me and the faces, that a minute ago had looked hostile, unkind and unsympathetic, appeared hostile no more. They looked at me kindly, and the General was still smiling when he asked me the second question.
'Don't you think it would be somewhat unfair to take you instead of the older boys?'
Now it was my turn to stop smiling, and I almost lost hope, but God gave me enough courage to reply that in that case I would still be considered too young a year from now. I do not know from whence the courage came, but I boldly continued and said that if I were judged unsuitable because I was considered too young, I would not be able to fulfil my dreams or those of my family. I concluded by saying that I was low on finances and that my mother was keeping me at school only after having sold all of her property and jewelry.
The General viewed me sympathetically, and asked me several questions about my family. He asked about the finances that would be available to me in the future. I replied that if God in his mercy had permitted me to complete five years in the most expensive school in India, he would surely help me achieve my goals. I concluded with: 'Sir, I have left everything to God.'
The other members of the board then asked me a few questions. I was asked about Lord Roberts who was in command at R.I.M.C. and in whose section I was. Another gentleman, Sir Yamin Khan, asked me a few questions about Aligarh College and asked me to compare it to my present institution. An Englishman, who I later discovered, was Sir Mackenzie, asked me what I thought of the Indian Sandhurst and which one I would prefer to join. I replied quite frankly and truthfully that I would have preferred the English Sandhurst for two reasons. The first one being that the travel and exposure to another country is in itself an education, and the second one that anybody would benefit greatly by learning of the traditions of R.M.C. Sandhurst from where all the boys of Prince of Wales had formerly received their education.
At this point, the chairman looked at me directly and remarked:
'Well, you now have to create your own traditions in your own institutions."
"Yes Sir, God willing", I replied.
The General then looked around at the members and asked if they would like to address any further questions to me. Since there were no more questions, I rose, clicked my heels, and left. Later, one of the members called for me, and putting his hand on my shoulder, he told me that I had done very well in the interview. He said this coupled with the good report that I had received from Mr. J.G.S. Scott, the principal of R.I.M.C., would go very much in my favour. I thanked him and must say that I left with a lighter heart and infinitely more hope than I had when I had arrived for the interview.
I hastened to tell my mother about what had transpired, and found her sitting on her prayer mat. The moment I entered, she turned to me: 'Inshallah, you will come first for I have been asking Allah to list my Hamid's name first in the final list', she said.
I had two more papers left; one was Indian History and the other General Studies. Both of these subjects, I found very interesting and in fact, I had learnt by heart almost the entire Indian history from 1526 to 1707, and could recall about three hundred quotations from Smith and Lyall.
Soon the examinations were over and we all dispersed. I went off to Meerut to spend time with my uncle, Syed Ahmed Ashraf who had just recently bought a Morris Cowley, which I was privileged to drive. My mother soon arrived and that put an early end to my escapades with my two close friends - Keramet and Yasin.
It was a long wait for the results, and finally after a month of waiting and false alarms, I came to know that the results were out in Delhi, and that they would be published in the newspapers the next day. Of course, I could not wait, and immediately took off for the post office to ring up Delhi and ask about my results. It took me well over half an hour to be able to book a call and reach the right person who could give me some information about the results. The half-hour I spent waiting seemed more like half a day to me, for on the news of my performance depended not just my career, but also my whole life. I did then, what I always did; I started to silently repeat my prayers as I paced the front of the post office building. Eventually, a whole life later, or so it seemed to me, the call came through and I was informed that I had been placed 'third' in the whole of India. My joy knew no bounds; I felt the blood rush to my face and I experienced a strange delight that made me want to dance with joy. Hardly able to conceal the excitement I felt, I asked the person on the other side to read the names on the list so I could write them down. I thanked him profusely, and driving my uncle's car at maximum speed, I hurried to tell him and my mother the news that seemed to cause my very heart to burst.
My mother, on hearing the news, thanked God for his kindness. When I told her that Agha Abdul Hamid had topped the list, she cried and said that although God had heard her prayer for ‘Hamid’ to top the list, it had not been her ‘Hamid’. I had, however, topped the list from the Prince of Wales cadets; so, in a way, her wishes had been partly fulfilled. A day later, the news was confirmed in the newspapers, and I received my mark sheet shortly afterwards. I was amazed to find out that I had scored 100% in my interview and records - an honor that I shared with K.L. Alal, also of the Prince of Wales. Alal had been through the selection board six months earlier, but had not been able, at that time, to clear his final examination.
Joining instructions for the January session soon followed. The fees for the year had to be paid in advance, and a list of clothing and accessories, which had to be procured, was enclosed.
My mother was delighted with my results, and so was my grandfather. My uncle, Syed Ahmed Ashraf, who in the absence of my own father acted every bit the father I had lost, was overwhelmed with joy. He continued to support and guide me throughout my life, and to him I owe a great debt.
That evening, my mother sat with me and together we worked out the expense for the coming year. I required roughly five and a half thousand rupees, and although she had no ready cash, she was confident that God would come to her rescue and some solution would ultimately be found. Consequently, she decided to sell her property consisting of a garage and a flat on approximately two hundred square yards just opposite the house where she herself lived. I realized that this sale would considerably reduce her own income, but she had such great faith that nothing seemed impossible to her. I have, by the grace of God, inherited this quality from her, though my degree of faith is nowhere near as strong as hers was. She stood by me throughout my life like a rock, and may God in his mercy bless her soul, for I am dearly indebted to her for what I am. She wanted me to be independent and not to seek favors from any man, and God be thanked that I have not been indebted to any human being for position or money.
The year's fee having been deposited with the relevant authorities, my mother ordered me to purchase all my requirements from Ranken and Sons near Kashmir Gate, Delhi. When I protested and pointed out that Ranken was the most expensive shop in India, she replied: ‘It does not matter, my God is not poor.’ So, I bought even my hair- brushes and combs from Ranken and faced the world with renewed confidence and faith in my Creator.
I arrived at the all too familiar Dehra Dun station. There were two other boys who had arrived with me from Delhi - one was Bhagwant Singh and the other N. S. Bhagat. We were received at the railway station by the staff of the Indian Military Academy and transported to our destination in the grey and red bus of the I.M.A.
DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS
We reached the Indian Military Academy, which as explained earlier, was formerly destined to be the Railway Staff College. The most impressive sight that greeted our eyes was the large, old railway engine just outside Chetwood Hall. Apparently, it could not be removed from the site due to lack of time. However, before I left the I.M.A., it had been replaced with a big howitzer. I soon discovered that there were forty Gentlemen Cadets, as we were now referred to. Fifteen of us were those who had appeared in the open competition examination held at Delhi and we were labeled "O" Cadets, fifteen others came to I.M.A. through the army or from the ranks and these were the "A" Cadets. Apart from these, there were the "S" Cadets who came from the native states and who after training, were to go back to their own respective states without becoming commissioned officers in the Indian Army.
At that time, the I.M.A. was divided into two companies: A and B. Major R. S. Savery (M.C.) who later became the Adjutant General of the Indian Army commanded company A. Under his command, there were just about twenty cadets. Major D. T. Cowan (M.C.) who later commanded the British and Indian troops in Japan after its defeat, commanded Company B. Major Cowan and Major Savery were both from the Sikh Regiment. I was assigned to Company B and was given number 24 - a number that stayed with me until the final term. My company started off with 25 and later this number was increased, to accommodate 40 candidates. However, by the time we had completed two and a half term, we lost about fifteen, and the final class passed out with only twenty-five gentlemen cadets.
The academy building itself had been quickly converted into suitable accommodation for military purposes. The playgrounds were in their early stages of formation; there was one hockey and another football field, but there was no cricket pitch, squash court, or swimming pool. To me, who had been exposed to great facilities at the Prince of Wales, it all seemed somewhat disorganized and limited. The I.M.A. was, however, very well staffed and there were about twenty officers to look after us. The result was that we were very closely supervised and perhaps it was due to this that the casualties in the first term were higher than in the others.
Major Cowan soon got busy with us, and his first act was to walk around the premises with us in tow. We were shown the company offices and introduced to the Hawaldar Major - a Sepoy from the local Gurkha regiment, who was addressed by the name of Guring. I found the attitude and manner of this gentleman, even at that time, to be harsh and uncivil. Thinking about it in retrospect, however, I realize that perhaps his manner was justified, since he had after all, up till then, seen only ordinary recruits. The army cadets that became part of Company B included Smith Dunn who had been a V.C.O. in the Twentieth Burma Rifles, and Gulzar, Unwer Bahadur and Janjua represented the Muslims. The last one became the G.C. Incharge or Senior G.C. This selection was perhaps made because he had been trained in the Indian Army, or maybe because he could see the British point of view, better.
In the afternoon, we were given a great number of orders and instructions, and were told to be present at the company office at four o'clock sharp so that we could be shown around the sports field. When I returned to my quarters, which was the best accommodation I ever had as a bachelor, I turned the day's events over in my mind and felt somewhat disappointed. The charm of Sandhurst with its century old traditions, the desire to see another country and to meet the British in their own land, was something that I had really looked forward to experiencing. Instead, I had to hear the harsh words of a Hawaldar, and witness the abrupt manner of the Company Commander. All this left me feeling, to say the least, disillusioned.
At the Prince of Wales, my teachers - every one of them - were not only graduates from distinguished universities, many of them even excelled in some area of athletics. They were handpicked and had good family backgrounds. To them, I owe a great debt, for they put in a great effort in my early training and tried to make a man and a gentleman out of me. Amongst those directly responsible for my training were Mr. J.M. Allen, my Section Master for six years, Mr. Catchpole, Mr. Wood and Mr. Pritchard. Thinking over the past, I dozed off and woke a few minutes later than the appointed time and so got ticked off on my very first day at the I.M.A. This upset and worried me and I was in no state of mind to appreciate the ploughed up field that I was later shown and which compared so poorly with the wonderful fields of my old institution. Comparisons, as a rule, are upsetting and can lead to misunderstandings, but I was too young to understand that. I was the youngest in my batch and so lacked the quality of mature thinking, and this in turn, led me into a great many problems throughout my stay at the I.M.A.
It was not long before we were on the square used for military drill. Great emphasis was placed on Drill and Physical Training. Fortunately, I was good at both, having done a lot of it in the six years that I spent at the Prince of Wales. I performed so well in P.T, that I was recommended for a stripe in my very first term and informed about it by my instructor, Sergeant Stafford.
One of the earliest problems I faced was with regard to Hawaldar Guring's attitude towards me. For one thing, since his language was Gurkhali, he spoke very little Urdu or English, and so, whenever he did attempt to address us in either language, it was in a rude and gruff manner. I do not really know why, but he took an instinctive dislike to me, and as a result of our mutual feelings, I spent a great deal of my time doing extra drills - a punishment that he could award and of which he took full advantage. I was, perhaps, the first to feel that the appointment of Hawaldars for training recruits who were to be the future officers of the Indian Army was a step in the wrong direction, and told them so. When complaints multiplied, my point of view was accepted by G.H.Q. and British Sergeants everywhere replaced Hawaldars.
Soon, rifles were issued to us and we were subjected to intensive drills. For many open competition cadets this was something new, and one of my colleagues, Sam Manikshaw, who later became the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, thought that he should use the rifle like a stick, with the pointed end of the barrel on the ground. I remember that the Hawaldar stared at him in horror and disbelief.
Time passed pleasantly enough and we were kept constantly on the run. I think more to impress than of necessity, I made two friends, Ashraf and Abedi - one an army cadet and the other a state cadet. Both of them remained my closest friends throughout my stay of two and a half years at the I.M.A.
During my spare time on Sundays, I would make frequent visits to my old college that was just about three miles away. I looked forward to the end of the first term, and we all felt relieved when we realized that a new batch would soon be inducted into the academy. We understood, too, that this would mean less pressure on us from the staff that was in the ratio of one to every two students.
The time finally came for us to leave on our vacations, and I returned home, a trifle disappointed with my experience in the first term. I had, after all, been at Dehra Dun for the past six years, so for me this was not a change for the better. The attitude of the Indian instructors, the outlook of the British officers and the inferior type of commission that was going to be awarded at the end of the stipulated period of two and a half years, left me feeling disturbed and agitated. I also discovered that the attitude of the British officers towards those that came from the army was more tempered and even prejudiced in their favor. The army cadets had a distinct advantage over us for they accepted these British officers as superiors who had to be respected, and they knew and accepted the power wielded by them in the Indian army.
In my opinion, the cadets from the army and the states were far better off than we were, and anyway I did not really relish the idea of spending time at the I.M.A. I had dreamt too often and too long of Sandhurst and had watched with great admiration the training of those who had been fortunate enough to have completed their course at that institution. At the Prince of Wales, we used to have annual reunions of the old boys. These were always impressive functions, for we were able to get a glimpse of those who had passed through its gates, and see how confident, mature and responsible they had become after receiving their commission. Their uniforms, the way they exuded confidence and their general demeanor fascinated all those that wanted to emulate their example. I confided to my mother that I was unhappy with my situation, that I hated it when the British officers treated me as though I were inferior, and that I thoroughly disliked their attitude and behavior towards those with inferior commissions. My mother's advice was to go through with it at all cost, and to leave it after completing the course, if that were what I really desired.
It was at this stage of my life that I realized the hopelessness of my situation. I knew that I had spent a great deal of money that my mother could ill afford, and had just obtained the same qualifications as a Senior Cambridge student, a standard that I could have achieved without having gone through a six-year course at the Prince of Wales. During my leave, I sought advice by speaking with several of my friends who were now officers in the Indian Army and who had cleared their course at Sandhurst, and all of them had the same opinion as my mother. Somewhat disillusioned and a little unhappy, I returned to the I.M.A. in time to see the new batch of students arrive. There was only one student from the Prince of Wales, and he was Khush-Waqt-ul-Mulk, son of the ruler of Chitral.
At this time, a tradition was being established whereby seniors were required to be strict with the newcomers, but I did not see any sense in being rude to those who had just arrived and who were probably nervous and frightened anyway. My conscience is clear for I have never treated any of my juniors harshly or unjustly and have always endeavored to follow my principle that one can keep one's dignity without being rude. Maybe, I felt this way because I was still the youngest cadet at the I.M.A. and could not understand why age could give one the liberty to treat another unfairly.
Around the middle of the term, I developed a pain on the right side of my stomach but since the pain came and went and was not too severe, I did not pay much attention to it. One Saturday, when I had just returned after watching a movie, I felt a severe pain and it was so intense that I fainted. A friend of mine, Gentleman Cadet Ashraf, immediately sought the doctor and I was removed to the British Medical Hospital for examination and tests. One week, and many tests and x-rays later, the doctors discovered I had appendicitis, and they felt I should be operated upon as early as possible. The news upset and disturbed me, for I feared that I could be detained an extra term. This, I could hardly afford, so I arranged for an interview with my Commandant, L. P. Collins, and told him very frankly that my mother could not afford an extra term, and that if it meant losing a term, I would much rather leave now. After consideration and consultations, I was told that I could have the required surgery during the coming holidays, so that I would not miss my work. I was indeed grateful for this and thanked God for his kindness.
Soon after the term ended, I went to Meerut, had a very reluctant mother sign a certificate accepting normal risks involved in an operation, and got admitted into hospital. On the day that I was to be admitted to hospital, my entire family came to see me, and each insisted on accompanying me to the hospital. My uncle was able to convince them of the futility of such an exercise, and so I was quietly taken to the British Military Hospital, where the entire staff, except for the menial workers, was British and I just happened to be their very unfortunate Indian patient. The authorities were at a loss as to how I had to be treated for I had not yet become an officer, and their regulations did not cater for the treatment of a Gentleman Cadet. After much discussion, I was finally given the benefit of the doubt and admitted to the Officers' Ward and told that Major Houston of the R.A.M.C would operate on me in a few days.
My poor mother and uncle, who visited me every evening, looked anxiously down at me, feeling perhaps that my end was near and that it was a question of a few hours, or maybe a few days. They did not like the hospital for the nurses were very strict, and the nurses, in their turn, found it odd to see an Indian gentleman and lady at a British hospital. The day of the operation having been scheduled, my mother was informed. She stood by my bed and sobbed bitterly, and my uncle's eyes welled up with tears. Seeing them upset disturbed me a great deal and I felt a kind of a choking feeling in my throat. The nurses soon arrived and asked them to leave, and then turning to me said that I would have to go to the operating room on a trolley stretcher so that I could be prepared for the operation at 8 A.M. the next day. The operating theatre was a great shock to me for I had never seen such a room before. It was painted all white and the smell of ether was strong enough to put one to sleep even without being given a general anaesthetic. I was washed, bandaged and changed in preparation for the operation and while they were thus employed, I recited my prayers and requested God to extend my life for the sake of my mother and brother.
Before retiring to bed that night, I was given different kinds of medication to give me a good night's sleep and to make me less nervous and anxious. I slept soundly, but on awakening the next morning, I still felt a little drowsy. My mother and uncle were allowed to come and see me before I was wheeled into the operating room. Once inside, I saw the surgeon walk over to where I lay, and he said a few comforting and encouraging words before placing a hood over my face. I was told to count up to ten, he said; so, I started 1... 2... and before I could say 3, I felt I was being sucked into a deep black well. When I awoke, I saw a nurse putting some eau-de-cologne on my forehead and my mother bending over me. Much though I tried to stay awake, I went back to sleep, and woke up again to be sick. I found that I was lying in a strange position with many pillows under my legs - a position that was referred to as a "donkey" and which was designed to prevent pain and keep the stitches in place. For a few days the pain was intense and I passed those hours in agony with my eyes constantly turning to and focussing on a lamp lit outside my window in the hospital compound.
It was after I spent fifteen days in the hospital that I was finally discharged and given a sealed envelope that was intended for my Commandant at the I.M.A. I was able to rejoin my second term, even though I was late by a month. As instructed, I handed over the letter from the hospital to the Adjutant who summoned me almost immediately to tell me that I was to take things easy that term and that the Commandant had excused me from all heavy work for that term. The Medical Officer further informed me that unless I was very careful, I could develop hernia. I did not understand the connection but accepted it to be the truth. I visited hospital quite regularly to show my wound, and felt very dejected for not being able to take part in games and other physical exercise. I also found it difficult, because of all the instructions I had missed, to catch up with the other students in subjects such as map reading and tactical exercise. In spite of my efforts, I found that my marks for the tests at the end of the term were not good and I realized that I might just have to repeat an extra term's work.
At the end of the term, a few of my colleagues who did not come up to the required standard were ‘dropped’. This was a serious setback for it not only meant that their commission would be delayed by six months, but that there would be a consequent loss of seniority to at least twenty officers. When I was summoned, to be told of my result, I thought I would meet the same fate as my ‘dropped’ colleagues; but God in his mercy came to my help. I was merely informed that I had lost a great deal of time and marks in that particular term, and that unless I worked very hard, I would not be able to maintain the position that I had achieved when I was admitted to the I.M.A. I considered myself fortunate to have gotten away with a warning for I observed that there was great panic and a lot of grief and sorrow amongst those who had lost the term's work.
I left the I.M.A and went to Meerut to spend time with my uncle and guardian who was a practicing lawyer. I spent most of my vacation reading and writing, and taking part in light exercise. I felt I had to increase my stamina by gradually increasing the amount of exercise, so that by the time my leave ended, I would be able to do a normal workload. When I joined the I.M.A. for the third term, I saw some of my old friends from Prince of Wales there. They had given their exams with me but had not been successful enough to be amongst the fifteen who were taken every year through open competition.
A greater number of young Indian boys took their exams for entrance to the I.M.A. at about this time, because there was great publicity regarding the nationalization of the Indian army. Apparently, this had not been the case for those entering into the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, England. There were probably two reasons for this change: there were now a larger number of vacancies - up to 300 a year as against a much smaller number for R.M.C. Sandhurst, and there was less expense involved. At R.M.C., the one and a half year training together with leave and allied expenses, came to twice as much as at the I.M.A. where the total expense was about five and a half thousand for a two and a half year course. This expense was for boys that came to Sandhurst or the I.M.A. through open competition and not for the army or state cadets for whom the Indian government and the state governments paid respectively. It would not be out of place to mention here that whilst very few army and state cadets were admitted to Sandhurst, there were thirty of each type admitted to the I.M.A. every year which was a figure at par with those that came through open competition.
As far as the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College was concerned, it had hitherto supplied a very large portion of Gentlemen Cadets and they continued to supply cadets to the I.M.A. but in far smaller numbers. In fact, there were just about three or four cadets every term, except for the second term when only one came from the Prince of Wales. The reason for this drop in numbers could have been that the Prince of Wales Military College had a six-year long and expensive course in which few students were interested. However, once the I.M.A. was established, students took a chance in the competition exam by paying a small fee, and hoped for the best. There may well have been other reasons.
I was honestly delighted to see three cadets from my old college, but unfortunately due to the strange traditions that prevailed, I was not able to associate with them as freely as I would have liked. I was unhappy about this for I had spent six long years with them and they had been with me through a very sensitive period of my life. It was in this term that I ceased to be the youngest cadet on the campus, and this gave me a feeling of suddenly 'growing up'. In the third term, I had to pay more attention to tactics and map reading, and I also took part in a lot of outdoor exercises. It was about this time that I started taking riding seriously, and since it had been my ambition to be in the cavalry, I enjoyed the sessions thoroughly. I had ridden since I was eight and I had the mistaken notion that I could ride very well. However, I found that I was nowhere near the standard of those who had come through the ranks and had taken many riding courses; so, I was disappointed in my own performance.
Apart from riding, there were other activities that kept us busy. A new swimming pool had been constructed and the playing fields began to look better, and this coupled with the fact that there were now boys from three terms, made things look up and life became more enjoyable. As seniors, we were allowed to go into town in ‘mufti’ that consisted of a grey single-breasted suit and a grey and red I.M.A. tie. Since I was not very fond of shopping, I spent most of my Sundays visiting my old college or occasionally watching a movie in town. Later on, an aunt of mine from Rampur settled in Dehra Dun, and she was kind enough to invite me to her house off and on. I must say I felt more settled and when the term concluded, I returned home to Meerut in a better frame of mind. Once in Meerut, I got busy learning how to drive, and maintain my uncle's car. I also started to go duck shooting whenever he could spare the car, or wanted me to accompany him. My uncle enjoyed going out shooting, but never used the gun; he enjoyed the outing more than the actual sport. I was so busy that I never realized how quickly the days had passed, and before I knew it, my short leave had ended.
I returned to the I.M.A. for my fourth term. The new batch of forty cadets had arrived and the two companies now had to be split into four, so apart from Company A and B, we now had Company C and D, and each one of these was commanded by a Major of the Indian army. From among the Gentlemen Cadets, we had four under officers, two from the army cadets, one from the states, and one from those who came through open competition. Contrary to what had happened at the R.M.C. Sandhurst, the army cadets at the I.M.A. did much better, and perhaps this was because they were not only very submissive but also in awe of the British officers.
I discovered from the program distributed to us for the fourth term, that the staff responsible for our training was perhaps finding it difficult to arrange training programs for the duration of the term. This was probably due to the fact that the staff had no guidelines, as at the R.M.C., Sandhurst there were only three terms. I made this deduction when I noticed that we had to study such subjects as Carpentry, Military Transport Maintenance, Air Reconnaissance, Photo Reading and so on - subjects, that as far as I knew, were not taught at the R.M.C., Sandhurst.
During this term, and on the first of April, the senior cadets decided to play the fool. A few of the ‘O’ cadets, that is those who came through the open competition, had heard of the tradition practiced at the R.M.C. and decided to keep it up, here. In spite of my protests, they decided to go through with it, and so on the first of April, we moved certain trophy guns, issued some objectionable orders and also sounded the fire alarm. The staff, however, did not take this in the spirit in which it had been intended and came down on us with a heavy hand. In addition to the extra drills we were ordered to do, we had to listen to a lengthy lecture in which we were reprimanded and told that such behavior would not be tolerated and that if we persisted, the Academy would be closed. We were also reminded that the traditions of the R.M.C. were not to be followed at the I.M.A. The lecture depressed me a great deal and this for more than one reason. I had heard from my old friends and also read in the Sandhurst journal that such activities were not frowned upon and that in one case, the Gentlemen Cadets had even pushed a Commandant's car into the lake without any adverse effects. I did not really mind the punishment inflicted on us by making us ‘double’ in the heat of the afternoon sun, as much as the attitude of the British officers when they addressed us. I nearly found myself thrown out of the I.M.A. for speaking my mind to my Under Officer who lost no time in communicating my thoughts to my Company Commandant.
I was immediately summoned and given one of the worst dressing downs I have ever received in my life. This incident left a great impression on me, and I observed two things: one was the attitude of the British officers of the Indian army towards their subordinate Indians, and the other was a realization of how a colleague can conspire against you to gain some personal benefit. Throughout my childhood, it was constantly drummed into me that meanness was not a quality of a gentleman, and to report things behind a person's back was a low and underhand action that must be shunned. I, therefore, resolved to be fearless and outspoken with the British, and never to rely completely on colleagues. Both these resolutions I practiced until they became a habit, but later they caused me grave professional harm and earned me very few friends in life. My newly found attitude to life at the I.M.A. got me into many scrapes and difficulties and I would have chucked in my career, but for the thoughts I had of my mother and younger brother and their dreams for me.
When I went to Delhi on leave, I went to see my old grandfather, who still lived at the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia and confided in him my difficulties and also told him of my desire to give up my career in the army. My grandfather gave me a patient hearing and said, “Changes are bound to occur in your life as you grow up, so do not worry and entrust your difficulties to your Creator and ask for His guidance.” Thereafter, I went to the grave of the saint, fell on my knees and prayed and shed many tears. When I rose, I felt strangely elated and full of confidence. It was in this condition that I returned to my grandfather's room. When my grandfather noted the change in my state, he lifted his hands in prayer. After a few minutes, he said: "In spite of the many obstacles you may experience, you will be successful because of the blessings of this great saint where I have spent many years of my humble life." And with that, his eyes filled with tears. I fell at his feet and he lovingly stroked my back and said quite simply: "God will never forsake you."
I returned to Meerut and spoke to my uncle, Syed Ahmed Ashraf, regarding my problems and my visit to my grandfather. His advice was to go through with the course and complete it. He reminded me of the considerable expense that had been incurred on my education - six years at the Prince of Wales, and two years at the I.M.A. He told me that my mother had sold everything that she could and had nothing left but the house we lived in and that it would hurt her a great deal if I decided to give up at this stage of my career. Bewildered and uncertain, I joined the I.M.A. in my fifth and final term.
During this term, we had a three-day outdoor exercise, wherein all phases of military tactics were reviewed. The ground selected for this exercise was some distance away from Dehra Dun, and our accommodation consisted of a few canvas tents. In each of these tents, there were six Gentlemen Cadets, and in our tent we also had an Under Officer named Smith Dunn - a Burmese officer who had come to the I.M.A. as a cadet and who spoke English with a strange accent. He had risen from the ranks and was a self-made man who was not generally well liked, but he happened to be a particular favorite of my Company Commander, a Gurkha officer. In fact, Smith Dunn looked very much like a Gurkha himself, and I am sure that his looks, structure and manner must have contributed in some way for the strong ties and mutual faith between the two.
I was instructed by this Under Officer to dig a snake trench around the tent, and I immediately got down to the task. While I was thus engaged, I was called away somewhere else and so a portion of the trench was left undone and I forgot to complete it. After lunch, most unfortunately, I fell asleep and it was perhaps an hour later that I was woken up with a kick. When I recovered from the shock, I found the Under Officer standing near me. I also noticed that my companions, one of whom was General Habibullah Khan, had gathered around me and were laughing. Somehow, the atmosphere and the manner and hostile attitude of the Under Officer, brought out a very strange feeling from within me and for the first time in my life, I felt my whole system revolt within me so that I lost my reasoning. I got up, abused the Under Officer and went outside the tent to bring the iron pick to injure him or maybe even kill him, for all I cared. My colleagues must have observed something strange in my behaviour, for they caught hold of me and tried to restrain me.
I had boxed both at the Prince of Wales and the I.M.A. and on many occasions I had received serious beatings, but never had I felt this awful feeling of ‘blankness’ come over me, and never had I lost control over my emotions. This awful discovery of the ‘animal’ within me left me feeling very dejected and unhappy. I was so taken aback that I paid no attention when I was told that I was under arrest and that serious charges were being framed against me. When everyone had left, I knelt in prayer and implored God to remove the animal instinct from within me. After praying, I felt relieved, but realized that my career had probably ended and that I would be out of the I.M.A. without a commission; so, I waited with much grief my trial that was to follow a few hours later.
For the first time, I was marched into the Commander's office without a hat and a belt on charges that look serious to me, even now, when I have retired with twenty-nine years of service. My Company Commander, Major D. T. Cowan, who later became a Major General and commanded the British Indian Force which occupied Japan after the Second World War, read out the charges and asked if I had anything to say. Realizing that there was not much hope of being spared, I spoke out.
"Sir", I said, "I joined the army to gain honor and respect, and not to be kicked around by a ranker. I am willing to go home."
As I finished speaking, I felt warm tears on my cheek. I was then ordered to march out and the sentence was withheld until the evening roll call after retreat. As I was returning to my tent, lonely and depressed, I met a friend of mine who had earlier praised me for my courage, and who now turned away from me when I sought his views.
I lay down in my tent, alone and frightened, and reviewed the day's happenings. I was indeed sorry that I had wasted exactly eight years and six months of my life and a great deal of money that my mother could ill afford, to join a profession that I thought was great and honorable. I realized that I would find it most difficult to settle down for I had seen some of my colleagues from the Prince of Wales who had failed to get into Sandhurst, doing petty jobs in the Police, Civil Service and the Army. The most amazing thing that I discovered about myself in the midst of this crisis, was my faith in God, for in spite of all the adverse things that could happen, I was neither worried nor sorry for what I had done. Two of my friends came to see me; one was G.C. Ashraf and the other G.C. Habibullah Khattak. Each was with me for a few minutes and each had some comment to make. One of them said "Do not worry, God will uphold the right action." The other remarked: "My dear Nawab Sahib, such courage for prestige does not pay."
In the evening, my sentence was announced and I received twenty-eight days of rigorous imprisonment. This meant great hardship and a major setback for me. Anyway, I thanked God, for worse could have happened. I carried out my punishment cheerfully and even developed a new respect for myself.
A few months later, and almost at the end of the term, we proceeded to Ambala to see some army units stationed there; and it was during this visit that we received our final results. I was pleased to learn that I had passed out successfully and that I was to receive my commission from the fifth of February 1935. There was general rejoicing amongst the Gentlemen Cadets, and then we dispersed to our respective homes. I sent a telegram to my mother announcing the result and the date of my arrival in Delhi. I found out later that a large number of my family members, together with the local band, had turned up to receive me, but since I had missed my railway connection at one of the intermediary stations, I arrived there quite late at night. When I finally arrived at Delhi, therefore, I found no one at the railway station, and so made my way home alone. My mother and the rest of my family were delighted to see me. I was apparently the first one in the family to have become an officer at the young age of twenty after having completed eight and a half years of training.
At Delhi, I went to call on an old family friend, Sir Earnest Burdon who was then the Auditor General of India. He was pleased to know that I would soon be receiving my commission, and he told me that his own son, Peter, had also completed his course from the Military College at Sandhurst and had opted to join the Indian Army. It was then the practice that all officers joining the Indian army be attached to a British Infantry Battalion for training before joining the final Indian army unit. Sir Earnest asked me if I knew which British regiment I was joining and if I would like to join the same British Battalion, located at Delhi, as his own son was planning to do. On receiving an affirmative answer from me, he said he would arrange it for me and that I should find out about the outcome from him in a few days.
A day or two later, I received a note from Sir Earnest that he had settled my posting with the First British King’s Shropshire Light Infantry together with his own son's, and that orders to join were being issued to me. My mother was greatly pleased to hear that I would be posted in Delhi Cantonment for about a year, for that would mean that I could now at least visit her more frequently. As soon as I received the news, I went to see my grandfather, and informed him about the assignment. He prayed for me and asked me to arrange a meeting for him with Sir Earnest whose father had been his superior, when Sir Earnest was just a baby.
The visit was subsequently arranged, and I was honestly surprised to observe the respect in which Sir Earnest held my grandfather. My grandfather related the story of how Sir Earnest had come running to him for help once when his father was scolding him for being naughty. It was an experience for me to see how a member of the British aristocracy behaved with the nobility from India, and I felt that perhaps this was the main reason for their strength and success in India. I also could not help but compare his behavior with that of the Indian army Major, who had been responsible for my training for the last two and a half years.
For the first time in my life, I realized that there were two distinct classes of British serving in India. One category consisted of well-bred and refined gentlemen who were, perhaps, responsible for the creation of British India. The other comprised the rough and ready, crude type that ultimately broke up the Indian Empire that they had created, but were later unable to sustain. After tea, my grandfather thanked his host and we were just about to leave, when Sir Earnest asked me to come for lunch so I could meet his son who was arriving from London in a few days. I gratefully accepted the offer and bade him good-bye.
Within a few days, I received a letter from the Army Headquarters informing me that I was to join the regiment shown against my name in the list, and that I was to communicate to the Adjutant my mode and time of arrival. I also discovered that another colleague of mine, D. R. Rai, was to join the same regiment as myself, and so he too would be stationed in Delhi Cantonment. D. R. Rai was from Lahore and the only son of an Indian Medical Service officer who had died when Rai was just a little child. Rai later went on to join the same Indian Regiment as I did - the Eleventh Sikh Regiment – and he was the first Indian Commissioned Officer to command a Sikh Regiment. Most unfortunately, however, he was killed soon after taking charge of the Kashmir operation in 1948. He was an excellent officer, and we were good friends, and his untimely death left a great vacuum in my life.
My appointment for lunch with Sir Earnest Burdon having finally arrived, I reached his residence at York Place in New Delhi at the appointed time. There were just the three of us for lunch, and our conversation revolved around our future regiments of the Indian army and our finances. Even as I told him that I had hopes of joining the Third Cavalry located at Meerut, I knew that this was a difficult objective to achieve. I realized that Peter had the finances and the influence to fulfil his dreams, whereas I had neither; and so I came away from lunch feeling somewhat depressed and unhappy. I also discovered, much to my chagrin, that Peter had a broader outlook on life, looked forward to a good time and was more confident of eking out a successful career for himself in the Indian army. Compared to this, I found my own knowledge of the world to be very limited. My future, in fact, seemed so uncertain that my confidence constantly wavered.
While undergoing training at the I.M.A., I observed that it had neither the traditions nor the prestige associated with Sandhurst. The officers at the I.M.A., who had trained us, had a snobbish and hostile attitude, and the treatment extended to us was totally different from the one we had received at the Prince of Wales. While coming back home from lunch with the Burdons, I meditated and thought about the differences in outlook that Peter and I had, and came to the conclusion that Peter Burdon had seen more of the world and consequently had much more experience and exposure than I. I had just been in Dehra Dun for the greater part of my life, and I realized my shortcomings, together with the truth of the statement that travelling is an education in itself. Of course, I could do nothing to minimize the gap that existed between us, save to master my profession and so balance my drawbacks. I, therefore, decided to put in my maximum effort into my career and my future life in the army.
There was no one in my family in whom I could confide, or to whom I could explain my feelings, so I took off to my grandfather's place and spent several days there with him. His humble abode consisted of no more than a room with a verandah situated right in the middle of graves of all shapes and sizes, from simple earthy ones to elaborate marble structures that held the remains of princes and princesses of the Mughal dynasty. At night, the scene had a great impact on me, and I spent a lot of my time there just sitting at the mausoleum of the saint, contemplating and seeking guidance through prayers. I was now twenty-one years old, but I felt I had little or no knowledge of the world, save for what I had been taught regarding my profession. I wondered about the personality of this great saint that attracted hundreds of people who thronged to visit his shrine in order to pay their respects to him, and seek help and guidance from the examples he had set during his own lifetime. I felt an urge to learn more about Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya's life, his work and his mission that had earned him so much respect and love, and elevated him to this revered position. I discovered, much to my disappointment, that all his written work was in Persian, and I suddenly felt that my education was indeed lacking, for I could not even understand those of his works that had been translated into Urdu. In the same way, the Quran, that I had read in a parrot like fashion gave me little or no guidance for I did not know the meaning of what I read.
All these thoughts raced through my mind and left me feeling inadequate and puzzled. I even entertained the thought of leaving the path I had selected, that is, my profession as a soldier and start all over again to become a student of mysticism and so find peace and fulfillment in life. I thought that my chances for succeeding in the army were very small, for I had neither the money nor the influence that Peter Burdon enjoyed. I felt that he had an advantage over me and was an ideal type to succeed in the army of those days. In the absence of any guidance, I cried my heart out at night while sitting at the saint's mausoleum. On my last evening there, a feeling of calm pervaded my spirit, and I resolved to try my best in the profession for which I had just been accepted. I bade good-bye to my grandfather, returned home to collect the necessary items that included an old car given to me by my cousin, the Nawab of Loharu, and then left soon afterwards to join the regiment of my choice
THE BEST FOR THE BLESSED
The day when I was to report for duty at the Delhi Cantonment soon arrived, and as I was taking leave of my mother, my younger brother came in carrying a ‘khookri’ - a bent oversized knife given to me as a parting present by a Gurkha orderly. My brother, who was very young, thought that this weapon was also part of my army outfit. When I pulled out the blade to check if it were clean, I cut the second finger of my left hand so badly that there was blood all over the floor, and even my new shirt was ruined. I needed a few stitches because the bleeding would not stop, but the doctor at the hospital where I was taken thought I was fit and could proceed on duty. My poor brother, however, was not so lucky; my mother scolded him copiously and I had to intervene and tell her that it was not really his fault because he was, after all, only trying to be helpful.
I drove from Old Delhi to the Cantonment area in my old car, a Studebaker, and without much difficulty entered the area occupied by the only British Regiment in the Cantonment. A very large area extending up to a few miles and encompassing bungalows, barracks, mess, and a parade ground, was occupied by my new regiment - The King's Shropshire Light Infantry. At the entrance, for the first time in my life, I was saluted by a fully uniformed British soldier who pointed out to me the orderly room or office which lay about 500 yards ahead. Leaving my car in the parking area outside the Adjutant's office, I went to the door and knocked on it, to report for duty. Hutton Harrop, the senior-most Subaltern of the regiment, greeted me, and after talking to me for a few minutes, rose, shook hands, and sent me off to the Officers' Mess where he said I would find that a room had been reserved and made ready for me.
I proceeded to the Mess, the biggest building in the cantonment, apart from the church, and was shown my room by the Mess Sergeant. I found that it was a good-sized room fitted with a bed, a bedside table, and other pieces of furniture. Attached to the bedroom was a small bathroom with a bathtub and basin. I thought that the accommodation was excellent; and so, after putting my luggage into my room, I left my servant, Maula Bux, to organize my room while I went down to take a look at the Mess.
The Mess was located in a huge double-storied, newly constructed building that was about the best in the whole area, and comprised of a hall, the dining room, the sitting room, the billiard room, the supper room and a row of toilets. The first thing I did was to write my name in the Visitor's book - a large, green, leather-bound book with the insignia in gold clearly visible at the top. This done, I entered the drawing room, termed the ante-room, and found that it was elegantly furnished with solid looking chairs covered with green leather that complemented the thick red carpet. The chairs were neatly arranged to allow for easy conversation, and on one side of the room, there was a highly polished mahogany table on which were placed the latest magazines and newspapers. In one corner, there was a large teak showcase that displayed the regimental shields and cups, and throughout the room, one could see many small tables that had brightly polished silver ashtrays on them. Not too far from the fireplace, there was a writing desk that had on it, the most magnificent silver inkstand I had ever seen.
Just looking at the room gave one an idea of how rich the regiment was. A little lost in the splendor of it all, I walked around the other rooms and peeped into the dining room that was being made ready for lunch. It was here that I met Thomas, who was the Mess Sergeant. He was meticulously turned out in white trousers and a striped jacket. I introduced myself, and he began to talk of several things, all at once. He first asked me if my room were to my liking and if I needed any extra pieces of furniture. Then, he informed me that the regiment had silver worth several thousands of pounds, and that maybe one day I would care to look at the rich trophies of the very old and famous light infantry. Before I could open my mouth to say that I would indeed be happy to do that, he asked if I had brought a bearer with me or whether I would like to enlist one from those seeking employment. He went on to say that they had been thoroughly screened by the police and found to be worthy of employment.
I told Sergeant Thomas that I had brought a servant who was about my own age and who had been brought up by my mother but who had not served as a regular bearer in any Mess or hotel. I was told quite firmly and frankly that my servant just would not do and that I would have to hire a more qualified man. I took his advice and employed yet another man recommended by him, and so started off with two servants who spent all the time available to them in trying to let the other down.
Lunch hour soon arrived, and a few officers loitered in, and since it was a Saturday, all of them save one, were in ‘mufti’. The first one to walk in seemed a little surprised to see me there, and without so much as a ‘hello’, he settled down in a chair, and started reading the newspaper. I went up to him, and in what sounded even to me as a depressed voice; I introduced myself as the new arrival to the regiment. He got up, shook hands with me and said he was Lieutenant Evans and that he was doing an attachment for one year before joining the Indian army. He appeared somewhat disillusioned with his job and the regiment but was quick to wish me good luck. A few minutes later, the Adjutant arrived. He was wearing his uniform and was accompanied by half a dozen other officers who all appeared to be much older than I was, even though not even one was above the rank of a Subaltern. I was introduced to each of them in turn and I still recollect the names of two of them; one was Bunny Carlisle and the other Shaw Ball. Except for a grudging smile and a handshake, no words passed between us, and after a cursory glance at the illustrated paper, both the officers left the room and headed towards the dining room, leaving me feeling, yet again, lonely and small in the all-too-large drawing room.
Feeling depressed, and somewhat like an alien, I walked towards the dining room. I suddenly missed my friends, and hoped that Rai would soon arrive from Lahore. I also looked forward to meeting R. N. Nehra, another Indian from the last batch of Indians to have completed their training at Sandhurst, and who was now at the end of his attachment to this particular British regiment. Nehra had been with me in the Prince of Wales from 1926 to 1931, when he had passed out to join Sandhurst.
With or without justification, I felt that I was not a very welcome guest and started entertaining all kinds of thoughts and doubts about my future happiness in the regiment. Certainly, the kind of reception I had received in the drawing room did not add to my comfort, and I entered the dining room with mixed feelings and chose to sit at the end of the table. At the table, there were three officers who were sitting and reading from magazines held in silver stands placed before them; in fact, they seemed to be reading and eating at the same time. The table was magnificently laid, and I had never before seen or ever after saw a better-laid table or a finer arrangement of silver and crystal in my entire life in the army. No sooner had I settled into my chair, than the Mess Sergeant whom I had earlier met, came to me carrying a silver tray on which rested a beautifully crafted and cut crystal jug. He poured some water in one of the four long stemmed glasses that were neatly arranged on my right hand side. The gracious way the drinks were served, the courtesy of the Sergeant, and the general atmosphere within the room was impressive indeed. I looked around and surveyed everything my eyes could take in. I noticed, particularly, the cold cuts and salads that were placed in elaborate, silver platters on a highly polished side table that also held two large, ornate, silver candlesticks on either side.
I realized that the people around me were to be my companions and associates for a year to come and that it was necessary for me to make friends with them if I desired to have a happy and fulfilled life during my attachment period. I was painfully aware, however, that no one took the initiative to speak to me, or even continue with the conversation I started. I returned to my room soon after lunch, and once in the privacy of my room, I experienced an awful feeling of isolation, as if I had been left out in the cold. I tried to dismiss the feeling by absorbing myself in reading the history of the regiment and familiarizing myself with its many glorious records and achievements. By the end of it all, I felt less sorry for myself, and in fact, rather proud to be associated with this very fine regiment.
In the evening, my other colleague, D. R. Rai, arrived and occupied the room adjacent to mine. Although Rai had done the I.M.A. course with me, he had been in another company, so I did not know him very well, but I decided to remedy this situation by getting to know him better. He was anxious to know of the morning's happenings, and so I informed him of my meeting with the Adjutant and told him that we were required to report to the Orderly Room the next morning where we would be met by the Commanding Officer and given further orders. Later that evening, we went around the cantonment in my car, and called on the other two regiments posted there which included an Indian Infantry Regiment known as the Eighth Punjab Regiment and an Indian Cavalry Unit or the Nineteenth Lancers. Neither of these regiments was 'Indianized', that is, they were not meant for Indian officers and was made up of the British only. Both had good Mess facilities but they appeared to be much smaller in size and not half as glamorous as the one where we were. We wrote our names in the Visitors' Book and left two cards at each place - one for the Commanding Officer and the other for the officers of the regiments.
Delhi cantonment is located about six miles from New Delhi and some nine miles from Old Delhi. There were no buses or taxis available, and so whenever one wanted to go into town one would use a cycle, a private car or a ‘tonga’. I was, therefore, indeed lucky to be in possession of a car. In the evening, we went to the Mess and had supper that was available there every night until 10 o'clock. All Saturdays were supper nights and we had to dress in a dinner jacket for our meals. Officers who possessed their own cars would often go to watch a movie near Kashmir Gate in Old Delhi where there was a cinema. Married officers preferred to dine at Delhi Club, or attend and host small parties. Rai and I went to see a movie in the evening and returned back quite late. Cinemas were well appointed, with the dress circle being occupied mostly by Europeans who wore dress suits; in fact, no other dress was apparent. This dress regulation was enforced for after dinner and late night shows.
On Monday morning, at about 9 A.M., we had to report to the Orderly Room to meet the Commanding Officer of the regiment. Rai and I sacrificed breakfast in order to give our Sam Brown belts and swords a super shine before we reported for duty. Rai, having passed out of the I.M.A. before me, was called in first and I had to wait my turn outside the office. After about five minutes, I was summoned into the office, which was a rather large room, and I noticed immediately, the many regimental cups that adorned the shelves. In the centre was a large table covered with green felt similar to the one that covers billiard tables, and behind this table was seated a tall, well-built man who had extraordinarily broad shoulders. He appeared to be in his early forties and I was a little taken aback to see that his left eye was covered with a black patch held back by a black silk cord from which dangled a monocle. I observed that his face wore a deep tan, and that he had a wide mouth and a chin that jutted out slightly. On the whole, it was a very impressive face. This was Lieutenant Colonel G. S. Brunskil, Officer Commanding, First British King's Shropshire Light Infantry. As soon as I saluted him, he rose, shook hands with me and then settled back in his chair before he addressed me.
"I am glad to welcome you to the Regiment," he said, "and I hope you have a good attachment with us. We have had Indian officers before you, and like those before you, you will have to work hard, but I can assure you that if you do well, I will help you join the Indian Army unit of your choice. I am posting you to B Company that is commanded by Colonel R. Altoc - a helpful and experienced officer who will train you well. I see you have brought a car, but my advice to you is to get rid of it and settle down to cantonment life. I shall tell you when you can have your own conveyance. If you can afford to play polo, do so, though without private means and in your pay, this will be difficult. Good luck!"
With these words, he rose and shook hands with me. I saluted him, turned about and marched out.
I then met the Adjutant to whom I had earlier been introduced. He asked me a few questions and after giving me some instructions, he signaled to an orderly to guide me to my company office located a few hundred yards away. In this area, occupied by the British Regiment, there were about eight double storied barracks, well spread out company parade grounds and kitchens. Each unit, however, was independent of the other. I arrived at the company office located on the first floor of the central double-storied building, and was shown into the office of the Company Commander by the Company Sergeant Major.
Captain Altoc, my Company Commander, was an elderly man in his early forties who sported a double row of medals, and to my mind appeared to have reached his present position the hard way. He was very kind, almost affectionate in his manner, and I had not until that time, ever encountered so kind and understanding a British officer. His manner brought back memories of a distant past when my teachers always tried to help solve my many problems, and assisted in my decision-making. Captain Altoc welcomed me warmly, and said that he would make it his concern to teach me all that was to be learned at the Company level. It was at this moment that he disclosed to me that he had worked his way up through the ranks, and so knew his men and their metal exceedingly well. He shouted for the orderly and sent for the Company Sergeant Major and the Company Quartermaster who were both formally introduced to me. That done, I was asked to accompany my Company Commander along with the two Sergeant Majors for a trip around the Lines and the Cook House.
Throughout the time we walked together, the Sergeant Majors kept a very close distance with the Company Commander who kept asking them numerous questions. I was shown a platoon on drill and was informed that it was this particular platoon of approximately forty men that I would command during my stay with B Company. The Platoon Sergeant halted the platoon, stood them to attention and came to report to the Company Commander with a very loud and clear command.
"Number Four platoon ready for inspection, Sir."
After a smart return salute, the Company Commander ordered the Platoon Sergeant to stand the troops to ease, after which I was introduced to my Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant Green, a big burly chap who was sweating profusely. After a mutual salute, I was greeted with: "Pleased to meet you, Sir."
Our next inspection was of the Cook House or kitchen, barracks and dining room, all of which were very impressive for they were clean and organized, and there was really no room for further improvement. The kitchen, which adjoined the dining room, was particularly noteworthy. It had a huge cooking range on which a large quantity of food was being prepared under the supervision of the chef who wore a spotless white starched coat and a chef’s cap. The whole scene reminded me more of an operating theatre than a kitchen, as I had never seen a kitchen of this nature or stature. In fact, this was the first time I had seen a kitchen like this at all, for both at the Prince of Wales and the Indian Military Academy, Cook Houses were out of bound for the Cadets and Gentlemen Cadets alike. The Company Commander walked up to the stove, and immediately the cook raised the lid of the large cooking pot while the Commander took a short breath, sniffed at the contents and pronounced that it was ‘Good’. The whole tour of the kitchen seemed very impersonal and very professional. The sound of fast steps on the hard floor, the banging of the doors, and the occasional shout of the word ‘Company Commander’ which caused everyone present to stand to attention, was very impressive indeed. It was especially fascinating for me who as a young and inexperienced officer had not ever seen such an inspection being carried out.
The kitchen had two double doors with tight springs that allowed the doors to be opened and closed without loud bangs. It was later explained to me that these double doors and the passage between them served an important purpose and that was to keep the flies from entering the dining room. It must have worked very satisfactorily, for I did not see a single fly in the dining room that was being prepared for serving the afternoon meal.
The dining room was very simply furnished; and save for the benches and tables, it was devoid of any other furniture or decor. I was then taken to a barrack room where there were about eighteen beds, and at the foot of each bed was placed a wooden kit box. At the head, there was a shelf and three pegs on which hung the soldier's equipment. The bed was covered with a blue cover and the blankets were neatly placed alongside the mattress that was thrice folded. All the brass fittings on the doors, the hinges, and bolts were so brightly polished that they amazed me. There were many lights and fans in these barrack rooms that had only recently been constructed and were supposed to be the best in India at that time. I was lucky then to have the best accommodation available for troops of that time. The whole round took about three-quarters of an hour, and we were all sweating by the time we returned to the Company Office.
The Company Commander then received our salute and went indoors while I was taken to the adjacent room, where there were four tables and chairs, one for each Platoon Commander. On my table there lay a complete set of documents showing the organization of each platoon and the names of the respective Sergeant Majors with their training programs for the season. In addition, there was a note from the Adjutant to say that I was expected to be with him the next day to witness the mounting of the guards outside the Battalion Head Quarter's parade grounds. The only other British officer apart from the Company Commander was Lieutenant Ripley who besides being the second-in-command was also the head of a platoon. He was very kind to me and showed me all the documents maintained at the Company Office and explained briefly the location of various other companies of the regiment. The First British King's Shropshire Light Infantry had two detachments. The first one was made up of those soldiers who guarded the Viceroy's House, and those positioned at Delhi Fort located in the centre of Old Delhi, and the second, which consisted of about half the regiment, was posted at Delhi Cantonment.
At exactly 10 A.M., a British orderly served us large mugs of tea, which I thought I would never be able to finish, for I was certainly not in the habit of consuming so much tea. However, my regular bouts of tea drinking certainly developed the habit in me and I have always enjoyed and relished a good cup of tea. Once again, I was called in by my Company Commander and told to stand behind him to witness the usual happenings in an Orderly Room at Company Headquarters. Offences committed in the Company were reported and taken care of here, and here also were conducted interviews of those officers proceeding on various army courses. The Company orderly room was one of the strictest operations I witnessed. Men marched into the office after being announced by the Company Sergeant Major; and in one case, the accused was marched in and then out in a fraction of a second because he had not executed a smart right turn. I felt sorry for the accused for he looked very upset and distraught. He was marched back and an angry Sergeant Major read out his charges. He was asked if he had anything to say to which the reply was simply, "No, Sir". The award of three days confinement to the lines was immediately announced, and the accused was marched back. The whole procedure took under five minutes and the case was dismissed.
I was given a great deal of literature to read on battalion orders, programs, law, and other military operations which took up some time and then I was summoned by my Company Commander who asked me to ride back with him to the Mess. Accordingly, I mounted my cycle and accompanied him on a ride, during which Captain Altoc kept me entertained with stories of regimental life to which he had been exposed.
Lunch was served from 1.30 to 2.30 P.M. so, the officers strolled in at different times. The atmosphere around the mess was very sedate and each officer that came in, ordered a drink, picked up a paper and settled down in a comfortable leather chair. There was no discussion or loud conversation, and everything appeared very solemn. After lunch, I picked up my cap and belt from the peg outside the mess and retired to my room, where after a wash I read in bed until 4 P.M. when tea was brought in by my own bearer. By 4.30, I was at the hockey ground where an Inter-Company match had been arranged. After games, one could go into the mess for a quick drink but had to be out before any officer arrived in mess kit.
After a bath, I changed into Blue Petrol and returned to the mess. Dinner was in a parade, and if there was any senior officer present, one had to click heels and say "Good evening, Sir." One could then settle down for a while until the Mess Sergeant or the senior-most officer present announced dinner. We then followed him and each other into the dining room in accordance with our seniority. I, being the junior most of all the officers present, followed last of all and occupied whichever chair was left vacant. That first night, I found myself sitting next to the second-in- command; he was about forty years old and hardly had anything to say to me during the entire dinner. I felt so foolish, and the whole dinner was so rigid and formal, that I wished it would all end soon. No matter how I felt, I had to admit that the service was good, the quality of the food was excellent, and the ten thousand pounds sterling worth of silver that was laid out, truly awesome. After dinner, wine was passed around followed by cigarettes, cigars and coffee. We spent over an hour in the dining room before the Commanding Officer, who lived in the mess, rose. This meant that we now had permission to rise from the table and proceed to the anteroom, from where no one could move until the tall and impressive Commanding Officer said "Good night" and left.
After I had been in the regiment for a month, a batch of four British officers from the Royal Military College at Sandhurst arrived to do their attachment with the British regiment before joining their units in the Indian army. Barring certain units reserved for Indian officers, the Indian Army was not open to us; in fact, the Indian officers were grouped together in what were referred to as Indianized regiments, and the young British officers were not posted to these regiments. In reality, therefore, the Indian army received two categories of officers. There were the British who were trained in England for a period of one and a half years and were known as BOs or British Officers, and then there were the Indians who had completed a two and a half years course from the Indian Military College. The latter were referred to as ICOs or Indian Commissioned Officers and were only permitted to join a few selected regiments of which there were three cavalry and ten infantry regiments.
Strangely enough, the British were not only paid higher emoluments than we were, but they also occupied a higher status, for they joined the Indian army as Company Officers whilst their Indian counterparts became Platoon Commanders in charge of about forty men. Before the introduction of this class of Indian officers, V.C.Os or Viceroy Commissioned Officers, Jamadars and Subedars commanded the platoons.
The four British officers who joined us, and who had done shorter training time than we had, were somehow given seniority over us by three days. This clever arrangement could only impress on my young mind the unfair and illogical concepts of the British in India. I think this kind of practice cost them their downfall in India when in 1940 a large part of the Indian Army became the National Army and consequently the British lost real control over the Indian Army. This is my personal deduction and perhaps could be challenged. These young British officers were fine gentlemen, and two of them were posted with me in B Company of Captain R. Altoc's First Battalion of the K.S.L.I. We were now six officers under training for about a year in Delhi cantonment, four being British and two Indians by birth. A very detailed program for our training was chalked out, and we started learning the basics about weapons of the infantry and about drill, physical training and tactics. It was a very useful course indeed and I found it exceedingly helpful throughout my army life.
The most impressive ceremony that I was taught by the Adjutant of the regiment, in the first week of my joining the British regiment, was one called ‘Mounting the Guard’. The drill was the privilege of the Adjutant and performed exclusively by him unless he ordered an orderly officer of the day to represent him. The guard was mounted in front of the Commanding Officer's office and was attended by drummers and buglers. The best-dressed soldier was selected as the company's orderly and was privileged to carry the silver cane, as an award, for twenty-four hours. After mounting of the guards, the troops marched past the officers in quickstep to the accompaniment of bugles and drums. It was a piece of drill that I thoroughly enjoyed, for it meant not only inspecting the best turned out troops, but also gave me a chance to show extreme care in dressing. There was no denying the fact that the highly polished sword, belt and boots entailed a great deal of hard work and care.
LEARNING OF ANOTHER KIND
As time passed, I felt almost completely at home in my surroundings. Every evening, I played hockey or football with the troops and my platoon became as fond of me as I was of them. My instructors both at Drill and Weapons thought well of me, and I passed out with distinction in these subjects. I had been doing Physical Training since I was a youngster and so it came quite naturally to me and I was selected to represent my battalion at a Physical Training Demonstration. I became a member of the Physical Efficiency Club and was awarded the regimental badge that I daily wore on my vest as a mark of distinction. A month after I finished my training, I was called by my Commanding Officer and told in the presence of the Adjutant of my good performance. I was further permitted to buy a motorcycle, and if I could afford it, to visit the Imperial Gymkhana Club in New Delhi. The old car that I had received from my cousin, the Nawab of Loharu, had earlier been returned when I was told that I could not keep it during my initial training.
Soon the summer arrived and one of the companies was sent to Chakrata, a hill station that was a night's train journey from Delhi. This assignment was not unusual, for British regiments often spent summers there. Two of our colleagues belonging to the U.L.I.A. or Unattached List of the Indian Army, as we were known, were sent to Chakrata to do a tour of duty of six weeks. It was so unpleasant and hot in Delhi that we considered these two to be very lucky and were really envious of them when we went to see them off at the railway station where the Troops Special awaited to carry them away. The regiment in Delhi cantonment was now reduced to half its strength, because another company was stationed at the Delhi Fort. The lines looked empty and parades were held less frequently. Most of the outdoor activity finished by eleven in the morning and indoor exercises, school, inspection and verbal orders took its place. Swimming was added to the extra-curricular activities and we had the use of an excellent swimming pool at the ridge that was about two miles from the lines. There was yet another pool known as the Viceroy's Pool that was open to all British officers stationed at the cantonment. I had by now acquired a 'seven-eighter' horse, which meant that I paid seven rupees eight annas for hiring the horse from the government. It was stabled in my bungalow that I shared with three others from the U.L.I.A - two of whom had gone to Chakrata. I went riding every evening and often visited my platoon swimming at the ridge.
There was a well laid out riding track that passed through the forest to the Viceroy's House and the pool where I often went for a swim. It was now well over six months since I had joined the regiment, and one evening I was invited to have dinner with some of my relatives in Old Delhi, so I went for my ride a little earlier than usual. It was close to sunset, and I was returning to the cantonment, with crossed stirrup and loose reins, when I heard a shot near me. Almost immediately, the horse shied and began to run wild. My instant reaction was to get my feet into the stirrups and pull the reins, but as I made an effort to pull up the horse sharply, the reins came off the bit and I lost all control of the horse. The horse soon got out of the forest and onto the main tar road that went past the cantonment. My hat flew off and all I could hear was the regular echo of the horse's hooves on the tarmac. I saw a line of bullock carts moving on the unpaved side road and could feel that I was in for a terrible accident. So, with all the strength I could muster, I heeled the horse with my left foot hoping to get him on the open ground and away from the main road. As I expected, the horse, at full speed, left the road and headed towards the open ground that, unfortunately, was full of rocks. I thought my end had come and then suddenly the horse jerked its head and I found myself rolling over the horse's head in a somersault.
Then, in the same flash, I experienced an extraordinary vision of an old man smiling and saying: "I am Nizamuddin, do not be frightened, for I am here." I do not remember anything after that except that it all became dark. When I awoke, I found myself in a large room with two nurses leaning over me. I could not recollect anything, and after enquiring as to where I was, I passed out once more. The next time when I regained my senses, I found that I was in a hospital and that my mother was standing near me and weeping. I asked why I had been brought there; for all I remembered was that I had been sleeping in the afternoon in my own bungalow. I could not recollect a thing and my mind was a total blank. It took me a few days to realize what had happened, and the first newspaper that I remember reading mentioned that there had been an earthquake in Quetta, and also that T. E. Lawrence had fallen off his motorbike and died after sustaining severe brain damage. As the days passed, I began to recall the sequence of events that had occurred and realized that I had suffered a concussion and only narrowly escaped death. One thing, however, stood out clearly in my mind, and that was the vision of the face that had appeared before me when I was finally thrown off the horse.
My Commanding Officer, my brother officers and all my relations visited me regularly in the hospital for the whole month that I was there. A great many x-rays and other tests were carried out, before I was finally declared fit for light duty and discharged from hospital. As a special gesture, Colonel Burnskill decided to send me to the hill station where I was to stay all winter and do the lightest work possible.
The first thing I did after being discharged from hospital was to visit the resting place of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia where I cried like a child and in a manner that I had never done before. Later, I visited my family graveyard in the precincts of the shrine, and then returned to the cantonment. On the very afternoon that I was packing my belongings and getting ready to proceed to Chakrata hill station, I heard a knock at the door, and upon opening it, beheld an old Sikh wearing a yellow turban. When he saw me, he cupped his hands to offer a prayer and then related to me how he had picked me up after the fall and brought me to the cantonment. He told me he was in charge of a small `Gurdwara' or place of prayer for the Sikhs and that he was in the jungle for his evening meditation when he heard the sound of a horse's hooves coming in his direction. Even as he rose to find out where the sound emanated from, he saw the horse throw its burden on the ground. The horse ran away and he picked me up to find that I had fainted but was still alive. He recalled that after a few minutes, I came around and with his assistance and holding his hand, I walked the two miles to the cantonment, entered a bungalow, stretched myself out on the bed that was laid out in the lawn, and fainted once more. Apparently, a British officer came out of the bungalow, discovered that I had been the victim of an accident, and had me removed to the British Medical Hospital. Meanwhile, the horse had returned to the stable without its rider and so a search party had been immediately sent out to look for me.
The Sikh priest who had been paid five rupees, returned to the temple but kept enquiring about my welfare, and after having heard that I was alive and well and was proceeding to the hills, he had come to see me. Even today, three decades after the incident, I do not even faintly recall my walk with the ‘Santh’ or religious leader, my entering the Station Commander's bungalow where I occupied his bed, or my arrival at the hospital. I expressed my gratitude to the Santh, invited him into my room and offered him some money that he politely refused, saying that he would be grateful if I could buy him an old cycle instead. This, I later did. The Santh developed a great fondness for me and constantly remained in touch with me until my regiment moved out to Kamptee in Nagpur. I left that night for Chakrata in command of some British troops joining the company. On the way, there was an ugly incident when the troops got drunk and beat up the guard on the train. It was with great difficulty that I managed to get out of what could have developed into an ugly situation and we finally headed towards the hills where I was to report for duty.
On reaching our destination, I was accommodated in the single quarter ordinarily reserved for the C.O. of the regiment, and told by my Company Commander that he had received instructions from Colonel Brunskill that I was to remain on very light duty during my two month stay at Chakrata. This gesture, especially towards an attached officer, was very unusual and I greatly appreciated it. I can never forget the care and attention lavished on me during my stay there, and this left a lasting impression on me. I felt a sense of pride at being associated with this great regiment - King's Shropshire Light Infantry. I kept in touch with this wonderful regiment until 1952 when I attended their regimental dinner in London and was honoured by being presented the regimental tie and given permission to wear it by the Colonel-in-Chief, Major General Grover. Many of my old colleagues sent several telegrams to welcome me to the regiment dinner.
While in Chakrata, I was given ample opportunity to learn and become familiar with map reading, for I took my platoon on long marches which always ended in a swim in the stream or a picnic by a spring. It was on just such an exercise when I was talking to my Platoon Sergeant who sat opposite me telling me `troop yarns' or `jokes on the lines', that we were, without warning, visited by the Company Commander. He later reprimanded me and advised me never to be free with the troops and never to listen to their jokes. This, I thought, was a lesson that I had to bear in mind throughout my career. In those days, the distance maintained between officers and the troops was wide enough, perhaps even over emphasized, and an officer who had risen from the ranks was always treated very differently.
After two months of light and very enjoyable work, I returned from Chakrata and reported to my regimental headquarters. My Commanding Office, who knew that my mother lived in Old Delhi, asked me if I would like to be posted to Delhi fort. It was an option to which I readily agreed for it had been my childhood ambition to live in the fort and discover how the mighty Moghuls had spent their time in this huge and sprawling building. As a child, I had visited the Red Fort known for its historical value and seen its various quarters such as the Diwan-e-Khaas, the Diwan-e-Am, and the Pearl Mosque. Of all these, the mosque had attracted me the most, and I remember well how I had once wanted to say my prayers there but was stopped from doing so by the guard. I could not really explain this urge but somehow I wanted to bow my head at the same place where the Moghul emperors had bowed their heads before the Almighty as a mark of their humility. I had also been greatly impressed by the glory of the British soldiers who were mounting the guard at the gate and I never dreamed that one day, God in his kindness, would give me the honour to command and mount the guard as an officer.
I was, consequently, posted at the Red Fort and as luck would have it, I occupied a large room next to the iron fence that circled the living quarters of the Moghul emperors. Attached to the Infantry Company, there was a large body of Royal Tank Corps with their light tanks and very impressive armoured cars. The Ninth Royal Tank Corps ran the newly built mess and the infantry officers, who were five in number, were attached to it. This huge fort had accommodation for one complete company, parade grounds, playing grounds, mess house together with huge magazines and accommodation for the Ninth Corps and its workshops. The parade ground was located outside the fort and covered a large area where they practiced with their armoured cars and light tanks. Our main function there was to provide a group of ceremonial guards, protect the magazines, and project the image of the British in India. Great emphasis was laid on squad drills, turn out and fitness programs.
In addition to my job as Commander of my platoon, I was given the position of Games Officer. In this capacity, I arranged and organized many hockey matches with the local colleges, so that they were, for the first time, given a chance to match their mettle against that of the British troops. They were our guests at the fort, and they considered it to be an honour and a privilege to be there. I remember that my younger brother, who was at a local college, took advantage of my position to arrange a match and so became a very important member of his team. His classmates were awed at the idea of visiting the fort outside normal visiting hours and that too without having to pay a fee. Apparently, my family and the citizens of Delhi considered it a great honour that I had been chosen to command the British troops in the Delhi Fort.
I was conscious of the great respect bordering almost on reverence that the general public had for the British troops in India. On several occasions, I had to fetch the pay for the troops garrisoned in the fort from the Imperial Bank of India located in Chandni Chawk and at a distance of about half a mile from the Fort Gate. The traffic was stopped and the road cleared for the British squad that acted as an escort to the pay drawing officer. In the bank itself, the presence of the British troops was immediately registered and other transactions were stopped until I had counted the money, placed it in my haversack and was ready to march out of the bank. A great many citizens stopped to watch the squad from the footpath and were duly impressed by the drill and the blowing of bugles as we marched towards the Red Fort.
While I was posted at the fort, an amazing incident occurred. One of my uncles, Nawab Najmuddin, insisted that he wanted to sleep in the Emperor's Audience Hall and asked me if I could arrange it. I told him this was not possible because the apartments were locked up at night and the keys deposited with the officer in charge. On his insistence, however, I called him to my quarters the day that I was Orderly Officer and so possessed the spare key of the steel fence that had a small gate that opened near our living quarters. Later, I took him into the Audience Hall, provided him with a camp-cot and a bottle of water and locked the gate. As I had to turn out the guard at night, I remained in my quarters reading a book. At about midnight I heard shouts of: "Get me out, get me out of here!" I rose in a hurry and when I opened the door in the fence, I saw my uncle standing there trembling, disheveled and sweating. I got him into my quarters and gave him time to recover whilst I turned out the guard at 1 A.M. The next morning when I asked him what had happened, he said that his great ambition to sleep in the Royal Court was, to say the least, terrifying. He said that he dreamt that the court assembled and questioned his presence and the noise was so deafening that he had to run away. I do not know what really transpired that night; all I know is that I recovered a smashed and broken camp-cot from the Hall, the next morning.
Another incident connected with my stay at the fort was my mother's request that she be allowed to say her prayers in the Pearl Mosque. This was arranged and my mother and I said our evening prayers together in the mosque and felt grateful to God for having been afforded this opportunity. Except for the menace of mosquitoes that seemed to be in plenty, my stay at the fort was a pleasant one indeed, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
If there had been a swimming pool in the vicinity, duty at the Fort would have been even more enjoyable. One hot afternoon, a British officer invited me for a swim at Cecil Hotel that I gratefully accepted, but I did not know then that I would live to regret it. When we reached the hotel and were about to enter the swimming pool area, an Anglo-Indian gentleman came up to me and addressed me.
“Sir”, he said, “apart from the European community, no one else is allowed within these premises.”
I was extremely shocked and turned back, but my host was furious and almost knocked down the attendant. In order to avert a public scene, I requested him to let me go back, but to no avail. My friend would not be silenced until the European manager produced the written rules. Angry but helpless, he grudgingly agreed to return with me to the fort. Apparently, this matter went up to my Brigade Commander who sent for me and expressed his regret at the attitude of the European community in India. The incident left a deep mark on me and I was surprised at the attitude of the English towards Indians living in their own country. This was surely imperialism at its worst, and it was this kind of attitude that later cost them their empire.
I realized for the first time why my countrymen disliked the British rule and why they fought so fearlessly for their rights. So distressed was I at the incident, that I went to the extent of seeing the Maharajah of Patiala who was then the head of the Prince's Chamber and was temporarily staying in Delhi. His answer to me was, to say the least, disappointing. "Son", he said quite casually, "even though this is a regrettable event, do not take it to heart."
I came back feeling very depressed and my immediate desire was to leave the army; but once more, I found myself unfit for anything else, and educating myself for yet another career seemed wasteful at this late stage.
Yet another incident that taught me a lesson that I could not easily forget stands out significantly in my mind. It serves to remind me of the recklessness of youth and it all happened when I made a small bet to climb one of the six huge wireless transmission poles that perhaps connected Delhi by wireless to the rest of the world. When I had climbed a little over half the pole, I looked down and saw the spectators who appeared insignificant and small, and then, quite suddenly, I myself felt small and insignificant and very, very frightened. I froze on the pole and found that I was incapable of proceeding further. A very small voice in my brain seemed to tell me that achievement of a goal is not always possible, and that there is such a thing as fate. After what seemed many hours, I started my descent, satisfied with my inner argument that the Creator has very precisely destined all future events, a belief that I have always strongly adhered to. On my return, however, I found it difficult to live with myself or accept the fact that I had lost the bet. For many days after that, I remained listless and upset, until finally, I concluded that as humans, we can only try, and that somewhere there is a superior power that controls our destiny and is also solely responsible for our success.
The weather in Delhi soon became very hot and I was glad to get out of the Fort when my company was transferred to the Viceroy's House where we provided guards and were lavishly accommodated. It was a thrilling experience for we lived amidst the most dazzling surroundings and witnessed and felt the tremendous power that emanated from this house where Rajas and Maharajas of India thought it a great honour to be invited. For the first time, I was conscious of the great power the British wielded and the relatively unimportant position to which my countrymen were relegated. Many years later, God in his kindness bestowed on me the honour of being associated with my own country’s heads of state, and I was able to compare the great social progress that we, the Asians, had made in a short span of sixteen years. I am not really aware as to how many Asian officers have had the experience of performing escort duties at the Viceroy's House, but to me it was a great eye-opener, and excellent training in ceremonial drill and turn out, the likes of which I have never since experienced. At the time I rendered escort duty, Lord Wellingdon was the Viceroy of India, and on the completion of my rather short tenure of duty, I was presented with a silver matchbox cover that had Lord Wellingdon’s crest on it.
I returned to the cantonment for my annual rifle shoot and it was during this training that we were informed that the regiment was to move to Kamptee, a cantonment in the Central Province about fourteen miles from Nagpur that was then the capital of the Central Province. The balance of our two months stay in Delhi was spent in checking of the stores and furniture. Two rather important incidents occurred during the final stage of my stay in Delhi and are perhaps worthy of mention for they were very instructive for me.
The first incident was a call of British troops to put down a riot and my company was detailed for it. It was a new experience to aid civil powers and liaison between the civil and the army. I was struck by the difference of outlook between the officers of the two cadres of service. The taking over of control of the administration from the civilian authorities was quite an experience and I am grateful to God for affording me the opportunity to witness and be part of the act that took place near the tramway station in Old Delhi. The second incident was the preparation of a British Company to go in aid of an Indian State, and as luck would have it, it turned out to be the state of Loharu - a state to which my family was connected. My experience in that area, however, remained incomplete for it proved to be too expensive to send British troops and so Kumon Rifles, an Indian regiment, was dispatched instead and I missed the opportunity to be of some service to my own cousin, the Nawab of Loharu, Nawab Aminuddin
SCALING NEW FRONTIERS
My regiment having completed its two years in the imperial city of Delhi, we were ordered to move to Kamptee, near Nagpur in the Central Province. The regiment that was to relieve us was the Royal Fusiliers, a regiment that had two bands - the Brass and the Fife. My regiment marched the Fusiliers into the cantonment and I had the great honour to be in the company. My mother was very unhappy to hear that I was leaving Delhi and asked me if it were possible for her to come and see me off at the railway station. I conveyed her wish to my Commanding Officer who not only gave her permission but also provided her with a car. I marched past my mother's car, and later when I went to bid her good-bye, I saw that her eyes were red and she had been crying for it was the first time she had seen me march with the troops - and British troops, at that! I hurriedly kissed her good-bye and got into the Special, and the train steamed out of the military siding to the tune of bands playing.
Movement by special military train was a very interesting experience. One day, when I was the officer on duty, one of the troops dropped his rifle magazine and then in a panic pulled the emergency chain. The train stopped and I went down the train with the guard to discover what had happened. The poor offender was a young soldier who was being pounced upon from all sides and threatened by the seniors, with the Company Sergeant Major even ordering his arrest. I asked about his predicament and wanted to know how far back he had dropped it, and in his confusion he answered that it was just a minute ago. I quickly removed my hat and belt, and without seeking orders, I decided to run half a mile along the track to discover the fallen magazine. The troops amazed, sat still, staring out of the windows and God was kind for I discovered the rifle magazine just about six hundred yards away, and brought it back to the accompaniment of claps and shouts from the troops. When I reported back to the Officer Commanding, I got a mild ticking off and was told that I should not have been so impetuous, but a few weeks later the officer appreciated my somewhat reckless action. The action also earned me a good name in the regiment, and very kind words from the troops. This, indeed, was very encouraging.
I was really proud of my regiment and kept up my connections with them. I know a number of people who had difficult times with their British regiments, and did not enjoy their association with them. For my part, however, I enjoyed every moment of my attachment with this very fine British regiment.
General Headquarters had ordered that I spend four extra months with my British regiment to compensate for my loss of service while I was in the hospital and on light duty in Chakrata. While in Kamptee, we went out on battalion maneuvers, and when I was designated by the Commanding Officer to survey the area where we were to train, I suggested the Rawleck Lake Area. The area was accordingly studied in detail to enable us to carry out the three main phases of war - attack, defence and withdrawal. The survey party consisted of three officers including the second in command of the regiment. I was given a horse to myself and I spent long hours looking at the ground and suggesting the different phases on various types of ground in the vicinity. We stayed in a camp for about ten days running our own small Mess, and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed my work and the riding experience.
One evening while I was swimming in the lake, I almost lost my life. I had earlier been told that Rawleck Lake had been the scene of many suicide bids, and it was rumored that a young couple that had been forbidden to marry had actually dived into the lake together and drowned. Many people said that their spirits still haunted the spot, and some even swore they had seen their spirits rise from the lake. When I was about three hundred yards from the bank, I suddenly remembered the story and felt as though I were being netted and drawn into the water. I lost all my confidence for a moment or two and prepared for the end. With the little courage I could muster, I called out feebly to my companions who at first thought I was joking, but later made an effort to reach out to me. Seeing them coming towards me revived my self-confidence and I was able to swim back and reach the edge and climb back on the shore wall. I felt alive, but very tired and very cold. I glanced at my toes and found that there was some seaweed curling around my toes, and then I realized that it was this weed that had created the illusion of a net that was drawing itself around me and pulling me under.
I returned to Kamptee and a few weeks later marched to the lake area for the annual exercise. This was a great experience for us as we were able to practice all phases of war with the troops. I was selected to umpire the exercise and was consequently mounted. It was great fun to see the other officers of my rank, hot and bothered after having marched for miles, look at me with envy while I galloped merrily from position to position. The training soon ended and we returned to barracks after having spent twelve days at camp. Once back in the barracks, we got down to games and physical training and I was the only attached officer to have the honour of receiving the bugle badge as a member of the physical training team of the regiment. The treatment that I received both from the officers and the men of my regiment made me feel at home and part of the whole unit, with the result that I did not realize that my time with the regiment was almost over.
One night, the governor of Central Province located at Nagpur was the guest of honour at a dinner hosted by us in the Mess. We started off in a very official manner but by the end of the evening, the governor had been all but stripped by us and he took no offence whatsoever. This impressed upon me the spirit of sportsmanship, as the British understood it, and showed me the broad-mindedness the civilian officials exhibited when it came to their own nationals.
During my last month with the regiment, I also witnessed the Annual Sports to which the first Indian Governor of C.P. was invited. The British Governor had suddenly died and an Indian Governor was appointed to officiate on a temporary basis. The Indian gentleman whose name, as far as I can remember, was Mr. Lall, always dressed in Indian national dress which consisted of a shirt and ‘dhoti’ and my Commanding Officer was worried about his turning up for the sports event in his usual attire. I was, therefore, instructed to go and do anything necessary to persuade him to don a pair of trousers or at least ‘thang pajamas’ for the function. I, accordingly, went to Nagpur, and contacted his English ADC who was luckily an officer from my British regiment, but he said he did not think it was correct for him to tell the governor to alter his dress. I suggested he approach the governor's personal servant to try and persuade his master to vary his dress for the evening, and he promised to use all his influence and do all he could to convince the governor. It was indeed a great relief to my Commanding Officer to see the governor come to the event clad in a pair of pajamas instead of his usual ‘dhoti’. The event was well attended and there were many British families present. That day, I was honestly proud to see an Indian Governor as the chief guest.
It was a few days later, when I was going to my Company Barracks, that I met the sergeant who looked after the Commanding Officer's correspondence and he asked me to accompany him to the office to initial the final report given to me by my Commanding Officer. As I walked with him to the office, he congratulated me on receiving the best report out of all the attached officers. I was of course very happy to hear this, and immediately thanked God for this achievement. The report was a good one and I was allowed to quickly copy the contents, which I immediately did on a piece of paper hurriedly torn from a pad on the C.O's table. Considering the high standards and even higher ideals of my Commanding Officer, I considered myself extremely fortunate to have merited the words of praise that he had penned for me. The officers of the regiment were, to say the least, in great awe of him and not even once did I hear anyone speaking informally about him. There was just one solitary individual who was neither awed nor frightened of him, and that surprisingly was his personal servant who had served him faithfully for many years. His name, which I remember well, was Kassim and he was a native of Aden who spoke Urdu haltingly or with great difficulty. Colonel G. S. Brunskill, M.C., who commanded the First British King's Shropshire Light Infantry, was indeed awe-inspiring. This tall and well-built man had a patch on his left eye, and was noticeably lame in the left leg. He commanded a great deal of respect and inspired much confidence. In fact, in my entire service, I have not seen a person who could match his towering personality or who could immediately instill so much courage in his subordinates.
There was just one month left for me to depart from the British Regiment, when I was summoned to the Orderly Room by my Commanding Officer. Such summons were always indicative of a crisis, for under the normal circumstances, a subaltern never saw the Commanding Officer in his office for months on end. I asked my Company Commander what the reason was for the summons, but he merely told me of his pending appointment at the District Headquarters, and hurried his pace. I doubled up to the Orderly Room, to find much to my surprise, the Adjutant waiting for me. On seeing me, he nodded an acknowledgement and hurried me in to the presence of the Commanding Officer who was writing a note. He glanced up at me, and with a graceful stroke adjusted his eye patch, before he spoke to me.
"I want you to go to my own Indian regiment when you leave this battalion and I am accordingly writing to my friend, Smith. This is what I would do for my own son, if I had one."
These were touching words that brought tears to my eyes and I had to make an effort to regain enough composure to reply: "Very well, Sir", before I was dismissed.
It must have been a week later when I was having lunch that the C.O. entered, and as soon as he saw me, he took out an envelope from his pocket and threw it across the table in my direction and asked me to read the contents. I picked it up, and read with interest the letter from the Fifth British Duke of Connaught's Own Sikh Regiment, located at Chaman in Baluchistan. It was addressed to my C.O. and was from the officiating Commandant. It mentioned that since the C.O. was away in Delhi in connection with the movement of the regiment to Aurangabad, Deccan, the Military Secretary at General Headquarters had been requested to post Second Lieutenant Mirza Hamid Hussain to the regiment desired by him. I read it through once more, before I folded the letter and putting it in the envelope walked up to my C.O. and handed it back to him. I thanked him and then left.
It was a few days later, that Syed Ahmed, an uncle of mine who was Superintendent of Police at Balaghat, visited me. He asked me to come on a tiger shoot before joining my regiment in Aurangabad. The offer was very tempting, and I promised I would accompany him if I could get a few days leave. Since I was allowed ten days leave, I prepared to go to Balaghat to try my luck at tiger shooting. Just before leaving, I tried my hand at the complete firing range practice in order to tone up my muscles and correct my aim. This I did on the suggestion of my Commanding Officer who even lent me his gun for the purpose. All set for the experience, I arrived at Balaghat, where my uncle had me attached to the police squad that was firing the annual course of range practice.
Balaghat is a small district in C.P. famous for its deep and wild forests where tigers abound and wildlife flourishes unchecked. Just a few miles away from town, when I was driving through the forest road, I observed a tree trunk lying across the road. I did not consider this an obstacle and was about to drive over it when I discovered it moved, and almost simultaneously the driver who was seated next to me screamed: "Python!" Amazed and a little shocked, I saw its body moving into the jungle as if it were in no particular hurry. I learned from this experience that the forests were not only majestic and enchanting, but also extremely dangerous.
The day finally came when we moved to a good ‘block’ of forest famed for its population of tigers and prepared to stay at the forest rest house. A few young buffaloes were tied at the various spots that were known to the locals to be the haunts of the tigers and so after overseeing this, we returned to our bungalow and waited for reports of a kill. Early in the morning, it was reported that there had been a kill. Accordingly, we moved into the forest where my uncle gave me the best `machan' (a rope net tied at a safe height to seat two or maybe three men on top of a tree) in the vicinity of the kill. A small stream flowed near the tree, and a high bank on the other side of the stream afforded me an excellent view of the kill. I sat on the 'machan' with a very experienced hunter, and I knew my uncle was some distance away but I was not able to see him because the forest was so thick. I noticed that although it was early morning, the whole area looked dark, forbidding and very frightening. We were all seated in our ‘machan’, waiting expectantly, when the beaters started their beat by shouting and beating drums. At first, the sound was faint but it steadily grew in volume, and as the beaters closed in, the noise increased and the animals, which included bucks and boars, rushed past from under the tree where I sat. Never before had I seen so many wild animals at so close a distance and I was so thunderstruck and excited that I could not stop the flow of tears that blurred my vision and rolled down my cheeks in quick succession. I prepared to shoot the tiger, which I was sure would come through any moment now, giving me a chance to try my skills.
Suddenly, I heard two shots and moments later I was informed that the tiger had changed its course and gone in the direction of the area covered by my uncle's fire, and he was lucky enough to shoot it. I was deemed to be unlucky and was repeatedly told that day that to shoot a tiger required both skill and luck. I may have had one but the other failed me.
I returned to Kamptee and after attending a farewell dinner and wishing my C.O. goodbye, I left Kamptee for good and made my way to Aurangabad, Deccan. It was here that my Indian Regiment, the Fifth Battalion (Duke of Connaught's Own), known as the Eleventh Sikh Regiment, had recently been posted from Chaman near Quetta. The journey was long and arduous and it was early morning by the time I arrived at Mannad railway station from where I had to change and board the Hyderabad State Railway. The compartment I occupied was much better than the last one and I was impressed by the service that I thought was a credit to the efficiency of a native state that was able to maintain a better standard than the railway system run by the Indian government. As I was preparing to board the train, I observed on the platform the figure of a smart gentleman who stood there with a couple of greyhounds around him. I was tempted to greet him but refrained from doing so.
I left Mannad and continued my onward journey to Aurangabad. Here, V. R. Khanolkar, who was the Senior Subaltern of the regiment, met me and proudly escorted me to his old but well-maintained Ford. I was delighted to meet him and he offered to take me to his house first, explaining meanwhile that he was the only Indian officer who happened to be married and so was able to run his own house. We soon arrived at his house and I had the great pleasure of meeting his very beautiful Austrian wife who was clad in a sari. Mrs. Khanolkar was an avid follower of the Hindu religion and enjoyed yoga, dancing and singing. As time passed and I got to know her better, I discovered that she could perform the most difficult and intricate yoga exercise with the greatest of ease.
An hour or so after my visit to the Khanolkars' house, I was driven to the rather large and fancy bungalow I was to occupy during my stay in Aurangabad. Two soldiers dressed in fatigue dress that excluded the use of a belt and socks, helped me unload my very modest luggage that I had bought with me in the car. The rest of my baggage, which included my motorcycle, was loaded on the mule carts that had already reached the railway station for that very purpose. The bungalow that I entered was quite spacious and had at least five bedrooms and a large combined drawing and dining room, but to my utter surprise and confusion I was shown in to a rather long room that was apparently the pantry with an attached washroom. The furniture in the room consisted of a bed, a small dressing table, a writing table and a chair. I had assumed my living quarters would be superior; so a little shocked and disappointed, I walked out to look at my motorcycle that stood proud and aloof under the porch. It was a present from my mother, and was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen or owned. An Ariel 3.5 HP with twin silencers, silver wings on the headlights, an extraordinary dashboard with two large and two smaller dials, it was indeed worthy of admiration.
As I stood there, almost mesmerized by the beauty and grandeur of it all, I heard the sound of a car drive in and could see some four greyhounds in the back seat. I could also discern an Indian in the driver's seat, and it did not take me long to realize that he was the same gentleman that I had seen at Mannad railway station. Upon inquiry, I was told that the gentleman was the Adjutant and that his name was Lieutenant Allahdad Khan. I went towards him and extended my hand in greeting, but he refrained from shaking hands with me on the plea that his hands were dirty. I briefly introduced myself to him but there was no friendly response and I soon saw him disappear into his rooms that were on the left side of the bungalow.
I returned to my room somewhat disappointed with my situation and felt a little discouraged and lonely. The few minutes I spent in the pantry-turned-bedroom were depressing and I suddenly felt very homesick and very unhappy in my new surroundings. As I sat in the chair, brooding, I heard the sound of Lieutenant Allahdad Khan's car as it left the compound. I was told that he had gone to the Mess, whereupon I decided to walk in the same direction.
The Mess compared favorably with the British one that I had become used to, and though it was smaller, it looked comfortable and was well decorated. I signed the visitors' book and occupied a chair opposite that of the Adjutant, who took no notice of me and continued to read the Punch magazine, grinning all the while. A few minutes later, he rose and went into the dining room for lunch. By this time, I was so fed up that I delayed going in and kept reading the latest English newspapers for as long as I possibly could. When I entered the dining room, I saw that only four places had been laid, but that day being a holiday, no one but the adjutant was present and he was busy reading the material in front of him. Only once did he look up and that was to impart to me the information that there were only four dining members at the Mess. After a while, he rose, got into his Turner Chevrolet, and left.
Having nothing special to do, I stayed behind and tried to familiarize myself with my surroundings. The Mess comprised of three medium-sized rooms with the central one being used as the main sitting area. It was well furnished and the chairs were upholstered in leather. There was a writing table on one side, and next to it was another large table that had spread on it the usual English dailies and magazines. There was The Field, The Spectator, The Illustrated News, the Punch and The Tattler along with just two Indian papers, The Statesman and The Illustrated Weekly of India. The war trophy, consisting of a drum and a German helmet, occupied the front wall and on the left was a door that led to the dining room and then the kitchen. The door on the right opened into the Billiard Room, and beyond that was the washroom. The whole set up was a simple affair, and quite different to the one I had been used to in my British Regiment that had four times as many officers as this one.
Indian Regiments, at the time I joined the Indian Army, normally had twelve British Officers, of which no more than eight were with the battalion. With the introduction of the Indian Commissioned Officers in the Indian Army, the strength of the Indianized Infantry was raised to equal that of the British Infantry.
Since my quarter was not very inviting, I spent the time at my disposal in the Mess. Here I met one of the senior-most Majors - Major J. P. Connolly - to whom I introduced myself. I found him to be a kind and polite gentleman who took time off to speak to me before he went into the dining hall. I then returned to my room where I found a small chit pinned on the door informing me that I was expected to play a hockey match with the troops. This, I accordingly did. On the hockey field, I was introduced to Colonel C.J.R. Turner who was my Commanding Officer, and an excellent hockey player. Colonel Turner was a slightly built man, and looked even smaller when compared to the tall and well-built Sikhs that he commanded.
That evening, I was pleasantly surprised and most impressed with the discipline and stamina of the hockey team. After the game, I once again returned to my room to find a note, this time signed by my next-door neighbour, the Adjutant, in which he informed me that I had to report to Battalion Headquarters by 8.30 the next morning. After a bath in what appeared to me to be a dirty, old, galvanized tub, I went to the Mess for dinner. I wore my dinner jacket, as this was the required dress for supper served between 8.30 and 10 P.M. Supper was served outside in the lawn and there were only three places laid on the table. I was bored, and I was alone, so I settled down to dinner and decided to enjoy the meal that, as it happened, turned out to be excellent. Apparently, the cook had been with the regiment for a long time and delighted all and sundry with his culinary skills. Just as I was walking back to my quarters, my bearer, Tufail Ahmed, who had been with me in the British battalion, came to me with a sullen expression on his face. He informed me that no arrangements could be made to serve me morning tea, as he had no kettle or tea set, and the Mess was not prepared to loan any of its crockery or cutlery. I was quite disgusted, and returned to my room, a little disappointed with the day's events. I found it difficult to imagine that this would be my life for the next twenty odd years or so. I slept very little that night for I was somewhat shaken by the thought that I had no friends and no family to ease my days.
The very next morning, I went to Battalion Headquarters on my motorcycle and reported to the Adjutant, as he had ordered me to do. He hurried me into the Commanding Officer's small office and as soon as I entered, I saluted as smartly as I could. I was told that I was going to be attached to ‘A’ Company that was commanded by Major Connolly. I was then introduced to two senior officers, one by the name of Major Field, and the other Major Ford; one was commandant of a company while the other was the second in command. Both the officers were married and lived with their families in bungalows dotted around the Cantonment. I was taken around the lines that consisted of ‘kutcha’ barracks of five blocks separated by an unpaved road. On the left was the building that was the Quarter Guard, and behind it were two buildings that served as the Quarter Master Store and the Armory. Somewhat removed and at the end of the road, was the ‘Gurdwara’, a place of worship for the Sikhs who formed the major population of the battalion. Only one company - Company B - that accounted for about a quarter of the battalion was made up of Muslims and was referred to as P.M. Company, the initials standing for Punjabi Muslims. I was honestly impressed with the soldiers for all of them were pictures of health and physical fitness. In addition, they were very strictly disciplined and it was a real pleasure to serve with them and throughout the time I commanded them, I felt there was no objective too difficult for them to achieve. This feeling has been with me throughout my life.
The living quarters, the kitchens and even the Quarter Guard building were not as impressive as those of the British battalion, which even in Kamptee, a small station when compared to Delhi, were housed in very impressive lodgings. Immediately, I realized the difference of treatment extended to the rulers and the ruled, and this came as quite a shock to my young mind. In the Company Office, which was a small room sparsely furnished with a table, chair, cupboard and a bench, sat my Company Commander to whom I reported for duty.
The Indian Army had, up till then, been officered by two classes of officers, one was the British Officer, popularly known by his abbreviated designation of B.O, and the other was the Viceroy Commissioned Officer or the V.C.O. Later in 1923, the Indian government decided to give King's Commission to a few selected Indians from some choice Indian units, and these officers were known as King's Commissioned Indian Officers or K.C.I.O, in brief. These officers were supposed to replace the British Officers at the rate of thirty a year. The Indian politicians of the time thought that this was a very slow process of conversion, and insisted on speeding up the Indianisation of the army. The British merely stated their inability to comply on the reasoning that the establishment at Sandhurst was essentially for the British Army Officers. It was due to the efforts of some seasoned and brave Indian politicians, who demanded a training establishment for Indians that the British reluctantly agreed to create the Indian Military Academy also known as the Indian Sandhurst.
The British had their own ideas, and to stem the rapid Indianization of the army, they took some important steps. They increased the training period from one and a half years to two and a half years. They also created a new class of officers who would replace, in the first stage, the Viceroy Commissioned Officers, and only in the very last stages, the British officers. This new class of officers was made up of the Indian Commissioned Officers or the I.C.O. for short. The status accorded to them was somewhere between that of the K.C.I.O. and the V.C.O, but their pay scale was far lower than that given to the King's Commissioned Indian Officers. In addition, the British saw to it that these new officers replaced the V.C.Os rather than the B.Os and since there were only about eighteen V.C.Os in a regiment, the fear of losing hold over the Indian Army was successfully stalled.
Finally, they ensured that the British Officers would continue to enjoy a superior status by selecting to Indianize only those regiments where no young British officers were posted. Most unfortunately, I was amongst the first batch of this new class of officers - the Indian Commissioned Officers. My status continued to defy definition and no one in my Indian regiment was able to guess my exact position. In the Company Office, I was informed that I was actually to replace a V.C.O. but since there were only a few officers anyway, I would be treated as a Company Officer until such time as the British Officers arrived and the V.C.Os were retired on pension.
In my company, there were three V.C.Os, all of whom were very competent, particularly the senior-most officer, Subahdar Attar Singh, a very well liked Sikh officer with at least twenty years of service behind him. When my Company Commander in the presence of the V.C.Os announced the new policy, they all looked extremely uncomfortable. To realize that I was going to replace one of these fine young fellows, while the B.Os or British Officers would continue to serve, disappointed me greatly. Instantly, I recognized that the Indian politicians had been taken for a ride, for the British intended to replace the Indian by Indians, all the while keeping the top positions for themselves. I further realized that I occupied a rather strange position in the set up, for I was neither a V.C.O nor a B.O.; in fact, I was something between the two. I am sure my Commanding Officer must have been in quite a quandary regarding my placement in this newly contrived set up.
I, for my part, felt very lonely and strange in my new surroundings and prayed silently for the company of a few more officers who would be able to alleviate my depression, and perhaps share my thoughts. It was in this frame of mind, that I looked forward to welcoming some members from the next batch of officers to graduate from the Indian Military Academy in six months time. One day, as the Major, my commanding officer, left his office Subahdar Attar Singh who was the Senior V.C.O. accosted me and talked to me about my living in the Mess. He wanted to know whether I liked living there and if I found the food to my liking. He was in a ‘chatty’ mood, wanted to know about my hometown and also talked about several military subjects. Since the steady stream of questions he fired at me were fairly simple, I was able to give him definite answers and this seemed to please him. At the end of our conversation, he even suggested that if I did not care for English food, I could have my meals in his ‘derra’ that was located a few hundred miles from the barracks.
Subahdar Attar Singh then took me on a tour around the company lines and he introduced me to various other people, including the Company Havaldar and the Quartermaster. I once more observed the mud-pasted floors and the old roofs made up of tiles and compared this to the luxurious set up enjoyed by the British soldiers, and felt a kind of resentment arise within me against our overlords. The visit to the Cook House did not improve matters and I returned to the Mess feeling quite sullen and downcast at having witnessed this great bridge between two very distinct life styles of the British officers and troops and our own.
During my free time, I started to read Regimental History, and I was most impressed with the great battle honours won by my regiment, and silently prayed that I would be worthy of its noble traditions. I particularly read the page relating to my previous British Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel C. S. Brunskill, M.C. who as a young signal officer, proved himself in action and was greatly honoured. I also read about our Viceroy Commissioned Officer, Captain M. T. Singh M.C. who was given a King's Commission for outstanding services in the field.
One day, as I sat reading, I noticed a Sikh officer riding a cycle that he carefully parked at the stand before he approached me. He introduced himself as Captain M. T. Singh and amazed, I rose immediately and shook hands with him and told him that it was indeed a strange coincidence that I had only that moment finished reading about him. He smiled and sat down beside me and said that he had just returned from leave and had been informed by the C.O. about my joining the regiment. He said that he was looking after the entire administrative work, while the Training and Discipline Department was being looked after by Allah Dad Khan or A.D as he referred to him.
Captain M. T. Singh was about forty years old, of medium height and a little on the corpulent side. He was the first Indian officer to have risen from the ranks to become a King's Commissioned Officer, and was greatly respected by all. I was delighted to meet him for his conversation was so animated and his manner so friendly that I immediately took a liking to him. Here was an officer who was both considerate and helpful and I could not but be impressed by his attitude. He talked to me at great length about the regiment and assured me of a happy association. We had lunch together, and it was quite late in the afternoon when we took leave of each other to return to our respective living quarters.
When it became hot in Aurangabad, we settled down to summer training. This briefly meant Physical Training in the morning, Drill in the afternoon, Company Officers' meetings together with training of troops in the Barracks, followed by lunch. In the early afternoon, we played hockey with the troops, or squash and tennis at the small club. In the evening, after a bath we changed into Summer Mess Kit and assembled at the Mess where dinner was served on the lawns to the accompaniment of pipe music. During summer, most of the officers were on leave or on courses and so there were never more than four or five officers for dinner.
At the time of my joining the regiment, there were four serving Indian Officers: Allah Dad Khan, the Adjutant; Khandokar, the Company Commander; Baghat Singh, the Company Officer and Ajaib Singh. The regiment had one company located in Ahmednagar with its own Brigade Headquarters and a famous Machine Gun School. The Company located here was used for demonstration purposes. Social life in Aurangabad was virtually non-existent, save for a small club, where the officers met quite regularly in the evening. Saturday night at the club was very well attended and was referred to as the ‘Band Night’ for on that night the regiment in the garrison provided its own band.
While I was in Aurangabad, I met Begum Mohamadullah who was the daughter of Nawab Zulqadar Jung, and she seemed to take an immediate liking to me. A few meetings and she soon made it amply clear that she would like to have a hand in getting me married to her younger sister. One day, I was invited by her to visit her father, Nawab Zulqadar Jung, in Hyderabad. When we reached his house, I was given an excellent Hyderabadi breakfast which I enjoyed thoroughly. I was also introduced to the many relatives who seemed to have gathered there. Nawab Zulqadar Jung’s mother who appeared to be a lady of great tradition and dignity particularly impressed me. She told me that she knew every thing about my family and me and would be very happy to have me be a part of hers. I, of course, thought she was referring to my engagement with Nawab Zulqadar Jung's daughter but it turned out that she was already matchmaking for yet another granddaughter of hers. Begum Mohamadullah seemed to understand what was going on in her mind, for she promptly rushed me out of the house and did not even let me finish my conversation.
Later, my mother sent me a letter addressed to Nawab Zulqadar Jung who was a distant relation of hers. I gave him the letter that he proceeded to read very carefully before putting it away in his pocket. I was not aware of the contents of the letter, and it was not until a year later that my mother explained to me that in the letter she had asked for the hand of his daughter for me. It was, she said, a proposal of marriage.
I had lost my father when I was only a young boy and therefore missed not only my father's love but also his guiding role. Nawab Zulqadar Jung offered me both, and I was very touched with the manner in which he treated me. I decided, largely because of my feelings for him, to marry his daughter, and conveyed my wish to his eldest daughter, Begum Mohamadullah.
A few days later, I was almost summoned by Begum Mohamadullah to Hyderabad. When I reached Nawab Zulqadar Jung's house, I found that there was a great deal of activity there, and very clearly, I heard the sound of music. Begum Mohamadullah came to receive me and informed me that her father had agreed to marry me to his daughter, Sultan Bano Begum, and that in fact, I was to go through the official engagement ceremony that very evening. The whole arrangement came to me as a great surprise, but because over the days, I had developed a great deal of respect and regard for Nawab Zulqadar Jung, I agreed.
I was soon fitted out in a borrowed ‘sherwani’ that hardly fitted me and made to sit on a red 'masnad' made of velvet. While I sat there, various people came and performed different ceremonies, and during this time I was garlanded profusely. The professional singers and dancers seemed to be taking their job very seriously, and they performed non-stop. Throughout this time, my now father-in-law sat away from me in the front row, but when the ceremony was over, he came across and embraced me. The entire affair and the realization of the responsibility that I would now have to shoulder fairly shook me. I returned to my lonely quarter and could not sleep a wink that night. The next morning, I was hardly able to break and train the raw horse that waited for me in the stable.
The first thing that I did upon returning to my quarter was to write to my mother to tell her of the engagement that I had gone through without her permission and presence. For days afterwards, I could not quite believe that I was almost married and that I had taken on something for which I had neither the money nor the time. I had yet to pass many promotion exams and complete many other courses. The only consolation was that this step would keep me on the right path and perhaps prevent me from falling into the snares that exist for a young man in his early days of service. So, I was engaged, but the new responsibility not only made me lose my night's sleep, it also made me aware of how important the preservation of one's own life is when it is inextricably linked with that of another.
I got down to my course in all earnest and was delighted to find out from the Commandant Seventh Cavalry that he would be willing to consider my transfer to the regiment if I cared to apply for it. This was a great honour, and besides it had always been my ambition to be a cavalry officer. I asked if I should approach my Commanding Officer, Colonel C. W. W. Ford, and inform him of my intention. However, I was told that this was not prudent for the time being as the Commandant of the Seventh Cavalry was in the United Kingdom and would have to be consulted first. I, therefore, left the matter at that, and returned to Aurangabad where my regiment was stationed.
On reaching my destination, I got the good news that I had been appointed Quartermaster of my regiment. This, I was informed, was a staff appointment and would mean an extra allowance of fifty rupees. I knew, though, that the officer I had relieved had been receiving an allowance of seventy-five rupees so I enquired about the reason for this discrepancy. I was told that the difference was because I was an Indian Commissioned Officer as opposed to a King's Commissioned officer that I had relieved. This information upset me and spoilt what could have been a happy moment. I was amazed at the insensitivity of those who were responsible for creating this hostility amongst the officers of the Indian Army. Needless to say, the accumulation of these grievances led to dissatisfaction and was one of the major reasons for the formation of the 'National Army' by Subhash Chander Bose.
I honestly felt that my countrymen were justified in feeling that the British were prejudiced against them. How could one accord step-brotherly treatment to officers doing the same job in a regiment? Why should officers be expected to maintain the same status, and yet receive less pay and allowances? I was, of course, quick to voice my resentment and question this treatment, but except for getting into difficulties with my seniors, I achieved nothing. All the same, I maintain that it was this shortsighted policy that led to dissatisfaction and maybe, even to a break in the discipline of the Indian army.
I had been Quarter Master of my regiment for a few months when one day I was summoned by my Commanding Officer. He seemed to be in a terrible mood and in his hand was holding an envelope, which he waved in my direction.
'What the hell do you think you have been up to? How dare you use my regiment as a thunder box', he screamed.
I was amazed and even a little frightened for I thought I had made some mistake in the security arrangements of the arms or ammunition in my charge.
'Sir, what exactly is my fault?' I mumbled.
'Read this', he bellowed, 'I expected better from you. Here I have made you quartermaster, increased your allowance, and this is how you pay me back.' With that, he threw the envelope at me.
I picked up the envelope and discovered that it was a letter from the Military Secretary's Branch, General Head Quarters, India, asking my Commanding Officer's approval to transfer me to the Seventh Cavalry, which according to the letter, I had requested when I was attached to the Seventh Cavalry. I tried to tell my Commanding Officer what had transpired and how this had come about, but he was not about to believe me.
'At no cost will I let you go,' he said. He also told me that in the future I would get no courses and he would not look out for me either.
I allowed him to have his say and he continued to shout and scream for a few more minutes. Finally, he looked at me coldly and said: 'Now, get out of my sight.'
I promptly obeyed, and with a quick salute left his presence.
Once outside, I breathed deeply. I returned to my office that adjoined that of my Commanding Officer whom I had just left in a seething rage. I had barely sat down, when my clerk Nan Singh who had been in the job for over a decade entered quietly and wanted to know the reason for the shouting he had heard, and whether there was anything wrong with the working of our office. I told him that it had nothing to do with his work; so, he breathed a sigh of relief and left me with my unhappy thoughts.
My Commanding Officer was so annoyed with me that for weeks he did not even acknowledge my salute. His behaviour really upset me, and so one day with my commission in my pocket, I dared to go to his office to tell him that if he were that annoyed, it would be far better if I left the regiment and joined something else. I told him that I could not bear to see him so upset on my account. The Commanding officer was extremely nice about the matter and told me that he had been disappointed in me, for he had wanted me to be with the regiment when it moved to Razmak in N.W.F.P. He told me that because it was an Indianized regiment, it was supposed to be a test posting. I once again attempted to tell him that the offer was made to me by the C.O. of the Seventh Cavalry and that I had neither asked for a posting nor had any intention of going behind his back, so to speak. He seemed to accept my explanation, smiled at me and shook my hand.
Soon after, we received official orders that we were to be posted to Razmak, Waziristan within the nest six months and that in the time left to us we were to train for mountain warfare. We, therefore, started our 'Get Fit' operation that meant long marches, difficult games, cross-country runs and mountain climbing. Our three years stay in Aurangabad referred to by the British officers as a station within the zone of 'Deccan Death' had prepared us well for whatever action it was that we were to see in Razmak.
I informed my brother-in-law, Dr. Mohamadullah, who was a session judge in the station of our move, that my marriage would have to be delayed for two years, in fact until my return from Waziristan. I do not know what transpired between the family members but I was told that the marriage must take place before I left for Razmak. I accordingly took him to see my Commanding officer and the matter was discussed in detail. My Commanding Officer's thought that this move was pure madness on my part but later relented when Mrs. Dorothy Ford got me the approval - just a month or so before our departure for Razmak.
Most of the officers present with the regiment attended my wedding reception in Hyderabad, and Colonel and Mrs. Ford also graced the occasion. I got married on 23 December 1938 and we all had ten days’ leave during which time the regiment was left under the charge of Subedar Major Sucha Singh. The wedding itself was a grand affair. My entire family had come from Delhi, and my mother was delighted with the various functions and with the idea that she was now a mother-in-law. For the first time in my life, I rode in a Rolls Royce that belonged to my father-in-law's friend, and the regimental band was in attendance.
Since we had only a month or so left before our departure for Razmak, my commanding Officer gave me permission to bring my wife to the regiment and promised to give me one of the new bungalows that had been specially constructed for the Indian Commissioned Officers. So, after ten days in Hyderabad, I left for Aurangabad. On the insistence of my sister-in-law, I had to take with me a great deal of unnecessary luggage, including a silver bed. I thought that the whole exercise of carting the baggage to Aurangabad where I had just a few days left before my posting, was a pointless exercise, but my sister-in-law thought that she would be able to store it for me later. She did not at that time realize that her future was as uncertain as mine was.
We were quite unable to run a house because it meant spending a lot of time organizing ourselves. My wife had no experience of looking after a home for she was just fifteen, had been brought up in a family of Nawabs, and had not been trained to run a house. So, I asked my Commanding officer permission to stay with my sister-in-law who lived just a mile away from the regiment. This permission was granted to me as a very special consideration.
A few days later, the Commanding Officer invited us to a private dinner party and we played numerous games after dinner. At the end of the party, that was the first I attended as a married officer, I almost forgot to collect my wife and was about to leave on my own when the C.O called out to me to take my wife. A huge dinner was also hosted at the mess where all the officers and their wives were present to greet us. This was indeed a great honour.
That night I dreamt a strange dream. My entire life seemed to appear before me. Once again, I saw myself as a little boy struggling with studies, facing with whatever fortitude I could muster, the loss of a parent and a sister, and working tirelessly and under very adverse conditions, to achieve not only my goals but to realize a dream. It was not even my own dream - it was my mother's dream for me. I tried so hard to make it come true.
I awoke to the sound of the muezzin's call and bent my head in prayer. I could feel the hot tears scald my cheeks and fall on the mat. I did not know what the future would hold for me, but like always I took comfort in prayer, and as usual, I found only in prayer the solace I needed. It was true then, it is true now, and it will be true till my last dying breath.
Brigadier Mirza Hamid Hussain
Brigadier Mirza Hamid Hussain was born in 1914 at Delhi. He was educated at Muslim University, Aligarh and the ‘Prince of Wales’ Royal Military College, Dehra Dun. He was commissioned from the Indian Military Academy in the first batch of 1934 and was attached to a British Battalion, The First British King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. He later joined the 47th. Sikh Regiment. He saw active service on the Frontier Waziristan Operation where he was mentioned in Dispatches for gallant and distinguished service in the field.
He was the first and senior most Indian Commissioned Officer to join the Indian Army ordnance Corps in 1940. He served in Iraq and Iran in various senior appointments as DADOD 10th. Army and Chief Ordnance Officer. He graduated from Staff College, Quetta, in 1945 and commanded various Ordnance Depots in India. He was then appointed ADOS in G. H. Q. India where he was in charge of Operation and training of the Ordnance Service.
On partition, he opted for Pakistan Army and came to Pakistan as Deputy Director Ordnance Service G. H. Q. Rawalpindi. Later he was appointed Director of Weapons and Equipment in the General Staff Branch G. H. Q. and subsequently took over as Director of Staff Duties. On completion of tenure, he was appointed Director of Inter-Services Intelligence, Karachi.
He was selected for Foreign Service in 1951 and was appointed Deputy Secretary in the ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge of the Middle East Division. Later, he became Chief of Protocol. In 1952he was selected for the appointment of Counsellor, Pakistan High Commission, London. He has been counselor in the following Embassies:
*Iraq *Iran and *Turkey
He has been Chare d’Affairs, Pakistan Embassy, Saudi Arabia. In January 1957, he rejoined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Joint Secretary/Chief of Protocol. He has been honoured with the following foreign awards:
‘Order of Monrovia.’
‘Membership of the Civil Merit’ from Spain.
He is keen on squash, tennis, and riding. He is also a member of the Royal Automobile Club, London, and has traveled widely. He is married to Nawabzadi Sultan Bano Begum, daughter of Nawab Zulqadar Jung, Hyderabad, Deccan.
He belongs to the ruling family of Loharu from his father’s side, and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of the Muslim University, Aligarh (India) from his mother’s side.
He is a direct descendant of Nawab Qasim Khan who came to India from Yarqand and after serving in numerous military appointments settled in Delhi. A famous street in Old Delhi is named after him.
Brigadier Mirza Hamid Hussain
Date of Birth: 4 July 1914 – 12 August 1987
Education: Prince of Wales
Royal Indian Military College 1926-1932 Graduated from Military Academy 1934
Services: Commissioned Indian Army 4 Feb. 1934
1st. Bn., King’s Shropshire Light Infantry
5th. Bn., (D.C.O.) 11th Sikh Regiment
Indian Army Ordnance Corps
Services Overseas: Commandant Ammunition Depot, Iraq.
Headquarters 10th Army.
Headquarters Tehran Army.
Advance Qualifications: Staff College, Quetta, 1944
Advance Ammunition Course
Inspection Ordnance Officer.
Mentioned in Dispatches for gallant and
distinguished services in the field.
In Pakistan Army: D.D.O.S.Adminstration (Col)
Director Weapons & Equipment (Full Col)
Director Staff Duties (Brig.)
Director I.S.I. Inter-Services Intelligence.
Civil Employment: Transferred to Foreign Service 1951.
Deputy Secretary In-charge Middle East.
Chief of Protocol.
Counsellor, High Commission, London.
Charge d’ Affaires, Saudi Arabia.
Charge d’Affaires, Turkey.
Counsellor, Tehran Embassy.
Counsellor, Iraq Embassy.
Selected for Imperial Defence College, London (Did not attend).
Joint Secretary and Chief of Protocol, Ministry of Foreign Affaires 1956-1958
High Commissioner, Ceylon 1958-1961.
President, Colombo Plan Council, Ceylon
Chairman, Karachi Municipal Corporation
Director, Karachi Road Transportation Corporation.