January 19, 2020
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Sheila Gujral

Though relieved to leave Lahore, she missed its life of the mind. Delhi was a village.

Sheila Gujral

IT was November 1947. I was 22, very scared, pregnant with our first son. Our first night in India, the whole family slept on the platform. IK was in Delhi, but we didn't know where. A 40-strong family group had taken the train from Okha (Gujarat) to Delhi. Badi dehshat thi, they were massacring trainloads. We put bindis even on nine-year-old girls.

We were relieved to leave Lahore. I remember hiding in my father's house as my brothers humoured some rioters parked on our sofas, cajoling them out of their intent.

Slip-ups, tragedies were aplenty. An aunt lived in the old city. She sent her jewellery with our Muslim munshi , promising to follow with her husband. That's the last we heard from her. Vanished with no trace. A cousin's 11-year-old son was left behind. He was traced 17 years later. A father of two, married into the Muslim family that had raised him. He came over on a false passport, remarried. He lives in Hapur now.

As for us, we left it all--home, lands, carpets, curtains, furniture. We just took our jewellery, expensive linen, cutlery, crockery. That Okha train reached Old Delhi station at 9.30 pm, well into curfew time. I was shivering, feeling so faint that they piled loads of blankets on me. I passed out.

Come morning, we contacted Inder who took us to a rented bungalow in the old city. Then, after Karol Bagh, all of us shifted to half-a-house on Babar Lane. We had no privacy. Whenever I and Inder needed to let off steam, we'd hop into our Austin and drive off to India Gate! It wasn't easy for the elders but for us life settled quickly. Pakistan, the riots, were a closed chapter. A bad dream. Only, culturally, Delhi seemed a village. We missed Lahore's life of the mind.

Did I imagine that night on the platform, sick, shivering and pregnant, that one day my husband would be the prime minister of our adoptive country? No. But I always knew the sky was the limit for this man.

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