THE LIFE & TIMES OF LALA PARABH DIAL SURI (1869-1963)
“After all, what is life but a mixture of unsolved problems, ambiguous victories and amorphous defeats! The trouble is that we often analyse life instead of dealing with it.”
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Wings of Fire, page 140.
Lala Parabh Dial Suri made out his Will in April 1943 at the age of 74; one year later, he essayed a brief autobiographical note. He typed out a fair draft on the 1st April 1944, then typed a slightly revised version on the 2nd, and another one on the 5th. These, formally signed by him, are all available in my papers.
He asked me to type out a fair copy of the autobiographical note on the 7th April 1944. One copy is inside the back-cover of the large-sized Family Album containing photographs dating from 1896 (when his first child was born, and died within a few months).
Also pasted on the back-cover of the Family Album is the certificate of his passing the Middle School examination in 1885. This certificate does not mention any date of birth; nor does the 1902 certificate for the Accountancy Examination of the Roorkee Engineering College. The first recorded date of birth is “May 1873” (in his Service book, when he acquired a permanent and pensionable status in Government Service in Burma in mid-1897). The reason for under-statement of age should be obvious; it is in accordance with a well-known practice in India.
My research has expanded the very brief references which he made to the major landmarks of his life. Some details were introduced into or omitted from his successive drafts; I have made use of all the versions. His Service Book dating from 1897 to 1929 has also been recovered recently, along with transcripts of various related documents, such as Annual Confidential Reports by his bosses and noting for annual increments, transfers and promotions.
In 1909-1910, his bosses forwarded his name for empanelment as an Extra Assistant Commissioner. Their recommendations are fully documented. This was also the year during which he was a member of the Rawalpindi Deputy Commissioner’s Cricket Team which played against the Lahore Deputy Commissioner’s XI. A group photograph is now in my scrap-books. This was also the year during which Dr. Annie Besant called on him; he had been a Fellow of the Theosophical Society since 1893.
One notable point that emerges from these papers is that his full name and signatures consisted only of the words “Parabh Dial” or “P. Dial” for the first 60 to 65 years of his life. The entry against “Race” on the first page of his Service Book is also very interesting. The policies of the British administration in India after the Communal Award (and the political controversies surrounding the 1931 Census) may have brought about the addition of the Suri surname.
A DECADE-WISE CHRONOLOGY
1869 Birth at Dhilwan (in Kapurthala State, now in Jullundur District). Father died a month earlier, at Bombay.
1879 Goes to School. To High School in 1886.
1889 Matriculates. Training & Job in the Railways.
1899 Mastermason at the Toungoo Lodge of Freemasons.
1909 Parabh Dial nominated for empanelment as Extra Assistant Commissioner. Paid Rs.1800 for a plot of land at Lahore (for a projected bungalow ) opposite Poonch House on Multan Road. Facial Paralysis, while posted at Rawalpindi. Visited by Annie Besant. Death of Sister Janaki’s Husband. Wife’s Brother-in-Law died in Lahore Mental Hospital; Widow Nihal Dei & 7-year old Daughter ended up at Rawalpindi on 9th June 1911; her son Tarlok Nath Chadha was born on 21st June 1911.
1919: Promoted as Divisional Accountant (First Grade). Death of Sister Janaki’s son Daulat Ram. Marriage of Nihal Dei’s Daughter (23rd October). Betrothal of Elder Son Durga Dass Suri (Marriage on 7th Feb.’20).
1929: Four Months Leave Preparatory to Retirement(from 15th January). Grandson Prem’s Tonsillectomy on 4th May. Retirement formalities at Lahore on 15th May. Left Shanti Niwas (his Lahore bungalow) the same evening for Khanai in Baluchistan (with wife and her sister Nihal Dei as well as Nihal’s daughter’s orphaned son Baama also) in anticipation of “good news”. Grand-daughter Kanta born at Khanai on 4th June. Baama died later that year. Nihal Dei fell seriously ill and was taken to Quetta, where she died.
1939 Beginning of Second World War and huge rises in Cost of Living. Trouble with Hernia. Lal Chand Suri’s son Gurcharan’s last year at Dayalbagh Technical College was 1939-40.
1949 Trouble with Prostate.
1959 General debility and aggravation of earlier complaints. Death on 17th January 1963.
The flourishing shawl trade of Nurpur in the Kangra valley had been the staple employment for the whole Suri clan for quite a few decades in the 19th century. After the death of Moti Ram Suri and his son Jwala Dass in the small-pox epidemic of 1866, Mahesh Dass (elder son of Jwala Dass) continued to look after the business. He was then about 18 years old. He had just been married when, within a span of a few weeks, his grandfather, his father, and his uncle (mentioned above) were carried away by the epidemic. He now inherited the responsibility for the care of an 11-year old brother (Narain Dass), a wife who was pregnant (Soma for her parents, Kirpa Dei in her married life), as well as his widowed aunt and her four children – and a business which required contacts all the way from Kashmir and Amritsar to Bombay and overseas clients.
Mahesh Dass did a lot of travelling, especially to concentrate his assets in the Punjab and to collect outstanding dues from Bombay. The factory at Nagrota Suriyan was managed by his cousin Shankar Dass (son of the late Hukam Chand). Soma gave birth to a daughter whom Mahesh Dass named Janaki.
He was on a business trip to Bombay when he had a sudden attack of gastro-enteritis and died of dehydration late in September 1869. About a month after his death, his wife gave birth to a second child who was given the name Parabh Dial by his maternal grandfather, Bhola Nath Anand. Soma and her two children stayed at Dhilwan for the next five years.
THE RUIN OF NURPUR
Meanwhile, there was a steep deterioration in the export potential for shawls due to a war in Europe. According to J.B.Lyall (see the Kangra District Gazetteer), the prosperity of Nurpur began to decline between 1870 and 1875, when the city was also visited by epidemics of cholera and fever (Malaria or Typhoid?).
There was a time when exquisite Indian shawls (especially those from Cashmere were transported from India to France and were highly valued for their warmth, beauty and design. The Empress Josephine owned many Cashmere shawls; this became the most important fashion trend by the end of the 18th century. Every French bride needed Cashmere shawls for her trousseau. It became an important item of attire, also very useful because it helped the fashionable women to keep warm in their diaphanous gowns.
Then came the Napoleonic Wars which brought about a naval blockade resulting in the end of the shawl exports from India. The great demand for shawls among the European elite led to their manufacture in Paisley (England), Edinburgh (Scotland), Paris, Vienna and Lyon.
Narayan Dass quarrelled also with Shankar Dass over business matters. A court case for partition of assets wasted precious resources between 1876 and 1880.
Narain Das refused to pay for the upkeep of his Soma Bhabi and her two children. They had to shift to the house of Lala Shankar Dass. Dhanpat Rai, maternal uncle of Parabh Dial Suri, was Deputy Superintendent in the Settlement Department at Hansi. He helped Parabh Dial occasionally to pursue his primary and middle school education at Nurpur.
His mother Soma (the formal name was Kirpa Dei) had to sell off all her ornaments to pay for his education and his sister Janaki’s marriage. She was married off in Vikrami Samvat 1942 and died 14 years later. Parabh Dial Suri said his sister was more educated than her husband. She had primary education; he was not literate except for arithmetic.
“A History of Indigenous Education in the Punjab” was published in 1883 at Calcutta by Dr W. Leitner. Sir H. Verney Lovett says it showed “ far more indigenous female education in the Punjab” than in Bengal, Bombay or Madras. Incidentally, the first school for girls in Calcutta was set up by a character called J.E. Drinkwater Bethune in 1849. He was in the Viceroy’s Council then (and upto 1860 at least) and met an “untimely death” like Moti Ram Suri in 1866 and Mahesh Dass Suri in 1869.(See Camb VI/116 & Index). Women were made eligible for University degrees for the first time in 1878 by London University.
By 1881, says the Gazetteer, Nurpur’s total production of Pashmina shawls was down to only 10 per cent of the 1875 turn-over.
The Punjab University was established in 1882. It was an examining body. In 1883, Sir Alfred Lyall was Lieut Governor of the North West Provinces. See his criticism of Moral Education (recommended in the Report) when Lord Ripon set up the first Education Commission in 1882, mainly for school education.
It was only after Parabh Dial passed the Anglo-Vernacular Middle School Board Examination in 1885 and then matriculated (with the help of a municipal scholarship) in 1888-89 that the tide began to turn. There were a total of 429,093 students at secondary schools all over India in 1886. The English text-book which all students in those days (including Parabh Dial Suri) had to study was by J.C. Nesfield, then Inspector of Schools in the “N.-W. Provinces”.
SERVICE IN N.W.R.
Jawahar Singh Kapoor, a clerk in the Railways, local secretary of the Arya Samaj and founder of the Singh Sabha, introduced the boy to an English officer in the Railways, one Mr Gilbert, in 1888. Gilbert got Parabh Dial admitted into the Railway Telegraphy School at Lahore with a stipend of Rs. 10 p.m. The same Jawahar Singh (Kapoor) became a well-known social worker and reformer in his later years.
“After passing my examination in Telegraphy, in 3 months time, I was appointed a Signaller at a Railway Station (Sohal) on the Amritsar-Pathankote branch at Rs. 15 p.m. My mother was with me…my elder sister having been married in about 1883…”, Parabh Dial said in his brief bio-data (1943).
Between 1889 and 1894, Parabh Dial passed several departmental examinations and worked as Signaller, Assistant Station Master and Station Master at several stations, “largely as a relieving station master,” he wrote in his memoirs. But this was all in the region around Pathankote.
Then, in 1894, he received a tempting offer from the Mushkaf-Bolan Railway, then under construction for strategic reasons. He got a job which enabled him to save something (from a salary of Rs.45 per month) and marry.
The marriage took place at Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, in 1895.He had been engaged to Kartar Kaur of Gharota (in Gurdaspur district) for quite some time. After her marriage, she became Ratan Devi, aged 13.
The Lahore-Amritsar railway line had been extended up to Pathankot only in 1884. Earlier it was connected via Amritsar to Beas in 1869 and then further south-east. Only in 1897 did it reach Delhi. By that time, Parabh Dial had seen Baluchistan and Burma.
SERVICE IN BALUCHISTAN
While working on the Mushkaf-Bolan Railway project on the Iran border, where he was doing much the same work as in the Punjab, Parabh Dial says, “I turned my attention to the Accounts Department and got myself transferred to the Office of the Accountant-General, Public Works & Railway Accounts, at Quetta, as an Accounts Clerk at Rs.45 p.m.” Here, he passed the required Departmental Examination “through the Civil Engineering College at Madras.” A higher examination (for Accountants Grade I) was to be passed at the Thomason Engineering College in 1902.
Major (later Sir Robert) Sandeman had been appointed Agent to the Governor General at Quetta when the Agency was created on 21st Feb 1877. Sibi was ceded by Yakub Khan of Kalat in May 1879 with Sandaman as its Chief Commissioner (additional charge).
“The ten years preceding Sandeman’s death in 1892, were marked by tremendous administrative activity Communications were opened up in every direction.....the Shahi Jirga....meets twice a year once at Sibi and once at Quetta. The province, as now administered (says a document of 1919) can be divided into British Baluchistan.....and the native states of Kalat & Las Bela The Durand Line was drawn in 1893. Incidentally, Gandhi went to South Africa in 1893. That was also the year in which Swami Vivekananda made his mark on the international stage.
SERVICE IN BURMA (1896-1901)
Parabh Dial Suri has mentioned in his two-page Autobiographical Note that he nearly doubled his income by going from the North Western Railway in India to the Mandalay-Kunlon Railway under construction in Burma. His first posting was to an obscure station called Naungcheu, (“beyond Mandalay.”) Later, he was shifted to the Burmese capital, Rangoon, where he was joined by his wife and mother.
Many of the stories told by Lalaji & Bhaboji(Mr & Mrs Parabh Dial Suri) about Burmese customs and history in those years appeared almost unbelievable to us as children but are confirmed in many authoritative books.
They also learnt the Burmese language (and used some of it even in the 1940s in speaking to each other on private personal matters).
EXPOSURE TO A DIFFERENT CULTURE
One great difference from India which they noticed was the total absence of caste differences. In fact, “Caste, Purdah, Hinduism and Muhammadanism, with their paralysing strife, are unknown in Burma,” said an observer even in 1920.
“In Burma, caste is so little known that the Burmese language has no word for it....”, says the Imperial Gazetteer of India, Vol. I, Ch.VI. “One of the difficulties of conducting the Census of the numerous Indian immigrants was the impossibility of making the average Burmese enumerator understand the meaning of the Indian term Zaat or Jati. Difference of religion he can grasp in a vague sort of way; he has a notion of what is meant by race; but caste remains to him an insoluble mystery.” In this connection, reference is again invited to the first one or two pages of this narrative, where the absence of the word “Suri” in Lalajee’s Service Book and Visiting Card has been mentioned.
However, it must be mentioned that Parabh Dial’s knowledge of Burma was confined to the southern part of it. The sparsely populated north, which he never saw, was more like the adjoining Nagaland. “…though nine of her thirteen million inhabitants are Burmese Buddhists, fourteen indigenous languages are spoken, and a sixth of her inhabitants, covering a third of her area (chiefly in the hills), are Shans, Chins, Kachins, Karens, etc., who have immemorial feuds with the Burmese,” said an observer in the 1920s, and the situation is not very different even today.
In 1885-86, Britain had annexed Burma (after the 3rd Burmese War). “Having to construct an administration at short notice, they brought over their subordinate Indian staff.” (The Chief Commissioner of Burma became a Lieut. Governor in 1897). For full background, see “Forty Years in Burma” by J. Marks (London 1917) and “Burma under British Rule & Before” by J Nisbet, 2 Vols.(London 1901).
THE SECRET SOCIETY OF FREEMASONS
“Do not honours and hurts come unsought and uninvited?”
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Wings of Fire, page 103.
Lalaji used to tell how he was co-opted into the Society of Freemasons after he impressed the Assistant Engineer by producing Prime Numbers of great length even up to 15-20 digits---which he had picked up from the Englishman’s own technical journals. Assistant Engineer Claudius (later Executive Engineer of the privately-owned Burma Railways Company), himself a very young man, had become a personal friend of the 30-year old Parabh Dial; when Parabh Dial opted to leave the Company, Claudius urged the Company management (in vain) to offer double the salary.
Claudius had first become interested in Parabh Dial’s personal life because of their shared involvement with Theosophy and Astronomy. When Parabh Dial joined the Accountant General’s Office in May 1897, it was Claudius who noticed that Parabh Dial’s date of birth ( mid-1873, as given for the 1885 Middle School Certificate and now recorded in his Service Book) was astrologically interesting. Parabh Dial wrote back to Jaishi Ram, asking for a Jantri of the year 1873, so that he could compare the Hindu reading with the Western reading of Claudius.
Lala Parabh Dial rose to be an office-bearer (rank of Mastermason and post of Secretary & Treasurer) in the Lodge of Freemasons at Toungoo. The Freemasons were then a most exclusive club, mostly with European members. Sir Frederick Fryer (Chief Commissioner since 1895, redesignated as Lieutenant Governor in 1897) was a Freemason. Charles Bradlaugh, the highly controversial Member of Parliament in that era, was a Freemason (belonging to both the British and the French sections), an “Orator of the Grand Lodge” being his status or rank in that fraternity. Annie Besant and Miss Arundale became members of a sister-group for women (called Co-Masons) set up in 1902. “Within a few years there were hundreds of lodges throughout the world. So much thought did she devote to Co-Masonry…”
THE NURPUR FAMILIES
The family’s ancestral house at Nurpur had been reduced to rubble by the Great Earthquake of 12th June 1897. His uncle Narain Das, then almost a pauper, had already sold off the house, and the land on which it stood, for whatever he could get. Forgetting old grievances, Parabh Dial sent him some money to help him out in his hour of need.
Sporadic correspondence with the Nurpur families (in 1898, 1929, 1932 and 1943) is available in my papers. A post-card from Jaishi Ram (dated 20th June 1898) shows that Parabh Dial purchased a plot of land, with a small structure on it, from his cousin’s family. The post-card acknowledged that he had remitted money off and on to build a suitable house on this plot “in 1898…through my brother Lala Jaishi Ram”. Even this house suffered neglect and vandalisation (vide another cousin Hari Kishan’s two post-cards of 1929, in reply to Parabh Dial’s enquiry accompanied by a self-addressed Reply Post Card after his retirement). The house was ultimately gifted to Lala Hari Kishan Suri whose father Lala Shankar Das had afforded shelter and support to Parabh Dial and his mother and sister in the 1880s.
Meanwhile, drought of the severest kind in 1896-7 affected about 8 crores people in all of North India plus Madras & Bombay. Sir James Lyall, the former Lieut Governor of the Punjab, presided over an enquiry commission (which also reviewed the ideas of the previous 1880 commission) in 1898. From Burma, Parabh Dial sent some monetary assistance even to the uncle Narain Das who had refused to support him and his mother 17 years earlier in their hour of direst need.
Immediately followed the worst ever drought recorded in 200 years, over a much larger area than in 1897. Rs.80 million worth of crops were lost. The Viceroy said in Oct 1900 that a quarter of India’s population had been given relief during the summer of that year. Many diseases followed; about 2-1/2 lakhs died of small pox and cholera, 7-1/2 lakhs of other diseases.
But normalcy had been restored by the time Parabh Dial ended his connexion with the railways and returned from Burma to pursue the rest of his career in the Account General’s establishments in India .
It will be noticed that Parabh Dial (in Burma, 1898) was dealing with Jaishi Ram (at Nurpur) when he built a house in his ancestral town. But three decades later, he gifted the house to Hari Kishan (in spite of the advice of Karam Chand). Anyone familiar with these families (all intimately related to each other) would see that the family of Jaishi Ram were well-to-do and highly educated. Jaishi Ram’s grandson Lekh Raj was Chief Engineer and later Chairman of the Punjab State Electricity Board. On the other hand, Hari Kishan was the son of Parabh Dial’s benefactor Shankar Das, but the family had not done too well in life.
BACKGROUND FOR SERVICE IN INDIA
From Toungoo in Burma, Lalajee managed his transfer to the Punjab “by exchange with Mr Larkins” in the Accountant General’s office at Lahore. This was in 1901.
Lord Curzon (1901-1905) took special interest in the PWD. (Camb VI/373). The Railway Branch of the PWD was abolished in 1905 when the Railway Board was set up.
The 1901 report of the Mac Dowell Commission said the Railways had been unable to carry much of the food and fodder offered to them during the famine of the previous year (s). “The separate organisation for the accounts work of the PWD was in 1910 amalgamated with the civil accounts branch of the Finance Deptt.”
NUCLEUS OF A LARGE FAMILY
“Soon after coming from Burma to the Punjab,” Parabh Dial wrote, “I took Lal Chand, then aged about ten years, from Nurpur, under my own care (his grandfather having died), brought him up, got him educated up to Matric, got him married on 18-5-1912…..” and so on. This “grandfather” was Parabh Dial’s uncle Narain Das who had turned them out in 1880-81. Even Lal Chand turned out to be “ungrateful” after all that had been done for him and his sons.
Lal Chand’s case was just the beginning of many other additions to the family, including a widowed sister of Parabh Dial’s wife, as detailed elsewhere. This widow’s name was Sulakhni (formally Nihal Dei); her daughter Saraswati was also brought up by Lalajee and Bhaboji, and married off “on 13-10-1919 to Des Raj Anand, Station Master (resident of Pind Dadan Khan). She died on 9-1-1928.”
In 1902, Parabh Dial was transferred to Dera Ghazi Khan. He also passed the examination for Grade I Accountants from the Thomason Civil Engineering College at Roorkee in 1902. The next transfer was to Ambala in 1903. Two of his sons were born during this period (see below). The first had his Mundan at Ambala; the second was born there two months after Lalajee’s mother passed away at Ambala on 20th October 1905 (widowed 36 years earlier).
LAHORE FROM TIME TO TIME
In the ensuing years, Sir Denzil Ibbetson, author of an early exposition of the caste system in India and the Lieut Governor of the Punjab in 1907, was worried about anti-British riots at Lahore and Rawalpindi. “Seditious” literature was reaching even the army units. The Press Act was passed in 1910.(Sir George CLARKE was Governor of Bombay-----not the same man as Jaspat Rai Suri’s patron “George Clerk” of the 19th century). Bal Gangadhar Tilak was deported to Mandalay but Motilal Nehru led the Congress to the Viceroy’s Exec Council as part of the Minto-Morley Reforms of 1909 (When the annual Congress Session Venue was Lahore). Sinha was Congress President (Bombay 1915). A bomb exploded at the European club at Lahore in May 1913. In Punjab and some other provinces, Lieutenant Governors were replaced by Governors following the Act of 23 Dec 1919 (Montagu—Chelmsford Reforms).
As already stated, Lala Parabh Dial Suri had returned from Burma to a posting in the Accountant General’s office at Lahore in May 1901. Of Parabh Dial’s two surviving sons, Durga Dass was born on 16th August 1901 at Lahore. Tirath Ram was born at Ambala on 16th December 1903.
Lalaji (as everyone called him) had no daughters but he was burdened with the responsibility for bringing up some children from cognate branches of his own larger family, who had become orphans. One person to be mentioned in this context was Lal Chand Suri, grandson of the man who had turned out Parabh Dial (then a child) along with his sister Janaki and their mother Soma.
Another person brought up by Lalaji and Bhaboji was Trilok Nath Chaddha (son of Lalaji’s sister-in-law, his wife’s nephew) who had also been brought up by Lalaji and “Bhaboji”. He eventually became a Personal Assistant to Sir Sahabji Maharaj Anand Swarup and built his own house in Dayalbagh. Later, Trilok Nath Chaddha’s marriage was solemnized at Dayalbagh. It was an inter-caste marriage, nothing very unusual among the Radhaswami Satsangis. Since then, some other marriages in the family have also been solemnized among Satsangis , at Dayalbagh and elsewhere.
The story of Lalajee’s family life from 1901 up to his retirement in 1929 has been retailed in bits and pieces above and below. It might be relevant here to trace Lalajee’s spiritual or religious development from his earliest days.
Lala Parabh Dial Suri (1869-1963) spent the last 50 years of his life as a member of the Radhasoami Sect. However, the story of his religious life begins about 20 years before his birth. It starts with Christianity, meanders through Theosophy and Freemasonry, and touches the Brahmo Samaj, before coming to the Radhasoami faith in 1913, and two decades later to Dayalbagh where he spent the last three decades of his life in the service of the community, at the feet of two successive Gurus.
HINDUS & MUSLIMS
Are we related to Sher Shah Suri? This is the most-frequently-asked question whenever the family history is first discussed with anyone. The answer is detailed elsewhere.
Were our ancestors Muslims (at any stage)? This is the next consequential question. Probably, yes, more than once in the last 1000 years.
How Daler Khan Suri was born a Muslim is very material to our blood-line from the 16th century. Before that, it is all very vague.
Coming to more recent times, Christianity had replaced Islam as the religion of the rulers. But Urdu and Islam were still the dominant cultural influences in the Punjab until the early decades of the 20th century. The Christian missionaries were not yet as powerful in the North as they had become in the East.
Even the father of Lala Lajpat Rai, an Aggarwal of Jagraon, “observed Muslim fasts and deprecated Hindu customs and rituals. He was an ardent follower of Syed Ahmed Khan and his close friends were also Muslims…”
Fazli Hussain and Lala Harkishan Lal were the two Ministers appointed by Sir Esdward Maclagan who followed O’Dwyer as Governor of the Punjab in the 1920s.
Such was the childhood environment of Parabh Dial Suri with the Islamic influence clashing with the Christian influence on his mother’s family.
A new factor (after his return from Burma) was Swami Ram Tirth, after whom he named his second son, born in December 1903; the Swami had been a Professor of Mathematics and a close friend of another Professor, Mohammed Iqbal, the poet who wrote “Saaray Jahaan say Acchha Hindostan Hamara”.
In the 21st century, A.R.Rahman was the most famous or popular music composer. But hardly anyone knows that he was born Dileep Shekhar in Madras on 6th January 1967. His father died in 1976 and his mother converted to Islam under the influence of a Sufi saint named Karimullah Shah Kadri. In 1982, Dileep Shekhar became Allah Rakha Rahman…
There are innumerable such cases.But let us return to the role of Christianity in Parabh Dial’s early life.
In the latter half of the 19th century, Christianity in India became a hand-maiden of the British Empire. Many Indian intellectuals and religious leaders sought to save the local heritage. The British view was summarised by Sir Alfred Lyall who said Hinduism was determined to live though doomed to die!
We have still to find out the name of the Christian Mission working in Bengal & Bihar (which constituted one British Indian Province at one stage) which gave Lalajee his name.
The story begins a few years before the birth of the subject of our narrative. In the 1850s (around the time of Swamiji Maharaj, the founder of the Radhasoami sect, who died in 1878), one of the Missionaries sent out from Bihar to the Punjab had the idiosyncratic habit of giving the same name to every child he baptised. One of the children he adopted in Bihar (Chhapra) was named Prabhu Dayal Mishra, later to become almost a member of our family. Himself a famine foundling, he was active in the relief work during the 1897 famine when he brought many destitute children from Rajasthan to Lahore. “The famine was so severe that mothers used to roast their own children to feed themselves,” says Dhanpat Rai in his biography of his brother, Lala Lajpat Rai.
This missionary was at Dhilwan (near Jullundur), then part of the Princely State of Kapurthala, when Bhola Nath Anand’s wife fell seriously ill. The Mission Doctor saved her life and believed he had converted the family to Christianity. Bhola Nath’s daughter, Soma (designated Kirpa Dei by her mother-in-law after her marriage to Mahesh Das Suri of Nurpur) was five or six months pregnant with her second child when she came to Dhilwan from Nurpur, with her first child Janaki in tow. Her husband Mahesh was on a business trip to Bombay.
Then came the news that Mahesh had succumbed to cholera in Bombay. The widow delivered a male child soon afterwards. And the Christian Missionary named him also as Prabhu Dayal. This was about a month after Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in Kathiawar.
(It would appear that when Soma got her son admitted to the only school at Nurpur in 1876 or 1877, the new student’s name got registered as Parabh Dial; this spelling stuck to him all his life. Strangely, the only exception is in the Marks Sheet issued to him from the Thomason Civil Engineering College at Roorkee in 1902, for the examination in which he qualified as a 2nd Grade Accountant; and there his name is spelt exactly as it was given to him by the Christian Missionary mentioned above).
Mishra and the Suri child were treated as Dharam-Bhais. Decades later, Parabh Dial Suri was to donate his life-insurance policy to the Orphanage at Ferozepur which had been founded at the turn of the century by Shiv Ram Bhasin (great-grand-uncle of Arun Suri’s wife Usha) following the 1898 famine in Berar (Vidharba) when many orphans from there were brought up at Ferozepur.
The children were yet very young when another son of Kathiawar felt annoyed with the inroads of Christianity, Islam and even new-fangled versions of Hinduism. Swami Dayanand Saraswati founded the Arya Samaj when the Suri child was only six or seven years of age. “Back to the Vedas” and “Back to the Pristine Sanatan Dharma” was his message.
However, at this time, Dayanand was only a preacher. His constructive programme came much later. In comparison, people like Mishra were helping a starving Narendranath Dutt, later to become famous as Swami Vivekananda. The adolescent Mishra had made many influential friends and patrons in the Christian community in the 1870s. One of his Bihari friends, then known only as “Laatoo”, took a menial job in Calcutta but later became a leading light of the Ramakrishna Mission founded by Swami Vivekananda. Annie Besant had a comparable rise; she was doing menial work shortly before she declared herself an atheist at the age of 26.; but became the President of the Theosophical Society in due course; and President of the Indian National Congress much later.
Parabh Dial became a Fellow of the Theosophical Society in 1893, at the age of 23. Olcott signed the certificate, which is in my records. But he has noted that he rejoined the society in 1903.
It must be noted that the word Suri was never appended to his name or signatures (nor did it appear on his Visiting Card) until well into the 20th century. He signed as “P. Dial” in his own accounts book for 1916 and 1919 (relating to the marriage of Saraswati), and even in November 1925 and January 1926. When he sent a Reply Post Card to his cousin Hari Kishan Suri at Nurpur, in April 1929, there was no “Suri” in his own name on the Self-Addressed side.
It was only the controversy preceding Ramsay MacDonald’s Communal Award which appears to have changed his mind. Some time after his Retirement in mid-1929, he changed his signatures to “P.D.Suri”. In the process, he also changed the style in which the “P” was welded into the “D”.
The Brahmo Samaj, Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Annie Besant were other influences on Lalajee’s early formative period. During his service tenure in Burma, Babu Parabh Dial (this was the officially registered spelling of his name) was inducted into the Brotherhood of Freemasons by his bosses. When he passed an examination in the Burmese language, he received a cash prize and a copy of the BhagwadGeeta translated into English by Dr Annie Besant, herself a Freemason.
But, back in the Punjab, the Kangra background became dominant again. His ancestors had been Jwala Dass and Mahesh Dass. His son, born in 1901, was named Durga Dass; the next, born in 1903, however, came to be called Tirath Ram because of the currently famous Swami Ram Tirtha.
It was only in 1913 that Lala Parabh Dial Suri was inducted into the Radhasoami faith by Master Nam Dass. The story of the intervening decade is only partly available.
Urdu and Islam were the dominant cultural influences in the early decades of his life. Even the father of Lala Lajpat Rai, an Aggarwal of Jagraon, “observed Muslim fasts and deprecated Hindu customs and rituals. He was an ardent follower of Syed Ahmed Khan and his close friends were also Muslims…”But his mother was from an orthodox Sikh family. The Arya Samaj was to come later. Such was the childhood environment of Parabh Dial Suri with the Islamic influence clashing with the Christian influence mentioned earlier, and the native Hindu influence being debilitated by the harsh economic circumstances.
He was only in his teens when he first heard about Dr Annie Besant. She was not yet a Theosophist. In some magazine, she had made fun of the supernatural element in Rider Haggard’s novels, which were then the rage, and were also Parabh Dial’s favourite reading. She also wrote disparagingly of the word Om used reverentially by Edwin Arnold. But by 1891, she had publicly given up Christianity, creating Parabh Dial’s first cogitation about religious creeds.
Mrs Besant began to experiment with the occult, but told her critics that a Theosophist did not have to believe in it. Her views about the origin of the universe and the seven steps to Nirvana appeared quite correct to most people in India. She had been learning Sanskrit and Urdu even in 1891; a proposed visit to India in that year was cancelled at the last moment. Everyone in India knew about these things. A young student in London (named MKGandhi) was also, at that time, investigating matters of the spirit.
Just past his teen-age, Lala Parabh Dial Suri had become interested in Rosicrucian, Kabbalistic and Masonic lore, besides his intellectual involvement with the teachings of the late Raja Ram Mohun Roy (1774-1833) and Keshub Chunder Sen (1838-1884). Nearer home was Swami Dayanand (1824-1883), founder of the Arya Samaj when Parabh Dial Suri was yet a child. A contemporary of Parabh Dial Suri, named Narendra Dutt (born on 12th January 1863), was later to be famous as Swami Vivekananda.
Shortly after his marriage in 1895, Lala Parabh Dial Suri went to Burma and came under the influence of his boss who was a Freemason. He became an active (and valued) member of the Brotherhood of Freemasons and held office in the organization. He retained the Mystic Ring and the Secret Literature of the Freemasons until the end of his life, but his mind and heart travelled on to other paths.
PASSING INTEREST IN POLITICS
In India, the National Congress had come into existence in 1885, but it was only the events of 1892 in Britain (see below) which made Parabh Dial Suri conscious of politics, or even of the British Empire in whose service he went first to Baluchistan and then to Burma.
He had been but a child when Edward Prince of Wales (later to be King Edward VII) visited India amid much controversy in the British Parliament and Disraeli proclaimed Victoria “Empress of India”. In 1880, there was the riotous and scandalous episode of Charles Bradlaugh being elected to the House of Commons but not being allowed to participate in its proceedings.
Emerging into his teens, Parabh Dial saw the 1892 General election in Britain resulting in the defeat of Lord Salisbury & his Conservative party and the emergence of the Liberal Party as the winners under the leadership of Gladstone. But, surprising as it seems to us today, Salisbury refused to resign as Prime Minister; his government drafted the ensuing “Speech from the Throne” and the Queen delivered the speech to the new Parliament without any compunction. Mr.(later Lord) Asquith moved in the House of Commons an amendment to the Motion of Thanks, condemning the Conservative party’s insult to the verdict of the people.
THE SITUATION IN INDIA
Politics in India also appeared a zero-sum game to Parabh Dial Suri. In fact, nothing appears to have changed since his time (except that the rulers are now Indians, not foreigners). We can use Nehru’s words to describe the seemingly eternal situation: “…the handful of the upper middle class who had on the whole prospered…and wanted no sudden change that might endanger their present position and interests. They had close relations with the…Government. …The peasantry were a blind, poverty-stricken, suffering mass…sat upon and exploited by all who came into contact with them…petty officials, police, lawyers, priests.”
THE 20th CENTURY
Mrs (Dr.) Annie Besant came back into Lala Parabh Dial Suri’s life when she organised two associations for young Indians in 1908. These were called the Sons of India and the Daughters of India. She had already toured North India in 1896-97 (when Parabh Dial Suri was in Burma), and again in 1905 and 1906. Parabh Dial Suri’s native district of Kangra suffered a very destructive earthquake around this time.
Annie Besant was then in the news (in India and abroad) all the time. Olcott, long-time President of the Theosophical Society, died on 17th February 1907 and Dr Besant was elected to succeed him within a few weeks (after a world-wide ballot gave her a majority of 9826 against 1122 for all her opponents). In August, she announced the formation of an International Committee for Research into Mystic Tradition. We will now see how these events shaped Lala Parabh Dial Suri’s life until his meeting with Annie Besant in 1910 (see below).
ASTROLOGY & THEOSOPHY
Long ago, an English astrologer had predicted the death of Annie Besant in 1907. Now people made fun of him and of astrology. Annie Besant herself recalled that “when she left England in 1906 she could not understand why so many of the people who went to the station to see her off were weeping so abundantly. It was some time later before she learnt that they had expected never to see her again”.
Now many people were recalling another prophecy. Colonel Olcott, the earlier long-time President of the Theosophical Society, had been told in 1897 “that he would never want for money…and that he would live twenty more years to enjoy it.” Olcott wrote that “this strangely corroborates the prediction of the late Madame Mongruel, and substantially those of the different horoscopes that have been cast for me at different times.” But his death on 17th February 1907 came as a rude shock to believers in palmistry, astrology and many related arts. Lalajee was one of them. The ground was now ready for theology and theosophy.
Annie Besant visited Simla as President of the Theosophical Society in 1908. After a seven-month tour of Europe, she returned to her Indian headquarters at Adyar on 28th November 1909. A week later, she introduced the child Jiddu Krishnamurti “astrally to the great Devas….no less than Mars, Mercury, Brihaspati (Jesus), Uranus, Neptune, and the great Surya, as well as other minor beings, amid a great glory of light and colour,” says her biographer. As is well-known, Krishnamurti grew up to be a world-famous philosopher.
It was only in 1910 that she propagated Theosophy extensively in North India. She met Lala Parabh Dial Suri also in this connexion. We can presume that this was part of her recruitment drive for the Theosophical Order of Service which she had just organised. Perhaps it was in this context that the Theosophists said that Gandhiji was one of them.
By this time, Lalajee was supporting a big joint family and was more in touch with Indian thought. Raja Ram Mohun Roy, the Brahmo Samaj, Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekananda were old stories by now. Only the Arya Samaj was a strong presence in the Punjab.
Annie Besant was still a rising star but many Indians (including Parabh Dial Suri) were disillusioned with her Theosophical Society because of the many internal dissensions and scandals revealed by TheHindu of Madras and by many respected religious and political leaders.
At the Society’s annual convention of 1910, “a little blue leather book” had been released. Entitled The Masters and The Path, it was claimed to have been written by the boy Krishnamurti. “Within a few years the little book had been translated into twenty-seven languages, had gone through over forty editions, and had sold over a hundred thousand copies; thousands of people wrote to express their gratitude for the way in which it had changed their lives.” Lalajee bought a copy at Jehlum shortly after Mrs Besant’s return to India from a foreign tour; he kept it till the end (in his black-and-gold Despatch Box, along with the Freemasons secret manuals). But it was found in a court case in 1912 that it had been faked by the notorious Leadbeater.
Moreover, we find that “…as a result of the deification of Krishnamurti…Bhagavan Das (later to be the author of The Essential Unity of All Religions, andmuch later honoured with the Bharat Ratna award), Mrs Besant’s tried and true friend, led a revolt…”
The Societies for Sons and Daughters of India, founded by Annie Besant in 1908, had also become dormant. Obviously, these developments left Lala Parabh Dial Suri puzzled and dismayed.
On a visit to Lahore (which suffered a plague scare for two years), he purchased the first-ever English translation of Swami Dayanand’s Satyartha Prakash. But its voluminous details and combative contents did little to guide him out of the depression which had been with him since his mother’s death in 1905, and the scare of his facial paralysis.
Transferred to Khanki in 1913 (shortly after the bomb attack on Lord Hardinge), he found a friend and guide who led him to his final faith. This was also the year when Lala Lajpat Rai totally abandoned his law practice in order to devote all his time to social service (see the story of the Servants of India Society). As mentioned above Lala Parabh Dial Suri also spent the last three decades of his life in honorary service at Dayalbagh.
The first three Gurus of the Radhasoami sect had done their work and passed away in 1878, 1898 and 1907. It was left to the fifth Guru, Sahabji Maharaj Sir Anand Swaroop, to found the colony at Dayalbagh where Lalajee settled down for the last three decades of his life after having become a disciple in 1913.
CHILDREN & GRAND-CHILDREN
In 1913, Lalaji sought initiation into the Radhasoami Satsang. Much later, when the sect had established its own colony at Agra (ever since known as Dayalbagh), Lalaji retired from government service and began to serve the Dayalbagh administration in an honorary capacity. This continued from 1932 until his death in 1963.
As mentioned earlier, Durga Das Suri was born on 16th August 1901 at a place called Vadda Vehda (the Large Pavilion) located inside the Lohari Gate in the ancient walled city of Lahore.
He matriculated in March 1919 from the Government School at Amritsar. After a brief stint at the Government College, Lahore, it was felt that he would be better off at the Lyallpur Agricultural College to which he migrated in May 1920.
Durga Das Suri sent me some details of his career (and other branches of the family) in a letter which is in my papers. Graduating in 1924, he was given a two-year Research Fellowship to investigate Indian Medicinal Plants. The study took him to the Nilgiris in the South and to the Burma border in the East. This remained his field of work until the Partition of India in 1947.
Independence brought him to the Central Government (on deputation) to work at Palampur and Dharamsala, finally to retire at Hyderabad (Adviser to the Indian Oilseeds Committee) in mid-1958.
THE YOUNGER SON
Tirath Ram Suri was born at Ambala on 16th December 1903, at about the same time as the Wright Brothers were making the world’s first flight of a heavier-than-air craft and the Taj Mahal Hotel at Bombay was opening its doors for the first time.
Lala Parabh Dial Suri had been under Christian and Freemasons influence until the end of the 19th century. But, back in the Punjab, the Kangra background became dominant again. His ancestors had been Jwala Dass and Mahesh Dass. His son, born in 1901, had been named Durga Dass. But by 1903, Lalajee had come under the influence of the Arya Samaj. His next son came to be called Tirath Ram because of the then famous Swami Ram Tirtha. Born in September 1874, Swamiji had propagated the ancient cultural heritage of India even in Japan and America.
After Tirath Ram Suri (1903-1965) graduated from the Technical Institute at Rasul (now in Pakistan), he was employed as an Overseer in the Punjab Irrigation Department in October 1923, at Lyallpur. He left this job and joined the North Western Railway on 24th October 1925.
Married a month and a half later, he served the Railways in Baluchistan, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh until 1959.
Both Durga Das and Tirath Ram spent their years of retired life at Dehra Dun.
Details of Tirath Ram’s career and family life are available in a small pocket diary in which he recorded only the salient facts until shortly before his untimely death in 1965.
Sadly, Lalajee’s financial resources declined sharply just when the need was greatest. The steep rise in the cost of living because of the World War of 1939-45 was the first reason to worry. He had handed over the upkeep of the Lahore Kothis to his sons, who were remitting to him the net rental receipts from that property.This too became depleted and irregular due to the political climate in Lahore. A small honorarium which Lalajee had been getting from the Radhasoami Satsang Sabha, whose accounts he was auditing at Dayalbagh (as the sewa assigned to him by his Guru), had to be given up. This was when he made out his Will in April 1943, at the age of 74.
INTIMATIONS OF “MORTALITY”
Lalajee and his younger son had never remained at one station for more than three or four years (sometimes even months) until Parabh Dial retired and settled down at Dayalbagh. Tirath Ram’s first period of respite from rapid transfers came when he was posted to Bhatinda at about the same time. Then, after eight years of stability, he was transferred to Jind on the 1st of July 1941 in connexion with a war-time project.
Bhatinda was then an important place in the princely state of Patiala. It was a historical city and the Railway Colony was almost as modern as the Civil Lines in any British area. But Jind was the straggling capital of a small and backward State; even the Railway Colony had no electricity and other amenities. However, strenuous over-work (rather than any of the other factors) became the cause of what Tirath Ram described in his Diary as “Long illness first time in life 14-9-42 to 29-10-42…”
Lalajee and Bhaboji had to leave Prem and Saran at Dayalbagh to fend for themselves, while they went to Jind to look after their son’s health. After his recovery, according to another entry in Tirath Ram’s Diary, he was “Transferred to Ferozepur & left Jind on 24-7-43…” The next entry in this Diary refers to the premature birth of a son who was to die within a decade.
Lalajee’s own elder son was then posted at Solan in the Simla Hills District. As soon as Tirath Ram recovered his health, Lalajee and Bhabojee shifted from Jind to Solan for a summer vacation. May and June were the months when Prem and Saran used to go to their respective parents and Lalajee used to get time off from his sewa at Dayalbagh.
On the 4th of July 1943, Lalajee wrote a letter from Solan to the Financial Controller at Dayalbagh, asking for “an extension of leave…upto the end of July…as my state of health requires further stay here.” In reply, he was advised to “please give up all care about duties here and take complete rest…” He was “retired” and his honorarium of Rs.60 per month was naturally discontinued.
We have already noted that he made out a Will in April that year. This was also the time when he first pencilled out a brief outline of his life-story. He also started compiling an abstract of his earnings and expenditure “From 1-4-1889 to 31-3-1943 (54 Years)”. A note in this Register indicates that he returned to Dayalbagh only in December 1943. In September that year, the Radhasoami Satsang Sabha had suggested to all Satsangis (in a printed circular in Hindi, dated 22-9-43) that they should surrender their “occupancy rights…in houses in Dayalbagh”. Attached was a form-letter (in English) to be filled in and signed by those to whom it was sent. This Lalajee did on 20th December 1943.
LALAJI & HIS GRAND-CHILDREN IN DAYALBAGH
Between 1932 and 1960, some of Lala Parabh Dial Suri’s grand-children studied at Dayalbagh.
Prem Nath Suri, son of Durga Dass, was at Dayalbagh from 1936 to 1942. Gursaran, son of Tirath Ram, was there from 1932 to 1944. Their contemporary and co-resident for several years (until he completed his Technical College course at Dayalbagh in 1940) was Gurcharan Dass Suri, son of Lal Chand Suri (one of the nephews whom Lalaji had brought up from childhood). Amrit Lal and Amrit Sakhi also studied at Dayalbagh for a few years in the 1950s.
Some historical facts may be mentioned here to illustrate the generation gap.
There was no such thing as a telephone, anywhere in the world, when Parabh Dial was born. In fact, when he was hardly seven, an internal memo of the Western Union had this to say about the instrument then being tested (1876): “This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” Today their telephone revenue is in millions of dollars.
The Wright brothers flew the world’s first aeroplane on the day following the birth of Tirath Ram Suri. That was also the year Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company. He was then about 40 and Lalaji was about 35. The Ford Model-T remained in production until a few months after the birth of Gur Saran. During the generation gap, its price came down from $850 to $290. In the early 1930s, Hollywood produced a film titled Just Imagine the World in 1980 which showed traffic policemen regulating air traffic from pill-boxes floating in the sky. Orwell’s famous novel 1984 was also an effort to foresee our times.
Space & Cyber-space Generation
India adopted the decimal currency in the year of the birth of Gur Saran’s son, Sanjeev. The next year saw the beginning of the space age and the beginning of efforts to reach the moon. The birth of Sanjeev’s son, Mohak, marked the proliferation of the Internet.
On the whole, the linkage of our family members to Dayalbagh and the Radhaswami Satsang has been rather tenuous after the passing away of Lala Parabh Dial Suri.
LALA PARABH DIAL SURI (1869 – 1963 )
EDUCATION, EARLY EMPLOYMENT AND MARRIAGE
1. Parabh Dial began his education at Nurpur and passed the middle school examination in 1885. Two years later, his mother managed to send him to the nearest high school at Gurdaspur for further studies, eked out with a small stipend given by the NurpurMunicipality.
2. His maternal uncle L Dhanpat Rai who was then Dy Supdt (Settlement Department) at Hansi (Distt Hissar) also helped the boy at this stage with small sums now and then.
3. After matriculation in 1887, Parabh Dial went to Hansi for employment but not finding any immediate scope there he went to Lahore and got admission to the RailwayTelegraphySchool on a stipend of Rs 10/- pm.
4. On passing the prescribed examination of the Government Telegraph Office, Lahore, he was appointed a Signaller at Rs 15/- pm and posted at Sohal Railway Station only 10 Km from Gurdaspur on the Amritsar – Pathankot section of what was then called the North Western Railway.
5. Between 1889 and 1894, he first passed further examinations in Booking (Coaching and Goods), then qualified for Assistant Station Master and Station Master’s duties, got postings and promotions accordingly.
6. In 1894, he secured a transfer to the Mashkaf – Bolan Railway (which was then under construction in Baluchistan on the Iran border) with a salary of Rs 45/- per mensum. Being anxious to appear in the qualifying examination for Accountants, he then got himself posted in the office of Accountant General (PWD and Rly Accts), Baluchistan, at Quetta and passed the examination in 1895.
7. The same year, he was married to 13 year old Kartar Kaur of Sankhatra (Distt Sialkot). (Renamed Ratan Devi after marriage). A son was born at Quetta in 1896 but lived only six months.
8. Immediately on qualifying as an Accountant, Lala Parabh Dial had got his applications for a suitable post forwarded throughout India and Burma. He received and accepted an offer by wire to join at Naungcheu on the Mandalay – Kunlon Railway (then under construction) on Rs 80/- pm. His mother stayed back with her brothers in India.
9. When the Accountant General came to Naungcheu on inspection, he appreciated the young man’s work and transferred him to Rangoon in charge of the Heavy Stores Division of the Burma State Railways on Rs 100/- pm. It was decided around that time that the Railway could go under a company (leaving no chance for a transfer to Punjab later on). Therefore Lala Parabh Dial gave up the railway job and managed his transfer to the office of the Accountant General (BurmaProvince) at Rangoon. His Service Book from 1897 to 1929 is available with Lieut.- General Prakash Suri.
10. From his savings during this period he sent a sizeable amount to his mother back in India with which she got a house constructed at Nurpur in 1897. This was later made over to Lala Parabh Dial’s cousin L Harkishendas as a token of gratitude to the latter’s father L Shankardas who had helped Soma and her children in their days of distress.
11. In 1897 also, Lala Parabh Dial was confirmed as an Accountant on permanent and pensionable establishment (on Rs 100/- plus Rs 30/- Burma allowance). He worked in the Rangoon and Toungoo Divisions, passed an examination in the Burmese language and got a reward of Rs 180/-. He was admitted to the exclusive Freemasons Lodge at Toungoo as a member, and later promoted to Mastermason and elected Secretary and Treasurer.
12. At this stage, Narain Das wrote to his nephew in Burma narrating a story of woe and penury. Lala Parabh Dial thereupon remitted some small amounts to ease the last years of the uncle who died in 1898, followed with a year by his son Ishar Das, leaving a grandson Lal Chand.
13. In 1901, a certain Mr Larkins of the Accountant General’s Office at Lahore agreed to exchange his posting with Lala Parabh Dial who thus arrived back in Lahore after a lapse of 14 years. Descendants of Larkins held top positions in India, but disgraced themselves by spying for another country.
1. Ratan Devi, now much maturer at the age of 19, five years after the trauma of her first – born child’s death, was blessed with a bonny baby at Lahore on 16th August, 1901. They named him Durga Dass. Their next transfers were to Dera Ghazikhan in 1902 and to Ambala in 1903. Another son, Tirath Ram, made his appearance on 16th December, 1903. Soma expired here on 20.10.1905 at the age of 50 years.
2. The next transfer was to Simla in 1907 and then to Rawalpindi in 1908.
3. The three years spent in Rawalpindi were not a happy period by any stretch of imagination. Lal Chand, grandson of Narain Das, had been brought into Lala Parabh Dial’s home after the death of his father Ishar Das. He was now an adolescent, a difficult age for even normal children, not to speak of an orphan. Lalaji suffered an attack of facial paralysis; the crisis passed soon but left its mark for life. Another crises followed almost immediately. Around 1882, Parabh Dial’s sister Janaki had been married off under the compulsion of circumstances to a poor sickly person in a Gurdaspur village who gave her a son, Daulat Ram, and died at an early age. Janaki saw her son grow up and marry a girl called Viraan before she herself passed away. Daulat Ram, never very healthy, contracted tuberculosis and came to Rawalpindi in 1909. There he died in the midst of the family in 1910. A pall of misery hung heavily over the family, especially his widow, Viraan.
4. Meanwhile, Ratan Devi’s sister, Bibi Nihal Devi, had been married to a cloth seller at Moga named Moti Ram Chadha. He turned out to be a drug addict who was struck with insanity and expired in the Mental Hospital at Lahore in 1910. Bibi Nihal Devi was brought (with a seven – year old daughter, Saraswati) to live with the family at Rawalpindi, having none else to support her. On 21st June 1911, a month after her arrival, she gave birth to a son, Tarlok Nath, who thus became the fourth boy being brought up by “Lalaji” and “Bhaboji”, as Lala Parabh Dial Suri and his wife Ratan Devi were called for the rest of their lives by their succeeding generations.
5. In 1911, Lala Parabh Dial was transferred to Jhelum. Here he arranged and solemnized the marriage of Lalchand with Mehar Kaur of village Jasoran (District Sialkot).
6. From Jhelum, he moved to Khanki in 1913. Here he was initiated into the Radhasoami faith through Master Nam Das of Wazirabad.
7. Posted back to Lahore again in 1915, he got an opportunity to build a bungalow (on Multan Road, near Chauburji, opposite Poonchh House) for his family and the large number of dependents he had acquired. His scanty savings were supplemented with a loan on high interest which took him long to clear. The house was completed in 1917 and named Shanti Niwas.
8. Living in Shanti Niwas at one time were: (a) his own wife and sons; (b) Bibi Nihal Devi, her daughter Saraswati, and son Tarlok Nath; (c) Lal Chand (who was employed as an Accountant in Lahore), his wife and his two sons Gurcharan and Narinder; and (d) Janaki’s widowed daughter-in-law Viraan; besides everyone who came to Lahore from their bases back in Nurpur, Gurdaspur, etc.
9. Lalaji’s next station of posting was Amritsar where he was transferred in 1918. While at Amritsar, he arranged and solemnized the marriage of Saraswati to Des Raj Anand, Assistant Station Master on the North Western Railway, then posted at Pind Dadan Khan.
10. Durga Das matriculated in March 1919 from the GovernmentSchool at Amritsar and joined the GovernmentCollege at Lahore for further studies. This was a very eventful year for India, particularly for Punjab and Amritsar. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre at Amritsar on 13th April 1919 was followed by Martial Law. Father and son lost touch for several days and the father in Amritsar became over-anxious about his son in Lahore from whom he had failed to receive any letter for three successive weeks. So he took out a special Permit from the Martial Law Administrator at Amritsar to visit his son at Lahore. In the middle of his fiftieth year, he bicycled all the way to Shanti Niwas, stayed there overnight and bicycled all the way back to Amritsar next day. Later that year, he was transferred to Lyallpur.
11. Here on 7th February, 1920, Durga Dass was married to Satya, daughter of L Faquir Chand Anand of Gharota (District Gurdaspur) who later became Managing Director of National Bank of Lahore and the National City Bank of Lahore Ltd.
12. Transferred next to Rasul in 1921, Lalaji got his younger son Tirath Ram admitted to the EngineeringCollege there. Transferred to Bahawalpur in 1992 and to Multan in 1923, his first grandson Premnath (Durgadass’s first child) was born at Multan on 23.3.1924.
13. Transferred again to Lahore on 2.6.1924, Lala Parabh Dial suffered a nervous breakdown and had to resort to the Dalhousie hill station for rest and treatment on 8 months leave.
14. He returned to Lahore, completely cured, on 23.11.1925 and was posted to the Ferozepur Division of the Sirhind Canal Project. By this time his younger son Tirath Ram was a full – fledged engineer and employed in the Irrigation Department. His marriage with Savitri, daughter of Dewan Duni Chand (Dy Collector Irrigation Branch) was solemnized at Dinanagar on 8.12.1925, shortly after Tirath Ram had joined the North Western Railway. His first son was born at Ferozpur on 28.11.1926.
15. Lala Parabh Dial Suri, in his 60th year, went on 4 months leave preparatory to retirement on 15.1.1929 when he was drawing Rs 300/- pm and retired finally on 15.5.1929 on full good service pension viz Rs 150/- pm. Settling down in Lahore, he got half the due pension commuted for Rs 8800/- lump sum; During the next two years he bought a piece of land adjoining Shanti Niwas and built on it a second bungalow (Dayal Niwas), adding to the commutation money his provident fund, Postal endowment fund as well as his savings.
DAYAL NIWAS TO DAYAL BAGH
From Lahore Lala Parabh Dial thought fit to emigrate to Dayal Bagh (Agra) in order to avail of Satsang. In November 1932 he built there a double ‘D’ Type house in Prem Nagar. The then Guru of the community, Hazoor Sahibji Maharaj gave him the “sewa” of auditing the accounts of Dayal Bagh enterprises, which duty he devoutly discharged for the next three decades, almost till the end came on Maghi in 1963.
Later in this chronicle, we have made some comparisons with an exact contemporary of Parabh Dial Suri. This was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. His father married four times in succession and was rich. Gandhiji matriculated in 1887. There are innumerable contrasts in the lives of these two contemporaries, but the search for a religious life was common to both. See the section Pilgrim’s Progress later in this narrative.
While Parabh Dial was working on pioneering railway projects (first in the Punjab, then in Baluchistan, and later in Burma), another contemporary was employed on the earliest canal projects in the Punjab under British rule. This was Bila Ram Kalra whose grand-daughter Chander Kanta married Lala Parabh Dial Suri’s grand-son Gursaran in 1955.
 The planet Eros was discovered in 1899 between the Earth and Mars.This is in a class apart from the Asteroids which are beyond Mars. Parabh Dial’s interest in astrology dated from the earlier publication of Tilak’s book on astronomy and the Aryans.
 His full name and signatures consisted only of the words “Parabh Dial” for the first 40-50 years of his life. The entry against “Race” on the first page of his Service Book is also very interesting. The policies of the British administration in India after the Communal Award may have brought about the addition of the Suri surname.
 Parabh Dial kept his Freemason’s ring on his finger till death ; where is it now? Probably at Dehra Dun---as also his coded book about Freemasonry rituals which he used to keep under lock and key in his Despatch Box---where is the box now? Ask Shishoo (Lieut.-General Prakash Suri). Some of his accounts, his Service book and a few other papers were recovered from Charan’s premises by Amrit Lal Suri only in July 2002.