Will Rogers once observed: “When you write down all the good things you ought to have done, but did not; and leave out the bad things you did, you have an autobiography.” This is a more charitable description of the usual run of autobiographies. Ahankaar is a universal human weakness and only a true Mahatma would be outside the mischief of the above definition.
Why Life & Times?
Most biographies and autobiographies try to place personal events of a life against the background of the economic, political and religious history of the times in which the protagonist lived his life. This is not necessarily “padding”. No individual’s life can be understood unless the determinant influences are brought out.
However, carping critics do say that autobiographies are an “unrivalled vehicle for telling the truth about other people.” This, again, is an inescapable necessity. You cannot write about your own life without mentioning others, and nobody would say that such mentions should not be truthful.
“Why does a man want to write his autobiography?” These are the first few words of Chapter One of a book called Roses in December. “God gave us memory that we might have roses in December,” says the page preceding the Dedication in the book. The whole chapter is an excellent analysis of why M.C.Chagla wrote that book, as also of why so many other people have written (and will write) autobiographies.
An English critic named John Sturrock studied 24 very famous autobiographies to find out. In his book, The Language of Autobiography, he says: “For all their self-castigation and earnest proclamations of indebtedness to others, autobiographers are a bunch of arrogant and autarchic people” who presume that they can “transform a lived farrago into a considered rational whole.”
I have before me an excellent illustration of what Sturrock meant. E.K.Nayanar, one-time Chief Minister of Kerala, had the cheek to get his autobiography published at government expense by the State Public Relations Department, “Not for Sale”. Complimentary copies were distributed far and wide. Just in case someone might dismiss it as a minor expenditure, it might be mentioned that the publication was a hard-cover 1100-page opus.
And then Mayawati did the same in Uttar Pradesh.
The Latest Fashion
Every child that is born has the prospect of an autobiography in him. But most of us do not have any memory at all of our most formative years, our infancy. That leaves the autobiographer handicapped in a sense. There is now a remedy available. “One day after our son was born,’ says Rohit Khullar (Delhi Times, 13th May 2002), “I bought web-space for him. Now, at three months of age, he has his own web-site” on the Internet. The baby’s web-site has on its first page : “My arrival: info on his birth and the delivery process.”Another page is: “What’s New: Like the day he uttered his first goo-goo.”And a photos page….
Yet another web-surfer says: “My friend Sumit gifted a web-page to my sister and her husband (for their new-born child) and they were thrilled. It is like the traditional Baby Album but it is on the Internet.”
A design consultant advises: “A web-site for a baby should be colourful; and include the baby’s first e-mail address, a baby biography, and so on…”
The psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh M.D. adds: “Web-sites for babies are an advancement on baby-books. And since all the information is on the web, it can be accessed time and again…”
Which reminds me of one book written on a lap-top by a close friend, after her son taught her how to use the computer. Emulation of her example is one reason for the present narrative.
I have shared some very hilarious moments (in my official career) with my friend (and colleague in the Indian Information Service), Sheila Dhar, who died late in July 2001, at the age of 70. Some of these experiences figured in her autobiography published in 1995. Additionally, there were moving details of her childhood which she had never revealed earlier.
My wife and children had also shared many jokes (and other experiences) with Sheila Dhar, during her frequent visits to our home in the late 1960s. This was one reason for my wanting to write something about my own life and times. Chand became interested in maintaining a family album even as a student; after her marriage, she started an album of the Suri family photographs. In one later Album (the largest one), I have inserted relevant reading material also.
I have tried in the following pages to mention some of the usual stages in the life of any individual, with particular references to my own life, and with casual mentions of those who figured in my life from time to time. Neither the one, nor the others, can be exhaustive. There might even be a lack of balance and perspective. If anyone cares to suggest any additions or modifications, I shall be glad to respond.
Let me close this Preface with a quotation from Robert Louis Stevenson. He said: “All speech, written or spoken, is a dead language, until it finds a willing and prepared listener.” This chronicle contains 30,000 words already, I can easily write many times more…because the subject (myself) is so interesting to me…But it will all be wasted unless some people are interested in reading and reacting to it.
28th November 2001
“There are forces working in life for you and against you. One must recognise the beneficial forces from the malevolent ones and choose correctly between them.”
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Wings of Fire, page 106.
THE CHILDHOOD DAYS
My father, Shri Tirath Ram Suri, was born at Ambala on the 16th December 1903. He 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. Some more details of his life are naturally part of the narrative below.
I was born at Ferozepur Cantt., on the morning of the28th November 1926.
WANDERINGS OF A LIFETME
Shortly after my birth in the Punjab, my parents visited Karachi. Naturally, I too went there; of course, you do not expect me to recall what I saw in Karachi – or on the journey through Sind.
Since then, I have been at places as far apart as Nagaland in the East and Balochistan in the West, Kashmir in the North and Kanyakumari in the South.
My father was in Balochistan from 1928 to 1932, engaged on various railway projects then being undertaken by the British as part of their foreign policy. One of my earliest memories is today linked to Pakistan’s foreign policy.
A new rail link was being built through territory occupied by the Bugti tribe. The only pucca buildings in the region were the railway premises; the seniormost representative or employee of the British government in the immediate vicinity was my father. And the then chief of the Bugti tribe had a son of almost exactly my age. Naturally, I and Akbar Bugti were playmates. What happened to Akbar in the next six decades is part of history.
Another memory is of an elderly Baloch who used to talk to me in his native tongue. I remember only the greeting “Taaday Mooshay”, if memory serves.
He called me Saran Bahadur and my father had this name painted on a very small tin suitcase which housed my books for the next several years.
My grandfather, LALA PARABH DIAL SURI (1869-1963), hadserved in the Indian Railways and the Indian Accounts Service at many places all the way from Burma in the East to Iran in the West, and had then retired to Dayalbagh where he served the Radhasoami Satsang for 30 years (November 1932 to January 1963).
He took me with him (for 12 years of schooling, 1932-1944) to this new domicile in Dayalbagh (Agra), where his Guru had set up a colony for his devotees.
My mother took me to Headmaster Sunder Das to be enrolled in Class I.As she was taking her leave, after completing the formalities, I also got up and followed her. When Second-Master Janak Raj took hold of my wrist and dragged me back to my allotted seat, I bit the restraining hand. He let go with a muffled comment, but the Headmaster gently took me by the shoulder and promised a treat. He then explained why I had to stay back. My mother gave him a half-rupee coin (to last as tiffin-money for the rest of the month), and that was that.
A Rapid Promotion
Two or three days later, as we were practicing our numerals, the class-teacher was called away from the enclosed platform which housed Class I (where I was enrolled) to the Class II building (a regular structure with two or three rooms and a Verandah towards the west of the Bhandara Ground).
I must have stopped writing or started talking to the boy seated next to me, because the class-monitor (I still remember his name was Ram Hetu or Ram Hith) admonished me. I happened to have a mulberry twig (I think we used to call it a Kamchi) lying nearby and brandished it at the monitor…Perhaps I hit him…
The next day, after a rapid discussion between the Headmaster, the Classmaster and my mother, I was promoted to Class II under the direct supervision of Headmaster Sunder Das, a gnarled old Punjabi with easy-going paternal manners.
First Prize & Falling Grades
Four or five months later, towards the end of April 1933, the usual final exams for Class II were held and I stood first, thanks probably to some earlier schooling at Lahore (of which I have the faintest memory) and some regular coaching by my grandfather in the evenings.
Formany diverse reasons, my showing in subsequent grades was not equally good. I stood second in Class III, third in Class IV, fourth in Class V and so on, until I passed my High School examination.
Thereafter, there were fewer subjects (and more to my liking). As a result, I began standing first again and secured a First Division in the Class XII examination of the U.P. Board of High School & Intermediate Education.
MY EYES AND MY GRADES
No one had apparently noticed that my grades at school were falling partly because of a deterioration in visual acuity. It is a pure coincidence that Aldous Huxley “started treatment for his eyes by a method of eye exercises introduced by the American doctor, W.H.Bates,” at about the same time as it was suggested to me by someone in Dayalbagh. I forget who gave me a book entitled Better Sight Without Glasses. Huxley did not benefit; nor did I. Later, I had to go to Lucknow to get the “refractive error” corrected; Agra did not have the facility in those days.
This was when I got an Agfa Box Camera for Rs.5 only. The first photograph was of the Assembly Chamber at Lucknow.
PICKING UP AN ATTITUDE
In my twelve years at Dayalbagh, I mixed with people from every region of the country, with the most diverse backgrounds, yet meeting each other as members of one community (in the basic sense of the word).
My class-mates were from undivided “Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, the Dravid Deccan, Orissa and Bengal.” We never realised the difference until we grew up quite a bit.
Our tall and swarthy P.T.Instructor was an ex-Army Muslim, a strict disciplinarian who made our Boy Scout groups the best in India. Our Drawing Master was another Muslim, a short and stocky, happy-go-lucky man whom we never saw except in the class-room.
As for cultural differences, I still recall my surprise when I first heard Gurdial of Rewari call out to his mother: “Maa, tu….” Wealways said Pitajee, Maatajee, and so on.
The result of all this was a catholicity of approach which even today feels the hurt when individualities are drowned in group stereotypes.
Another lesson sub-consciously absorbed was that superficial appearances in any individual or group should be probed cautiously for underlying motivations and exceptional behaviour. My own atheistic beliefs arose in Dayalbagh, much against the prevailing atmosphere; meat, eggs and cigarettes were surreptitiously used by many, in contravention of prescribed behaviour; sexual perversions were found even among some grown-ups, not to mention the experimenting adolescents. And so on.
Twelve years in Dayalbagh (under the shadow of a great religious teacher, His Holiness Sahabji Maharaj Sir Anand Swarup, and under the tutelage of a devout Satsangi like my grandfather) could well be expected to have made me a religious man; but every son of a Mahatma Gandhi is not a Mahatma.
What I did absorb immediately was Sahabji Maharaj’s “imagined account” of how religions must have developed (see the last few pages of Yatharth Prakash). At around the same time as this book was being published came Dr.S. Radhakrishnan’s An Idealist View of Lifein which he said that all proofs of the existence of God were deficient in one way or the other; and what made it worse was the practical inefficiency , the moral ineffectiveness and the disastrous political consequences of all established religious faiths: “Nothing is so hostile to religion as other religions…The world would be a much more religious place if all religions were removed from it”, he said.
In fact, my beliefs gradually crystallised into something like what another great man had formulated at about the time I was born: “Every man must be his own teacher…ceremonies are unnecessary for spiritual growth…Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect…” By 1929, this man (J. Krishnamurthi) had abolished the Order of which he was the Head. In the ensuing half century, he was recognised as one of the world’s greatest philosophers.
To quote him at some length: “You must not make me an authority…Some of you think (my prasad or charan-amrit) will set you free, that I can give you a formula (a guru-mantra or upadesh) that will liberate you – that is not so. I can be the door but you must pass through the door and find the liberation that is beyond it…It lies in the power of each one to enter into the flame, to become the flame…Liberation is life and the cessation of life. It is as a great fire and when you enter it you become the flame, and then you go forth as sparks, part of that flame…”
Here, I might as well quote the Nobel Prize Winner C.V. Raman (1888-1970), according to whom there is no heaven or hell, no rebirth. “This belief in the existence of a next life is the greatest impediment to a true religious life. People would lead a more rational and religious life if they believed that what really mattersis the life of today. This is also the message of science to humanity.”
. Morarji Desai devotes full chapters to “My Family” and “My Faith” in his autobiography, which finds many echoes in the history of our own family. He also refers to surgical operations for hernia, etc. That is why I have quoted him at many places in my own family history. The three volumes of his autobiography are also a very good backgrounder for details of the political and social events of the 20th century.
While studying at Dayalbagh, I went over to my parents at Bhatinda every year during the summer vacations. There we used to get all the Urdu, Hindi & English newspapers and magazines at home (these were later sent to the Railway Club).
My earliest memory is of the “Riyasat Weekly” and of the controversy generated in all the newspapers by Jawaharlal Nehru’s sending out invitations for his sister Krishna (Huttheesingh)’s civil marriage, using the Roman (English) script for the Hindustani text, and his criticism of those promoting Theth Hindi instead of Hindustani. At our school, we were taught Hindi as a ‘second language’. The first was Urdu (at least for me). I don’t know whether we had an option.
These were the years when Abdul Ghaffar Khan became a national hero by pursuing non-violence with great backing among the martial Pathans. The Quetta earthquake was also big news for us.
The Italian atrocities in Abyssinia followed soon after. Then there was the Japanese invasion of China and Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.
POLITICS, SCIENCE AND RELIGION
This was the background to my life-long interest in current affairs. The interest in science and technology came later. 
Current affairs include politics. At 16, one should be interested in politics. Charan at that age actually tried to be a communist and a student-politician. “Amman” (Amrit Lal Suri) developed his Hindutva inclination at that age and has it still. But for me at Dayalbagh (at that age), participation was hardly an option.
The “Quit India” movement was in full swing. At Benares, according to Governor Maurice Hallett,“the university had closed its gates even to the district magistrate and had declared itself ‘Free India’ and its training corps the ‘Indian National Army’.”  Troops were sent in to occupy the campus. Even in Agra city, the Superintendent of Police was roughed up by students. But Dayalbagh was an island far removed from such things.
The famous I.N.A. Trial at the Red Fort in Delhi was the incitement for my first and last participation in politics. This was in 1946 when students of various schools and colleges in Rawalpindi took out a procession demanding the release of the INA heroes. Arun Suri’s wife Usha’s grandfather “Gokal Chand Bhasin had sustained a head injury during the police lathi-charge when he was accompanying” that procession. His injuries eventually proved fatal. See pages 149-151 of Usha’s family history.
I was more interested in Science. I even cut my thumb with the traditional Barber’s Razor which was used in the Botany lab for preparing “sections” for slides to be examined under a microscope. I did some dissections in the Zoology lab. Even the signature that I finally adopted was based on that of Professor Som Prakash, Head of the Department of Biology. His way of scripting SP is exactly reproduced in the middle part of my signature.
This was the time when “the dualistic, mechanistic view of the world had been destroyed by the new theories of relativity and quantum physics. An aggregate of distinct units was replaced by waves, differentials of time and curvature of space. Uncertainty and indeterminacy were the new paradigms.”
Dayalbagh was a colony of those who had a common interest in religion. I have always said that both science and religion have the same target: The Ultimate Reality. In later life, of course, someone raised an even deeper question. “Great minds have not been able to agree as to what is the ultimate reality. Does it exist at all?” When this question was put to J. Krishnamurti, he replied: “What do you say? Is not that much more important: what you think. You say that great minds have said there is and there is not. Of what value is that?”
He went on to explain that only one’s own mind was capable of finding out. “But your mind is crammed with knowledge,with information, with experience, with memories; and with that mind you try to find out. Surely, it is only when the mind is creatively empty that it is capable of finding out whether there is an ultimate reality or not.” I still do not know what is meant by a “creatively empty mind.”
On another occasion, Krishnamurti said: “I feel we are delving into something which the conscious mind can never understand.” Bertrand Russell once said: “The Upanishads have spoken of the five stages of the cosmic process – matter, life, instinct, reflective consciousness and spiritual consciousness…” At the age of 75, I am still trying to understand the last stage.
The Radhasoami sect, like some others, prescribes meditation as a means for the realisation of the Ultimate Reality. I never sought initiation into the faith; but the nearest I got to meditation was in the way it is explained by J. Krishnamurti: “Meditation is one of the greatest arts in life – perhaps the greatest, and one cannot possibly learn it from anybody. That is the beauty of it. It has no technique and therefore no authority. When you learn about yourself, watch yourself, watch the way you walk, how you eat, what you say, the gossip, the hate, the jealousy, -- if you are aware of all that is yourself, without any choice, that is part of meditation. So meditation can take place when you are sitting in a bus or walking in the woods full of light and shadows, or listening to the singing of birds or looking at the face of your wife or child.”
Coming back to the accumulation of general knowledge, Bertrand Russell once said:“I fill my mind with whatever relevant knowledge I can find.” I did the same.
General knowledge helps in the sense that it is (to quote Wittgenstein) “like trying to open a safe with a combination lock; each little adjustment of the dials seems to achieve nothing; only when everything is in place does the door open.”
Of course, there is an even loftier view of education: “If we are being educated merely to achieve distinction, to get a better job, to be more efficient, to have wider domination over others, then our lives will be shallow and empty…” I am quoting J. Krishnamurti. “…In our present civilization, we have divided life into so many compartments that education has very little meaning, except in learning a particular technique or profession. Instead of awakening the integrated intelligence of the individual, education is encouraging him to conform to a pattern and so hindering his comprehension of himself as a total person.”
WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
“There are some people who are always reluctant to praise anyone for work well done. They feel as if they were parting with something very precious. On the other hand, if it came to running down someone, they would do so with the utmost relish and alacrity.”
…Roses in December, Page 212.
I was a student at the Radhasoami Educational Institutes at Dayalbagh (1932-44) up to class XII. It was a very good start with highly productive inputs by Lalaji in the early stages and by my Professors at College. Not over-much credit can be given to the school grade teachers, except two Mathurs: Gur Parshad & Sahab Parshad.
Master Naam Piara’s home library was also a formative influence, bolstered by books I ordered from the Illustrated Weekly of India’s “Home Library Club”. It was said of one of our greatest leaders at one stage:“He had never been abroad…(but) he could remember the names of roads and places which he had come across in his reading.” At the age of 16, I was familiar with names and some details of localities in Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, London and New York, due to various reasons. Among these were: playing Monopoly, reading Charles Dickens, and the newspapers.
The urge to learn has stayed with me till the end of my days. In 1975, at the age ofabout 50, I earned one increment of salary by passing the Government’s examination in Hindi with distinction. Nothing to boast about, because Sardar Patel was learning Sanskrit at about the same age; J. Krishnamurti was studying Sanskrit at the age of eighty-six, at about the time the very first personal computers came into the market in America. I started working on computers three years later.
The Radhasoami Educational Institutes at Dayalbagh are today a DeemedUniversity, but in my times the arts and science classes were up to the Intermediate level only (what is now called 10+2 in Delhi). My father had intended to put me in the TechnicalCollege at Dayalbagh but my Principal and professors insisted I would make a better showing in Arts. So he compromised by letting me pursue Engineering studies by paying for a correspondence course from the then-unique British Institute ofEngineering Technology (London).
The same people were running the British Institutes of Commerce & Accountancy, with courses also in Journalism and Short Story Writing; I indulged my fancy by paying for these courses out of my ample pocket money. Very soon, I was earning small amounts also from what I was learning in this line.
“I have come to the conclusion that the only real happiness in life is to be able to do work which one whole-heartedly likes. Without work life ceases to have any significance; and with work which one does not like, life becomes a torment and a torture.”
Encouraged by these small returns, I took another correspondence course from the London School of Journalism headed by Frank Potter. This was slightly costlier, but also much more practical. Then there was a package of courses in Journalism, Short Story Writing, Novel Writing & Play Writing from the BennettCollege, Sheffield, which I have still to finish. They said thirty years ago that I would be welcome to resume where I left off, any time I chose to do so.
From time to time, I was Editor of my school and college magazines and Student-Editor of the Dayalbagh Herald’s student pages. My teachers and fellow-students were generally appreciative of my wide General Knowledge, and command of English.
This led to some interesting situations. I had read upmy grandfather’s palmistry and astrology books (Cheiro & Alan Leo, if I remember right). I read many palms, but when I told Padam Adhaar Sinha (my class-fellow and a nephew of the Soamibagh Guru) that he was destined to be the next Guru, he took it very seriously; he practiced celibacy, dressed in the conventional manner expected of such a person and generally changed his life-style completely. When I and my wife met him in 1960, he showed us around the famous up-coming Samaadhi and its model in his “palace”.
Another amusing situation arose from the Lafayette medium-wave radio receiver my grandfather purchased in 1937. He introduced me to a gentleman named Bisarya down our block who was a radio engineer (or mechanic); and told me to pick up some knowledge of the equipment. What I did pick up was the way the classical singers hemmed and hawed; the names of various ragas I picked up from the Programme Journal in Urdu we got at home. With this knowledge, I impressed many boys and girls with my renditions of classical music.
As a contrast, I offer the following lines from Lewis Carroll, quoted by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in his autobiography (Wings of Fire, page 106):
You may charge me with murder –
or want of sense
(we are all of us weak at times);
But the slightest approach
to a false pretence
Was never among my crimes!
THE NEW POPULAR EDUCATOR
Also during this period, I saw an advertisement by the Standard Literature Company of Calcutta offering commission on sales. I enrolled as an agent and sold exactly two sets (one to myself and another to Padam Adhaar Sinha) of The New Popular Educator, a six-volume rexine-bound work comprising graduated lessons in a score of university-level subjects, ranging from Accountancy and Archaeology to Zoology.
From this book, I picked up many nuggets of knowledge, including Gregg’s Shorthand (which I used at College to take lecture-notes), and the “facts of life”.
MY FIRST WEDDINGS
In the late 1930s, a devotee of the Dayalbagh Satsang was one Seth Chamaria. He was also a film-financier.From time to time, he used to bring along the prints of a film and set up a projector in the Satsang Pandaal. This was one occasion when the Pandaal became a Full House.
One film we saw had a rather elaborate wedding scene in it, which impressed my neighbours and schoolmates (Chand and Suraj Seth) so much that they replayed it at their home, making me play the bridegroom (and their sister the bride). Word got around and we were teased quite a bit about it.
During the summer vacations of 1939, at Bhatinda, a friend sent me a letter intimating results of the Annual Examination. But my parents who opened the letter were particularly intrigued by one sentence which said: “VohBhola Baalam Kya Jaane?” This led to some joking about a possible daughter-in-law for them.
Four years later, I learnt for the first time that we had some relations even outside the parental family and the grand-parents. We went to Lahore to attend the wedding of Raj Kumar Chaddha, my mother’s cousin, the onlybrother of six sisters. There we had a reunion with various branches of the family. Another marriage during the same week was that of Satwant Anand, middle Saala of my Taayajee, at ModelTown in Lahore. The festivities included a mujra with the song “Mera Bulbul So Raha Hai”.
Three years further on, we were living in Lahore. My Maamajee’s daughter Krishna got married on Dussehra eve. I lost my educational certificates in the hustle-and-bustle of the wedding. I and my cousins also saw the films Taansen and Anmol Ghadi.
BROTHERS , SISTERS & COUSINS
This might be the appropriate place to mention my brothers and sisters. Most of them were born in Baluchistan and at Bhatinda, more or less during the years of my education at Dayalbagh.
The 1930s were comparatively good times for government employees; things were cheap and there was not much pressure of work. When my father was confirmed in his post as an Inspector of Works (“with effect from 6-11-35”), he threw a small party for colleagues and acquaintances in his commodious bungalow in the railway colony at Bhatinda. Among those present was a young girl, the future Mrs. Nagra with whom I was to stay for 14 months at Patiala seventeen years later. Also present was the sister of the roly-poly, jovial Maharaj Singh (“Mahajo” to his friends), proprietor of the railway colony’s licensed general store; forty years later, this girl was the wife of our next-door neighbour in Rabindra Nagar at Delhi.
Incidentally, this was also the period of my mother’s first serious illness, December 1937-January 1938. My father recorded the event in his diary, rather mysteriously, as follows: “Learnt a lot that was never dreamt (of). This changed mode of life.” He was then at Bhatinda.
Again, during the period of my stay at Dayalbagh was myfather’s first serious illness, in 1942, when my grandparents left Dayalbagh to attend upon him. He was then posted at Jind Junction (aplace without electricity, capital cityof a PrincelyState). He had been hard-pressed for field duties because of a military aerodrome that had to be built on a war-footing. This led to a worsening of his piles trouble. His Diary says: “Long illness first time in life 14-9-42 to 29-10-42.” Prem and I were then both at Dayalbagh. How we managed our kitchen is another story. Pitajee was “transferred to Ferozepurand left Jind on 24-7-43.” At Ferozepur, “on Monday 13-12-43” wasborn a son who lived only less than a month over 10 years; you may remember that I was also born at Ferozepur on 28th November 1926.
THUMB-NAIL LIFE-SKETCHES OF MY GENERATION
Prem Kanta, born at on 4th June 1929 at Khanai in Baluchistan, married Krishen Gopal Chaddha in 1952 and spent her life at Jullundur.
Gur Charan, born at 12.25 (afternoon) on 11th June 1932 at Qila Saifullah in Baluchistan, worked as Sales Executive in some of the leading companies in India and aspired to start afresh abroad after his retirement to Dehra Dun in the 1990s. Married Sudesh Mehta in 1958.
Amrit Lal (born Sant Saran at on 16th April 1934 at Bhatinda) was a steel technologist (trained in Russia). He served at Bhilai and BHEL Hardwar. Married Prem Oberoi in 1961.
Amrit Sakhi (born Som Kumari at on 19th August 1935 at Bhatinda) married ( in 1958, in the same week as Gur Charan above)Vidya Bhushan Nangia, a railway engineer, who retired to live in Outer Delhi.
Prakash was born on the of 16th & 17th March 1937 () at Bhatinda. (Lalaji’s Guru, Sahabji Maharaj, passed away at about 8.30PM on 24th June 1937). Married twice but both marriages ended in tragedies.
Rajiv (born Gogi, later Gulloo and a few other names of his own choice) made his appearance at Bhatinda on 4th June 1939 at 10 PM. Married Major Kusum Bajaj of the Army Nursing Service.
Ashok, born premature on 13th December 1943, survived as a fairly healthy and very intelligent child until late in 1953 when new-fangled antibiotics damaged his kidneys. He died on 4th January 1954. His cousin (now Lieutenant-General) Prakash Suri was born three days earlier than Ashok .
Arun( bornKukuat6.17AMon23rdSeptember1946atRawalpindi) received training in tool-room technology at the Swiss Institute in Chandigarh and soon emigrated to Canada. Married Usha Bhasin in 1973.
Shobha arrived at Ratangarh (near Bikaner) on 9th August 1952 at .
After Dayalbagh, I studied at Ferozepur, Lahore and Rawalpindi (wherever my father was posted).
As I have said earlier, my College at Dayalbagh was then only up to the 12th class. So, after securing a good First Division in the final examination there, in 1944, I went over to Ferozepur where my father was posted at that time.
I had been born at this place 18 years earlier. Now I and my next brother Charan were on bicycles one day when we decided to visit my “native” cantonement area. The Second World War had not yet come into its final phase and people were still being trained in tank warfare, inter alia. We found ourselves bicycling uphill on a tank training ground, and soon got to the top. But going down the slope beyond the top proved trickier. We picked up great momentum and Charan must have braked too suddenly in panic. He came crashing down, with a slight gash on his head. It was not much of a wound, but what I remember till today is that Charan did not subsequently ever remember anything about the few minutes before and after the accident.
After the summer vacations, I joined the only college in town. No other memories are attached to this period.
AT LAHORE 1944-45
When my father was transferred to Lahorelater in 1944, I asked the RamSukhDassCollege at Ferozepur to give me a Migration Certificate. I had enrolled there only in July 1944 and there was some unpleasantness with the Principal when he said it was too early to ask for a migration.
However, the necessary papers were given before Christmas and I went over to Lahore, where my father had been allotted a commodious bungalow with a large compound and semi-rural surroundings at the rear of the Railway Station. Within a few hundred yards was the SikhNationalCollege, which I joined.
Principal Niranjan Singh there was a true missionary. Other professors included Gur Bachan Singh Talib for Political Science (if I remember correctly) andKartar Singh for English. I could not recognise most of the professors and felt a little lost. The only fellow-student I now remember was a swarthy, well-built chap named Nelson.
Professor Kartar Singh put up a notice asking aspirants for Editor-ship of the College Magazine to submit a specimen essay. One day, he sent for me and asked whether the essay I had submitted was actually written by me. I offered to write another one there and then. So I got the “job”.
My father was soon transferred again, from Lahore to Rawalpindi, early in 1945.
As soon as my father left Lahore on his transfer to Rawalpindi, I shifted to the Lahore Sadar where my elder Maamajee Dr Hans Raj Chadha was an established General Practitioner. From there, I had to bicycle a few miles everyday to get to the SikhNationalCollege and back. I had met Maamajee and his family briefly during the 1943 wedding of his much younger cousin Raj Kumar Chaddha. Now I became better acquainted with them.
My cousin Rishi Kumar Kohli was then at the GordonMissionCollege at Rawalpindi. When he mentioned to Vice-Principal Cummings that I was a First-Divisioner from U.P., they got my migration expedited and I never saw the issue of the Lahore College Magazine which I had put together. Ten years later, Professor Kartar Singh was brought into the PEPSU Public Relations Department (as my junior colleague) by Sardar Gian Singh Rarewala, the then Chief Minister, a maternal uncle of the Maharaja of Patiala.
I went over to Rawalpindi early in 1945, only to come back to Maamaajee’s family at Lahore for my post-graduate studies in July 1946.
At the GordonMissionCollege in Rawalpindi, I joined when the Philosophy teacher had just started on the Psychology module after finishing the Ethics module. At Lahore, we had already done Psychology, but not Ethics. However, at the next quarterly exam, I muddled through Ethics also on the strength of general principles of ethics.
In English, of course, I did much better, even if the textbooks were not very familiar. When the answer books were being returned after marking, Profesor (and Vice-Principal) J.B. Cummings asked: “Who is Gur Saran…?” I stood up even before he had completed reading out the full name. “Your marks are the best in class,” he said. “Which is the Club you have joined?”
I had not yet heard of the two Clubs, Barr & Minerva, into which the whole student body had been divided in order to provide some competitive stimulus to sports and other extra-curricular activities. Principal Stewart (another true missionary) was head of the Minerva Club. Vice-Principal Cummings inducted me into the Barr Club, headed by himself. Eventually, I topped in the Annual Essay Writing Contest; my rival, S.S.Puri, topped in Debating; he was Chief Secretary in Punjab in the 1980s.
My given subject for the Essay was The Advantages of Youth. In my script, I started by painting a woeful picture of old age. Considering that I was not yet 20 myself, the picture was quite correct, as I can now evaluate it. Incidentally, Sarvepalli Gopal (writing four decades later about his own father Dr.S.Radhakrishnan) can plausibly be accused of having plagiarised a phrase or two from my essay, when he says his father had “once lived on the pinnacles of life”. Of course, this is only to underscore the fact that Dr. Radhakrishnan was himself once prosecuted (unsuccessfully) for “stealing” from a thesis prepared by one of his pupils.
Similarly, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan once said: “Democracy can save itself only by becoming aristocratic.” His son Gopal explains: “Democracy to him had an aristocratic slant in the sense that he believed that the people should be led by trained experts chosen by them.” Now, at Dayalbagh in my childhood there, all the houses of devout Satsangis had placards bearing in bold letters the tale ARIS-DEMO, a reminder prescribed by the then Guru that his ideal was an Aristocratic Democracy. Who was copying whom?
THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE & RECOGNITION
I still have in my papers some tear-sheets from the College Magazine in which Professor Cummings described the working of the Student Clubs. Also there is the printed text of my prize-winning Essay (along with the 1946 photograph in which I look like Gulloo). As I have said earlier, the prescribed subject for the Essay was The Advantages of Youth; at the age of less than twenty, I pitted youth against what I then thought were the consequences of old age; and I was right. Obviously, the judges also agreed. Even today, you can read the essay and agree with my judgement.
My wife calls it pride. I call it a natural thirst for recognition – and knowledge. In any case, ever since my teen-age, I have striven for more and more of knowledge; and received more and more of recognition; from my peers, from my seniors and subordinates, even from most relations – with the exception of one or two very near relations.
I list below some of the steps taken by me in pursuit of my professed desire above. To my school and college courses I added Private Study in various disciplines. The result has been a considerable fund of general knowledge which has contributed to some success in the social field as well as career advancement.
Passed Honours in Punjabi, 1945.
Passed Honours in Urdu, 1946.
Passed Section A of AMIEE, 1946. (Lord Louis Mountbatten was Patron of IEE).
Took Diploma in Commerce & Banking, 1946, from British Institute of Commerce & Accountancy.
Took Diploma in Radio & TV Technology (with practical kits received from America). The study material was later passed on to Charan, Prakash & Gulloo, for “RadioEngineeringCollege” @ K-8, Jangpura Extension, New Delhi-14.
Also took correspondence courses in Short Story & Novel Writing and earned some pocket money by selling short stories and a very few articles to various magazines.
Passed the Government-mandated Examination in Hindi in 1975, with Distinction (carrying one increment).
Worked on Computers in DAVP & AIR well before Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister and started the computerisation fad (I call it a fad because it is sometimes still being amateurishly implemented in government and even in corporate India).
“I think I have stated enough, and perhaps even too much, and sometimes indeed in a rather vain-glorious manner…in the virtual certainty that I will be accused of conceit and egotism…I cannot resist the temptation…” Many an autobiography has reflected this sentiment.
REVERSALS OF FORTUNE
At the SikhNationalCollege, Lahore, Dec.’44 to Jan’45, Prof. Kartar Singh made me Editor of the College Magazine. Later, he was my junior in PEPSU Public Relations Department. At the GordonCollege, Rawalpindi (1945-46), I topped in the literary contests (see certificates in my papers). Prof. Mehr Singh taught me English Literature; later he was my junior in the Indian Information Service.
Incidentally, M.C.Chagla recalls (in his autobiography, Roses in December, page 166) that “J.C.Shah was my student at the LawCollege…and ultimately became the Chief Justice of India.” Chagla himself was Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court. He also says: “I appointed Shelat…He is now (1973) a Judge of the Supreme Court, and … I often appear before him…” as an advocate. In another amusing reminiscence he recalls that “when I was a briefless barrister, and on the verge of starvation, I had written a cheque for a small amount which was about a rupee more than what stood to my credit in the Bank, and the cheque was promptly dishonoured.” Years later, he told this story to those who had invited him to preside over the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the same Bank.
I was reminded of these things once again when Giani Zail Singh became President of India (1982-87). Somebody recalled that when he had earlier been appointed Home Minister by Indira Gandhi on 14th January 1980, the former Maharaja of Faridkot (now plain Mr. Harinder Singh) had written: “I am proud that one of my former subjects has been chosen to occupy a high post.” Way back in 1938, this same Harinder Singh had arrested and tortured Zail Singh, then aged 22, for his part in the freedom struggle.
EARLY GOOD FORTUNE
My father had always allowed me to use his Remington Portable Typewriter. In 1945, I took it with me to Lahore. There, one day, I saw an announcement for an All India Short Story Competition organised by the Finance Ministry of the Government of India in aid of the National War Effort (as it was called). I sat down and typed out a script. Within a few weeks, it was printed in the S.S.S.Bulletin (SSS= Small Savings Scheme), with praise for its “racy style.” I was awarded the First Prize in Defence Savings Certificates.
Incidentally, I was taking the typewriter back to Rawalpindi when an octroi clerk demanded a payment for it at the Railway Station. At that age, I did not know anything about bribes; so I shouted at the man until a crowd collected and forced the man to accept that it was not a new machine being brought in for commercial purposes.
Another interesting incident at the Rawalpindi Railway Station happened when I and Rishi Kumar Kohli, my cousin, were leaving for Quetta where his father had been transferred earlier. The Second World War was being wound up and many Tommies (British soldiers) were anxious to get back to their homes. I was to travel on a RailwayPrivilegePass and had reserved a berth. But a young English Lieutenant barged in and occupied my berth; when I protested, his companions roughed me up and took me to the Railway Police post. There, however, we turned the tables on them by showing our reservation slips and throwing the “Rule Book” at them. Of course, it left a bad taste all round.
“The coordination of my present with my past had already been jeopardised. The coordination of my present with my future was topmost in my mind…”
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Wings of Fire, page 104.
My father had always wanted me to become an engineer and enjoy all the benefits of service in the railways. I did study Engineering through Correspondence Courses and developed a life-long interest in Electronics. But my interest in Journalism prevailed, especially after a bout of ill-health precipitated by a Partition scuffle in 1947.
Through the correspondence courses, I had already been preparing for the IRSE (Indian Railways Service of Engineers) Examination to be conducted by the Union Public Service Commission, having already passed Part I of the AMIEE exam while at Lahore. But after passing the B.A.(Honours) examination of the PunjabUniversity from Rawalpindi in mid-1946, I went back to Lahore and joined the University’s Post-Graduate Course in Journalism. I also enrolled at the GovernmentCollege, Lahore, for M.A. inEconomics, but did not complete the course. Even for the Journalism Course, I took the final examination only in 1948, at Delhi, because the Partition of India intervened.
A COMIC INTERLUDE
P.P.Singh, Head of the University Department of Journalism at Lahore, was an American-trained journalist (and brother of the veteran Indian editor Rana Jang Bahadur Singh). Early in 1947, he was appointed Director of Information & Publicity in U.P.
He was replaced at Lahore by a certain “Comrade” Rajinder, in an ad hoc appointment. He was an ex-student-leader, fat and lumbering, with a matching brain. His lectures in our class were not just mediocre; they were sub-standard. Two other lecturers were veterans of acknowledged skills, but they did not want a temporary appointment.
When the University advertised for a regular incumbent, I sent in a post-card claiming that I could do better than Rajinder; giving only my residential address, not my student-status. Someone in the university office showed the letter to the acting-head.
Ten years later, this man was Deputy Director in the Punjab Public Relations Department when PEPSU was merged and he became my immediate boss at Chandigarh. Within days, Vishan Das Dev from PEPSU and Mrs Anjana Mardhekar ( young widow of the well-known Marathi writer) were appointed to share the load with Rajinder. Anjana became my boss, but neither she nor Rajinder ever received willing co-operation from their subordinates, because of their lack of social grace. Four years later, Rajinder secured orders for my transfer from Chandigarh to Bhakra-Nangal on a field job. Fortunately, the Central Information Service sent me their offer (pursuant to an all-India examination held in 1961 by the UPSC) just in time. Naturally, I jumped at the offer and came over to Delhi.
But that was in April 1962, just after the General Election, Jawaharlal Nehru’s last. Meanwhile….
On the 3rd of March 1947, I was at the office of the United News of India (the news-agency UNI, now extinct), inside the walled city, receiving practical training, when we received news of Master Tara Singh’s melodramatic behaviour outside the Legislative Assembly and the subsequent tension in town.
Leaving UNI, on my way to the University I witnessed the first conflagration near Sheetla Mandir. Some days later, I had come home in time after the evening classes but my cousin Rajinder (eleven months younger than me) had not, from wherever he was. From our top-floor in the Sadar, we could see fires at many places on the walled city’s horizon. Maamijee was gripped with panic, but there was nothing we could do. Rajinder turned up safe and sound next morning; he had stayed back with a friend. We always called him musaafir; he was foot-loose and fancy-free, even in his maturer years. An architect by training, he migrated to New York in his youth. The story of his marriage pertains to the late 1950s.
THE PARTITION OF INDIA
The British Government announced on 20th February 1947 their decision finally to surrender power in India at a date in the near future. That set a cat among the pigeons; tomix our metaphors, everyone scrambled to get a piece of the cake.
I was at the University Department of Journalism at Lahore on 2nd March 1947 when Khizr Hayat Khan Tiwana resigned as Chief Minister of the Punjab and Master Tara Singh brandished his sword outside the Assembly Chamber. Riots broke out in Lahore, Multan, Rawalpindi, etc
My father was at 292, West Ridge, in the Railway Colony at Rawalpindi. Across the road from his affluent bungalow was a slum; a mile away was the red light area (ironically calledthe Bhagataan daa Bazaar), overlooking the Lei Nadi. The slum and the Bazaar immediately became a killing ground. When some miscreants threatened to cross the three-metre-wide road into the Railway Colony, Charan brought out his toy airgun in a show of bravado. Our family (and our neighbours too) were moved out of the area into a secure Camp. Twelve-year old Bholi clothed herself in three layers of dresses to make sure she would not run short.
Pitajee wrote in his Diary: “Miraculous escape in Rawalpindi riots…Transferred to Ludhiana on 1-8-47. Grace solicited. Times are very bad. Arson and loot everywhere. Lahore property in great danger…”On the 9th of November 1947, he wrote: “Sickness and danger on all sides. Bal Kaur just saved from jaws of death. Lala Durga Das’s condition grave. Saran’s health alarming…”
Meanwhile, on 22nd March 1947, Lord Wavell was replaced as Governor-General by Lord Mountbatten. On 12th April 1947, Bhim Sen Sachar and Swaran Singh asked for a division of Punjab. Finally, on 2nd June 1947, the British Parliament set the date for the Partition of India on 15th August 1947.
Rioting in the Punjab killed 200,000. Total of refugees who pouredinto East Punjab was 44 lakhs; from East Punjab to Pakistan 43 lakhs; corresponding evacuee land 47 lakh acres and 67 lakh acres. Refugees from West Punjab in camps exceeded 720,000 in October 1947. See G.D.Khosla’s book “STERN RECKONING”.
We were at Ludhiana during the worst period….
IN THE AFTERMATH OF PARTITION
We arrived at Ludhiana on the 10th of August 1947. Everywhere in India, there were apprehensions about what would happen after the creation of Pakistan on the 14th-15th August . Most Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan felt unsafe and migrated to India….
Many Muslims from East Punjab were migrating to West Punjab in driblets or in large convoys (by road and by rail). My father’s official residence was sandwiched in between the Railway Station and the Grand Trunk Road (now called the Sher Shah Suri Marg), with nothing at all separating us from these life-lines for a seething mass of humanity…
We witnessed many horrors…One day, a bullet fired by the Baluch Regiment escorts of a Pakistan-bound train whistled past my ear and embedded itself in the tree behind me.
Maasijee escaped from Rawalpindi in September, by train, and was with us when she escaped with her life from a severe attack of cholera.
I developed pleurisy and took several moths to recover…
My communist uncle (Des Raj Chadha) visited us at Ludhiana in disguise, because the “comrades” were still a banned organisation.
One day, some people called on Maatajee to propose their daughter’s marriage to me (approaching 21). When they were going back without getting any positive response, Charan (15) remonstrated to Maatajee: “Ghar aayee Lakshmi should not be rebuffed!”
TRANSFER TO DELHI
I was just recovering from pleurisy when it was announced that the final examination in Journalism was to be held by the new Punjab (India) University at Delhi. My father also received orders of transfer to Delhi Main Railway Station (Ludhiana had been only a smaller charge for want of a higher vacancy)….
On the back side of the Delhi railway station was the bungalow allotted to Pitajee. It opened on the hugely congested Nicholson Road, with a perpendicular on Mori Gate nearby. The road had been named after Brigadier John Nicholson who was killed while trying to retake Delhi in 1857.
One could follow this road right up to Kashmiri Gate which was then in fine condition. Some of the city’s best shops were housed almost in the shadow of the Gate and the city wall of which it was a part. In the same locality was the historic Library of Prince Dara Shikoh, which is now being refurbished as a a museum.
My father’s next transfer was to New Delhi. We moved to 97-A, Panchkuin Road, a semi-detached bungalow (with an in-house shrine to a long-forgotten Muslim Pir), opposite the Lady Hardinge Medical College & Hospital. That bungalow has since been pulled down and replaced by a multi-storeyed structure housing a hundred families.
Taayajee and family were also with us until he received his orders of posting at Palampur. It was during this period that Prem applied for his Micro-photographer’s job at the Central Research Institute, Kasauli. His marriage…
We visited Bombay in 1949, when father had a neural disorder.There, we stayed at the Punjab Hotel on Frere Road, with a branch of the family which had domiciled in Bombay before the World War of 1939-45 and now owned the multi-storeyed hotel. We visited Ahmednagar also (Maasiji’s Kohli family); I was learning radio technology and built a tiny transmitter to jam the neighbour’s receiver which was always blaring away loudly, even late at night.
Back in Delhi, I put up a hand-written placard announcing radio-repair facilities; no one was impressed enough to avail of my services, except one chap who took me to his house adjoining the Stadium Cinema. In any case, I got a job in a weekly journal soon afterwards.
But Charan (age 18) decided he would also start earning. He set up a photo-studio and spent more on entertaining clients than what he earned from satisfied customers. He also tried to follow in the footsteps of our communist Maamajee and spent a day or two in Tihar…
MY EARLY EMPLOYMENT
“Happen-stance” and “Serendipity” are two words in the English Dictionary which are rarely used. But these appear to have been the main determinants of almost everything that has taken place in my life: Education, Choice of Career, Avenues of Employment, even Marriage and Life After Retirement.
I had passed my Journalism examination and was doing nothing in particular when Dutta, an activist of the North Western Railwaymen’s Union, heard about it and asked me to help in bringing out the Union’s weekly mouthpiece, The Railwayman. I undertook the honorary job of Editor and put some life into the rag.
One fine morning, Dutta suddenly turned up at my father’s official residence and asked me if I would be interested in a job at the disposal of his Union’s Patron, Dewan Chaman Lal. I shaved and took a bath before accompanying him to Dewan Chaman Lal’s suite in the Maidens Hotel; very soon we were engaged in an animated conversation about the GordonCollege, Rawalpindi, which turned out to be his alma mater also. Next day, the 26th of January 1950 (the Inaugural Day of our Republic), I was at Daryaganj as Assistant Editor of the weekly THOUGHT, founded by Sir Arthur Moore, ex-Editor of the Statesman, and financed by Martin Russell, a nephew of the famous philosopher Bertrand Russell.
I learnt later that these people were working for a Rightist outfit called the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Also later, to strike a personal note, I learnt that Ram Lal Chadha,their Manager, who brought me my first pay packet on the 1st February 1950, was the father of Bala (who married my cousin Jeet in 1955)and a relation of Dewan Chaman Lal (Sawhney), their political sponsor.
Dewan Chaman Lal and Martin Russell were “rightists guarding freedom against the threat of communism.” Writing occasional editorials for THOUGHT was one of my assignments. One day our political editor, G.N.Raghavan, complimented me by saying: “You write as if you have been writing editorials all your life.” “It is easy enough,” I replied. “All you have to do is to bash the reds.” Twelve years later, Raghavan was my immediate superior in the Publications Division of the Government of India. At the UPSC interview for the post, I was asked: “Don’t you think Mr Nehru is soft on communism?” They must have been satisfied with my analytical reply, because I was selected.
Those were the days when the Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council (but relented soon), the Korean War was on, the Hydrogen Bomb was being developed and India was supporting Red China’s admission to the United Nations. Our Ambassador to the Soviet Union was Dr S.Radhakrishnan who held the view that “freedom had no doubt been curbed in the USSR but those who attacked freedom in the name of freedom were no less dangerous than those who attacked it in the name of the state. American policy,” he said, “was inspired not so much by ideology as by opposition to the Soviet Union.” The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (headed by John Foster Dulles) asked him to tone down some of his language before an article containing these views could be published; he complied, but even then the manuscript was filed in the archives of the Endowment.
Once, THOUGHT published an article scoffing at a Soviet “claim” that Academician Vavilov was alive when “everybody knows that he had been liquidated years earlier.” I put in a Letter to the Editor that this was a different Vavilov; the author of the article had been too quick to jeer at the Russians. I have a suspicion that this was the beginning of the end of my job in the magazine.
The Business & Economics page was also handled by me for some time. One story I did was entitled Mess in Pak State Bank. In one brief paragraph, on another occasion, I forecast that implants in the brain could do wonders for the transmission of information. I also interviewed Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi in 1950; he died in 2002 at the age of 104.
Our printing press (The Ashoka) was across the road, where I and K.R.Malkani of the Organiser sat reading proofs and making up pages at the same table, within inches of boiling lead (for the Linotype machines). Today, my grand-children can produce better-looking computer-print-outs without leaving their home.
S.H.Vatsyayan, the famous writer, was our literary editor. The Managing Editor was Ram Singh, who brought in his crony Rakshat Puri by the back-door to replace me. Rakshat was foreign correspondent of the Hindustan Times in Y2K.
When Manager Chadha brought to my desk the notice terminating my services in THOUGHT, I was reading the final proofs for that week’s issue. Chadha suggested that I throw up the work and go home, but I completed the job before collecting my final dues.
We were living at my father’s railway bungalow on Panchkuin Road, where Prem married Bimla on 24th January 1951. Meanwhile, Pitajee did a few months at Pathankot (away from the family) and was then transferred to Jullundur Cantt.
Here we stayed with the out-going family of the Keswanis; their son Sewak was Chand’s class-fellow at the School of Social Work four years later; he was part of the “comedy of errors” ending happily in my marriage to Chand, not to Phool (whose photograph was in the twin-frame with mine at the home of the Nagras, my hosts at Patiala). But that is another story.
MY FIRST GOVERNMENT JOB
During 1951-52, I passed M.A.(English) & M.A.(Political Science) as a Private Candidate butnever cared to attend the convocations. For the latter degree, I have only the Result Card, not even the formal Certificate which had to be paid for.
India had become a free republic on the day I surrendered my freedom as a student and started my years of “servitude” (what is generally called service or employment). Next was the year 1952, whenIndia had its first general elections with adult franchise; in February-March, I was Presiding Officer of polling stations at four places in the hills of PEPSU (wading through the bitterly-cold waist-deep waters of the Gambhar Nadi in one case to reach the polling station near Nalagarh); the first elected Parliament met on 11th May 1952;my sister Kanta got married the next day; and I started on my first government job a week later. How I got the job is another example of “serendipity” and “happen-stance”, as you will see from the following details.
My father had been transferred from Jullundur to Pathankot and then to Ratangarh (the junction next before Bikaner) in quick time. At Ratangarh, I was lazing around when the local para-medical worker (“compounder”) Munshi Ram turned up with an advertisement in the Tribune of Chandigarh (or was it Ambala?), inviting applications for a permanent and pensionable post of Information Officer in the PEPSU Public Relations Department at Patiala. Would I like to apply?
When it came to filing my application, we found that a High School Certificate had to be attached as proof of age. Now,I had lost all my certificates before Partition at Lahore. Munshi Ram just took down the details, got the thing typewritten and secured the local Magistrate’s attestation on it.
The PEPSU Public Service Commission sent me an interview call with a date which clashed with the date on which I was to take my final paper for the M.A. in Political Science at Delhi. I sent them a post-card explaining my problem; they were good enough to reply that I could come on the following day.
I was too young and inexperienced to be surprised. Can you imagine such an accomodative response today? In any case, I took the night train and landed at Patiala Railway Station in the morning; parked my suitcase in the first bungalow outside the Station premises and rushed to the Commission’s office.
They were interviewing candidates for engineering vacancies when I sent in my slip. They called me in almost immediately and finished the interview in five minutes flat. “An idle formality,” I thought. “They must have selected their man already, yesterday.”
The Rajpramukh’s order notifying my selection and appointment reached me in a tattered condition on the evening of 19th May 1952 at Jullundur where we had just married off my sister Kanta and were winding up the week-long post-nuptial proceedings. The postal envelope had gone to Ratangarh, then been redirected to Delhi, and thence to Jullundur!
The Public Service Commission was then headed by Sardar Mohan Singh of Rawalpindi. I was told later that I had been selected because all the other candidates (locals already working against ad hoc posts, incidentally all of them Sikhs) had strong backers and ministerial recommendations. These candidates became my junior colleagues, and we always remained on the friendliest of terms. Even our families were on intimate terms.
Can you imagine similar things today when communal jealousies are fanned by politicians and Public Service Commissions are headed by persons like Ravinder Pal Singh Siddhu, recently in the headline news for massive and wholesale corruption, and now in jail.
THE YEARS AT PATIALA
The Public Relations Department was housed in the vast and luxuriant BaaradariGardens. At the centre was the BaaradariPalace, with the Skating Rink at the farther end. Almost at the gate of the Gardens was the building of what used to be the kitchens for the palace, called the Lassi Khaana. This we were now using as our offices. Nearby was the Co-operative Store for all state employees, which I visited on the first of every month.
My post had been created as part of a reorganisation of the pre-PEPSU facilities; an officer of the Central Information Service (Vishan Das Dev) had earlier been inducted on deputation as Director. He was a wordly-wise man (who once told my future father-in-law to advise me to hang around with the ministers if I wanted to progreess in my career). At the termination of his tenure, he was replaced by an old Durbar hand, Sardar Mangal Singh. Another poet-courtier of yore, Sohan Lal Sahir, was the Deputy Director. There is many a story to tell about these two, and about two other Directors there (R.N. Madhok and Madan Gopal) and about my colleagues.
Functioning at the headquarters office in Patiala was easy enough.
But going out on tours with the ministers was a job I usually diverted to my colleagues, none of whom was a trained journalist. Only, as a matter of policy, I preferred to go with the Rajpramukh, Maharaja Yadavendra Singh of Patiala, who had just entered public life. In 1952, his hands used to quiver even when he was reading from a prepared text; within a year or two, he had become a confident and competent public speaker.
The ministers were not half as good. The first time I called on a certain minister in his office, to introduce myself, he was sitting with his cronies; all of them got up on their feet and greeted me with folded hands. I was only 26. I still do not know what they thought I was.
The Chief Ministers in those days were relations of the Maharaja. Once Col. Raghbir Singh okayed a notification saying: “His Highness the Rajpramukh is pleased to order the closure of all offices on account of the death of…..” Gian Singh Rarewala was more sophisticated. During his regime, a veteran of the freedom movement in the state, named Brish Bhan, used to borrow one or two newspapers from me (almost every day) and go through them on the lawn outside my office. Later he was the first commoner to become Chief Minister of PEPSU (the Patiala & East Punjab States Union) and returned the favours by inviting me to his home town and his home. Prem Singh Prem was from our caste-group and made me conscious of it by his attitude.
MARRIAGE & AFTER
The “Ghar aayee Lakshmi” episode (mentioned earlier) was in 1947, when I was only 21 and unemployed. On my nearing the age of 28, my father wrote in his Diary: “Pray for Saran’s marriage at an early date.”
A family friend named Nazir Lal Bhasin was also a senior officer in the Railways on the Ludhiana-Jakhal-Hissar section. From his inspection carriage one day he spotted me when I happened to be travelling by the same train on my way to my parental home at Ratangarh. He invited me into his O.C. (as it was popularly called) and we had a brief chat about my job at Patiala; then he offered me a glass of milk, which I politely declined. It was only when I mentioned the encounter later to my mother that she told me that the glass of milk was a traditional form of proffering a daughter’s hand in marriage!
On my 29th birthday, I decided to get married and sent a brief matrimonial ad to the Tribune…It cost me Rs. Five! Among those who responded for themselves was a school-teacher and a nurse from Kapurthala. An Inspector of Police arrived at my office with an offer to look at his daughter in Barnala. Then there was a post-card from Chander Kishore Kalra at Patiala, asking for details.
I returned the post-card “To Sender” with a request for “Your Details Please!”
The next thing I knew, I was sitting across the table from my Office Superintendent (Jaswant Singh Tathgur, in his room) when a man came in and introduced himself to Jaswant Singh as the P.A. ofP.W.D. Deputy Secretary Sahab Dayal Kalra. “You have somebody called Suri in your office,” he said. “Kalra Sahib wants his personal details…for matrimonial purposes…”
Jaswant Singh winked at me and described to that man my face and figure, my job and qualifications, my temperament and health, and much else…in my presence!
A few days later, Mr Kalra wrote to me saying he was responding to my newspaper advertisement and there were two marriageable daughters in the family. He followed up the letter immediately by arriving at my office and asking how we could proceed. “We are Aroras,” he said.
“I have already indicated in my ad that caste and dowry are no considerations for me," I replied, and gave him my father’s address…
So he wrote to my father enclosing a photograph of his daughter Phool.
COMEDY OF ERRORS
At Delhi, my cousin Rani was present when the proposal was discussed. Immediately, she rummaged through her books and brought out her College Magazine. “Look, Maasiji,” she told my mother, showing her a photograph in the magazine, “this one here is Phool Arora…and you couldn’t find a bettermatch for Bhaapa Jee…She is just as good at studies and debating and all that, just your son’s cup of tea…”
So off they went to the LadyIrwinCollege --my mother, my Maasi Jee and my cousin Rani. Phool Arora was sent for. Eager friends directed the party to her room in the hostel, and the conversation started with Maasi Jee telling Phool Arora: “We have received a letter from your father at Patiala… “
“But my father is not at Patiala,” she replied.
“Sahab Dayal Kalra? I do not know any such person.”
“Matrimonial? But I am stillto finish my B.A. next year…”And so on.
The expedition had become a farce. So the party retired precipitously to the bus-stop outside the LadyIrwinCollege. But other students were also there. “Why are you going away?” they asked Rani. And turning to the elders: “There is no lack of fine candidates in our college,” they joked. “Let us find you the kind you want…”
Back home, they looked up the letter. It was an Arora family all right, but the name was Phool, the signature was S.D.Kalra and the girl was a student at the Delhi University School of Social Work, more than a mile away from Lady Irwin.
WHO IS PRESENT & WHO IS ABSENT?
The next morning, they set out for the University, the letter in hand. They located the School of Social Work. And who do you think they met? Sewak Keswani, son of a family friend, greeted my mother warmly. He was a student there and a class-fellow of the two Kalra girls.
“Come, I will take you to their room,” he said. “Phool? She has gone to Patiala during the Maha Shiva Ratri week-end. Her parents are showing her some boy for matrimonial there…But her behn is here. Come…”
The Behn hosted the party, talked about the family and about the School of Social Work. On learning about the matrimonial intent, she even asked: “Ladka kya karta hai?” And so on.
Back home, Maasi Jee said: “Kudi tay eh vee wah wah hai…”And there the matter rested.
At Patiala, Itook my local Maasi, MrsNagra, with me when we were invited to tea at the Kalra residence. For the next few weeks, she put my photograph along with that of Phoolin the kind of twin-frame which is usual for couples. The Nagras were transferred out of Patiala soon afterwards.
When I visited Ratangarh during my next vacation, my mother asked me: “Have you decided on the girl you saw at Patiala? We have not received any letter from them.”They also told me of their visit to DelhiUniversity and their hostess for the day there. Her name was Chand. The original letter of proposal was brought out and scrutinised again. The proposal was clearly for “two daughters of the family.” We opted for the one who had caught Maasi Jee’s fancy. In any case, she was the one who had been “seen” by three members of our family; the other one was “only a photo.”
HOW GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES SHOULD MARRY
Sahab Dayal Kalra consciously or unconsciouslychose the 31st March 1955 to “close the deal”. On the last day of the financial year, I was invited to 9-B, New Patiala (where I had earlier seen Phool, and been entertained to a dance performance by Shashi, her younger sister). A very minor ceremony was gone through, much to the chagrin (expressed later) of my mother, who would have preferred something much more elaborate for the Thaaka or Rokka or Engagement of her eldest son! Even the bride’s father was not present.
A few days later, I saw Chand for the first time. It was only in a photograph. When a date for the nuptial ties was discussed, I pointed out that I was on “earned leave” up to the 19th May (like every year) because on the 20th wasmy “annual increment”.Mr Kalra, being a government servant of 36 years standing, understood all the implications. All the bride’s brothers were also government employees. The wedding was fixed for Saturday the 14th May, 1955, so that the rituals could be wound up on Sunday.
Chand’s Chachi Jee wondered aloud how there could be a wedding without a Band and a Ghodi; so they made the necessary arrangements. Our people arrived at Patiala on the 9th and were put up in a newly constructed bungalow about a hundred yards away from the Kalras. A simple Sehra-Bandi was performed on the appointed day and the bridegroom was hoisted on to the Ghodi at the appointed hour. Then came a message from Mr Kalra. His minister had gone to fetch the chief minister for the Baraat-reception ceremony – and would we please wait for some time. To me it seemed that I was up there on the Ghodi’s back for half-an-hour!
We took the bride to Ratangarh on the 16th. Munshi Ram (the “compounder” who had gotme the Patiala job, as described earlier) promptly put on a blaring loud-speaker playing all the film songs available in town.
I had to return on the 19th but was persuaded to stay on for another four days, overstaying my “earned leave”. No one in the government noticed anything wrong; Jaswant Singh doctored the papers, just as Munshi Ram had doctored my High School Certificate for my jobapplication.
Chand at Orphanage.
At Jeet’s wedding. 12/7/55.
Return from SSW.
Trip to KangraValley. August 55.
AN UNWELCOME VISITOR
Later in August, a few days after Chand’s birthday,I received my arrears of pay for three months or so. We did a little shopping, came home and retired for the night. Like every night, I had put away my wrist watch and my purse on an open shelf in the sitting room.
Outside our house was a rickshaw stand. One of the boys there must have been watching our daily routine. He clambered up the drain-pipe to our first-floor apartment and escaped with the two items.
Fortunately for us, he was foolish enough to be caught trying his luck in another house on the following night, with my watch on his wrist. The local police were good enough to restore the watch to me. The cash could not be recovered…naturally.
Trip to Calcutta & Ranchi. Nov.-Dec. 55
ANOTHER MUNSHI RAM
An elderly peon in my office volunteered to do the daily shopping for the new Lady of the House. Chand had come from a largish joint family and took some time to find out how much of fruit and vegetables to order for a day; how much water to add to the daal for two; and so on.
One day, the peon (named Munshi Ram) brought all the vegetables ordered by Chand, but refused to accept payment. Reason: the total was less than a quarter of a rupee! So, from the next day onward, we told him to spend a rupee every day and use his discretion about what fruits and/or vegetables to buy for us.And we always had enough for the two of us – and an occasional guest.
Interview for PIB.
Sanjeev was born on 10th April 1956. Sukhdev-Kamlesh 7/5/56.
AUDIT AT PATIALA
Shortly after the birth of Sanjeev, my grandfather visited us in our cubby-hole across the street from the Green Hotel outside Sheranwala Gate. We were on the first floor of a five-storey building overlooking the City High School Football Grounds. He was on his way to his summer tryst with Kasauli where Prem had been living (opposite Hotel Alicia) since 1948.
Lalajee saw Chand writing up the household accounts. Having been a professional accountant himself all his life (and having maintained meticulous household accounts, a habit transmitted to his sons also), he enquired about my pay and expenses. These were in three figures (around Rs. 300 per month) while he himself was managing with a pension of Rs. 75 per month. He advised us gently to save more and spend less. However, I did manage to convince him that we were not living “extravagantly”, by reminding him that his pension was “half-after-commutation” and that we had a new-born to bring up. However, the clincher came when I got him to calculate the approximate cost of our expenditure-list items in terms of the prices when he was similarly situated in 1901. It turned out that he was then spending about Rs. 70 per month on a slightly better standard of living; and he was getting around Rs. 130 per month (equivalent to about Rs. 490 in 1956).
DELVING INTO THE PAST
At Patiala, the Director of Archives was also a Suri. He became instrumental in re-awakening an interest in the family history. Let me go back in time to explain the background…
OUR KNOWLEDGE OF EARLIER GENERATIONS
My grandfather, Lala Parabh Dial Suri, was born in November 1869, a month after the death of his own father, Mahesh Das, and three years after the death of his grandfather Jwala Dass andgreat-grand-father Moti Ram in an epidemic in 1866.
The result was an abrupt break with the past. Hardly any recollections of ancestry and family history could be passed on to Parabh Dial.
It was in 1938 that Lala Parabh Dial Suri (accompanied by his wife and myself) had visited Mattan (sixty km. South of Srinagar), the historic temple at Martand in Kashmir, at the age of 68+ and was hosted by the hereditary Purohit (“Panda”).
The Purohit was Pandit Ram Chand Gopi Nath s/o Pandit Shankar Das. From his records, Lala Parabh Dial Suri (“Lalaji”) obtained the “family tree” which I have since investigated and extended back a few more generations.
Approaching the age of 75, Lala Parabh Dial Suri had dictated to me ( at Dayalbagh in April 1944) a 700-word autobiographical note with the briefest reference to his ancestors. (Two original, signed MSS available). Separately, in his Diaries, he put down whatever he remembered about his ancestors, starting with Pindimal Suri, who spanned the 18th century, but whose detailed bio-data was unknown to Lala Parabh Dial and relatives. During the next few decades, I expanded the family history with research into the earliest period.
“We belong to Lahore,” Lalaji used to say, which was legally and technically his domicile under the British law, but the family history in the last two or three centuries has had its canvas broadly in the West Kangra district and the surrounding areas of Punjab.
In his autobiographical note, he had made a one-line reference to Behrampur near Kalanaur (where Pindimal Suri held some land in the late 1760s, courtesy the Abdalis), until the Sikhs came. Lala Durga Das Suri (his elder son) mentioned Kalanaur and the Shawl Industry in a letter he wrote to me (in reply to my greetings on his 80th birthday, along with a questionnaire). Nurpur is still the home of the Suri clan dating from 200 years ago, from which Lalaji stepped out into the wider world. Shishoo (Lieut.-General Prakash Suri) has been in touch with the Nurpur families.
Sohan Lal Suri, the Court Chronicler of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the early 19th century, knew all about the Lahore families and their role in the history of this province which had always had stronger political, commercial and cultural links with Qabul & Qandhar than with “Hindustan”.
Sohan Lal also wrote up extensive notes kept by his father GANPAT RAI SURI about the history of their family and country. Seven volumes of Sohan Lal Suri’s Persian MSS are in the BritishMuseum and the India Office Library in London. Many historians have already used the material for their work. My youngest sister Mrs. Shobha Dhir was in London when her husband was Military Attache there and met Mrs. Ramachandran, the India Office Librarian (old assistant of mine), but did not secure any photocopies as planned.
LEARNING MORE OF FAMILY BACKGROUND
As mentioned above,V.S.Suri, a descendant of Sohan Lal Suri, was Director of Archives at Patiala (a ‘Shishya’ of the famous Dr. Ganda Singh – a voluminous writer on many aspects of the history of Punjab). V.S.Suri brought home to me the distinction between the Nurpur Suri families and the “real” Lahore group.
According to V.S. Suri, his ‘Guru’ Dr. Ganda Singh, and his ‘uncle’ Lala Sita Ram Kohli, M.A., were the first to be allowed to go through the archives of the Lahore Secretariat during the First World War. Sita Ram was then a post-graduate research student who sifted MSS of the Sikh period under Garrett, the Professor of History (and later Principal) of GovernmentCollege, Lahore. Garrett was editing the work after the War. (See Cunningham’s History of the Sikhs, 3rd Edition, November 1915).
V.S.Suri also held the view that the Kohlis joined the Khokhrains only in the 17th-18th centuries. They were the adivasis of the Kangra hills (like the Gaddis). His authorities were Vol. III of the Journal of the Punjab Historical Society and J.Cunningham. He said the Suri, Bhasin, Sethi & Anands separated from the “Bajahis” (Bawinjahis – 52 subcastes) when they escaped into the Chamba region. There they married with Kohlis also. Sabharwals were originally from Gujarat (Sabhramati) and the Kohlis from coastal Maharashtra.
This was the background to my renewed interest in the family history and the beginning of my actual researches in this context.
YEARS IN THE PUNJAB (1956-1962)
In May 1956, the Union Public Service Commission selected me for a Class II post of Assistant Information Officer under the Central Government, offering a decidedly better salary. My posting was at Jullundur where Kuldip Nayar had just opened the new Information Centre. I hurried to join the post on 1st July.The local Civil Surgeon gave me the required Fitness Certificate, but a few weeks later someone in Delhi ordered me to appear before a Medical Board of three doctors at Amritsar.
Just then, Parliament had passed the States Reorganisation Act under which PEPSU was to be merged into the State of Punjab on the 1st of November. Being unsure of my prospects at Jullundur, and being a permanent employee of PEPSU, I reverted to Patiala after less than four full months at Jullundur. Two days later, I was at Chandigarh, designated a P.R.O. in the Punjab Public Relations Department.
THE YEARS AT CHANDIGARH
As an emergency measure, I and my colleague Balwant Singh Bhullar had been allotted one newly-built Type-10 house (between the two of us) in Sector 19 in the south-eastern corner of Chandigarh. Bhullar was from a rich and influential Jat family; he never occupied his half of the house; we had full occupation; and very soon, Bhullar got himself transferred to the Excise Department. We were in No:1 and the ladies in No:2 were more than excited that Chand could even “design and knit” woollens. Across the road was Master Amar Nath, our official Chief Photographer (also from PEPSU, and a family friend).
After a few months, we were given one “fullhouse” in Sector 23, on the south-west, next to the busiest shopping complex in Sector 22. But it was a Type-11 (that is a smaller) house in a crowded locality. Our neighbors were the Bhandharis; Neelam, their child, was older than Sanjeev; the head of the family was Chief Technical Officer of the Roadways.
It was only in December 1957 that we finally got our due, anewly-built Type-9 house in Sector 7, next to the Governor’s sector, about a mile from the Lake. This was the best accomodation we have ever had in every respect; even the Joint-Secretary level accomodation in Rabindra Nagar at Delhi was not as good, besides being an old construction.
Our house overlooked a large grassy quadrangle, with a block of Type-10 houses on one side and another block with Type-12 houses on the side opposite ours. Living in one of the Type-12 houses was Kala who took up our house-keeping job; and we have never had a better maid-servant.
Sanjeev and the Puppy.
Sanjeev and Usha (?) Bhabi.
The People in the Old Secretariat.
Beginning of Children’s Diaries.
The Lady in No:10
Mrs Prem & Her Brother
Phool weds 12/7/57. Sanjeev burns finger. Death of FCAnand at Lahore.DDS retires finally, to Doon. Sanjeev at Temple; coin collector!
Shift to New Secretariat.
Minakshi was born at Ratangarh (Churu District) on 12th April, 1958. Incidentally, a first-cousin of hers has a mother-in-law born in December 1958. Bela 12/2/58; Geeta Rajpal 12/8/58; Aju 21/10/58. Yogi-Lata 19/5/58..
Charan, Bholi wed… Sanjeev at Kutub; Kamla;Sheila; kesh-qatal. S&M went to the lake.
My father wrote in his Diary: “I retired on 31-12-58 and soon shifted with bag and baggage to Dayalbagh to live with and look after parents who are too old and should not be left alone…my anxiety is now to do something for Pashi, Gulloo, Kuku and Shobha who are too young still and need attention in settling in life.” However, within three months he was appointed “Chief Instructor in the Railway Technical Training Centre, Shahjahanpur.”
In another Diary, he wrote on 13th October 1960: “Kuku and Shobha can get good education at Bhilai…we cannot leave Dayalbagh for sake of parents…” The next day he was writing (in a long letter) to Gulloo: “I understand you are not pulling on quite nicely with Pashi and his work and prestige is suffering badly. He does not like your stay with him on this account and has asked us to tell you to shift …If Rewari suits you, you may go there…”
Matajee was even then urging Pitajee to get part of his pension commuted “as she says money is required to start some work or industry for the children.” However, Pitajee was not “very keen” on following this advice because, as he noted in his diary, “if I lose the capital (as happens with 90 per cent pensioners), I will be stranded with a low pension.” Eventually, he did take Rs.9715.20 “as commutation and pension reduced to Rs.161 P.M. from 6-12-60.”
Shobha stayed under parental care, while Pashi, Gulloo and Kuku came to live with me for long or short spells. Only Kuku completed his studies satisfactorily at the Swiss Technical Training Centre at Chandigarh. Gulloo spent most of his time filling up page after page of his school exercise books with imaginary budgets for different possible standards of life in the future.
The Central Information Service was constituted in 1960. Class I posts (Grade II) were advertised in 1961. I came (with Chand and the children) to Delhi from Chandigarh to take the examination. This was when we met Raj, Neena and Pawan after a long time.
The subject for my Urdu essay wasKhilaai Parvaaz (Space Flights).
Later, I came (alone) for the interview when Zaheer was the UPSC chairman; I admired his paternal, affable approach; he must have appreciated whatever I said during the interview, for I received a call for a Medical Board examination a few months later.
The “medical” was to be at Patiala on the 2nd February 1962. The Ashtagrahi (confluence of planets) scare was then the talk of the country, and my father recorded a prayer in his Diary to save us all from the evil portents. It proved to be a lucky day for me; I sailed through the experience which had caused me so much loss in terms of career in 1956 at Amritsar.
On the 9th April 1962 I joined the Press Information Bureau at Delhi. My first boss was the amiable and able Abdul Hamid(just like Madan Gopal at Patiala), at that time attached to Gulzarilal Nanda, Minister of Commerce. I covered two major functions for Nanda (who was to be acting Prime Minister after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, and again after Lal Bahadur Shastri). Radhakrishnan became President in May 1962.
Abdul Hamid was Press Secretary to President Zakir Hussain seven years later when I met them both at Kohima in my capacity of Nagaland’s Publicity Director. Another 12 years later, Hamid was a member of the Union Public Service Commission, where I represented my Ministry occasionally on the Selection Committees. Incidentally, I was then living at DI/80 Rabindra Nagar, within easy walking distance of the UPSC office on Shahjahan Road.
For some time on our arrival at Delhi, we stayed in the top floor of K-8 Jangpura Extension (now our permanent address since 28th July 1985; Charan and Sudesh were living there at that time). Then we shifted to Lajpat Nagar II, where Chand escaped being burnt alive when a kerosene stove overturned in her hands. Also at that time Pashi had a brush with the police when one of his business partners was involved in some shady deal; we got him out of detention with some difficulty.
In June 1962, G.N.S. Raghavan (erstwhile Editor in the THOUGHT Weekly) was Deputy Director (Editorial) in the Publications Division. Padmanabhan, the Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting who had processed my induction into the Central Information Service, now suggested to Raghavan that my qualifications fitted me for work in the Publications Division. Orders for my transfer from the Press Information Bureau were issued when I had completed just 80 days there. During these few weeks, I had been shifted from the Ministry of Commerce to the more congenial work in the Features Unit. The Publications Division was the next obvious move.
The PIB is located in the Shastri Bhawan on Parliament Street in Central Delhi, while the Publications Division used to be in the Old Secretariat. A Delhi minister is now sitting in the room where my chair used to be. In any case, we had now to think of shifting to North Delhi to be nearer my office and also to put Sanjeev and Minakshi into school.
Living at Shakti Nagar in North Delhi was my favourite Bhabi Vimal, daughter of Narinder Nath Wadhawan (an Electrical Engineer in the Railways) and wife of my eldest cousin Narinder Nath Chadha (an Engineer in All India Radio). She suggested that we get living accomodation in ModelTown, which was then a clean area with university students finding it particularly close and convenient. Since then, the Subzi Mandi has shifted to adjacent Azadpur and the character of the locality has changed.
Vimal and I went to ModelTown while Chand was looking after the children; a property agent showed us a vacant second floor with a miani on the first floor in D Block of Model Town III and made the usual remark: “This should be fine aap mian-biwi ke liye.”
The location of the floors was highly inconvenient, but we made it our base; then Sanjeev and Mina went round the F Block of Model Town II, scouting for a place near the main market, chaperoned by their parents. F-11/3 was a newly built house and Shiv Shankar Kapoor of Grindlays Bank was sitting in the verandah waiting for his first tenants when Sanjeev and Minakshi entered the gate and asked: “Uncle, yeh makaan To-Let hai?” We got the front half for Rs.150 per month.
The rear portion comprising two smaller rooms was taken shortly afterwards by four students, that is two married couples; Edward Mpisaunga (tall and hefty) with his wife Ruth; and Chimombe & Winnie (not really gigantic, though little Bunty thought them so). Ruth delivered a son whom they named Sunil; we received photographs of their comparatively luxurious accommodation when they went back after graduation to Harare in their native Southern Rhodesia (now free Zimbabwe).
Later, a Christian couple moved into the rear half, with a common passage. The husband was Dr Anthony Stone, Professor of Mathematics at St.StephensCollege, age 35, and his wife was Bertha Zimmerman of Canada, age 45. She had been a mission-worker in Ethiopia and met Tony on board a ship. They kept in touch with us for the next three decades…
It took 13 months for the Punjab and the Central governments to exchange notes and for the AGCR to start paying me my salary; and when I got the arrears in one lump sum, Morarji Desai took away a hefty tax-cut; no one helped to expedite proceedings and no one told me that arrears are not taxed at a high rate.
Meanwhile, Morarji Bhai gave me another blow when the retirement age of central government employees was raised from 55 to 58. Going by my seniority, I was about to be promoted when this happened. My seniors got a three-year extension of their employment; and I got my “over-due” promotion only in early 1966.
LIFE AT HOME IN MODELTOWN
The Chinese invasion came at a time when we had hardly settled down in F-11/3, mentioned above. One day, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave an assurance in Parliament that a White Paper on the causes of the war would be presented to the Lok Sabha on the ensuing Monday. Simultaneously, the Publications Division was asked to publish a profusely-documented book on The Chinese Threat (with maps of the disputed boundaries).
I had to stay back late into the winter night to give the final Print Order at the Government of India press at Faridabad. Nobody in the office cared to inform my family; and Chand started telephoning people to find out about “a missinghusband”. Around mid-night she went personally to the house of my colleague Mahinder Jhamb (in F-3/8, ModelTown); he knew only half the story. I came back home just before dawn.
Earlier, while the war was still on, the Publications Division had brought out a pamphlet entitledWho is the Aggressor?It so happened that the only other words on the cover were: K.G.Ramakrishnan, the name of the author, a very senior editor. Taking these words as the answer to the main question, I joked to the author about it. We became very good friends; there was a sequel to this story 15 years later, when I was chosen for the post of Senior Copy Writer in DAVP.
AN EVENTFUL YEAR
During the next war (Pakistan, 1965), there was no such crisis, or scare.
This war was towards the end of the summer season. We were still sleeping under the open skies. The Jains (of Jain Bartan Bhandar) living opposite us across the street thought we were Jains also, because we always finished our supper around sunset and came out to sleep around the time when the war-ordained Black-out came into force. Our children thought nothing of air-raid warnings and all that.
By this time, I was a full-fledged Editor and my bosses had taken a fancy to me. I was picked to join a team of journalists and information service personnel going to the battle-front for a “familiarisation tour”. No one knew at that time how long the war would last. I bought an overcoat and made other preparations. And then Minakshi fell ill; I could not go.
When I had just come to the Publications Division, a very senior colleague, Prithvi Nath Kaul Bamzai, at first thought I was a Muslim. Later he told me that an ancestor of his, NOORUDDIN KHAN BAMZAI, had re-established Afghan rule in J&K after uprooting SUKHJIWAN MAL SURI who had become very popular. Only 28 years later did I read his History of Kashmir (foreword by Jawaharlal Nehru) and realised how much of a hero Sukhjiwan Mal Suri was.
After the 1938 visit (with my grandfather), I had never been to Kashmir again, nor did I come across any further genealogical data. My father and some family members went to Kashmir in 1946. His grandson Sanjeev took his bride Rajni there in 1988. They did not visit Mattan. When Parabh Dial Suri died in 1963 and T.R.Suri in 1965, their ashes were taken to Hardwar; Mattan had ceased to be the destination long ago.
Much later, at Delhi, Farhad Suri, son of the veteran Delhi politician, Mrs. Tajdar Babbar, was approached in Golf Links for details of his family’s earlier history, because like the Nehru family they are of Kashmiri origin. They suggested the “Rajataringini”, translated and annotated by Jawaharlal’s brother-in-law Ranjit Pandit.
At a staff conference, I met Habibullah “Shaair”, the Field Publicity Officer ofPahalgam.Bamzai brought up the subject of my ancestry and after a few months Habibullah supplied extracts from some Panda’s Ledgers about some Kashmiri Khatri and Rajput families. But these did not tell me much about the family history at that time.
I did some desultory reading to find out if there were any links with the Sher Shah Suri family.
AHMEDABAD: CLUES TO AN EARLIER BACKGROUND
One fine morning, early in September 1964, my Director came to my room and told me: “Suri, you have to fly to Ahmedabad before today. Here are the air-tickets. Someone will meet you at the air-port there and take you to Sharada Prasad…”
That evening, I was taken to the National Design Institute to work on thepreparation of the famous Nehru Exhibition under H.Y.Sharda Prasad & Charles Eames. It was taken to New York and London and seen by the U.S. President and the British Queen, inter alia. (By the way, Queen Elizabeth’s year of birth and year of taking up a Government job, viz., her coronation, are the same as mine, 1926 and 1952. Her mother died at the age of 101 in the year 2002).
Sharada Prasad put me in the spacious room next to his at the Circuit House, where the room rent was Rs.2 per day, with hot water in a huge bathroom with a huge bath-tub, and other services, laid on. Incidentally, the left half of the Ahmedabad Circuit house was (and still is) maintained as a “historic” place because it was there that Gandhiji was tried for sedition by a British Judge who complimentedthe “prisoner in the dock” for his patriotism and then sent him to jail because the laws were such.
I worked there for a fortnight and then flew back to Delhi before my “open” air-ticket expired. The more important reason was that six-year old Minakshi was telling her mother: “I am already forgetting what Daddy looks like.” Sharada Prasad then requisitioned the services of Sheila Dhar, my room-mate in the office at Delhi. She was substantially my senior and the Kayasth wife of an up-and-coming Kashmiri named P.N.Dhar. He was then the Director of the Delhi School of Economics or the Institute of Economic Growth; much later, he replaced P.N.Haksar as Secretary to the Prime Minister. Sheila became a family friend who came visiting very often and once wrote to Minakshi: “Moti Auntie aayay gi, sub chut kar jayay gi…”
At the National Institute of Design, Dashrath Patel (and a post-graduate student Minakshi Shah) drew my attention to Suri families of the South, descendants of Jain Acharyas, and their relations with the Mughals, Bahmani and Adil Shahi rulers.Much later, the Rana of Mewar came out with the Hakim Shah Suri Memorial (Annual) Awards, in the memory of the redoubtable general (of Afghan origin) who had fought for the family of Rana Partap against the Mughals.
Another friend I made at Ahmedabad was Pratap Kapoor (then Information Officer in charge of Features at PIB). He came rushing to me one day and said: “Come, put on your coat…we are going to meet Indira Gandhi (then the Information Minister, our minister).” Nothing much happened at the meeting; it was just another ploy by Pratap to be in her good books. At the Institute, he spent less time on work and more on ogling or chatting up the nubile Parsi Receptionist, Miss Cama. Years later, he was Director of Defence Publicity and picked me to be Editor-in-Chief of a group of journals meant for the armed forces.
MY BRUSH WITH INDIAN HISTORY
Back at Delhi, I worked on a series of pamphlets which made me familiar with the history of various communities in India and their foreign links.
The first one was during the visit of the Pope for the Eucharistic Congress in the winter of 1964. For the occasion, we published an illustrated pamphlet entitled Christians in India. It contained the history of the faith since the arrival of Saint Thomas in the Deccan, along with photographs of Christian churches in India and relevant demographic data. Naturally, we added mention of the freedom of religion guaranteed under our Constitution and references to the many Christians who had held high offices in the country.
This was also the pattern for a pamphlet on Muslims in India. Years later, as Senior Copy Writer in DAVP, I wrote a pamphlet entitled Religion is Love, Unity is Strength, in an effort to promote national integration.