Last Flight From Lahore: Stories of Partition

Badshahi Mosque, Lahore, Pakistan © image bird.

In this guest edition of The Interview, Raghav Shunglu talks to his late grandfather, L.P. Shunglu, a first-hand witness of the Partition of India.

The Partition of India that took place in 1947 led to one of the largest mass migrations in human history. A British lawyer, Cyril Radcliffe, drew up the current Indo-Pakistan boundary in just five weeks, sundering the lives of some 400 million along religious lines. Entire communities and individual families were arbitrarily sundered into watertight state structures with closed borders.

Ladli Prasad Shunglu, fondly remembered as Ladli, took the last flight out of Lahore in September 1947. He witnessed the carnage that accompanied the Partition of India, but he believed that he was blessed to have Aslam Sahib as his godfather during such tough times. A close friend of his father and a leader of the Muslim League, Aslam Sahib provided Ladli shelter and safely and managed to send him to India on what would come to be his last flight, by changing his name on the boarding pass.

In this guest edition of The Interview, Raghav Shunglu talks to his late grandfather, L.P. Shunglu, on his love for Lahore, the feeling of homelessness and the trauma of Partition. He passed away in 2016.

Raghav Shunglu: What is your name? When and where were you born? Where is “home”?

Ladli Prasad Shunglu: My name is Ladli Prasad Shunglu and I was born in 1919, in Indore, where I lived until I was 3 years old. My father, Manohar Prasad Shunglu, went to England to study English Literature at Imperial College London. This is when we shifted back to Lahore. I grew up in Lahore and that’s the only place in my memory that still feels like home. But after Partition, since I came to India, I have conditioned myself to make every place feel like “home.” I can never compare my life before Partition with that after 1947. But I learned that nothing is permanent in life, whether grief or joy. Everything that has a beginning also has an end. Everything shall come to pass. That sometimes one must accept what has happened and not live on in denial.

L.P. Shunglu’s Parents

We were amongst the oldest Kashmiri Pandit families in Lahore who migrated from Kashmir. We were zamindars, or landlords. We had some property in Srinagar and a houseboat on the Dal Lake. We often traveled there in the summer. All our papers were left behind in Lahore in the breast pocket of my father’s elder brother’s coat. He also happened to be the legal advisor in Mahatma Gandhi’s murder trial.

I would never have had to work a day in my life. But life taught me to struggle. I had to work to survive. My house was on 5 Begum Road. It was a huge property where four families lived and cost us more than 4 lakh [400,000] rupees in those days and was 12 murabbas. We had some of the best land that was green and cultivable. We had our own stables and a goldsmith. From having a huge house next to the railway line that made the movement of all the rice, wheat, pulses, fruits, vegetables from the nearby villages easier to having to share a house with many people, having to work and not resort to begging — which was always the easier way out — was how life was different after 1947.

When I realized I had to leave Lahore for India, I never knew if I would actually make it. I have seen so much and it doesn’t make me want to talk about Partition. But yes, I have often longed to go back to my hometown. It was a glorious city, teeming with life. Yes, there is no place like Lahore. It was the greatest city in Hindustan and I think that is and will always be home for me till the day I die.

Shunglu: What are your earliest memories of Lahore? Any particular memory of your life as a teenager? What did you do for fun?

L.P. Shunglu: When I was young, I would be the champion kite flier in Lahore. We would take hours and days to make our manjha with crumbled glass. I spent most of my days as a kid flying kites. Once I grew older and went to college, I had a daily ritual of going to the Lahore Coffee House — I enjoyed drinking tea or coffee, talking with friends and eating sandwiches in the evenings. My other hobby was going to the cinema. Lahore was a very progressive city at the time with all kinds of movies being shown in Persian, Punjabi and English. Food was fantastic — the best food money can buy. There was a lot of prosperity. People would not go hungry. Lahore was also known for its colleges. It had 12 to 13 premier colleges teaching engineering and social sciences.

One particular memory I have is that after coming to India I was not able to read Hindi. I have fluency in Persian, Punjabi and English, but I do not know how to read Hindi. When I came to India for the first time, I would make my son read the newspaper to me.

Shunglu: What was your experience and interests as far as education is considered? What did you want to become when you were growing up? Do you have any regrets?

L.P. Shunglu: I was always a very good student. I loved reading books and spending time in the library. I was also very naughty as a child and would be the known badmaash, or prankster. My friends and family had a pet name for me, Khushbaash, which means someone who is always happy and smiling.

I went to St. Mont School and cleared my matric. I then went to Foreman Christian College, which had American funding. In those days, as part of our bachelor course, we were required to study all subjects including history, economics, sociology, English. I went on to do my master’s in history and wrote my thesis on the Lahore residency. The British residents at the time were brothers, John and Harry Lawrence.

L.P. Shunglu and wife Krishna with family.

As a child, my dream was to join the Air Force. In those days, I would have been considered a pehalwan, or bodybuilder. I made a mistake of exercising in the morning before going for my medical checkup. At the time, I did not realize what I was doing as I was young and immature. The test results came back and my heart rate was too fast due to the physical exertion.

Another regret was when I was in Lahore, I was offered a lead role for a movie opposite the actress Ramola. On getting the role, my father, who was an industrialist and a very respected man in Lahore, wrote to the film director and told him that he was making a grave mistake by choosing me. The film would flop with an actor like me. So, I stepped down. Few months later, the movie turned out to be a great hit. The last was the Partition. Having everything, losing it and starting a fresh life taught me to be detached. Before, I was very attached to everything I had in Lahore. The only thing I left Lahore with was two Siemens fans and a weightlifting rod made out of the finest metal.

Shunglu: What is your relation to Kashmir?

L.P. Shunglu: We are Kashmiri Pandits by blood but have not grown up there. We are baazekash, or old Kashmiris, who had moved out of Kashmir many years ago. I do not speak Kashmiri but have studied Persian since I was a child. The taazekash, or new Kashmiris, are the ones who stayed on and are more in touch with their roots. Kashmiri Pandits have lived in Kashmir since time immemorial. There have been many waves of exodus since the time of the coming of the Mughals. My ancestors moved to Lahore years ago.

However, we did have a small property next to Chinar Bagh and a shikara, or houseboat, on the Dal lake. We would make a yearly visit to Kashmir with the family and would really enjoy ourselves. Srinagar in those days was really beautiful — it truly is heaven on earth. I would also enjoy Shalimar Bagh and Nishat Bagh. Traveling to Gulmarg and Pahalgam was tranquil. I am very fond of good food and the Kashmiris are known for their cuisine and khatirdari (hospitality).

Shunglu: Tell us about your family.

L.P. Shunglu: My father’s name was Manohar Prasad Shunglu and he had two elder brothers and one younger brother. He was an industrialist and was the first person to import machinery from Japan to automatically seal and pack envelopes, eventually setting up the first envelope factory in Lahore. He also had a process of manufacturing boxes for commercial purposes and had a monopoly in the market. His eldest brother was Jwala Prasad, a leading criminal lawyer in Lahore, who was the legal advisor in the Mahatma Gandhi murder trial. His second elder brother, Har Prasad, was a homeopathic doctor who went to Kolkata to study medicine. The youngest brother, Jagjivan Prasad, did not do anything.

Shunglu: Can you share some experiences about the Partition with us?

L.P. Shunglu: I have seen people being hacked with talwars (swords). The Muslims fired from both sides and were trying to prevent anyone from leaving alive. They did not want us to go. Even though the Hindus wanted to stay on, they were forced to leave. We did not have an option. I have seen countless bodies on the Amritsar-Lahore route. People were boxed into train compartments and when the trains would reach the station, all one would find were rotting dead bodies. There was tabahi (destruction). Need I say more?

Shunglu: What was your experience in Lahore as a Hindu?

L.P. Shunglu: There was no question of religion. Lahore was a multicultural capital. There was a close bond shared between everybody. People from all across Central Asia and other parts of the world would come to study in our universities.

Whether you were a Hindu, Muslim or Sikh was a minor issue in our days. We knew that our dharma was different and that we were born in different communities. Even though we were aware of these differences, we believed in karm over dharm (work over religion). In those days, there was humanity. We would eat together, play badminton together, eat and drink coffee together. There was no difference. We were one.

In Lahore, the streets were bustling with life and it was a highly multicultural place. We were all aware of cultural differences but the society was very closely knit. I had a lot of Christian, Anglo-Indian, Muslim and Sikh friends.

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Shunglu: What do you think about Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Frontier Gandhi?

L.P. Shunglu: Jinnah was a great man. He was a great politician and a thinker with foresight. He had understood and realized that if Pakistan was not formed, it would become a play of minority and majority in India. Everything was fine now, but what in three-four years? While Gandhi said, let Muslims live in India and let us not disturb them, Jinnah said that if nothing is done, the population of Hindus will dominate in a few years and will control everything. We want partition. Even though Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi told Jinnah that they would make him the prime minister, Jinnah was certain that change would come. Power and control would always remain with the Hindus. And if there was to be a Partition in a few years, it might as well be now.

When Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Frontier Gandhi, was asked to come receive an honor in India, he was widely criticized by the Muslim population. The British were clever. If it had not been for the British policy of divide and rule, Hindustan would still be one of the strongest empires in the world.

Shunglu: Tell us about life after Partition. How did you get to where you are today?

L.P. Shunglu: Life was always a struggle post-Partition. Going from having everything to having nothing was a huge emotional and psychological setback. I was not used to asking people for anything. I learnt many things from helping others and working hard. If Partition had not taken place, I would not have had to work a day in my life.

When I first came to India, all my family was scattered. My father had fled to Allahabad, my mother’s family was in Indore, others had taken refuge in Delhi and some others in Gwalior. There were no phones or internet at the time, and we never knew if we would see each other again. We shared a room with 15-20 people for the initial days, and then I started work for Kalinga Airlines as a traffic officer. I worked my way up the ladder for the next few decades.

I married my wife Krishna in 1951 and was posted to Delhi at the time. My travels spanned multiple places in India and [I] traveled around the world for work. I retired as a senior general manager for Eastern India. My favorite place outside India was London, where people were friendly and the food delicious. The other was Honolulu where I once attended a conference.

Shunglu: What is your philosophy for life? Any message for the future generations?

L.P. Shunglu: Being nice to everyone has always been a value I have considered important. I think one should learn to fight till the end, to embrace your fears till the idea of fear itself goes away. I believe in doing good for others, staying healthy and constantly trying to get better each day.

Secondly, and more importantly, I would urge people not to join politics to create divisions. Creating a divide using politics is a very dangerous thing. It is the worst thing that can happen. I have seen the effect that politics is played along communal lines.

*[This article was updated on August 16, 2017.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: image bird / Shutterstock.com

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