Sunday, June 9, 2013

Amritsar to Kohat (Pakistan) by train

Prakash was 14 and restless. Full of energy, bravado and the need to do something new every day, every hour, every minute.
He was no different from any other 14 year old boy from that time or any other time.

Aparnath, his father, had five other children at that time.
He had nine children in all, seven sons and two daughters, a good number in those pre-partition days. Most families had the same or similar numbers as child bearing went on till it stopped on its own in due course of nature.
His eldest son Ram Saran Das was a havaldar in the British Army and was posted at Kohat.
In pre-partition India, Kohat was a big Army cantonment up North.

The decision
Aparnath decided to send Prakash by train to Kohat. He thought this would be a good way to channelize the boy's energies and also get some work done.
He wanted to send some home-made ghee and pinnis for Ram Saran. Also called laddu in some places, pinni is a home made sweet made with gram flour, ghee, sugar, and dry fruits. It keeps for a long time and serves as emergency rations for travelers, soldiers, and children in hostels. It is a common gift from loving mothers and grandmothers to sons even now in India and Pakistan.

The Preparation
Accordingly, a big empty ghee tin (peepa) of 15 ltr capacity was procured. This was a common way to carry things on journeys. An old ghee tin was cleaned, fitted with a lid and latch.
This tin/peepa was filled with gifts from home, locked, and the key was handed over to Prakash. This was his only luggage apart from a change of clothes (Pathani Salwar Kurta) and a new pair of shoes bought from Amritsar for Ram Saran Das. These he carried in a thaila (small cloth sling bag).
The new shoes fitted Prakash perfectly and thus would fit his elder brother too as they were the same size.

The journey
The journey started very early in the morning in a tanga (horse driven carriage) from Rokhe, a village in tehsil Ajnala, district Amritsar.
Aparnath and Prakash reached Amritsar railway junction in about an hour and an excited Prakash boarded the third class compartment of the train going to Lahore from Amritsar Railway junction.
 The seats were made of wooden slats and the compartment was crowded. As per custom whoever put a sheet or other possession on the seat first became its owner for the duration of the journey.
Prakash stood in a corner and put his locked peepa down on the floor. He hoped that when the train started the owners of the seats would relent and he would be adjusted on the berth.

His father gave him many instructions as to how to behave during the journey and what to say to his brother when he reached Kohat. He also gave him a packet of  fresh home made paranthas that were to sustain him in this journey, his first one all alone in a train.

Google map of the rough route from Amritsar (India)  to Kohat (Pakistan) as it exists now is at this link.

The route was some what different in 1942 when this journey took place.
Actually, there is no real link now as there are two countries (India and Pakistan) now instead of one as it was then and one needs a difficult-to-obtain visa to cross the border.

Prakash made friends with a family travelling in the compartment and sat near them. They were also going to Rawalpindi, his next destination on way to Kohat. He felt reassured.
This first leg of the journey was quite short and was covered in a few short hours.
It was mid day when they reached Lahore. They asked around about a connecting train to Rawalpindi and found that it was due to arrive in some time.
The other family wanted to stay put at the same platform while they waited for the train.
In their experience, the train came to any platform that was free at the time so they did not want to move all of their luggage to another one before hand.
Prakash had no such restrictions and he moved toward the designated platform with his ghee tin and thaila. He went on to the railway bridge that connected various platforms and saw the platform number two where the train was supposed to arrive from up there. He had no clue how to reach the platform and thought of jumping down from the over bridge directly onto the platform.
 While he was weighing his options, a kindly gentleman passing by, sensed something amiss and asked him what the problem was.
Prakash told him of his dilemma. The gentleman told him to not jump down from there as there was a perfectly good staircase connecting the bridge to the said platform.
Prakash was delighted to find this easier way to the platform.
He boarded the train to Rawalpindi as it arrived and this time was lucky enough to grab a seat.
More co-passengers and conversation about who was going where and why.

Prakash kept to himself mostly and did not even open his packet of paranthas though he was hungry. He did not want to eat in the crowd where strangers could look at his food.

He reached Rawalpindi and changed to a train going to Kohat late in the night. He managed to find an upper berth in this train, settled his luggage and slept through the night and the rest of the journey.

He dreamed that some one was shouting his name.  Prakash, Pachhe, Oye Pachheya.
He sat up with a start.
It was early in the morning and the train had reached the Kohat Railway station.
Ram Saran Das alerted by his father's post card had come to the railway station to receive Prakash.
 He was shouting his name to locate him among the passengers of all hues getting down from the train.
Prakash sat up and looked out the window. His brother, handsome and resplendent in his havaldar style independence was outside the train. He had also brought along a friend for company.
Prakash was very happy to see his elder brother and called out to him.
He was received with much hugging and laughter.
Ram Saran Das took the ghee tin off his hands and asked him about every one in the family back home, as they walked to the barracks where Ram Saran lived.
The ghee tin was opened with much mirth and the first round of pinnis were passed around.
Prakash told them of the paranthas from home which were still uneaten. These were quickly warmed and demolished by this band of boys.
The new shoes were tried on and were a perfect fit. Every thing was just right.
 Prakash was very proud of himself at having made this long and complicated journey all on his own.

He was much impressed with his brothers' life style and decided that he too should join the army when it was time for him to work.
He spent a week at Kohat and enjoyed the new place.

Ram Saran Das gave him a hundred rupee note, his salary for two months, to take back to their father for home expenses. He also gave him some change to spend on the way back home.

Prakash put both the note and the coins in his khisa (pocket) and felt very important. He felt the crisp note many times on the way back to Amritsar to ensure that it was safe.
After a long journey changing three trains and a tanga, he reached the village adda late at night.
He took out some coins to pay the tanga wallah.
He was excited to go back home and share all the news and his adventures with his father and other members of the family.
They were happy to see him back safe and sound.
Aparnath asked him after some time if Ram Saran had sent something for him.
It was normal for earning sons to send almost all of their salaries back home for the family's use.

 Prakash said that he had sent a hundred rupees note. He put his hand in the pocket and was stunned to find that there was no crisp note in his pocket. He checked all his pockets several times but the note was just not there.
He felt sad at having lost the note maybe at the last stop where he gave the coins to the tanga wallah. He had brought it so carefully through out the journey and had lost it so close to home.
It was a lot of money in those days and could have helped to buy  many things for the entire family.
The hundred rupee note was not found even though Tara devi, Prakash's mother went looking for it at the village adda the next morning.
There was nothing to do but to accept the loss stoically.

 This was a spoiler in the otherwise exciting adventure that Prakash had. But young as he was, he soon forgot all about the lost note.
This journey had whetted his appetite for more adventure and led to many more such in future.

References: Wikipedia, Google maps


  1. Replies
    1. No, this is my daddy's story. Actually happened exactly like this.
      Thanks Anunoy and Pankti.

  2. It seemed to me that you were that 14-year old kid :D


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