Marina Wheeler’s recent book describes events that took place in Sargodha during partition
When Thomas More wrote Utopia, he mentioned two outstanding characteristics of Utopian housing: that the “streets are twenty feet broad”, and “one door onto the street and one onto the garden.” Sargodha city had both these qualities. Marina Wheeler’s recent book The Lost Homestead: My Mother, India and Partition of the Punjab, which is centred around her mother Deep, describes what happened in Sargodha during the critical months of partition of the Punjab. Wheeler, a former wife of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is a leading lawyer based in London, and currently serving as a Queen’s Counsel. After her family’s dislocation from Sargodha and moving to the US and then the UK, Wheeler and her mother Deep faced a continuous identity crisis: “My mother is Indian, but she is not from India exactly; she was born in what’s now Pakistan, in a place called Sargodha not far from Lahore.”
Kuldip (known as Deep in the book) was born in November 1932 in Sargodha. Her father Sardar Bahadur Dr Harbans Singh was a landlord, an honorary magistrate and chairman of the municipal committee of Sargodha in 1938. Deep recalls that the town of Sargodha was mainly Sikh but along with gurdwaras, it had mosques, temples and churches. Deep’s family moved to the Civil Lines area when she was five years old. Wheeler writes that being “opulent, magnificent, it seems to defy classification. I established from Dip it was larger than a bungalow or a haveli, but quite not a palace. If you include its extensive grounds, I decide, it’s a homestead.”
Deep’s elder sister married Ujjal Singh, an uncle of writer Khushwant Singh, whose family owned a sprawling mansion in Delhi where they were senior contractors and builders of Delhi’s new Imperial Capital. Singh’s family was also from Sargodha – Hadali, a village located to the west of Sargodha near Salt Range. Deep was proud to have been taught at Kinnaird and even after migrating to Delhi in 1947, remained an integral part of a close circle of young girls who had been at Kinnaird before the partition of the Punjab.
Her father Harbans Singh was a Unionist and a supporter of the Raj. He had contributed a lot for the military recruitment during the World War I. He received a sanad (certificate) and was awarded an OBE for service during the third Anglo-Afghan campaign, 1919. As an activist of social service, he believed that the British presence was beneficial for the development of the Punjab. He helped establish the first female hospital in 1938 inaugurated by Sir HD Craik, the then governor of the Punjab. This hospital is still serving the community in and around Sargodha.
Besides a history of causes, events and repercussions, it might be interesting to read an account of what the people went through in those arduous days, a history of emotions.
The political scene became difficult right after the end of World War II. The revolutionary temperature in the Punjab had risen right after the Jallianwala Bagh Incident (1919) and kept on rising. In February 1947, British PM Attlee announced Mountbatten’s appointment as the last of King’s representatives in India and promised that British rule would end no later than June 1948. Congress demanded that Muslim League members be dismissed from the Interim Government while Muslim League resolved to dislodge the Unionist Government in the Punjab. In June, Mountbatten presented, what is termed as a partition plan, to Nehru, Jinnah and Baldev Singh. On June 3, in a Radio address, Mountbatten brought forward the date of British withdrawal from June 1948 to August 15, 1947. This had cataclysmic effects on what followed in coming months in India and particularly in the Punjab, depicted vividly in Khushwant Singh’s powerful novel Train to Pakistan. “The fact is, both sides killed. Both shot and stabbed and speared and clubbed. Both tortured. Both raped.”
On being asked by Wheeler if there were any possessions that she left behind in Sargodha, Deep recounts, “On my fourteenth birthday, so that would have been November 1946, I was given a wonderful present. It was a bicycle. It was unusual for a girl to have one, but I had pestered and pestered my father until he gave in. I was sad I only had it for such a short time. In Delhi I never had a bicycle.” Besides the history of causes, events and repercussions, it would be interesting to read a history of emotions – an account of what the people went through in those arduous days.
The earlier books written on Sargodha include Prof Sahibzada Abdur Rasul’s History of Sargodha that mentions Chanchal Singh to have been the only pe3rson murdered in Sargodha. It does not go much into detail about what had happened to the deceased.
Wheeler’s book is a wonderful contribution to the existing knowledge as it provides a window to a previously hazy picture of the level of unrest in and around Sargodha during the partition days.
My Mother, India and Partition of the Punjab
Author: Marina Wheeler
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
The reviewer is the head of History Department at the University of Sargodha. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @AbrarZahoor1 The Lost Homestead