Papaji Rescues His Family

I went to the station and bought a ticket for my home town. I found a seat in a nearly empty carriage, put my bags there and went outside to have a drink at the platform tea stall.

Surprised at finding the train so empty, I asked one of the passers-by, ‘What’s going on? Why is the train so empty?’

He gave me the reason. ‘The Hindus are not travelling any more. They are afraid to go anywhere by train because they are in the minority here. So many train passengers are being murdered, no one wants to travel that way any more.’

In those violent days Hindus and Muslims were travelling in separate carriages so they could protect each other in case there was any trouble. The nearly empty carriages I was looking at were those occupied by Hindus.

And then an inner voice, the voice of my Master, said to me, ‘Go and sit with the Muslims in their compartment. Nothing will happen to you there.’

Superficially it seemed like a good idea, but I had doubts about my ability to fool my Muslim fellow-passengers into believing that I was one of them. In addition to being dressed very differently, my ears had been pierced, something Muslims don’t do. I also had a highly visible ‘Om’ tattooed on the back of one of my hands. I came from a community of brahmin Hindus which thought that all Muslims were polluted and impure because they ate beef. Anyone who wanted to come into our house had to show the back of his hand first. All the local Hindus had an ‘Om’ tattooed there; the Muslims did not. The Hindus were allowed in; the Muslims were excluded.

I listened to the voice and took my seat with the Muslims. No one objected or questioned my right to be there. We chatted with each other about mundane things and when they occasionally broke out with chants of ‘Kill the Hindus! Kill the Hindus!’ I joined in. Somewhere in the countryside the train was stopped by Muslims and all the passengers in the Hindu carriages were gunned down. No one paid any attention to me, even though, to my own eyes at least, I was clearly a Hindu.

I disembarked from the train when it reached Lyalpur and took a tonga from the station, but when I discovered that the driver was a Muslim, I didn’t dare tell him where I lived. Instead of asking him to take me to Guru Nanak Pura, the place where my parents lived, I told him to drop me at Islam Pura. I walked the last mile to my house through deserted streets. When I reached my home it was locked and barred, like all the other houses in the area. I knocked loudly but nobody answered. Eventually my father appeared on the roof, demanding to know who I was.

‘It’s your “Harbans!’ I called back. ‘Can’t you see? Don’t you recognise my voice?’ [Harbans is the name by which Papaji’s parents used to address him.]

He identified me and showed his astonishment at my return. He knew that my family obligations had never rated highly in my priorities.

‘What have you come back for?’ he asked, somewhat incredulously. ‘The Punjab is burning. Hindus are being murdered everywhere. Anyway, how did you get here? Are the trains still running?’

‘Yes,’ I called back, ‘the trains are still running. That’s how I got here.’

“My father thought for a while before coming to a major decision.

‘In that case,’ he said, ‘you must take the family out of the Punjab and get them settled somewhere in India. If the trains are still running, I can get railway passes for you all.’

During the discussions that followed, my father mentioned that the Deputy Commissioner of the district was an old army friend of mine. Since we both thought that he might be able to help us in some way, we went to see him the next day. I introduced my father to him and told him about our situation and our plans. He agreed to post a police guard outside our house to protect us from the looting gangs that were roaming the neighbourhood. As brahmin Hindus, we would be prime targets of gangs like these.

The following day, equipped with the relevant passes, I took thirty-four members of my family, virtually all of them women, out of western Punjab into India. During our trip we witnessed many killings. Up to Lahore, it was the Hindus who were being killed. After Lahore, it was the Sikhs who were killing the Muslims. There were horrible scenes everywhere.

The Maharshi had sent me to the Punjab to do my duty. That was typical of him because he never permitted his devotees to abandon their family responsibilities. Telling me, ‘I am with you wherever you are,’ he sent me off to fulfil my obligations.

When I first heard this remark, I only appreciated its philosophical significance. It did not occur to me that physically I would also be under his care and protection. Yet this was manifestly the case. He had told me where to sit on the train. For many hours after the massacre I had sat unrecognised in a Muslim carriage, despite having marks that identified me as a Hindu. In an environment of utter anarchy I had secured seats for a vast contingent of my family and got them out of danger on the last train that ever left Lahore for India. After Independence the cross-border railway lines were pulled up and the border itself was closed. The grace of the Master protected us and kept us all safe from harm.

I took my family to Lucknow because I had a friend there from my time in the army whom I knew I could rely on for help. For the first month we stayed with him in Naka Hindola, which is near Charbagh station, but it was much too crowded for both our families, so in September, 1947, I took all my relatives to a new house in Narhi. Even there it was very crowded: over thirty of us had to live in four rooms. This house was my permanent home for many years. One by one my relatives moved out to other houses and other towns, but I remained there with my family until 1990.

Excerpt From Nothing Ever Happened Volume One, pages 160-162
By David Godman