The End of the Raj
By the end of 1946, it was becoming obvious that we may be presiding over
the end of the Raj. Jinnah had declared a "Direct Action" day, a
call to Muslims to riot to show their frustrations with negotiation. Riots were breaking out all over India. Marches were a
fact of life in Ajmer. The safe town of my youth was now filling up with
“foreigners”, mostly Punjabis. Atlee was elected in Britain and the old reactionary
imperialist Churchill was out. Atlee was committed to an appropriate
transformation of the British Empire. Jinnah was holding out for a separate
country for Muslims if Britain pulled out. He claimed that a tyranny of
Hindus would be much worse than a tyranny of Englishmen and threatened
massive rioting if the British pulled out without providing a separate
“Pakistan”. Gandhi was attempting to quiet the masses being inflamed by
Jinnah and by some of the Congress party.
After the failure of several British and Indian working groups to agree,
Atlee in desperation asked the King to send out his cousin Lord Mountbatten
of Burma to create a miracle. Mountbatten had been the Supreme Commander of
British Forces in the East during WWII with headquarters in Delhi. He and in
particular his wife Edwina had made many friends in India including the
Nehru family. Mountbatten accepted the assignment after arm twisting by the
King and came out to India in March of1947.
Nehru and Gandhi and the Congress party desperately wanted an undivided
India. But Jinnah and the Muslim League wanted a separate country for Muslims, and
fomenting riots to pressure Mountbatten to agree to the partition of India
along religious lines.
The deterioration in British forces in India during WWII now made it
impossible to run the country without massive reinforcements from Britain.
Mountbatten was being warned by the British government officials in India,
that British power could not maintain peace in India. In fact
the Viceroy Lord Wavell had drawn up a plan to evacuate the British forces
and government officials in India, hand over power to a make shift Indian
group, and make a run for home. This is essentially what the British forces
had done in Singapore as the Japanese forces invaded in WWII, and is
precisely what they did later in Palestine when they left in 1948.
Atlee and Mountbatten were horrified with this planned scuttling of the
Britain, exhausted and financially ruined by WWII was in no mood to get
entangled in another military adventure. Under pressures from all
sides, and seeing no way out, Mountbatten agreed to partition India into two
countries. To everyone’s surprise, Mountbatten announced in June
1947, that India would declare Independence in August 1947 barely six weeks
later. India the fabled land of the Greeks, the Persians, the Romans, the
Muslims and the Europeans was to be dismembered along sectarian lines. The
animosities created by the divide and rule policy practiced by Britain
during the previous 200 years, together with the intransigence of Jinnah and
the inflexibility of Congress was now too strong to overcome.
Sir Cyril Radcliffe whose main qualifications were a reputation for rigid impartiality
and complete ignorance of India was tasked to draw the line dividing up the
land of two people who had lived together for 700 years. He completed the
job in six weeks. Independence was declared on August 15, 1947, a month before my fourteenth birthday.
There was no rejoicing in my community.
In the end, the very thing that Mountbatten feared, happened, in spades.
The biggest migration in the history of the world took place as terrified
Hindus trekked across the desert eastwards, and equally terrified Muslims
trekked westwards. No one knows how many people were killed, the rough
estimates put the number in the region of 500,000 to 1,000,000 -- all in
individual killings. These were not faceless enemy who were bombed from 30,000
feet. Mostly they were knifed and burned to death in small numbers. The
number of people displaced was in the tens of millions.
In August of 1947 the blood bath accelerated. Civil society broke down.
The railway system was a nightmare. Trains from the East would arrive in
India with hundreds of Hindus massacred as they fled Pakistan. Trains from
India arrived in Pakistan in the same condition. Ajmer was on one of
the main lines from Pakistan. Ajmer railway station was a refuge for
the poor souls from Pakistan who had no where else to go. We avoided train travel and in fact
avoided the railway station. I saw trains reputedly full of dead
people, but I only ever saw a couple of dead people, stabbed to death.
Millions of people formed
miles of human misery as they trudged across the Thar Desert and the Punjab
passing each other and attempting to avoid the armed gangs who were crazy
with killing. A blood lust seemed to grip the country. Nehru requested
Mountbatten take command of the country. Most of the English troops and
police had gone home. The madness continued for about a year.
Meanwhile Anglo Indian social life in Ajmer continued pretty much as it always did. We
kept having dances at the club. School continued. I finished my
"Junior Cambridge" in December 1948 with excellent results. Friends
visited each other. There was much talk about which families were
leaving and where they were going. Houses in the railway colony began
continued to sing in Dad’s band. Except for a fateful Friday night.
It was on January 30th 1948 when I was on my way to the club on my bike that
we got word that Gandhi had been killed. The dance was cancelled.
I later attended a funeral March in Ajmer in his honor. I still
remember exactly where I was when I heard of Mahatma Gandhi's death. I
still remember exactly where I was when I heard President Kennedy was
Victoria Railway Station
Gateway to India
Portion of Suez Canal
My mother had started agitating to leave India sometime before we actually
left. I don’t remember when she started, but she was quite vocal by about
early 1947. The problem we faced was who would accept the family.
As usual, the
British were making up the rules as they went along. Ad Hocracy has no
finer exponent than a British ICS officer. The Commonwealth
countries suddenly became skittish about accepting immigrants from India as
they saw the chaos in India unfolding.
By mid 1947 as I approached my 14th birthday, the flight of “Europeans” like
us to get out of India had begun in earnest. Uncle Jack Blanchette, the police
sergeant in Calcutta left for Australia with his family in 1947. When my
father tried to get an entry permit for Australia a year later, a “White
Australia” policy was being enforced and we were denied an entry permit.
Chappy left for Canada in 1948. Mother’s sister Vera and her family left
for England in 1948. Our family left in 1949. All the rest of my mother's
and father's siblings had left for the UK, Canada or Australia by 1951.
Sometime in 1949 my parents were able to satisfy the requirements for going
to England, and we started making our plans. I was devastated.
The last thing I wanted to do was to leave India and go to a strange land
which, I suspected, had little use for our family. In retrospect, a
combination of teenage angst and anger created a very unhappy young man.
I started to talk about us being DP’s (Displaced Persons), a common
acronym then for the tens of millions displaced by WWII and the partition of
Dad got his pension from the railway, we sold our furniture and set off for
Bombay by train. The parting from the servants was heartbreaking. In
particular our bearer, a simple young villager from a local village, was just
desolate. He ran alongside the train with tears streaming down his face
refusing to believe we were leaving, as the train steamed out of the
station. The departure of "Europeans" was terribly hard on the
servants. There was nothing necessarily servile about their
livelihood. They and several generations before them had learned a
craft and performed it with pride and suddenly the world had no use for
We took the train from Ajmer and arrived at the Victoria railway station in
Bombay. Victoria station was constructed in the days of monumental
railway stations. It was meant to impress and it does! If
you click on the photo on the left you will get a better view of its
We stayed in a hotel in Bombay -- I forget which one. I believe this is the first time we
had been in a hotel. I did not eat in a restaurant until I was about
18 except for this trip.
We boarded the P&O
liner SS Stratheden near
the "Gateway to India" on October 20, 1949. The voyage had originated in Sydney
and the ship was full of Australians. Several Anglo Indian families boarded
the ship in Bombay.
Perhaps it was my mood at the time but the Australians appeared to be quite
obnoxious. My attitude probably was not helped by the refusal of
Australia to accept our family a few months earlier. At one of the dances several days into the voyage, one of the
young Australian men began being rude to the Anglo Indian girls, and I told
him to knock it off or words to that effect. He challenged me to a fight,
and we met in one of the holds of the ship. The hold had a metal bottom. I
think it took about 30 seconds and he lay bleeding on the floor and refused
to get up. He had hit the metal deck with some force, and I was afraid
he had been really hurt. Not a good start to a new life! Somehow the ships purser
(an Englishman) got
wind of it and asked me to come and see him. To my intense relief he
congratulated me and said the young Australian had been a nuisance since he
boarded in Sydney and he felt sure he would not be a problem any
more! Score one for the Brits!
Our first stop was Aden where we were able to leave the ship and see the
town. Walking along the street, I saw one of my teachers from St
George’s. The ubiquity of Church and Empire!. Apparently the
Patrician Brothers had a school in Aden, and he had been posted to that
school. Next stop was Port Said on the edge of the Suez Canal.
The Suez Canal was exciting. The ship slowly cruises along, and beside
the ship a few yards away at the same level, camel caravans pass the ship!
At least they used to. I suspect that time has long gone.
The entire trip through from Bombay through the Mediterranean was quiet until we passed Gibraltar.
Then we hit the Bay of Biscay. It was cold and wet and rough, and I got
terribly seasick. We arrived in the English Channel in the rain and fog.
There was no “White Cliffs of Dover” romantic stuff. It was grey and cold
and unwelcoming. On Guy Fawkes day, we disembarked at Tilbury Docks, a
few miles from the East India Docks where Blanchette and Roberts had started
the journey a century and a half before. We were met by my Aunt Vera
and we were off to Ealing, London. Another Beginning.........
On to Life_in_the_Plains.htm
Table of Contents | Preface | An Indian Childhood | Genealogy | Colonialism and The Raj
[An Indian Childhood] [Ajmer 1933_1940] [Ajmer 1933-1940 Continurd] [Mhow 1940-1945] [Ajmer 1945_49] [Leaving India] [Life iin the Plains] [Life in the Hills]