By S Khalid Husain
‘Packard’! the cry would go up, and we would rush to the roadside as Jinnah’s yellow Packard glided by with him, immaculately turned out as always, in the backseat.
This was New Delhi in early 1947, and the place: the India Gate grounds – where we played cricket every evening. We, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim schoolboys from St Columbus, would prance and frolic, as Jinnah watched with half-amused smile. His finger would then rise to his lips and the prancing and frolicking would immediately cease.
Early 1947 was the period Mountbatten had just become viceroy, and was ‘waging’ negotiations with Congress and Muslim League leaders at a hectic pace. Jinnah’s Packard would often be seen driving to, or from, the Vice Regal lodge, the viceroy’s residence, as would also Liaquat Ali Khan’s black Mercury, or Nehru’s limousine. We would rush to the roadside every time any one of these cars was spotted and, frankly, not too respectfully, prance and frolic. Jinnah raising his finger to his lips would silence us, Liaquat Ali Khan gave us what clearly was a ‘not amused’ stare, Nehru would put on his famous faraway look, as if we were not there.
In school there were hardly any political or religious divisions amongst students, we treated the ongoing political happenings as a fun thing, and carried on with our games and pranks. Our class teacher, a Brother Watts, was a competent boxer in his days, and seemed determined to raise a future boxing champion from his class. Almost every Saturday morning, a school holiday, he would hold sparring workouts for students he felt had the makings of a future ‘champion’, my friend Iqbal Singh and I, amongst them.
One Saturday, when Brother Watts had scheduled my bout with Iqbal Singh, Jinnah was also to meet Mountbatten, and arrive at the Vice Regal lodge at about the same time as the bout. I spoke to Iqbal Singh, and he seemed to share my anxiety. ‘Look’ I told Iqbal Singh, ‘you hit me first thing in the first round and I will drop and act knocked out, then I can cycle fast and just make it in time to greet Jinnah.’ Iqbal Singh readily agreed, but only if it was him who would drop, and act knocked out.
As the bout commenced, without waiting for the customary touching of gloves with the opponent, I swung, and am quite certain I did not even connect, but there was Iqbal Singh on the floor, ‘groggy’ and about to ‘pass out’. Before Brother Watts could think through what happened, Iqbal Singh and I were on our bicycles, peddling as fast as we could for the viceroy’s house.
When Iqbal Singh and I arrived at the gate of the viceroy’s house, there were fifty or more Muslims from the nearby secretariat there to cheer Jinnah. If they were puzzled to see a Sikh lad arrive pedalling furiously to take his place with them, they did not show it. Soon the famous yellow Packard, with Jinnah in the back, arrived. A loud cheer of zindabad went up, with Iqbal Singh jumping up with me to shout the loudest. We pushed our way forward, and Iqbal Singh’s and my face were pressed against the rear window of the Packard. Jinnah was salaaming the people surrounding his car until he spotted Iqbal Singh, just for a flicker, and I felt, his hand stopped where it was, and his gaze fixed on the Sikh lad jumping the highest, and shouting the loudest, before he resumed acknowledging the cheers.
Cycling back from our game one evening, a group of us mixed Hindu, Sikh, Muslim friends on impulse, rode into Jinnah’s house, No 10 Aurangzeb Road, and knocked on the front door. It was opened by, who I later found out, was Nawab Siddiq Ali Khan, the Salar-e-Ala of the Muslim League National Guards. He was most gracious, and informed us Jinnah would have been delighted to meet with us, if he were not busy in another meeting. I am not sure if Nawab Sahib offered us refreshments, or asked that we call again, but I doubt that he did.
In August, 1947 we moved to Karachi, where we lived in a house where the present Kashif Centre, on Daudpota Road, stands. Down the road, towards the Cantonment railway station, lived Chaudhry Mohammed Ali, Mohammed Shoaib, Iskander Mirza, some of the other top civil servants, and the British Commander-in-Chief of the then Royal Pakistan Air Force. There was fairly regular traffic of flag cars on the road, both of local dignitaries and diplomats.
In the evenings, after cricket in the field which is now the hockey stadium, we hung around at the gate of our house. Someone from the group would yell ‘Taxi, stop,’ every time a flag car drove past. The driver would look embarrassed, and the worthy in the backseat, not exactly pleased. Once an impressive-looking car but with no flag drove by, and one of us shouted ‘Taxi, stop,’ the car stopped. As we approached it, we saw Jinnah and Miss Fatima Jinnah in the backseat. We just stood and gaped, Jinnah had a slight smile as the car moved on.
One other time in the late evening a big black car with a flag drove up, as usual the cry of ‘Taxi, stop’ went up. The car stopped, it began to reverse, the door opened, and out stepped a tall impressive figure in full mess kit, ribbons and all. “Did someone want a taxi’? the figure enquired, it was Air Vice Marshal Artcherly, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Pakistan Air Force.
The C-in-C chatted with us for quite a while, convincing some to join the University Air Squadron, a scheme he had launched to make university students air-minded. Some from the group did join the University Air Squadron, going on to RPAF College in Risalpur, and a few to the RAF College in Cranwell, UK. They made good fighter pilots, at least two rising to be Air Marshals, and one to Air Vice Marshal.
The writer is a former corporate executive. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org