Surviving the tough times of Partition

My father, Rajendra Prakash Kakkar, was all of 16 in 1947, when India’s partition unleashed chaos, and displaced countless families. His parents, three brothers, four sisters, a sister-in-law, and a niece, embarked on a treacherous journey from Sialkot (in present Pakistan) to India, enduring unimaginable hardships. They traveled partly in overcrowded trains and partly on foot. After reaching Kashmir, they set out for Jammu in India by foot, through the woods. At the time, there were no connecting roads or trains between Kashmir and the rest of India. They faced freezing temperatures, walked for miles, and braved the hostile terrain in search of safety. The journey was fraught with uncertainty, scarcity of food, and constant threats to their lives. On reaching Jammu, the family traveled by train to Patna in Bihar, where they found refuge in a camp. They were penniless at that point.

Calm amidst the storm

Over a million people died during the partition. The lucky ones, like my father’s family, who got a second shot at life, had indelible psychological scars from the experience. I can only imagine how my teenage father may have coped with the violence and destruction around him. But to us, he was a pillar of strength and poise. Even when he recounted stories from the wretched saga of partition, he did so without any bitterness or hatred, always with a smile on his face, and would blame no one for the miseries. He had a calmness about him, and never expressed regret for his family losses during partition. 

Papa, my father, always conveyed a feeling of eternal optimism. Setbacks never unsettled him. I learned from him to accept my circumstances; getting all worked up when things don’t go my way does not help resolve a difficult situation.

Family First

Papa realized early in life that only hard work could lift a family out of its misery. With an unwavering positive outlook on life, he started attending high school. To pay for his expenses, he sold candies on trains. He studied during the evenings and nights and managed to keep up his grades in school. 

After graduating from an engineering college in Patna, he found a job as a civil engineer in the eastern city of Shillong. Not one to celebrate his new-found freedom, Papa would send most of his earnings home to his parents. Even after he married my mother and started his own family, half of his earnings went to his parents.

The Pain of Partition 

The trauma of partition took a heavy toll on Papa’s family. My grandfather could never recover from the shock of losing a prosperous life in Sialkot and of being reduced to penury overnight. He fell ill and was bedridden until he passed away at a relatively young age, leaving my father to shoulder a large part of the family’s financial burden since he was the most educated.

One of Papa’s younger sisters developed epileptic seizures. Her husband often sent her to our home for extended periods for my parents to take care of her. She died from an alleged kitchen accident at her husband’s house, leaving my father heartbroken. 

Scarred by the trauma of partition, two more of Papa’s younger sisters started showing signs of epilepsy. One of them died inexplicably and the other went missing shortly after her husband died in a scooter accident. 

Amidst all of this turmoil and heartbreak,  Papa remained calm, composed, and a rock for the family. Both my parents never complained to us (I have a younger sister and brother) about their challenges and gave us the very best that they could afford, a solid education being one among them.

Stand up for what’s right

This is a tinted photo of Rajendra Kakkar posing at his residence. (Photo courtesy: Sunil Kakkar)
Rajendra Kakkar at his residence. (Photo courtesy: Sunil Kakkar)

Papa always stood up for what was right and did not hesitate to aid the wronged. He never lost his sense of fairness, no matter how tense the situation. 

One such incident left an indelible impression on my mind. In the industry township where we lived in Ranchi, we would watch Bollywood movies in an open-air theater. One evening, a quarrel erupted between some volunteers who were manning the entrance to the park and college students who insisted on watching the film for free. The volunteers, who were around my father’s age, stopped the students from entering without tickets. After the show ended around 10 pm and everyone was returning home, the miffed students came back on motorcycles with more of their friends and attacked some of the volunteers with sticks. Everyone watched, but no one came to their rescue until my father jumped into the fight and warned the students to back off. Others finally joined him, and the students beat a hasty retreat. 

Many among those watching identified the parents of one of the students. They started forming a mob to go and dishonor the aged parents of the student. Again, my father jumped in and took a stand that the parents should not be punished for their son’s actions. Later, when this erring student came to know about how Papa had come to the rescue of his parents, he fell at my father’s feet and asked for his forgiveness, promising never to keep bad company again. 

You don’t need much to be generous

In this photo, Rajendra Prakash Kakkar (right) 
and his wife are seated on a bench, posing n front of the Taj Mahal in 2015.  (Photo courtesy Sunil Kakkar)
Rajendra Prakash Kakkar with his wife at the Taj Mahal in 2015. (Photo courtesy Sunil Kakkar)

Despite financial constraints, my father’s generosity knew no bounds. He never hesitated to lend a helping hand to those in need. Whether it was mentoring aspiring engineers when he was the honorary secretary of the Institution of Engineers, or supporting various community initiatives, his commitment to uplifting others was unwavering. As his children, we were fortunate to witness his acts of kindness and learn the importance of giving back. 

As Papa rose in his career, retiring as a general manager of a major public sector enterprise,  he continued to make charitable donations to local hospitals and temples, until he passed on at the age of 90. 

After my mother passed away a few years before he did, Papa immersed himself in community work. We found out later that a few months before he died, his doctor had informed him that several of his arteries were blocked, but he could not be operated on because of his advanced age. He did not inform any of us and continued to live his life normally.  He bought his own groceries and ran his own errands. Sometimes he ran errands for us as well! The day before he passed on, he enjoyed himself at the beach with my younger brother and his family.

Throughout his life, my father exemplified courage, resilience, and utter grace in the face of adversity. I learned from him that in tremendous challenges, we can find hope, perseverance, and the strength to give selflessly. Today, I try to live by his example and strive to embody those qualities, knowing that they are the true markers of a meaningful life.

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Sunil Kakkar, an IITK computer engineer by profession, spends his fun time “Romancing The Degchi©™” as it’s Chef De Passion and writing shayari/poetry emanating from “Suneel Ke Dil Se”....