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Train to Multan— a journey with HT

india Updated: Jul 14, 2009 20:22 IST

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Gandhiji went on an indefinite fast in early 1943. My parents were both arrested in Delhi. My father was taken to Multan Jail, my mother to Lahore Jail. They never kept the prisoners in their own city because they might have contacts among prison staff.

Devdas Gandhi sent for me and said “Look, we want you to go to Multan (now in Pakistan) and somehow smuggle the news to the prisoners inside that Gandhiji is on a fast in Delhi and they could do a sympathetic fast to exert pressure.” I had never done a 54-hour journey by myself but I said, “Yes.” He gave me a note for a Congress leader/lawyer, Keval Krishan, but added, “It is likely that he is also under arrest.”

So I boarded the train and it went on forever. When it neared Multan, I got panicky. “If I land there and look lost, then the police will become suspicious.”

I decided I must confide in somebody. There was a tall young man in my compartment. I asked him where he was from. He said, Multan. I said, “I’m going to Multan, too.” Then he asked me the million-dollar question, “What are you going there for?”

So I told him, “Look, Gandhiji is on fast. I have been asked to give this news to the jailed freedom fighters. How do I contact them?” He said, “Don’t worry…we’ll see what we can do.” I trusted him. At that time the question of not trusting him did not arise.

We went to his home, a pavement dwelling. He said, “Mother, this friend will stay here.” So, as mothers are, she said, “First have a bath.” While I bathed, the boy went in search of Keval Krishan and was told by his assistant, “They’re being moved to Ferozepur jail. They have been taken to the railway station.” He came rushing home and I said I must go back to the station right away. At the station the porters said, “That is the jail train going to Ferozepur, it will go in four hours after it is linked with another train.” Then I thanked the boy, “Your mother is waiting. You have given me what I wanted.”

I then walked along the far side of the train. Suddenly, whom should I see at a window but my father! I stopped and wrote, “Gandhiji is on a fast. All of you must go on a sympathetic fast.” Just one line, and then I pushed the paper almost in his face and walked away.

When I walked by again after some time, I saw my father looking out for me. When I came near his window, he pushed the paper in my hand. It said, “Got the message.” Below that many of the Delhi prisoners in the train had written one line each for their families because they had been unable to communicate with them.

So I took that paper and walked away. The police were having tea, chitchat, on the platform, because it was a jail train and nobody could come out. I made one more round to see if they had more messages. My father pushed another paper in my hand. He spoke (for the first time): “Police ko shak ho gaya hai, bhaag jao.” (The police are getting suspicious, run away).

Then I made haste to reach Delhi and the HT office, to inform Devdas Gandhi. He was very happy and said, “Well done!”

(As told to Meher Ali)