Excerpt of the Rev. H. Nigel Fox Jr. Travel Journal – Circa 1945
ENTRY 40 — The Seven Angels
Lahore was the most marvellous city the world has ever known. In truth, it was that magnificent pearl in the Royal Crown of Empire: a metropolis rich in culture, art and music, tied together with a certain prosperity. The Old Fort, the Badshahi Mosque, the Hindu temples, the Cathedrals and churches, each glorious in their own way.
Above all, Lahore had been a city of love and peace. The population was forty-nine per cent Muslim, forty per cent Hindu, ten per cent Sikh, and one per cent Christian, yet the various groups functioned in harmony. All loved to talk religion and philosophy well into the wee hours of the morning. Educational standards were high, as high as anywhere in the Empire. Lahore was our jewel of the world – I could not in my heart believe what Enoch was saying!
An Evil Tension
As the train neared Lahore, one could sense a difference. There was something wrong. The behaviour of the people was unusual. They gazed upon the world with vacuous stares. In the train stations along the way it was more pronounced: no laughter, no gaiety, no outward emotion, just a powerful hatred lurking below the surface – an evil tension, as it were. Incredibly, the quietness had the effect of silencing even those selling chai and samosas. The eerie stillness caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand up.
In the countryside there was a massive migration unlike anything humanity has ever seen. As prophesied, great multitudes were emigrating to the south. Another pathetic hoard was moving north. Herds, great herds of persons as far as the eye could see. One felt there was something terribly, terribly wrong.
When we pulled into the station at Lahore, many of the platforms were stained dark red with blood. Everywhere was the sickening smell of death and the buzzing sound of swarms of flies. I spied Enoch on the platform, and was shocked at his changed appearance.
Visiting Mary in the hospital, I sat sobbing and praying with a feeling of total helplessness. Later, when I had finally pulled myself together I spoke to the chap who was the chief of police and to others at the Punjab Club, as well as to the Bishop. The entire city seemed to be in the grip of fear and hate. The situation was so dreadful that it is almost impossible to describe with words, but I shall do my best.
During the time I was a guest at the Ashram of Charity, it had been decided that Britain would grant independence to India. The country would be divided or partitioned into two new nations. The Muslims would possess ‘Pakistan’ and the Hindus would receive ‘Hindustan’ (which would be called India). The Mahatma was horrified at this carving up of the country, explaining that it would result in great death and destruction. He pointed out that Muslims were in a majority on two separate ends of the country, and that throughout India there were some Muslims and some Hindus in almost every village. For the first time, everyone refused to heed the warning of their beloved Messiah.
Bapu argued vehemently with the Viceroy, with the head of the Indian Congress Party, and with the leader of the Muslim League. They all remained unmoved. Bapu even offered himself for vivisection rather than his people, but nothing touched the hearts of his countrymen now that the sweet taste of power was at hand.
The task of splitting India was enormous. Each and every item had to be divided: not only the land and people, but bank accounts, record books, even government furniture. The civil servants were separated, one group being shunted off to what would be Pakistan, the other to posts in India.
More disastrous than the division of the civil service was that of the Indian armed forces. Everything from tanks to tunics to Englishmen had to be portioned out fairly. The results were often ludicrous. When the Rajputana Rifles regiment was divided, those who stayed in India got all the rifles, while those soldiers who went to Pakistan were given the bullets, the rationale being that bullets were easier to transport. Only Bapu was pleased, saying it was one small step in the direction of non-violence.
The Heart of a Lion
The Indian Messiah had to be one of the most fascinating characters in the whole bloody mess. Even the British Viceroy conceded that he had succumbed to Bapu’s spell. The Mahatma had pocketed the insult of having his advice regarding partition rejected, and accepted an invitation to name the first Governor General of India.
After a warm introduction filled with Bapu’s ‘plucky’ humour, he amazed everyone when he asked, on behalf of the Congress Party, that the British Viceroy himself be the first Governor General of an independent India. Tears welled up in the eyes of the tall, handsome cousin to the King. His upper lip quivered a bit: the new Governor General was clearly touched.
The Mahatma was unlike any other person. The British, represented by the Viceroy, had beaten him, jailed him, mocked him and degraded him in every way during the struggle for independence, yet there was enough love in him to invite His Majesty’s Viceroy to be Governor General. Moved by the Great Soul in his presence, the Viceroy accepted the offer.
Then, to the Viceroy’s chagrin, Bapu continued his little speech: “It will be a most challenging undertaking, for it is of the greatest importance that a good Christian example be set. I humbly suggest your Excellency move from the Viceroy’s Palace to a simple dwelling. Jesus used to say we must not be like the kings of this world and lord power and authority over the people. We must serve as He served. There can be no trace of materialism. Every Indian leader must rid himself of servants, expensive food and decadent living. And, as a Christian gentleman of education and breeding, we will turn to you as our example.”
All focused on the Viceroy. It was as though he had just been asked to rake and clean his own latrine (which was not far from the truth). He stood graciously, then laughed out loud. “I feel as though His Majesty’s Viceroy, relative of the King, has been invited to be India’s first socialist. Yet, how can I publicly reject Christ?” he asked, smiling at the Holy One before him. “I am honoured to accept this most gracious offer.”
When the Viceroy sat down, he whispered to his aide (who was still in a state of shock at the thought of the Viceroy sweeping out his own little cottage): “He might appear like a little sparrow, but he has the heart of a lion. That little fellow is unlike any man I have ever known.”
Lahore and Calcutta were the areas of greatest tension, for the Punjab and Bengal provinces had been slated for bisection. At first the killings had been isolated. However, the situation deteriorated when a couple of Sikh and Brahmin fanatics cut down a Muslim League banner, screaming, “Death to Pakistan! Death to Allah!”
The Muslims were quick to reply to the insult. Over fifty Sikhs and Hindus were brutally murdered. The madness had started. Then the Brahmin class cried out for justice: such murders must be avenged! So it went – as more people were murdered, there were more cries for vengeance. Bapu put it this way: “An eye for an eye, leaving everyone blind.”
The Mahatma spoke out for love and forgiveness, but his words fell on deaf ears. Even the Congress Party was beginning to turn on him. They rejected the flag he designed, putting forward the flag of cosmic order, using the symbol of the conquering Hindu warrior of old, the ‘dharma chakra.’ A solemn Bapu resisted, stating, “No matter how artistic and beautiful such a flag might be, I could never salute a flag whose message was not truth and love.”
It seemed that only India’s Messiah had any comprehension of the true dimensions of the tragedy that lay ahead. Spending so much time with the people, he sensed their mood, their sorrow, and now their growing need for ‘justice’.
Soon the Viceroy (now GG) began to fathom what the Mahatma had foreseen: Lahore and Calcutta were moving toward a nightmare of civil violence and death unparalleled in human history. The ‘sparrow with the heart of a lion’ was approached by the Viceroy, who explained how desperate the situation had become. He proposed to Bapu that a boundary force of about 60,000 men could keep the peace in the Punjab, but he would need at lease five times that number to keep order in Calcutta.
“The fruit of partition,” observed Bapu dryly.
“A bitter fruit, indeed,” replied the Viceroy. “I can pull together a boundary force of close to 60,000 and keep order in the Punjab.”
“But what will you do about Calcutta?” questioned India’s Mahatma.
“I propose to send you. Has not India’s Messiah always argued that one man committed to love and non-violence is worth a thousand men of violence? Here is your chance to practice what you preach.”
“Your arithmetic leaves something to be desired.”
The Viceroy then moved closer to the old man who was looking visibly weary. “In truth, I have more faith in you than all the armies of the world!”
151 Beliaghata Road
The Mahatma did not respond to the British Viceroy’s proposal immediately. He spent his time praying and fasting in Noakhali. It was there that he was visited by one of the most corrupt members of the Muslim League. He also had the blood of many Hindus on his hands. It was this swine of a man who came to the Mahatma for help, saying, “If you do not come to Calcutta, thousands of Muslims will die.”
One of Bapu’s most noteworthy traits was that he had the ability to love the meanest creature in all creation as himself. He told the man, “If you and your Muslim followers pledge the safety of the Hindu minority here in Noakhali, I will do as you ask. Also, you must stay by my side in Calcutta, living with me night and day with the poor – unarmed, prepared to join me in the ultimate sacrifice if called upon.”
And so it came to pass that the Viceroy’s ‘One-Man Boundary Force’ entered the slums of Calcutta. It was to take up position among the poorest of the poor. The area was a fetid, vile, horror of filth and stench. The drinking water was contaminated with rotting corpses. Disease was rampant among the half-million starving beggars, lepers, and walking dead, who seemed to be in a state of decomposition even before they had fallen over. Open sewers, garbage, faeces, urine, rats and flies added to the ambience. Cockroaches moved carefully, for fear they would be eaten by the starving masses.
The worst poison arising from the open sore on the face of humanity was the violence. A man would kill for a crust of bread, a mother would trade her baby for a handful of rice, a husband would sell the favours of his wife for a cold samosa. Goondas roamed the streets with knives and clubs in search of victims.
Slowly heading toward151 Beliaghata Road was a dilapidated, pre-war Chevrolet automobile. In the back seat sat the Viceroy’s Boundary Force. Bapu, seeing a Christian chapel, asked to be let out for a moment to pray. In the chapel was a solitary nun, pondering her calling. “My child,” he told her, “in this life most of us are unable to accomplish great things. But we are all able to do small things with great love. It is our service that is important to God.” He then returned to the Chevrolet.
The headquarters and base of operations for the Boundary Force was at 151 Beliaghata Road, located in one of the worst parts of Calcutta. The Mahatma’s welcome was organised by a mob of pathetic creatures, faces contorted with hate and despair. Most were Hindus who had lost some loved one in the unrest. They shouted and jeered, “Death to the Mahatma” – “Bapu the Traitor” – “Save Hindus: Not Muslims!” Rocks and bottles showered down upon the automobile. The driver slid down behind the dashboard in terror.
Slowly, the back door of the motorcar opened. A bony, sandal-clad foot emerged, sinking into the thick mud and filth. Out came the other foot and his walking stick, as the seventy-eight year old figure raised himself from the car seat. Moving into a hail of projectiles, this frail creature, armed only with the love of God, approached the frenzied mob.
One hand clutching his wooden staff, the other gripping his shawl, he confronted the people, saying firmly, “Peace be with you.” Then he pressed his hands together in the traditional greeting, the walking stick almost falling from his grip.
At the sight of India’s king of kings, everyone was silent, motionless. “You wish me ill,” he said gently, “and so I am coming to you! I plan to be of service to both Muslims and Hindus. I am placing myself under your protection. And if you go mad and murder me, I will take solace in that I will no longer have to witness the wave of insanity that is destroying you.”
He continued: “How can I, a Hindu by birth who has shown great love for you, be your enemy? Have I ever, in my almost eighty years, shown by word or by deed anything but love for all of you?”
Simple logic prevailed and the Boundary Force was set up in its base of operations. Peace became widespread. It was short-lived. When the leader of the local Muslim League arrived to remain by Bapu’s side as promised, the mob went crazy. The most-hated of Muslims had arrived, and was prepared to live in their midst.
Mob or no mob, nothing could stop the Mahatma when the hour for prayer arrived. Aided by two young ladies, whom he referred to as his ‘crutches,’ he made his way to an open area behind the ramshackle dwelling. Over five thousand people joined him, and calm seemed to prevail. People waited eagerly for him to preach. The ‘gospel’ was heard once again; those gathered from the media would see that it reached all of India. More powerful than an atomic bomb were the words of India’s Messiah.
“I ask you to join me in a day of prayer and fasting. Focus on God, loving and forgiving one another. Pray that we may be delivered from disaster.”
At that moment an amazing metanoia began. A supernatural peace descended, first on the slums, then spreading throughout Calcutta and Bengal. Muslims and Hindus began to forgive one another. Hindus invited Muslims into their homes for tea. Mosques opened their doors to Hindus, and hated enemies began to pray, side by side. The goondas, both Hindu and Muslim, threw down their weapons and embraced each other. A procession of Hindus and Muslims marched through the streets of Calcutta to Bapu’s residence, united in brotherly love. The miracle of Calcutta had begun.
The miracle of Calcutta