Memories of Partition in Shimla

The temperature had dropped over the past few days. It was early January, and people were awaiting the first snowfall of the year. We made our way down the steep roads of Jakhu Hill and noticed the grey clouds hovering over Shimla. The shivering cold and grave atmosphere almost harkened back 78 years into the past, when Shimla was the seat of a fateful decision for the partition that took a toll on two nations. 

Entry gate of Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla

When we crossed Mall Road, we hailed a ride on a mini-bus. The closely arranged seats carried many local people donning Kullu caps and shawls. The stuffy air inside the bus took away the shivers for a while. The sun tried to claw through cracks in the clouds and occasionally reflected in somebody’s eyes. Our bodies shook and rose from the seats as the vehicle wound through the steep road and took sharp turns. Before long, it stopped at a crossing, and the driver announced that we had arrived at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study.

We treaded through the entrance gates and walked up a road lined by pine and cedar trees. As the institute came into view, it seemed like we had teleported to a different time and space. The regal structure reeked of European royalty. It had light blue-grey stone masonry and tiled pitch roofing. The English Renaissance and elements of castles of the Scottish Highlands lent inspiration to the style of architecture.

Formerly the viceregal lodge, the institute housed several Viceroys of colonial India, beginning with Lord Dufferin (1884-1888) and his wife. We walked noisily on the pebbled path winding through the English garden, and could almost hear the footsteps of long-dead people who had been there so many years before. The pristine garden had also been the venue of a political rift, as Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru had tried in vain to resolve ideological differences, thereby making the partition inevitable.

We time-traveled to a different time period

We had booked a guided tour inside the institute. Soon we were summoned to ascend a wooden platform that stretched inside the majestic interior of the lodge. Inside, paintings and photographs of the construction and embellishment of the grand structure were on display. Faces of historical figures as well as those of people lost in the throes of time stood smiling at us from behind the glass frames. The woodwork was as old as those bygone people- made with teak which was brought from Burma and supplemented by local cedar wood and walnut. The dim lighting from century-old lamps shed an eerie aura about the place.

But the truly eerie feeling crawled up our skin when we approached the carved walnut table responsible for the fateful meetings that caused the 1947 Partition. In 1945 Viceroy Wavell had called a meeting with prominent political leaders in that very room to discuss how to carve out Pakistan from India. Later in May 1947 Lord Mountbatten laid out the plan for Partition on the same table and entrusted Sir Cyril Radcliffe with the duty of surgically cutting through the body of the country. 

I brushed my palm lightly on the tabletop and shuddered at the horror and trauma that millions of people had faced in Punjab and Bengal. We could hear armies of refugees scrambling across borders, leaving behind all that they ever possessed just to save their lives from violent neighbors. Some made it safely across, while some suffered terrible deaths. Unheard screams of pain struggled through the decades to reach us in the future. The velvet red carpet and luxurious walls muffled the voices of people who never visited this place, yet had their fates sealed inside it.

The red-carpeted staircase inside the main hall

Impressions of guns still remained on the walls of the main gallery, where they were once hung. We could see the main library for research scholars, which was once the dining area for the political glitterati of the past. The red-carpeted staircase spiraled up regally, but we were debarred from ascending the stairs like the colonial rulers who did so decades ago.

The tour around the institute ended quite abruptly, as we expected to absorb more of the historical landmark. The ghosts about the place bid us goodbyes as we headed across the pebbled road toward the exit. The souls of millions of strangers whose blood stained the walls of the institute rested heavily on our shoulders as we remembered the horrific experience they had endured.


Indian Institute of Advanced Study, The Citizen, Hindustan Times


Support the alien trekker!

Choose an amount

200 ₹
500 ₹
1,000 ₹

Or enter a custom amount

Mountains of love for you.


Published by alientrekker

An alien cherishing her best moments on some mountains of the earth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: