In barracks, cantonments, along Military Lines, Hindu, Sikh and Moslem soldiers of the great army being sliced in two along with the sub-continent it had served paid a last homage to one another. In Delhi, the troopers of the Sikh and Dogra squadrons of Probyn’s Horse, one of the army’s legendary old cavalry regiments, offered a gigantic banquet to the men of the departing Moslem squadron. They savoured together on an open parade ground a final feast of mountains of steaming rice, chicken curry, lamb kebab and the regiment’s traditional pudding, rice baked with caramel, cinnamon and almonds. When it was over, Sikh, Moslem and Hindu joined hands and danced a last bhanga, a wild, swirling farandole climaxing the most moving evening in their regiment’s history.
The Moslem regiments in the areas which would fall to Pakistan offered similar banquets to their Sikh and Hindu comrades leaving for India. In Rawalpindi, the Second Cavalry gave an enormous barakana , a ‘good luck’ banquet to their former comrades. Every Sikh and Hindu officer spoke, often with tears in their eyes, to bid farewell to the Moslem colonel, Mohammed Idriss, who’d led them through some of the bitterest fighting of World War II. ‘Wherever you go,’ said Idriss in reply, ‘we shall always remain brothers because we spilled our blood together.’
Idriss then cancelled the order he’d received from the headquarters of the future Pakistan Army insisting that all departing Indian troops turn in their weapons before leaving. ‘These men are soldiers,’ he said, ‘they came here with their arms. They will leave with them.’ The next morning those soldiers who’d served under his command owed their lives to his last intervention on their behalf. An hour out of Rawalpindi, the train bearing the Sikhs and Hindus of the 2nd Cavalry was ambushed by Moslem League National Guardsmen. Without their arms they would have been massacred.
The most touching farewell of all took place on the lawns and in the grand ballroom of an institution that once had been one of the most privileged sanctuaries of India’s British rulers, the Imperial Delhi Gymkhana Club. Invitation was by engraved cards sent by ‘The Officers of the Armed Forces of the Dominion of India’ inviting guests to a ‘Farewell to Old Comrades Reception in honour of the Officers of the Armed Forces of the Dominion of Pakistan.’ An air of ‘overwhelming sadness and unreality’ overlaid the evening, one Indian remembered. With their well-trimmed moustaches, their Sam Browne belts, their British uniforms and the rows of decorations they had won risking their lives in the service of India’s British rulers, the men mingling under the lantern chains all seemed to have been pressed from the same mould. In the ballroom the flashing rainbow colours of their women’s saris sparkled through the dim lights.
Above all, they talked and drank in the bar, telling the old stories one last time; the stories of the mess, of the desert, of the jungles of Burma, of the raids against their own countrymen on the frontier, the ordeals and pleasures of entire careers spent together in that special fraternity of the uniform and shared danger. None of those men could envisage on that nostalgic evening the tragic role into which they would soon be cast. Instead, it was arms around each other’s shoulders and boisterous cries of: ‘we’ll be down for pig-sticking in September’, and ‘don’t forget the polo in Lahore’, and 'we must go after that ibex we missed in Kashmir last year’.
When the time came to end the evening, Brigadier Cariappa, a Hindu of the ist-7th Rajputs, climbed to the raised dance platform and called for silence. ‘We are here to say au revoir and only au revoir, because we shall meet again in the same spirit of friendship that has always bound us together,’ he said. 'We have shared a common destiny so long that our history is inseparable.’ He reviewed their experience together, then concluded: ‘We have been brothers. We will always remain brothers. And we shall never forget the great years we have lived together.’ When he’d finished, the Hindu brigadier stepped to the rear of the bandstand and picked up a heavy silver trophy draped with a cloth shroud. He offered it to the senior Moslem officer present, Brigadier Aga Raza, as a parting gift from the Hindu officers to their Moslem comrades in arms. Raza plucked the protective cloth from the trophy and held it up to the crowd. Fashioned by a silversmith in Old Delhi, it represented two sepoys, one Hindu, one Moslem, standing side by side, rifles at their shoulders trained upon some common foe.
After Raza on behalf of all the Moslems present had thanked Cariappa for the gift, the orchestra struck up ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Instinctively, spontaneously, the officers reached for each other’s hands. In seconds, arm in arm, they had formed a circle, Hindu and Moslem scattered indiscriminately along its rim, swaying in unison together, their booming voices filling the damp and sweltering Delhi night with the words of that old Scottish dirge. A long silence followed its last chorus. Then the Indian officers went to the ballroom door and, glasses in hand, formed an aisle down its steps and out on to the lawn leading towards India’s sleeping capital. One by one, their Pakistani comrades walked down the passage formed by their ranks into the night. As they did so, on either side, the Indians raised their glasses in a final, silent toast to their departing comrades. They would, as they had promised each other, meet again, far sooner and in far more tragic circumstances than any of them might have imagined that night. It was not on the polo fields of Lahore that those former comrades in arms would have their next rendezvous but on a battlefield in Kashmir.