A decade after partition, they returned to claim their hidden treasure

My grandparents, uncles and aunts on the day of my parent’s marriage. Jullandhar (now Jalandhar), Punjab. 1958

Image and Narrative contributed by Amita Bajaj, Mumbai

My grandfather Dr. Gurbaksh Singh Nayar, or as we called him ‘Papaji’ was a well known practising doctor. His brothers and he owned a lot of real estate property in the North Eastern Punjab Province Sialkot‘s “Nayar Bazar” (now Pakistan). The market comprised of 34 shops with residences above. Nayar Bazar was a major section of the famous Trunk Bazar of Sialkot. Till the late 1980s, a board bearing this name of the Bazar was still on display. My grandfather and grandmother, Purandei Nayar whom we called ‘bhabiji’, had three sons. The youngest of whom was my father.

In June of 1947, murmurs of communal troubles were in the air. My father was then a third year MBBS student of Balakram Medical College which was established by Sir Gangaram in Lahore. (It was re-established as Fatima Jinnah Medical College after it was abandoned during partition).
Hearing of riots around the area, the eldest of the two older brothers, who was also studying medicine in Amritsar, tried to convince my grandmother to sell her savings, which were in form of silver bricks and the basement of their haveli (mansion) was stacked with them. Partition was imminent, yet my devout Sikh grandmother rebuked her sons, saying that should they sell the silver: “Loki kahangey ke nayaraan da divalaya nikal paya“! (“People will say that we are bankrupt!”).

I was born in the 1960s, and had heard horror stories about Partition from my paternal grandmother, ‘bhabiji’. On August 14, 1947, the family was eating their brunch and actually saw the Sialkot police running away from the rioters and that is when the family then knew it was time to leave. After collecting their valuables, my grandfather first hid with his wife and three sons in the house of a dear friend Ghulam Qadir who owned a departmental store, then later in the Sialkot Jail where the Superintendent Arjun Dass was a patient of his. (Arjun Dass, later as the jail superintendent of Ambala Central Jail supervised the hanging of Nathuram Godse, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassinator).

A few days later, they had crossed over to Amritsar with two trunks – one filled with gold jewellery and the other with silver utensils. The trunks were carried by a two servants, Nanak, a young boy, and Munshi Ram. Whilst crossing the River Ravi, Nanak apparently slipped almost got crushed by the sea of people fleeing Pakistan and the trunk with silver utensils fell in the river.

My grandparents’ entire life savings, their palatial mansion and the silver bricks were all lost forever, except for the trunk with gold jewellery that reached India. The three daughters-in-law in the picture would often wear the rescued ‘Sialkoti’ jewellery. My mother too, the bride in the picture, is wearing a kundan set from the trunk, gifted to her for her ‘doli’ (welcome gift to the bride) by my grandmother.

By 1950, the family had settled down in Jullunder (now Jalandhar) where my grandfather was given the haveli (mansion) of a Muslim sessions judge who had left for Pakistan in 1947. The mansion at Patel Chowk, G.T Road in Jullunder City, was offered as “claim property” (in lieu of property left behind in Sialkot that was valued in crores). My grandfather, Papaji became the leading medical practitioner of Jullunder and was well known all over Punjab.

The haveli in Jullunder was evaluated at Rs 1.35 lakhs in 1947. It had six bedrooms. The zenana (women’s section) was demarcated by a central Loggia garden and with a fountain in the middle. It housed several kitchens, pantry, store-rooms (with indoor-plumbing), a large hall, dining room and three floors of terraces each with a suite of rooms and kitchen, presumably for each of his three sons. My parents marriage was held in this palatial mansion in 1958. My father at the time was an army doctor attached to the 4-5 Gurkha Rifles and posted in Poonch , Jammu & Kashmir.

Shortly after my parent’s marriage, one day when my grandmother and my mother were returning home in the afternoon from shopping, they saw a huge crowd outside their mansion with scores of policemen, jeeps, police trucks and cars with dark-green purdahs (curtains) on windows. Fearing the worst, they rushed in only to be apprised by my very stoic grandfather that the original owners of the haveli, two women from Pakistan with all requisite permissions and accompanied with police from both Nations, had come to claim some moveable assets they had left behind.

My grandmother was furious and confronted the ladies from Pakistan, yelling at them, that the house had nothing except bare walls and an unkempt central garden when they acquired it as evacuee property. The ladies then firmly asked for permission to be allowed to go into the store-room adjoining the kitchen. My grandmother still shaking with anger and disbelief led the way, followed by the two ladies and policemen. Coming near a walled up alcove, the ladies gave it a few hard knocks with their hands using all their strength, and the makeshift wall gave way to reveal an 18” high glass shade of a shamadaan (candelabra), which was crammed to the brim with gold & stone-studded jewellery and gold & silver coins.

All present in the hall just froze in awe and shock. The Pakistani ladies took possession of the treasure that they had come to claim, nearly a decade after the bloodiest Partition of two Nations in the history of mankind, where over one million people lost their lives.

I am told, Nanak used to see a rat going into the walled up alcove through a small hole, where the treasure was hidden, for months and had even requested my grandmother’s permission to bring down the make-shift wall so that he could access a presumed “khazana” (treasure) for her, and she could maybe reward him for it? My grandmother feared that bringing down that wall may cause more damage to this magnificent evacuee property or may be it was something unpleasant that was “best left unseen”.

My grandfather later became the Honorary Physician to Giani Zail Singh when he became President of India, a position he held until his death in 1986. My father received several awards in the Navy to which he was assigned by the Army Medical Corp (AMC). He was the 3rd and 6th head of the Physiology department of Armed Forces Medical College in Pune. He took charge from a Wing. Commander. Rao, father of Congress politician Renuka Chowdhury. My father, an octogenarian, now lives a very retired life in Delhi and my mother passed away in August last year.

I often wonder if there were others who migrated from and to India & Pakistan had similar experiences to share?

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This Post Has 49 Comments

  1. Vijay Plaha

    I was born after the partition. My mother expired in 1992. She was the daughter of Karam Chand Punga. The Punga Family belonged to Village Badiana of Sialkot. They were in the business of manufacturing Sporting Goods. The name of the company was either Pioneer of Uberoi Sports. I know very little about the Punga Family. After partition they lived in Agra. But the house they got in lieu of their palatial property in Sialkot was in Malcha Marg of New Delhi. Their house in Sialkot was called Punga Bhavan. Any further information, please contact on my email. Around 1931 my mother married Doctor Jagan Nath Plaha belonging to Village Surkhigala in Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh, India. Partition was a very sad event for all.

    1. Sattir Bitti

      Saw a video on the punga bhavan online by Media Top on youtube. The video has title “Ye Ghar kis k thay?? Purana Sialkot – Ghar – Mandair – Khatrion ki Shops dekho 1947-23”, here is the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyuDl0b8ypw. Not sure if you have already seen it.

  2. UTkarsh

    I really feel sorry for all the people who had to leave everything behind and come to India. Partition was immensely unfair, especially for the Sikhs and the Hindus. My grandmother’s maternal family was from sialkot, and grandpa was from Sanghoi + Lahore. They were very rich there but had to immigrate post partition. All her jewellary was stolen by the relatives/ on the way and they had not even rotis for my father.
    In this story of yours I feel only few were blessed to get the enemy property. Moreover, if pakistanis came back to claim their gold n valuables, why weren’t Hindus allowed to claim ? Despite minority, the seperatists Islamists are too radicalized and get unfair advantage.
    I still see videos of ancestral homes in Pakistan.

  3. Jagmeet S Soin

    Thanks to my friend dr Rafiq Sethi ,I have come to know about Indian memory project. I was born in Sialkot. My mother graduated from murray college then tought there. My grand father s Bhagwan singh Goindi . Family owned sports firm DJ Love&co. Manufactured cricket balls and shuttle cocks. I am going to get in touch with my my maternal uncle for some information. We lived in Prem nagar

  4. Surbhi Chaudhri

    Hi, I just found this site . Both my maternal and paternal families are from Sialkot. My nanaji Shree Tara Chand Chawla started Diana Sports dealt in cricket bats, ball and other sports equipment. They were 5 brothers and franchised Diana sports in Bombay, Calcutta, SriLanka and London. They also did manufacturing of silver utensils in Sialkot. Infact, Dr Gurbaksh Singh, The Nayyar family and the Sachar family were good friends. I remember our family visits in Delhi when I was young. My mamaji infact visited Sialkot in the early 2000’s through Rotary Club and visited his ancestral home which is now a bank.
    My paternal grandfather Shree Gopal Das Budhraja owned petrol stations in Sialkot and also were distributors for Sugar and Petrol for Jammu and Kashmir till 1947.
    Sadly both families had to leave in haste during partition. My elder mamaji did go back to Sialkot after partition as the government approved and were allowed to bring 3 things back with them. He chose to get the pictures frames of his grandfather and uncle and another item. Those are invaluable treasures that we proudly showcase in our house today for our future generations. We feel connected through all the stories we heard from our parents as they left Sialkot their birthplace as young adults. Sadly our grandparents and parents have gone to another world but we still cherish our ancestral connections.

    1. Shruti Sharma

      Hi Surbhi, would it be possible to get on a telephonic conversation with you? I am PhD scholar from Kolkata working on the history of the sports goods industry.

      1. Surbhi Chaudhri

        Hi Shruti,
        I will be glad to connect with you. My father was one of the founding persons of the Sports Goods Export and Promotion Council of India. He worked with the council and the sports ministry for almost 30 years.

    2. Arran Raja

      Hello Surbhi,
      I was very interested to read your comment since my nanaji (maternal grandfather) is also a member of the Budhraja family of Sialkot and had a very similar story of leaving Sialkot due to Partition. My nanaji is Dr Ved Prakash Budhraja, son of Shree Tek Chand Budhraja who lived in Sialkot. He tells us that the name of Shree Gopal Das Budhraja seems very familiar to him. He also tells us of his uncle Shree Dwarka Nath Budhraja who was married to Nirmal of the family who owned Diana Sports. Dwarka Nath’s sister Champa was married to Dharam Sachdeva whose brother Yudvir Sachdeva was a principal of Amritsar Medical College. As my nanaji lost his father when he was a child, he has few memories of the rest of the family but we are always very interested to connect with more relations. My nanaji lives in the UK but frequently visits Delhi, and if you are in that area, he would love to make a connection and meet.

      1. Surbhi Chaudhri

        Hi Arran,
        This is amazing to hear from you. I am Shree Dwarka Nath Budhraja’s daughter. I have very fond and vivid memories of your grandfather Dr. Ved Prakash when he was studying medicine in Delhi in the 1960’s. He is my first cousin. I would love connect with you and family. Please email me directly at ycfamily@gmail.com. Looking forward to connecting with you. Best wishes, Surbhi

  5. Mustafa

    GREAT to read it out! It was so new to me, also very informative in many things I didn’t know about partition & people migrated from here to there & vice versa. I hope to one day gather all the precious belongings of your forefathers lost here my country on that day & reach it to you or someone from your family living now :). Too much respect for you all from Lahore, Pakistan!


    1. Sukhanwer

      Please read a book titled ” From Quetta to Delhi” by Reena Nanda…. The best vivid story ever told on Partition. Extremely interesting account.


    Hello Everyone , we are from SAILKOT I am great grand son of Sadar Ganda Singh UBEROI. Now we are in India .anyone share about UBEROI SAILKOT Thanks.

    1. Eeshal

      Hello, where did you live in Sialkot? There is a big mansion on Paris Road Sialkot named Almaman. Do you know about that?

    2. Abrar Sheikh

      Yes I know the building where your elders used to live. I am from Sialkot now residing in Lahore.

      1. Arvind Arora

        Hello Abrar Sahab, hope you are doing good!!!
        I’m curious if you are still connected with Sialkot & visit there often?
        we have a lot of memories of grand parents and other older generations associated with Sialkot.
        My family shifted to India in 1947 when the riots started.
        if you are still visiting Sialkot then let me know, and also if you can help us locate our old ancestral house and shop there is Sialkot.
        Arvinnd Arora

    3. R. Uberoi

      Hi…quiet curious to know how you re connected to the Uberoi family from Sialkot. I live in India as well.
      It ll be nice to get a reply when you read this.

      1. Shruti Sharma

        Hello Mr. R. Uberoi, I am PhD scholar from Kolkata working on the sports goods industry in south asia. I think I saw you name/comment on a YouTube video on Uberoi Haveli in Sialkot. If you are related to Ganda Singh Uberoi, I would love to get in touch with you for some information for my research. Thank you, in anticipation.

    4. Sharmilee Uberoi

      My father in law was grandson of Sardar Ganda Singh Uberoi.
      We stay in Kanpur UP

      1. Shruti Sharma

        Thank you for your response. How can I get in touch with you for the purpose of my research?

    5. Ridhi Uberoi

      I am the great grand daughter of Sardar Ganda Singh ji Uberoi.
      I live in Mumbai and would like to get more information about my family and get in touch with anyone belonging to it.

      1. Shruti Sharma

        Hi Ridhi, this is Shruti. Thank you so much for your response. I am PhD scholar from Kolkata working on the social history of the sports goods industry in colonial India. Your great grand father, Sardar Ganda Singh ji Uberoi was the pioneer of the industry. Would it be possible for you to get on a phone call with me? I am actually tracing the history of your family and other families related to the Sialkot sports goods industry in India for my research. I have been able to trace your great grand father’s brother’s family but I have failed to meet anyone from Sardar Ganda Singh ji’s family. I am coming to Mumbai in the third week of December for a conference, would you like to meet me and connect me to your other family members ? I have documents of your great grandfather’s sports firm that I can show and share with you too.
        These are my contact details: shrutimpsharma@gmail.com, +919599493699. I would be utterly grateful if you could get in touch with me. It will be wondrous for my PhD research.

    6. Surbhi Chaudhri

      Our ancestors were well know families settled in Sialkot. My uncle Raj Bir Chawla of Diana Sports and Raj Uberoi who migrated to London after partition were childhood friends and family friends (settled in Delhi) till death. He was the lineage of Sardar Jhanda Singh’s family. Growing up our families were very close.

    7. imran sandal

      Hi Uberoi,
      Nice to hear and with great honour respect for your elders, I know well very well Uberoi family I did not see any of them in my lift but hear from my parents about them, I now the place in Paris road and other side of factory ( Karhana ) is Railway lines & Railway station. My of our family members worked in UBEROI factory, and our family members are in Sports Goods Manufacturing and export business now a Days since 1985, and lot more.

      I live in Sialkot and know a lot about part ion.

  7. Raaj Sonak

    So much like the story of my father and my mother’s family saving their lives and coming to this side of India.
    I could picture their ordeal while reading your story.
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Haya

    I am pure pakistani…i loved this post religion and nations do good when they create peace on earth. One person in dubai told me they have left their gold trunk in jhang pakistan but they cant go to take it as after 1947 there would b lot of changes in location i met him in hospital now he is settle in haryana after partition

    1. Mustafa

      I would be glad to be in contact you. Can I contact you by any mean?

  9. ashvini milap

    Hi I am from P Batch AFMC…….(1977-1981) My father and mother are both doctors…My father , Dr Milap chand was in 3/4 year Balak Ram medical college …when in 1947 he was allocated Stanley Medical College Madras….he is 89 years old and we all live at Palampur in Himachal Pradesh….do ask your Dad if he remembers anyone by that name…Cheers !

  10. Dr Sunil Anand

    What a wonderful read !. I was your father’s student at AFMC Pune and have the highest regard for him. Wonderful man and a wonderful teacher.

    If it is not a problem I would like to go meet with him in Delhi: if it is okay with you and him can I have his address and phone number. You can send the address and contact number to my email address.

    Thank you

    Sunil Anand MD

  11. KJ Singh

    Surg cdr HS Nayyar was an Examiner for my First Term Physiology Exam at AFMC IN 1967. Seeing my miserable performance, he asked me to re-appear after the vacation.
    A Gentleman & an Officer. Wish him good health & happiness.

  12. ashwini mehta

    My grandfather Naraina das Mehta was a well known school teacher in Sialkot. My father late col Devendra nath Mehta was also a student of Lahore medical college he finished his MBBS from Amritsar medical college. He too served in the AMC. He was posted at AFMC as reader in ENT at the same time as your dad was posted. I remember him very vividly. If I remember correctly famous journalist kuldeep Nayyar is your dad’s brother

  13. Rahul grover

    My father was also at Balakram medical college and was in his third year when partition took place . He finished his MBBS from GS Medical college and joined the AMC and served for appx 35 yrs !!

  14. Amardeep Singh

    Great read though must point a narration by Sneh Sharan Trikha who lives in Chandigarh and he had this to tell me a while back
    “my father visited Bhera[distt Sargodha] in Oct.1957 to his ancestral home. The police went along and when the place where the gold was buried was excavated, the police took all but for a chain and locket [on my father’s request ]”.

  15. shiv vasisht

    I heard a similar story, which could well be true. The Hindu family from Pakistan got a Muslim family’s house in India. After restarting their life, they finally managed to get all their children settled, their daughters married, etc. Only once the old couple were done with their duties, but still living within the same old walls since Partition, they decided to redo the house, to make more room for their sons’ growing families, all still with the old parents. When breaking down the old house, they found a biscuit box, buried under the cemented threshold, full of gold coins – ginnis, or guineas. This, in the late 1960s. They took the box to the Indian authorities, who told them it was theirs to keep. I like to believe it is a true story!

  16. Sheikh Mohammad Abrar

    Hello All,
    I am Abrar, Grand son of Khan Bahadur Sheikh Inayat Ullah of Ghulam Qadir family Sialkot, and my father’s name is Sheikh Muhammad Yousuf. I have read your story and also heard about Dr.Dr. Gurbaksh Singh Nayar sahib. I think one of your family member was the class fellow of my late father in Murray college Sialkot?

    My father was running a hotel in Ambala (Perry’s hotel) and my uncle who visited the site and met with the present owners as well.

    I have heard many good stories from my father and I visited India three times (Delhi twice and Bombay once). I am working with many Indian colleagues here in Saudi Arabia and wish to visit your great country and see some places that my late father used to tell me. I do not know why getting visa for India is so tough for me but one day I will certainly come to visit Ambala and take lots of pictures. I wish we have a long lasting peace and leadership on both sides realize the fact that we need each other.

    1. shiv vasisht

      Dear Abrar Sahib,
      Let us hope that good sense prevails, and that, one day, the doves win over the hawks.

      1. Abrar Sheikh

        Dear Shiv sahib
        Thank you for your comments. All we can hope is that good sense prevails and people to people contacts are increased. There is do.much to share, explore and enjoy if our borders are made soft. I am a music lover and always enjoy Indian classical music. We must encouraged musical exchange programs and student exchange programs.
        Abrar Sheikh

    2. Amita Nayar Bajaj

      Thank you Indian Memory Project! @ Abrar: God is Great! Papaji n Bhabiji mentioned your respected grandfather many many times…they even took refuge in his house when pre-Partition riots broke out in Sialkot! If I rem correctly he ran the biggest departmental store with its own cafe way back then!? Was a very rich man but also my grandfather’s dearest friend! My father studied in Murray college for pre-med, n his brothers too did their FA from this college. Prior to that they all studied in Ganda Singh High School! My father will be overjoyed to learn about you, n , I plan to call him this evening! Loads of warm regards to you n your family…tell me more about Sialkot n do post some pictures if possible? Thank you for reconnecting….

      1. Abrar Sheikh

        Dear Amit jee, thank you for these details and sharing your views. You are absolutely correct. My grand father was. Operating Gulam Kadir & Co (G.K&Co) and couple of large hotels spread across the country. Before my father’s death he was mentioning all names and great friends who.migrsted to India. I listened to him carefully and that created a strong desire to.mert his friends whom he always remembered with very good words and prayers. There was another family named Ram Ji Das and company. His son was Prab Diyal. Excuse me for spellings!
        Sialkot has changed slot. Just yesterday a new motor way is inagurated and now we can reach there from Lahore in just 59 minutes. City has its own air port, dry port and many new additions. I will share some pictures with you when I visit next time.
        Kindly share with me your WhatsApp number. Mine is +923218473161
        Regards to all family members and our best wishes.
        Abrar Sheikh s/ o S. M. Yousuf

      2. Arvind Arora

        Dear Amita, it was great walk thru the memory lane!!!
        In fact my grand parents migrated from Sialkot in 1947 after the riots started.
        My ancestral family was involved in the business of fruits and vegetables and had shop on the Gol Chakkar near the railway station. They resided on the Kachehri Road in mansion opposite Rose or Gulab Cinema Hall and the water works with a tall water tank was behind their house.
        These are few of the memories shared by my father.
        My grandfather were 4 brothers with one residing in Jammu pre independence as they had business in Jammu too. The firm we had was named Natthumal Diwanchand this firm was named after my Great Grand Father & the elder brother of my Grandfather.
        I would love to connect with someone who would probably know Sialkot thoroughly or my grand parents.
        Pls do write back.

      3. imran sandal

        DEAR AMITA,


    3. amita nayar bajaj

      Dear Abrarbhai : My Dad was overcome with emotion. Your late respected father Yousufji was a batch-mate of his older sister Raj in Murray College! He remembers your father as being an excellent hockey player too! He also remembers an uncle of yours named Raja . And he has sent you his love n blessings!

      1. Abrar Sheikh

        My profound regards to your dad and family. My uncle Raja was a good hockey player. He died in s road accident in 1965 . His wife is still alive, she is around 95+. They also.live in Lahore these days and his sons settled in UAE, UK etc.
        Kindly share your contact details, cell and e mail.
        Abrar Sheikh
        +92 321 8473161

  17. shreya

    The story is really very nice. Really touched after reading the same. all the best.

  18. Vipin Gopal

    What an amazing story! God bless your father and all others in your family.

  19. Amita Nayar Bajaj

    Thank you Suresh Mandan! Yes my grand-parents who wore khadi till the end were blessed by God!My grandmother used to bemoan their refugee status but my grandfather the best diagnostician ever earned her a second fortune with just his sthetoscope n a thermometer to begin with! My grandmother worked tirelessly in Jalandhar’s Gandhi Vanita Ashram to rehabilitate girls devastated during Partition.And their simple pride in their children n grandchildren was all the reward they ever wanted. :)

  20. Suresh Mandan

    Wonderful story. Your grand parents/parents gave away what was not their own.God gave your parents so much honour,recognition and status which no wealth can give.

  21. Amita Nayar Bajaj

    Thank You Memory Project! I hope this story will show how earnest has been India’s attempt to maintain good relations with neighbour Pakistan! :) And I hope the cross-border tension between the countries will cease n trade and cultural ties will be enhanced! :)

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