Captain Syed Mahdi Hasnain (later Major General SM Hasnain), my late father, was the Adjutant of The Ist Battalion of The Royal Garhwal Rifles posted at Peshawar Cantt. The Unit was under move to Saharanpur along the Grand Trunk Railway route. From Peshawar to Lahore the Unit was busy providing protection to thousands of Sikh and Hindu refugees who had been cruelly uprooted following Jinnah’s infamous decision to go ahead with the creation of Pakistan. Captain Mahdi Hasnain was himself at the forefront of this effort being the Adjutant of the Unit. At Lahore Railway Station, his Commanding Officer Lt Col McLean called him to his cabin and slowly put the question to him -“
Son, you are a proud Muslim, the only Muslim in this unit. Isn’t it time you decided your fate; where would you like to go – to be a part of Pakistan or remain in India. I ask because should your choice be Pakistan I suggest you should stay behind and say goodbye to your colleagues”. It was as good a question ever asked in a moment of tragedy and at a point when life and death decisions have to be made. Captain Mahdi Hasnain’s answer reflected that he had already thought deeply about his fate. He was also aware that his fiancé to whom he was engaged for two years had moved with her family from Ajmer to Rawalpindi. Yet, his answer – “Sir, I deeply respect your concern but for me, my prime duty lies in the safe move of my Unit; I am the Adjutant of this Unit and I will never leave it mid-way. As for my choice, I am not sure what the rest of my family will decide but I am aware that nations created on the basis of faith can never last long. There will be instant euphoria which will last for some time but eventually, the nation which is created on the basis of respect for all faiths is the one which will live many centuries. For me, the choice is India and that is where I am proceeding with my Unit”. Lt Col McLean complimented him on his choice and Capt Mahdi Hasnain continued to perform the duties of Adjutant as the Unit moved on its journey to Saharanpur. Throughout the journey it picked many hundreds of refugees again; among them was the patriarch of the Kapoor Family which later set up Kapoor& Co tailors at Indian Military Academy. He had a lifelong bond with Captain Mahdi Hasnain who unfortunately never commanded 1st Garhwal Rifles (now 6 Mech Inf) but instead raised 4 Garhwal Rifles becoming its first Commanding Officer. I joined the same unit and became its 14th Commanding Officer. Captain Mahdi Hasnain rose to be Major General SM Hasnain, became the first Indian Muslim to command a Division in the Indian Army. He retired with his approval for Lt Gen in his pocket but age was against him. I, his son had the honor to be a Lt Gen, the first officer commissioned in The Garhwal Rifles to be a Corps Commander. The Indian Army and the Nation gave the Hasnain family a total of 10 (ten) decorations, perhaps the highest number to any single-family in India. I commanded two active Corps of the Indian Army – 21 (Sudarshan Chakra) Bhopal and 15(Chinar) at Srinagar.
The above story is like rubbing salt on Mahwash Badar’s(the author of the piece on Pakistan) wounds. The blog has since been removed from the media. If one has to ever salute decisions I would always salute the wisdom of decision made by the young Adjutant of 1st Battalion the Royal Garhwal Rifles on that fateful afternoon of August 1947 at Lahore Station. It ensured many destinies; safe, good, enduring, and patriotic destinies. How Capt Mahdi Hasnain finally married and raised a family is the subject of another moving tale to be told later. Jai Hind.
The author Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (BAR), Retd is the second son of late Major General Syed Mahdi Hasnain, PVSM (Retd). He is an alumnus of the Royal College of Defence Studies(RCDS), London, and has completed a postgraduate degree in International Studies from King’s College, University of London.