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'Hindu pani' and 'Muslim pani': A childhood memory
Born in the 30s, my pre-university days were spent in Cawnpore (Kanpur), Lucknow and Delhi.

Like any child of those days, the whistling, chugging, huffing and puffing steam engines fascinated us. We took pride in recognising their names. Just the way today's children at a very early age become excited about different car makes and their models! The prospect of travelling by train held us in thrall, as the landscape rushed by, and we quarrelled over the window seats. Whenever the train passed over a river, everyone would peep out and toss coins into the holy waters, with much devotion.

The whole railway system was the stuff romances and adventures are made of. The very sight of a train whistling along the distant horizon has been captured with its entire mystique by many movies, like 'Pakeezah'.

The railway stations built by the British had an architectural grandeur of their own. In Cawnpore, if families of prospective bride and bridegroom were to meet, the done thing was to meet at the dining room at the local station. It was sometimes the only eatery in town for socialising, apart from exclusive clubs.. Otherwise, there were halwais with wooden benches, vending sweetmeats and snacks.

The railway dining rooms gave a posh impression, with white starched and pressed covers, neatly folded napkins resembling swans or boats. The bearers were smartly liveried, with sashes gleaming with brass insignias. Crockery and cutlery was exquisite.

We youngsters, often used to go to the platform, to browse books at the AH Wheeler stall or to sip tea served in earthen kullhars. We were always amused at the huge posters of Indian Tea Board boasting – 'Garmi mein garam chai, thandak pahunchaati hai'.

At the platform, what we just could not comprehend was this: Next to each other were two big earthen water pots, sitting on similar wooden stands. In each pot was a ladle to scoop out water. Above one pot was a sign 'Hindu pani' and on the other 'Muslim pani'!

My uncle was a doctor, and occasionally used to invite his patients for dinner. At a typical get-together as guests we would have Hindus, Muslims, Englishmen and Anglo Indians. Water to all of them was served from the same jug.

I asked my elders, why at home we were serving all from same jugs etc, but at the station they have separate pitchers of water. The standard reply was: 'Beta tum samjho ge nahin. Yeh Britishers ki divide and rule policy hai'. I never understood it then, and I do not understand it even now! The memories of two separate pitchers was a jarring factor, in my otherwise romantic memories of train travel.

Last few months, when a discussion comes up on matters communal, out of curiosity I ask if anyone knows that before Independence, we had Hindu/Muslim pani! Not one person have I met who had ever heard of it. Except a few, who like me are in our 80s!

I also looked out for any mention of this in any source material. I had no success, till I found two recent pieces.

Here are some excerpts from these two articles:

Kuldeep Aticle


There were also attempts to eliminate the Hindu/Muslim pani divide.

Divya Goyal wrote in Hindustan Times:

HT Article

This may be true. But the Muslims do not point out at the real reason. They lost their importance after the creation of Pakistan which was founded on the basis of religion. Congress leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad fought a lonely battle against this thinking during the British period itself. He would say that if the Muslims felt unsafe or insecure in a large country like India, they would feel still more unsafe in a partitioned India.'


Will the twain ever meet?

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