An uncommon occasion if there ever was one... France was hosting the world jamboree of scouts and guides on August 15, a day after the night of August 14-15, 1947 when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had delivered his historic ‘Tryst With Destiny’ speech.
The members of the undivided Indian contingent assembled to raise the flags. As undivided India was now a divided India — India and Pakistan, two different flags were to be raised.
All the 165 nations’ leaders were invited to witness the historic occasion and a special area was created for the flag hoisting ceremony. Krishna Menon, who was then in London and later became India’s first High Commissioner in Britain, had sent the contingent leader, one Mr Thadius from Kerala, a tricolour. But there was no Pakistani flag.
One Sikh boy had a green turban and the same was used for stitching Pakistan’s green hued flag. Shares 91-year-old Ranvir Singh, who as a schoolboy had gone to attend the jamboree in France, “Three flags were raised — one of India’s tricolour, the second the Pakistani flag and the third was the Indian Scout flag.
As a gesture, initiated by the Indian contingent’s chief Thadius, Dan Mal Mathur, a teacher from Mayo College, Ajmer who was also in the Indian delegation raised the Pakistani flag and the Indian flag was hoisted by Qureshi Iqbal.
All the boys sang Jana Gana Mana and Sare Jahan Se Acha. But no Pakistani national anthem was sung as it was not written at the time. We were greeted with cakes and pastries and it was a joyous end to a great celebration far away from India on the outskirts of Paris.”
This occasion was recorded by the BBC and the French radio. London’s Guardian correspondent, who was covering the jamboree, wrote: “Squatting in an Indian tent, one talked with a dozen boys — Sikhs, Moslems, Hindus, Parsees, Christians, and Jews — who found no trouble at all in living together with neither blows nor bitter argument.
Yes, they were to celebrate the coming of India’s Independence, they were to stand together, this morning while the flags of the Union of India and Pakistan were hoisted side by side, but, of course, they would not (and this with considerable scorn) be dividing into rival camps.
“What difference,” cried someone at the back of the tent, “should it make to us?” As one shuffled off, thus rebuked, through the ankle-deep dust, a group of Hungarian and Belgian boys came on a visit.”
Ranvir Singh, who is a well-known author, playwright and dramatist, remembers his days in Paris as a member of the Indian contingent. “We were a happy bunch of young boy scouts drawn from across the country.
Apart from the Mayo boys, a few others from different schools were also made to go under the Mayo’s command. Thus boys from Jaipur, another boy Aftab Hussain from Ajmer and a boy from Daly College, Indore Mustafa Khan, who was the son of the Nawab of Sachin in Gujarat, travelled with us.
We sailed from Bombay to Southampton as members of united India. But after Partition and the celebrations of the Independence Day at Paris when the flags of both the countries were raised, there was a clear Hindu-Muslim divide.
Yet, Aftab Hussain from Ajmer and Mustafa Khan sided with us as they wanted to be part of India. Thadius started keeping watch as by now the boys came to know about the communal riots in both India and Pakistan.”
“Hum jab Paris gaye the toh gulam the, aur jab wapas laute toh Azad the,” thus remembered the late Jasdev Singh, who had attended the sixth world jamboree.
The celebrity broadcaster, who delighted the listeners with his live commentary, had reminisced about the “jamboree of peace” being held as it was after the end of the Second World War. More than 60,000 scouts from all over the world had taken part in it.
“We went from Jaipur to Bombay to join the contingent of undivided India in July 1947. We sailed on the ship Olympia which was the same ship on which the Maharaja of Jaipur Sawai Madho Singh II also travelled to England when he went for the coronation ceremony in 1902,” remembered
“On July 29, 1947, King George VI hosted a reception for the scouts, that had come from the various British countries, at Buckingham Palace. We jointly presented a guard of honour to the King and Queen.
It was on a huge lawn of the palace and it was here that we came to know that India will become a free country on August 15, 1947. The King inspected the Indian contingent and I was there in the front row and had the opportunity to see the King from up close.
We all assembled under the Union Jack and sang the song in praise of the King. We were too young and did not know the importance of Independence, but we had heard the names of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru,” recalled Jasdev Singh.
The jamboree was held at Moisson forest, around 50 miles from Paris. This forest was used as a bombing range during the Second World War and it was here that 40,000 boys and girls from all over the world had assembled.
One of the laws of this worldwide scout movement demanded that each member be a friend to all and a brother to every other Scout, no matter to what country, class, or creed the other may belong.
“And here it was being observed faithfully — but easily and naturally — by some 40,000 boys of very nearly every country, class, creed, and colour. In a pleasing confusion, an orderly disorder, camp dovetails into camp, their occupants consistently spilling and mingling, making themselves understood where there is no common language by the Esperanto of mime. Here, indeed, the nations are united,” vouched Jasdev.
“Two thousand acres of this forest was used for the camps and round the camp, there used to run a miniature railway operated by French Army engineers for the benefit of visitors.
There are three trains constantly circling, but only the wheels on these can be seen for they are always decorated by the French visitors who come in large numbers from the villages around, to pay the admission charge and see this microcosm of the world which demonstrates the possibility of friendly world order.
Everywhere there were boys chattering, grimacing, bartering, singing, sunbathing, playing musical instruments. Girls, too, for 1,500 French Guides were brought into the camp each day to help with the administrative work.
The smoke from a thousand campfires pierces the haze of dust, and as the day goes on with assorted cooking smells, becomes increasingly oppressive to one who is not 16 and a Scout.” ...Thus remembered Jasdev Singh.
As their ship developed a snag that needed repairs, the Indian contingent had to extend their stay.
Jasdev remembered how, during the extended stay in London, the boy scouts of London would bring food for the Indian contingent and looked after them well.
“It was a touching gesture from the British, who till a few days ago ruled us and now they were feeding us,” he reminisced. “It spoke of their rich culture and tradition, something that I would always remember.”