No person, I feel, can plan his destiny. Life unfolds itself without our knowledge. And, if you believe in God, you can always blame HIM, if your life turns sour.

My life too, took its turns and twists on lines not planned or written by me. We lived in the old city of Lahore in a decent house with all of the family members together with my parents - some fifteen members. I had a good job offer from the Lahore Station of All India Radio. Before I could take up my new job, the partition plan was announced. And Lahore, we were told, was going to be part of Pakistan. When I went to the Lahore Station of All India Radio, they refused to honour the offer on the ground that it was will be a Pakistan Radio station. Partition brought me to Delhi. While I was struggling in Delhi as an adventurous newsman, Shimla called me with a job offer at a hill station that I could hardly resist - kind of a marriagegift.

I fell in love with Shimla, its quiet beauty with green hills and tall trees and forests and charmed by the heavy snowfall in the midst of December when I reached there. I had never seen snow in my life. I moved to Shimla a few days after my marriage, a kind of honeymoon at Government expense. I did not have to look for a house to live in as my parents-in-law lived on the Jakhu Hills of this city in a house allotted to my father-in-law as an employee of the East Punjab Government. They were happy to welcome us. This was my wife's first visit home after her marriage to me which is a special occasion for all Hindu families. Shimla naturally captivated me while my wife was already sold on it as she had lived there for two years before marriage.

As winter started turning into spring, I started looking for a separate apartment because I wanted to invite my aging parents to Shimla for a summer holiday. Fortunately, I got a place to stay in the heart of Shimla, an apartment in the prestigious United Services Club vacated by the British Officers. The US Club was only a two minutes' walk from the famous Mall Road where so much of the history of India was made and unmade by the British. Mall Road had seen the top Indian political leaders including Mahatma Gandhi walk to the Viceregal Lodge. Across its Scandal Point was the elite Devicos’ Restaurant where the British had dined and danced all night. Down the street on the Mall itself was the Coffee House patronised by journalists, politicians and Babus like me. We consumed scores of hot cups of coffee there priced at that time at one or two annas a cup. Along with coffee, the hot south Indian idli and dosa had travelled to the cold north.

Being part of the Public Relations Department which dealt with both politicians and journalists, keeping up with the stories heard on the Scandal Point was a part of my job - a part I thoroughly enjoyed. Shimla and its Scandal Point in the evening became a part of me. Immediately after office, I went to my home in the U.S. Club, had some tea with hot snacks and then went for a stroll on the Mall. My wife, Kusum and I would go back and forth on the Mall two or three times daily in the evening, catching up with dozens of acquaintances and friends along the way. On this small stretch of the Mall, everybody seemed to know everyone else and no one was a stranger. It was kind of a club on the move.

I cannot forget those exciting evenings in Shimla. The scars of partition were disappearing, at least on Shimla's Mall. Women had an opportunity to dress up and show off their Saris or the latest jewellery. We were young and enjoyed the walks and it became our evening entertainment. Two years later, a little son joined our family and his chatter kept us blissfully happy. I resolved to make Shimla my home.

Public Relations is part of any functioning democracy but it was a new concept for the then Indian Government - kind of a dispensable luxury. Its objective essentially is to keep people informed of what the government was doing for their welfare and how the promises made by the elected representatives of the people at the time of their elections were being implemented.

The new State Governments, after independence, continued behaving like the British rulers. They, the new rulers, believed that they knew what was best for the people. There was no need to share any information with the people or the Press. Their interpretation of the role of the Public Relations Department was to get Ministers' photographs and speeches published in the newspapers and they assessed the performance of the Department on that score.

Half the new Ministers of the Government were not even Matriculates, and what they said was not worth reporting. To make them fit for publication, we had to manufacture our own reports and after showing them to the new political masters, release them to the Press. The Press obliged us but it could not go on this way for long.

I recall the first Labour Minister of Punjab, Choudhri Sunder Singh. He found his new job quite difficult as his knowledge of English was basic. I had become very friendly with him. Once he met me on the road and told me confidently, “Pran, now I know how to fix my officers!” “How?” I asked. “I have bought a Hindi-English dictionary and I have no problem in understanding notes written in English by my officers.”

Choudhri Lehri Singh was another senior Minister of the Punjab Government, a Haryana Jat and a lawyer by profession from Hissar. In the absence of the chief Minister, he was often the acting Chief Minister. Choudhri Lehri Singh had two wives. (There was no law against this. The Hindu Code Bill which made more than one wife illegal for Hindus was passed much later). He used to regale us with stories of his two quarrelling wives and how he played the divide and rule game to keep peace in the home. Once he was acting as the Chief Minister. The file pertaining to the promotion of a senior officer came to him for his signature. When he sought my advice, I just smiled. Choudhri also laughed and said, “I know he is a duffer. But what can I do? He is of my caste and from my own district.” He signed the file.

Democratic norms had not seeped down to the new political leaders at every level. Most politicians favoured their own clan, caste or their district. I wondered how Punjab could prosper with these kind of leaders. As I put the same a question to one of my senior journalist colleagues, his reply was, “Punjab will prosper because of the Punjabi people, their hard work, industry and common sense. They will make place for themselves anywhere they go – irrespective of the rulers.”

I was getting tired of explaining to the Ministers the meaning of Public Relations – honesty in communications, transparency and consistency of policies to meet the demands of the electors. They, however, had their own agenda. Democracy for them was winning an election by hook or by crook. Gandhian principals were no longer valid, except for a few.

However, I saw true democratic leadership in action when the East Punjab Government decided to make a new capital in the foothills of the Shivalik Range of the Himalayas. The Project was approved by the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and one of the best known architects of France, Le Corbusior was chosen to plan the new city. The overall charge of this project was with a very senior ICS Officer, P. N. Thaper, the Development Commissioner of the East Punjab Government. Thapar had to persuade the local villagers of the area to transfer their lands to the government for building this city. This was a difficult job as most of these villages had fertile land with blooming mango orchards. Fortunately, half of the area to be included in the capital was government-owned barren land. The villagers had decided to resist and an Action Committee formed to agitate. From the Public Relations Department, I was assigned to visit the area and report about its progress.

In those dusty villages, I saw P. N. Thapar, an ICS officer, in action. He was an officer with a stern exterior who demanded excellence from his staff. I saw in him a different man with the village leaders. He set up a camp there and mixed freely with the villagers. He listened to their grievances and worked on the terms of the compensation and alternate allotment of land to them. In a few days he became very comfortable with the agitating villagers, calling an elderly farmer 'Tao' (uncle), a farmer his own age became 'Bhai' (brother) and younger people all became 'Beta'(sons). The farmers changed their attitudes and became a cooperative lot at his hands. After a few camps like those held by P. N. Thapar, all the contentious matters were resolved. There were no police to guard him or his personal staff and no threats were exchanged. The entire problem was resolved amicably. No lathi was used, no gun was fired. I noticed there were no policemen around. And the project was on its way.

Human preferences change with time and age. I was no longer very comfortable in the surroundings of dark hills of Shimla constantly gazing at me. Five years in the hills, I thought, were enough for me. I wanted a change. It was around the same time that the Punjab Government decided to publish a new monthly magazines in three languages to project its progress after independence and to focus on its culture. The magazines were ‘Advance’ in English, ‘Jagriti’ in Hindi and ‘Jagriti’ again in Punjabi. I was appointed the editor of the two magazines in English and Hindi. Kulwant Singh Virk, an upcoming Punjabi writer of short stories was appointed as the editor of the Punjabi Jagriti.

I felt relieved when I got this new assignment as I was no longer interested in remaining an apologist of a Government which only crawled when it was supposed to walk or run. The new rulers were there only for their self-interest. Gandhiji's India where Ministers got paid only Rupees five hundred a month was no longer the truth. They might still be officially paid Rs 500 per month but they 'earned' much more. For me, it looked like a beginning which had no end.

We were asked to move our office to Ambala city along with our entire staff and I was put in-charge of the unit of some 30 people. The magazines were to be printed by the Tribune Press, which was then located in Ambala. While editing the two papers, I cultivated many new writers – both in English and Hindi. In fact, Jagriti Hindi came to be rated as a leading literary magazine of India. We got contributions from some of the best writers of those times. We paid writers promptly and better than the private sector magazines for their writings!

I knew the value of receiving remuneration for original writing as as I was once at the receiving end.