Rashmi Talwar

The woman who saw Queen Elizabeth II, at arm’s length

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90-year-old Rawalpindi girl again in news…

Amritsar: Britain’s longest-serving monarch Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away on Thursday, visited India three times in the year 1961, 1983, and 1997.

Her first was a landmark visit, of a reigning Monarch to a commonwealth nation, 15 years after India’s Independence. That made her the first Monarch to visit the former colony in the year 1961 with her husband Duke of Edinburgh Phillip. She was invited by India’s first President Dr Rajinder Prasad and presided over the Republic Day Parade as Guest of Honour on the 11th Republic Day of India.

An Indo-Pak partition victim from Rawalpindi, Reena Chhibber  (90), who hit the headlines recently as she visited her maternal home in Rawalpindi Pakistan after 75 years, was about 30 years old then and was residing in Delhi.

Talking to this reporter from Pune, Chibber recalled the moment of 27th January 1961.

“Each year on 27th January after the India became a Republic in January of 1950, a cultural program would be held at Raj Bhawan’s Theatre, where selected personalities were invited for cultural program. In 1961 we were at the theatre and Queen Elizabeth II of England was the Guest of Honour at India’s Republic Day parade. She attended this program. As I came out with my friend, the Queen was sitting in a moving Horse Buggy right outside the gate. She was at an arm’s distance from me. She looked at me and I waved at her. The Queen radiantly smiled back and waved a white-gloved hand at us. She was wearing a ‘fluffy Hat’. It was her aura and grandeur that we remembered and discussed for many many nights thereafter,” Chibber recalls the event vividly even today.

Reena had recently visited her birthplace in Rawalpindi, marking the 75th year since she had last seen her home at the time of partition and had to move to India along with her family when she was just 15 years old.

The Queen during this 1961 tour also addressed a massive crowd at Ramlila Grounds, Delhi, where thousands came to listen to her. The Monarch was gifted an exquisite sculpture of Kutab Minar carved in Ivory while her husband Prince Philips was gifted a silver Candelabra. Subsequently, the Royal couple including the Queen’s Husband also toured Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Bangalore, and also visited the Taj Mahal in Agra. The couple paid tributes to Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi and planted a Pine Sapling at the Samadhi of the Father of the Nation at Raj Ghat Grounds.

The Queen with Prince Philips visited Amritsar on her 3rd visit in India in 1997. A day earlier on 13 October 1997, the Queen referred to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in a state banquet address.

“It is no secret that there have been some difficult episodes in our past — Jallianwala Bagh, which I shall visit tomorrow, is a distressing example,” she said.

Seen by the author on 14th October 1997, Her Majesty’s visit to the Jallianwalla Bagh Memorial – a remembrance of the indiscriminate killing of people on the bloodied Baisakhi day of 13th April 1919- meant a lot to the hurt psyche of the people of Amritsar. Though the Queen never apologised for the massacre, she and her husband placed wreaths at the memorial. The massacre at Amritsar had spurred a renewed spirit of freedom for India from the British.

Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philips known to make many gaffes made an infamous and insensitive  remark at the memorial site in 1997, questioning the number of casualties in the massacre in 1919 by British Gen O’Dwyer and his men and commented that it was ‘less’ than mentioned on the memorial stone.

Special permission was granted to the Queen to walk in socks at the Golden Temple parikarma or circumbulation around holy sarowar or  pond outside the sanctum sanctorum of the holiest Sikh Shrine.

From Left to Right: Reena Chibber, the witness and Queen Elizabeth II with India’s first President and first Prime Minister in 1961. FILE PHOTOS

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