Monday, July 14, 2014

The Many Ways Of Life

The creak was followed by 2 hysterical shrieks and a thundering of footsteps on the floor as the brother sister duo ran towards the door.

“Grandpa who did you vote for? Tell us fast, please. We want to count votes and declare the winner of elections, fast..!”

“Hahah kids, let me sit down at least. Shumona get me a glass of water, and Vijay get my spectacles. Then I’ll tell you both a story. A true story about a boy of your age.

As the two kids ran off in opposite directions, the old man sighed and wiped his face with his sleeves. Closing his eyes, he smiled and waited for the two mini storms to return.

Settling onto his bed, he made the kids lay down beside him, and keeping one hand on each, he began his tale.

“Children, this is a true story. Today, you all can do what you want, and that is the freedom the nation, the world has given you. This story is about a boy, and how he had to make choices, he had to take the tough decisions, and not only him, but also the people around him, the country, and the world. His childhood was filled with sacrifices, and yet, he became old. From your age, he grew to mine.

“Do you know about how Pakistan was formed?”

“Yes, teacher had told something. We got freedom from Britishers, and then Pakistan got made.”

“That is not completely true, but yes. This story is based in that time, when food was scarce, and there were no buildings or electricity and even all this didn’t exist.”

“We’ll understand that later grandpa, you just begin the story.”

“So, one day…”

The three sat together pondering over the news that had just come in over radio. There was going to be a new country, for Muslims, for their religion.

“This is good in a way, and bad in another. What shall we do now,” asked Salman off his family.

“Do we have a choice? They are making a special nation for us, so can we deny them,” asked Fiza.

“Yes we can. They haven’t forced anyone to leave, have they?”

“But it is a nation for us isn’t it? Then why shouldn’t we go?”

“The trip will use all our savings Fiza.”

“Trip? Where are we going abba? Let’s go right now. Please,” spoke Javed for the first time in the conversation.

“Javed sit down. Don’t talk in between. Haven’t I taught you that before,” said Fiza stealing a stern look at their son, a boy of 5, who just looked away with a tearful look on his face.

As Salman began speaking, there was a knock on the door, and their neighbor, Champaklal Shah walked in.

“Salman miya, when do you plan on leaving? You should go as soon as possible. I just received word from my sister in Amritsar that the crowd near the soon to be border is increasing. We are one of the last to know of the separation. It was announced there more than a week ago. There are also reports of some violence. Do not risk your lives, please.”

“Champaklal bhai what are you saying? Is it a necessity for us to leave? Why can’t we stay on here?”

“No Salman, we can’t stay here. What is our future in this nation? We have our own homeland now. So we shall go and stay there. I am going with Javed; you can choose to come with me or to stay here.”

“Bhabhiji, you are right. Salman miya, this place isn’t going to be safe. I could hide you and your family till it all cools down, but what after that?”

“Then we shall all leave at first light tomorrow,” Salman said grimly with a nod.

“I shall tell Raksha to make you a filling lunch for your travels, and we shall come and drop you to the station as well.”

“Thank you Champakbhai.”

The next morning, the train clanged into the station, as the waiting crowd swelled as one. People clambered onto the train, and those who couldn’t, grabbed onto the doors and windows and even got on the top.

“Go home Champaklal bhai. If you come any further, you won’t be able to return. We’ll manage from here. Javed hold my hand tight. Let’s go Fiza.”

“Happy journey Salman miya. I will miss you here.”

As the three searched for a place to hold onto, the train began moving, well ahead of schedule. The remaining crowd on the station rose and began running haplessly for a single hand hold in order to get to their destination.

The Pathans somehow got onto the train, hanging precariously on the lowest step of one of the compartments.

As the train picked up speed, Salman said, “Good that we managed to get a place.”

“We should have come earlier. Then we would have gotten a place to sit too. What of our land?”

“Champak bhai will take care of it till we can return to sell it. If not, it shall be inherited by Javed, who can come and sell it or even live on it later in life.”

“He will not live on that land, he shall…”

The rest of her words were drowned in a scream as Javed’s hand slipped from the handle of the door, and he fell, a veil of darkness overpowering him, as he screamed for his abba and ammi.

The curtain of darkness slowly lifted to reveal the two people staring down intently at him. Rubbing his eyes, he tried to get to his feet, which felt as though they were made of lead. As his vision cleared, he saw the faces of his neighbors, Champak bhai and his wife.

“Javed, just sleep for some more time. The fall from the train has hurt you and you need time to heal,” said Raksha.

“Where are ammi and abba,” Javed asked her.

She just bent her head and turned towards her husband who said, “They tried coming after you, but there was an angry crowd at the station…there was a riot too…they couldn’t make it.”

“But how…kaka,” the boy whimpered, tears welling up in his eyes.

“I would have waited to tell you this. At least till you were fully fit and healed. But since you ask I must not delay. There was a clash between Hindus and Muslims at the station. The sounds you shall hear during the day will be the same. People are barging into houses just to see if anyone is hiding any Muslims.”

“Then what about me?”

“Do you want to live my child?”


“Then there is just one way…”

The old man paused and began getting up.

“Grandpa, what happened? Where are you going?”

“Kids, let me have some water.”

“No! Tell us what the way was!”

“Take a guess. The one who does it correctly will get a chocolate from me,” the old man said with a twinkle in his eye, pulling a chocolate bar from his pocket.

“We don’t know,” the two kids screamed loudly, urging the old man to begin again.

“Then I’ll have the chocolate alone. Is that fine?”

Shumona looked at Vijay, and in unison, they began batting their eyebrows, their expression changing from impatience to that of unbearable cuteness.

“You seriously think I’ll do anything without you two?”

With a smile, the two jumped onto their grandfather, who smiled and sat down again on the bed.


“What way kaka? What would I have to do?”

“Don’t call me kaka from now on.”

“Then? I don’t get…” Javed wondered aloud as a wave of understanding swept through him.

“I don’t have a choice, but I wish to live. I must wipe all this away; I must wipe away my tears; I must wipe away my past; I must wipe away all that happiness; I must wipe away my sorrow. Okay dad? And mom,” he went on, dabbing at his eyes with his sleeve.

The husband and wife looked at each other, and smiled weakly.

“That can’t happen! Why didn’t he just run away Grandpa,” asked Vijay in his sweet voice.

“You have no brains only, idiot,” Shumona taunted her older brother.

“You both will never stop fighting, will you,” asked their grandfather, laughing slowly. “Wish I’d have had someone with me.”

“You didn’t have any brothers or sisters, Grandpa?”

“No Vijay, I was a lone child. So, what did you understand from the story?”

“What? We had to understand something as well,” Vijay asked cheekily, looking at his younger sister and waiting for her to speak.

“You’re older, brother. At least try to use your brains. Oh sorry, God didn’t give you any.”

“Shumona, you shouldn’t say such things. Vijay is older to you, you must respect him,” intervened their grandfather.

“Touch my feet, kid,” Vijay said, keeping them in his sister’s lap and mocking her.

Before she could answer, her grandfather said, “She is your sister Vijay. She doesn’t have to be at your feet, but in your arms, with you. You have to support her forever. And Shumona, as you said, God maybe didn’t give him brains, but he gave him you.”

There was a moment’s silence as the children sat, wondering what their granddaddy meant, and then Vijay went beside his sister, and held her hand.

“Idiot only you are Vijay. He didn’t mean it literally, mad,” Shumona retorted with a smile, feigning mockery. “And dada, what was the moral of the story? Even I didn’t get that part.”

“Every story ends a good way. And if it is bad, then it surely isn’t the end,” Vijay said as his sister’s eyes widened.

“No. I must tell your mother to reduce your television time. And, I wanted to say to you two that there are some times in life when you have to make tough decisions. You do not have a chance at that time, but you must make them, for yourself; or for others. If Javed wouldn’t have made that decision, he would have lost his life, and so would his neighbors.

“People didn’t have the choices at that time to decide what they want, but they just had to do what everyone was doing. But today, I chose who I wanted to lead our nation, to lead us. Times have changed children, and they always change. We must just adapt to them, and must adjust our lives so as to live through them. Always.”

“So who did you vote for finally,” asked Vijay, his initial question coming back to him.

“There are some rules, and one of them is that you must never tell anyone who you vote for. Not before, nor after.”

“Ignore him dada, he is mad only,” Shumona interjected, coming out of the trance she had gone into after hearing her grandfather speak.

“Now go on. I need some rest, and you’ll have to do your homework too. And send your father in too.”

“I’m here dad. Go on children, your mother is waiting for you in the kitchen with your favorite snacks.”

As the children went out of the room, he went on, “Javed’s name was changed to Jatin wasn’t it?”

His father looked up, and with a smile asked, “You are still as cheeky as you were in your childhood Rajesh.”

“I heard the whole story dad.”

“I know you did. I’m your father, I know every time you breathe son. And, how did you guess that?”

“My grandfather had told me the same story, and it was the same except that it was about a man and his wife who got their son that way. I just linked up your visiting the mosque on every Friday, and asked you.”

“Go on to work son, I need to rest,” the old man said, slowly wiping his eyes and lying down on the bed.