Chand villa dazzled under the deluge of the multi-colored lights that cascaded from the verandah. Mellifluous sound of the Shehnai* filled the air amidst the hustle and bustle.
“Laajwanti,” Roopchand called out to his wife.”Listen, the pundit gave me a last-moment list. I need to go to the market. I will be back before the baraat* arrives.”
“Why don’t you ask Dilsher or Irfaan to go?”
“I can’t trust your good-for-nothing nephew with important purchases, and as for Irfaan, I haven’t spotted him anywhere in the vicinity.”
Roopchand hurried, even as Laajwanti began visually scouring the place for Irfaan. Neither was he visible nor were his parents, Iqbal and Farida.
Hadn’t she requested them to come early? They did not need an invite. The Qureshis and the Sabarwals had been like a single-family living in one compound. The Qureshis had shifted with their two-year-old son when Ranjo was born. As they grew up, the two kids played together.
Time flew by, and Irfaan started assisting his father in their grocery shop at Chandni Chowk, Delhi, no sooner he finished his schooling.
Ranjo’s schooling was stopped when she came to age. Roopchand believed that girls had to be docile housewives and cater to the family’s needs they are wedded into.
Ignoring the quirky remarks passed by kith and kin, the two families continued to celebrate all functions, may it be Id or Diwali, together. The disparity in their financial status was no deterrent to their friendship. Roopchand was counted amongst one of the richest men in Delhi. He owned a gold shop in the heart of the city, while Iqbal was several rungs below him in monetary and social status.
Today was Ranjo’s wedding. At eighteen, she was to wed the only son of a professional friend of Roopchand. The wedding would be the talk of the town for two reasons, one for its extravaganza and then for the historical moment it coincided with. India was to achieve independence in a few hours from the time the baraat was expected to come.
In her room upstairs, Ranjo’s friends were busy adorning her with ornaments.
“Hey, Ranjo, come on, cheer up, all girls have to leave their parents’ home one day. You are the luckiest female on earth, going from one rich household to another opulent one. Look how much gold your in-laws have sent for you.”They displayed the long neckpiece and diamond-studded choker.
“She is probably anxious to see her husband. Wait, maharani*, it is still time. The baraat is expected only by 7.30, and it is just 7.” They nudged her cheeks and playfully circled her, giggling.
Laajwanti began to get restless as there was no sign of Roopchand. The Qureshis, too, were conspicuous by their absence.
‘Let me run across and see what is delaying them.‘ Laajwanti approached the threshold and was confronted by a visibly upset Roopchand.
“The Qureshis have left for Peshawar,” Roopchand’s voice choked as he gestured Laajwanti to get in and brace to welcome the baraatis*.
“But why? Has it got something to do with the partition? You had promised to help them by using your influences and even give them refuge in our house if the need arose.”
“Let us talk about it later. The baraat has reached the gate. Stop sulking,” Roopchand gave a sermon but was himself looking crestfallen.
Seizing an apt opportunity, Laajwanti informed Ranjo about the Qureshis having left for Peshawar. “Your father said he would tell me everything in detail, though I am sure it has something to do with the partition.” Laajwanti did not miss to notice the misty eyes of her daughter as she led her to the canopy.
No sooner than the wedding ceremony culminated and a teary-eyed Ranjo was given a royal farewell, Roopchand placed a letter in Laajwanti’s hand.
“Iqbal’s grocery shop worker handed this to me. The contents touched my heart.”
As the sky filled with sounds of bursting crackers proclaiming the independent status of India, Laajwanti ran her eyes in disbelief through Iqbal’s letter.
Ðear Roopchand Bhai*,
Ranjo’s wedding is a momentous occasion in your and Laajwanti behen’s* life. The melancholy that we could not be a part of the celebrations will follow us to the grave, but I respect our friendship more than anything else, and I am glad I could save it in the face of adversities.
Neither you nor I realized that our children had grown up and had the liberty to fall in love with each other.
Allah created a befitting opportunity to bring this to my notice.
Feeling a bit suffocated inside, I had strolled to get some fresh air last night at about 11.30 pm. Spotting Irfaan near your porch. I tip-toed and was stunned to overhear his conversation with Ranjo. They were confirming the plan, which probably was chalked out earlier.
‘No sooner than the baraat arrives, you sneak in through the back stairs. Everyone would be busy dancing to oblivion. We can get out through the back gate unnoticed. The roads would be crowded with people celebrating independence. That is why I suggested this night for our elopement. We will take a train to Jalandhar where I have a close cousin, who will help us out. I will have enough ornaments on me.’
Ranjo’s words and Irfaan’s acquiescence left me tongue-tied.
My son has yearned for the moon. I seek your pardon for his imprudence.
I am aware that this relationship would never be acceptable, and it will only be instrumental in triggering animosity between the two families.
We are moving to Peshawar for good. Irfaan’s wedding with my niece will be solemnized soon.
Pakistan and India may have become two different countries, but the Qureshis and the Sabarwals will always be united. I will meet you when I come back to wind up my shop. Do convey our blessings to Ranjo.”
Laajwanti’s eyes glistened with unshed tears as Roopchand slumped on the sofa and cried his heart out.
Shehnai—– A musical instrument
Baraat—– Wedding Procession
Baraatis—-Grooms people in the wedding procession
Event Sponsored by Kasturi Patra, Published Writer, A Mother’s Goodbye
Can a woman be a mother at the cost of being herself? Can circumstances force a child to be a mother? To know the answers, do read Kasturi Patra’s A Mother’s Goodbye, a poignant tale of a woman, her children, and a mother who said did not say good bye.