The Red Line
Lahore Aug 1947
She heard an ear-splitting explosion. “What are those loud noises Ma, Who is screaming on the streets?” Eight year old Samyukta asked her mother, looking terrified. Samyukta hugged her mother Sarita, who pulled Samyukta closer. “ People are fighting beta.” She replied, her eyes full of sorrow.
Samyukta’s father Shyam ran inside, “To the terrace.” He yelled.
“I am hungry Baba,” said Samyukta. “Later beta “Baba hushed her.
“Put your heads down and don’t let them hear you breathe,” he hissed.
Cold fear gripped them. Samyukta could see the road below through the railings. A fire raged around and she saw a group of angry men brandishing knives. Crying families, including children huddled in terror in front of them.
“Die, Die, you fakirs”, they chanted.
“Spare my baby I beg you”, wailed a woman.
The bodies fell one by one, some so tiny it numbed Samyukta’s little heart. A sea of red flowed from the bodies. She threw up and lay down sobbing.
Baba’s eyes blazed. “May they rot in hell, the murderers? We must get on the train to Hindustan to save our lives.”
“Will they kill us?” Whispered Samyukta.
A deep sadness enveloped him as he rushed out of their ancient family home. Ruin faced them. “Come with me,” his neighbour and childhood friend Azad said appearing on the terrace. “We must leave.”
(Amritsar Aug 1947)
“Ammi, why are they shouting?” asked Aman rushing to her parents, Nazim and Ayesha. They were talking and looked worried. Aman started sobbing when the gunshots boomed. The cries came closer and angry swords clanged.
Aman lifted the curtain a little and peeped out. She ran back, looking distraught. “Abbu, they are killing people. They are chanting “Go to Pakistan. Die, Die. “
She buried her face in Ammi’s lap. “Will they kill us?”
“The country has gone mad, “ Nazim sighed.
There was a loud bang on the door. Aman’s eyes were pools of fear. “Beta we are in danger. You must hide. Do not come out whatever happens”. He said, hugging her. Aman ran to her room and slid under her bed.
She heard the door fall and screams followed. “Traitors! Any more of you?”, The rabid voice rasped. Nazim pleaded, “We have done no harm, please spare us, “ She heard dragging sounds amidst screams. Aman curled into a foetal position.
There was a deathly silence.
(Amritsar Aug 1947)
Harpreet Kaur gazed at the beautiful yellow bird on the mango tree outside her window. The screams reverberated and the startled bird flew away. Harpreet ran to her parents Arshbir Singh and Jaswinder Kaur. Her mother said, “Puttar, we have to leave now with Papa.“
“Where are we going Mummy,” asked Harpreet?
“Puttar, our lives are in danger. People seem to have gone mad, killing and looting.”
Harpreet saw fear in her father’s eyes. He patted her head and said, “Let’s go through the sugar cane fields. We can escape the mob if we are lucky.”
They kept walking. Arshbir halted in front of a ransacked house with a broken door and said, “Let us go in.” They walked in. Harpreet saw dried blood on the floor and started sobbing. “Someone is dead or hurt Papa,“ she cried.
“We are all hurt my love, and dying a slow death,” Arshbir said.
There were voices at the door.
“I cannot walk any more Baba.” Said a child’s tired voice.
“Let us go in here”, said a male voice, ‘We may get some water. Samyukta is in shock. I never thought we would make it across the border”. Said Shyam.
“Who is it?” demanded Jaswinder .
The two families eyed each other with mistrust but slowly started talking.
Harpreet saw Samyukta and held out her hand giving her a small smile. They were the same age.
The girls heard someone whimpering as they tiptoed up the wooden staircase clutching each other. They heard the sobbing again from under the bed. The girls pulled a trembling little girl out.
“Ma, come up here,” Samyukta shouted. Sarita froze at the sight and whispered, “Bhagwan!”.
The child cried, “Where are Ammi and Abbu? They asked me to hide here”.
Sarita held the child close. “Hush my child”
They went down and the adults looked up, shocked. The girl looked for her parents and finally sat down beside her harmonium weeping.
“What is your name?”, asked Jaswinder.
“Aman Mohammed” she replied.
“Leave her,” barked Shyam. She belongs to the murderers. Have you forgotten the bodies of little children on the train? The broken men and the naked women?” he shouted.
Jaswinder’s tears flowed. “They showed no mercy to my people too. The screams of my dying young nephews as they plunged the knives into them haunt me”.
Sarita said, “She is a helpless child! What about Insaniyat?” Her eyes blazed.
Arshbir walked towards Aman and patted her head .
The adults spoke in low voices.
“We must go back home. “Come with us. We must stand together.” Arshbir said, looking at Shyam who embraced him. “I am grateful brother,” he wept.
Jaswinder said,“We will take Aman with us.
“Aman is our child too,” said Sarita embracing Jaswinder. Let us hope they can grow in peace.”
‘’Satnam Waheguru” mouthed Jaswinder.
Arshbir fiddled with a radio.
Ayesha caressed the harmonium. “I cannot play music,” she said looking sad. “Abbu will fix it,” she added.
Harpreet gazed at the lush mango tree. The earth looked reddish brown, drenched in blood.
“Do you think the mangos will turn red?, she asked,
“Will it taste of blood?”, asked Samyukta.
Samyukta said, “I like the rains. Can we see a line where the rain stops falling? She asked.
“Papa said India is free now and the British have gone back. But they drew a line and cut our country.” Said Harpreet.
“Cuts always bleed. Is that line red to? Asked Samyukta.
The radio came alive.“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny”
Insaniyat – Humanity
Satnam Waheguru – Sikh Prayer
Bhagwan – God
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.