Cause we all live under the same sun
We all walk under the same moon
Then why, why can’t we live as one*
14th AUGUST 1947, RAJJO MAZARA
The mellow rays of the morning sun failed to lift the gloomy spirit of Rajjo Mazara for it heralded yet another day of mindless violence for the town.
“Open the door or I will break it down!” a harsh voice threatened from the outside of the sturdy timber wood, rattling it with rapid, impatient rapping.
“Wait! I am washing my hands!” Javed Rasool shouted, beckoning Reshma and Suraj to rush to the bedroom.
No sooner did Javed open the door, than the bearded stranger armed with a sword barged inside. “Is there any kafir* hiding here?” Javed’s skull cap and tawiz* obviously failed to make their mark on the intruder as his suspicious, kohl-lined eyes darted in all directions, scouting for a Hindu.
“Of course not! This house is no place for infidels.” Ignoring the wild thumping of his heart, Javed replied as nonchalantly as he could.
“Who is in that room?”
“My wife, Reshma. She isn’t feeling well.”
“Don’t waste your time here, can’t you see he is one of us? Come on, we have a lot of houses to search!” Another maniacal voice urged the bearded man away.
Latching the door again, Javed suddenly slumped on the floor. “Allah, will this ever end?”
Reshma gently tapped him on the shoulder. That was all that was needed for pent-up emotions to burst. Cradling each other they both sobbed violently.
“I can’t take this anymore. We will leave today evening for Wagah Border.”
“I will pack our belongings” Reshma got up without wasting time. She had been preparing since they first mulled about leaving the town. The town where they transitioned from infancy to adolescence to adulthood.
Situated on the south-east border of Lahore, Rajjo Mazara’s populace was almost an equal mix of Hindus and Muslims. Both communities coexisted peacefully under the same sun. Their children would play together, go to the same school, share their food with each other.
However, the announcement of partition polarized the inhabitants along religious lines. Sporadic skirmishes began making headlines fuelling fear, distrust and anger. The subcontinent’s independence from British imperial rule failed to elicit any celebrations; people were fearful to come out on streets. They anxiously waited to know which country their town would be merged with.
When Rajjo Mazara was awarded to Pakistan, Muslims heaved a sigh of relief and Hindus braced themselves for the worst. But Javed and Reshma’s dilemma continued to torment them. Their twelve-year old was a Hindu boy.Born to Reshma’s childhood friend, Suraj was orphaned at the tender age of two when both his parents died in an accident. Relatives scrambled for a slice of the property pie but beat a hasty retreat when it came to Suraj’s custody. Reshma stepped forward to raise Suraj till they found him a shelter. Suraj filled the void in their life created by Reshma’s miscarriage and the search for a home for the boy was abandoned.
Suraj was raised as a Hindu. The Rasool household celebrated Diwali with as much gusto as they celebrated Eid.
Rajjo Mazara was a safe haven for the Rasools. But what about Suraj? For him and all other non-believers it was a veritable massacre ground. Suraj Verma vald* Javed Rasool was a perfectly normal thing before division. Every time his teacher announced his name appending with Javed’s, Suraj felt a surge of pride in his heart. Wasn’t he unique?But partition changed everything. Fear replaced pride.
What turned ordinary, peace-loving denizens into murderers overnight? Perhaps the horror stories narrated by refugees who came from east Punjab warped their minds. One community inflicted carnage on the other to avenge the slaughter of their people and the situation swiftly descended into a downward spiral.
“We will have to rebuild our lives from scratch, but India is where Suraj can have any future” Javed explained to Reshma.
Javed hoped the Delhi sun would restore the sunshine lost from their lives, just like it did for his uncle who chose to live in India. He had gone to Delhi for a business matter around the time of partition. Known for taking thoughtful and well-informed decisions, he did not pay heed to the plea of relatives to come back. Pt Nehru had promised India would be home to all religions equally.
Javed shaved off his beard and took his skull cap off and wrapped a cotton gamcha* around his neck to conceal his tawiz. He had never taken off the black pendant containing verses from Quran for protection. His late mother had made him wear it.
He hauled the small wooden trunk containing all their belongings – silver trinkets and all the jewelry, some clothes, and some food. Taking one last look at their ancestral house, they trudged towards the bus station with a heavy heart.
The trio boarded the bus that was overflowing with immigrants. Those who couldn’t find a place inside climbed atop the carrier.
Suraj’s head banged into the jagged edge of the window as the bus tottered along the bumpy road. Javed quickly removed his gamcha and bandaged the open gash to contain the blood spurting from the wound. His tawiz caught the attention of his fellow passenger.
Javed was dragged out of the bus.
“Don’t kill him, please! My husband is a good man!”
“Kill her wife also!”
“Don’t harm my Abbu and Ammi!”
The air rang with high-pitched, shrill yelps as swords impaled and mutilated the three bodies. The bus resumed its trek under the setting sun that bled the sky red in its wake.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a fictional story set against the backdrop of division of the Indian subcontinent. Rajjo Mazara is a fictional town near Indo-Pak border and so are all the characters in the story but the trauma and pain that people experienced in the aftermath of partition is real.
UNHCR estimates 20 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were displaced during the partition of India, the largest mass migration in human history. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_migration)
1 Lyrics from a 1993 song by German rock band, Scorpions.
2 Kafir: A person who disbelieves in God as per Islam – a nonbeliever or non-Muslim
3 Tawiz: An amulet or locket worn by Muslims. It contains verses from the Quran and/or other Islamic prayers for protection.
4 Allah: The God
5 Vald: Son of
6 Gamcha: A traditional, thin cotton towel usually worn by males on one side of shoulder
7 Katua: derogatory slang for Muslims
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.
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