A story set in the background of India-Pakistan Partition. A tribute to the many families that lost a little more than just a ‘piece of land’, like my own.
A lavish house in West Delhi, year 2012, a prosperous family of nine, kids, men and women chatting and doing home chores, still an eerie silence lingering; baba, siting by the side of his king size bed, a little more tired for even his old age, his woman by his side, in remorse.
A haveli in Rawalpindi, year 1947, a prosperous family of eight, an old man and his lady, the man’s ailing mother, their two sons and daughters in-law. One out of which was now shouting, screaming her lungs out as the women of the family stayed in the room with her, except the ailing old mother who is still on the manji. Outside, a stress filled angan with worried men strolling around as the only grandchild, Angad, sat on bebe’s manji.
“Don’t worry; it is going to be perfectly fine.” A heavy voice told baba, as a hand caressed his shoulder. “It’s not as if she is shot!”
But she was, almost.
Angad’s Beeji had almost dodged a bullet while coming back from the market.
She had nothing to do with those on going riots, she was innocent, but the bullet brushed just past her shoulder and that’s why she was shouting, the pain just wouldn’t go. Beeji was anyway a frail lady, she had clumsy pace and an aging face. She had not intended to go out today, but there was no water and all the men in the house were out.
The thought of that warm bullet cutting through her flesh and her hand would’ve stuffed her shawl inside her mouth immediately to muffle her loud cry. She would’ve bled with her pace fastening, in a hope to reach home alive. The mere thought of the whole scene ran electric jolts down Angad’s spine.
Had it been another day, Angad would’ve been shouting by now, screaming and ailing like his heart was, but he was scared, he was afraid to express his pain. He feared if he’d shout he might lose his mother, she won’t be able to hold herself together for long if she would hear him falling apart.
Baba’s fears were irrational too. He had seen his mother die in pain and anguish several years ago, but it certainly didn’t mean his wife too would go away that way, isn’t it!
She was a cancer patient, had been fighting the ailment for five long years now, the doctors had almost given up, but he hadn’t. A rational man would help her be at peace as much as he could and try and accept what is inevitable, but baba never was a rational man. He had never loved anyone like his wife, she was the closest to the place his mother held for him. He was not at all good at handling losses. Little loss in business would push him into distress instantly, and here it was his wife’s life at stake.
Baba had always pictured himself dying next to his wife in the same bed, not like this, when she is ailing there in pain and he can’t do anything about just sit there and curse just about everything that he can think of. The heavy voice trying to console baba is his brother in-law, he’s being a good support, trying to console baba, he knew how blessed his sister was to have found a man who loved her so deeply. “Don’t worry she will not die right away, there’s still time.” He said and squeezed baba’s shoulder in empathy. Baba’s wife was his only sister and the one like a god-mother to him actually; she had done so much for him without ever thinking twice.
So was Angad’s mother. The most giving and sacrificing woman he had known. There was something so beautiful about her that Angad could never really understand. He was just transfixed by it; no it wasn’t the way Freud proposed, but a way, only Angad could explain. His mother was quite literally a god to him, never less than a deity, he worshiped her, madly. Today she wasn’t fine, she was not the same chirpy yet shy woman he knew, she was screaming in anguish and pain and everyone’s face gave the expression of hopelessness.
Similar expressions were what ticking off baba’s temper too. He wanted no sympathies; none of them. All of those sad eyes were agitating him, more because he could do nothing now but just wait and watch his beloved die.
For over ten weeks now, baba wouldn’t talk to anyone, just sit on the bedside quietly and sometimes out of nowhere, just curse and swear. He no longer cared whether the children were around or the daughter-in laws or some visitors. Some claimed to understand his misery and others would just frown at his blasphemy, but baba didn’t care.
He was losing himself and all of his will to live and yet he was angry.
Angad’s mother must’ve understood her boy’s heart ache; however, that suddenly she decided to come back. “It’s a miracle, nothing less” beeji said thanking the lords. Angad just hugged his beeji and cried for what seemed like an eternity, without any voices. Her wound was now dressed and covered and the men of the house announced that they had to leave right away; no more lives will be risked.
Angad’s father had already made arrangements in Amritsar for them. He was a rich man with contacts and that was the reason he wasn’t home for a while when all that happened.
Through the riots and the killings Angad’s family did make it to Amritsar, but beeji didn’t make it.
A week later when they finally reached Amritsar, and took shelter at Angad’s father’s friend’s place mother was already not keeping well. She saw a major swelling on her arm. The nation was in distress and the medical facilities during the time of partition were non-existent and no one was to be trusted looking at all the killings. Bebe suggested waiting for a while and then taking her to the doctor. Beeji smiled and agreed. A week more and the swelling started puss and bleed, beeji’s eyes started to drop and her nose would occasionally bleed too. The scenario outside had gone from bad to worse. Father stood there, looking at beeji shouting in anguish yet again, he did nothing, could do nothing. Beeji died a painful death because of the infection that bullet had caused and everyone saw her dying and could do absolutely nothing.
Baba was feeling more or less the same right now. He was losing his wife and he was doing nothing but watching her die.
She just slept now, almost passed out, would at times blabber a thing or two which no one would be able to understand. Sometimes, baba would hold her hand and tell her that the pain will go away with tears in his eyes, the other times he would talk about old times to her and tell her how much he loves her. But baba’s wife was already past all of that. She could neither understand nor respond to anything.
She was dying.
Just like Angad’s mother did, in pain and anguish.
Poor health care facilities, distress and riots were the reason another boy had lost his mother. Partition and migration had destroyed yet another home. Angad lost himself with his mother that day. He always stayed aloof from the world and developed many psychological problems within himself. More when the step-mother tried to change his life. He would’ve never smiled again had he not fallen in love some years later. She was the second woman that touched Angad’s soul.
Baba would sleep every night in the fear of waking up to a corpse the next day, he stopped taking his medicines to avoid sleep too but everyone started complaining. Eventually they all made him take them again and one day his nightmare was the reality.
Baba’s wife passed away. The disease finally released her of all the pain. She was no longer suffering the insufferable. She was gone to never return.
Baba felt cheated and betrayed. Just like Angad did; broken.
He was so angry with his wife that he didn’t even attend her funeral, just sat in his room looking out of the window. He sat there for several hours every day since, eventually everyone stopped visiting him or trying to talk to him too. One day, Baba too gave up. Maybe if he hadn’t lost his mother so suddenly, maybe if his family would’ve been more responsible, maybe if he would’ve been a little less stubborn things would’ve passed, maybe.
He got up, walked to the balcony beyond that and tried to climb the railing.
His wife’s brother shouted behind him, but it was too late.