Here’s an interesting love story in the backdrop of the partition of India. Urooj captures the tensions of the lovers belonging to different faiths. She also vividly describes the pains and pangs of partition of the lands, peoples and hearts, exlusively for Different Truths.
“It was the time when they loved each other best, without hurry or excess, when both were most conscious of and grateful for their incredible victories over adversity.” ~ Love in the Time of Cholera
A gorgeous morning had dawned upon the pink city of Jaipur where Sameer was residing with his parents. He came from an upper-middle-class Muslim family. Being the only son he was the center of all of his parent’s attention. As he was getting ready to attend a wedding in Amritsar, called by his best friend Raj, Sameer’s mother was constantly whimpering due to the worsening condition of the country. His parents thought it is not at all a good decision to travel all the way to Amritsar to attend his best friend’s sister’s wedding.
“Maa, Shalini has been tying rakhi to me since I and Raj became friends. I just cannot miss her wedding,” Sameer replied to his mother while packing his clothes in the bag. “But, Beta (son) you know what is going on. Your father and I are terribly worried. God forbid if something happens.”
Sameer turned around and hugged his mother, “Mummy if something is written in my destiny, who can stop it from happening. Just relax and say goodbye to me happily so that I can enjoy my stay over there.” He kissed his mother on her cheek and she smiled back nodding her halfhearted consent.
Sameer was greeted with warmth, as Raj’s home was like a second home to him. Raj belonged to an upper-class Brahmin educated family, with his father being lawyer and mother, a housewife. After spending the night in bed and shedding off all the tiredness of the travel, Raj and Sameer went for a morning walk next morning. And this was then when Sameer saw Shikha. She was standing in the beautiful wooden carved window like a Royal Rajput Queen, letting the sun soak the warmth of her golden eyes. Sameer was completely smitten by her beauty!
“Who is she,” he asked Raj, casually, who was walking beside him.
“Oh! She is Shikha, my mausi’s (maternal aunt’s) daughter,” Raj replied, scratching his ear.
“How beautifully she fits in the frame of the carved window, like Rembrandt’s painting,” Sameer whispered to himself. When she moved away from the window, Sameer realised that something inside him has shaken, as if some earthquake had hit him.
As the days went past, Sameer got introduced to Shikha. And she also couldn’t ignore Sameer’s presence around her. Sameer was in his early twenties, a handsome looking man with all the charming manners. A perfect blend of wittiness and intelligence, he was able to win Shikha’s heart in no time! The next thing was they were madly in love with each other. During the wedding festivities, Sameer managed to steal Shikha’s glimpses – she was wrapped in the finest colours of the rainbow. There she was standing on the pillar, leaning against it, spreading the charm of her warm smile or singing the wedding songs. She was clapping until her white palms became red and her laughter rang a thousand wind chimes in Sameer’s heart.
Happy moments do not last long. The 15-day vacations just vanished. Shikha was his companion and they practically checked out every nook and corner of Amritsar. There was no place left where they didn’t mark their presence. Shikha bought colourful sarees and kurtas of Sameer’s favourite colours. She filled the tips of her fingers with mehndi and wore all the bangles that could fit in her wrists. And she soaked every inch of his skin with her gentle, loving caresses.
They went to see all the markets, Mohallas, Mandirs and Gurudwaras and then came this bitter moment of realisation that they both did not belong to the same religion!
Shikha came from a strict Brahmin family, while Sameer was a Punjabi Muslim. Their relationship was not going to be easy. Their families would go against their decisions and that was a big threat to Shikha and her feelings. She was scared of letting Sameer go back to Jaipur as if she knew what was coming. But Sameer had no choice but to go back and join his office but he promised Shikha that they both would remain in touch via telephone or letters and keep updating each other whatever is happening in their lives. With a heavy heart and eyes full of tears, Shikha bade goodbye to Sameer. And he parted from her with thousands of promises of returning soon with a good news.
The winds of time were not in favour of their love. Those were the days of partition. There was so much going on in the country, loot, riots, rapes and murders. No one was safe. This fire was spreading wildly all over. Sameer had lost all contacts with Raj, in Amritsar. His landline number was out of order and no letter was reaching him. To bear the brunt of being separated from Shikha was not easy for him. Thoughts and concerns became demons. Sameer’s heart was sinking deep, in the sea of worries.
And the day came, when his father hurried back home and told him to pack their important belongings and leave their Hindu neighborhood. There was chaos everywhere. They rushed to Amritsar, with a group of Muslims, joining other families on packed trains to Lahore.
The camps in Amritsar were tales of pain and horror. Many had lost their families, while reaching here. Some lost their wives, some were without husbands, sisters lost their brothers and mothers lost their children. There were suffering and agony, torment and torture. Amongst all this, Sameer saw Shikha like a blooming rose in thorns, like a rain shower after scorching heat. They both ran towards each other, absorbing the sight and their presence. They lost the sense that they were in a refugee camp!
“I knew. I knew, I will find you here,” said Shikha. She held Sameer’s hand so tight that she would never leave it again. Tears were rolling down her large eyes. Sameer’s eyes too were misty.
“Words would be less, if I start telling you how much I have missed talking to you,” said Sameer.
He clasped her hands tight, afraid to leave those.
“But, now what Sameer. Now What?”
And what was there to promise when one was standing at the border, on a divided land. A land which was going to become a past soon for Sameer but was the future for Shikha. How cruel could destiny be!
Slowly, Sameer’s hand moved towards his pocket and then there was a ring in her hands. A thin gold ring with a single oval emerald. Sameer slid the ring in Shikha’s ring finger. They hugged each other and was lost in the warmth and comfort of the loving embrace…
“You know Shikha, I have to go. But, this is my promise to you. I will come back to take you with me. Don’t ever remove it until our fate meet and we become one, forever.” He gently placed a kiss on the back of her hand. The time came for the final goodbye. With smiles wrapped in tears, Shikha bid goodbye to Sameer, clinging to his promise, as the train started to move before it chugged out. She kept on waving until she lost the sight of it. Shikha stood there, for a long time, looking vacantly at the direction where the train had left with Sameer.
Partition was not easy. There were no resources. Everything had to be built from the scratch. And it was a terrible state for Sameer and his family to set their lives once again in a country with no infrastructure and nothing in its favour.
As the days went by, life began to settle. With the help of claim, they earned a home to live. Both Sameer and his father got jobs. It was not as good as it was in Jaipur but something is, after all, better than nothing.
It took two years for Sameer and his family to bring life back on track, once again.
And then the time came when Sameer’s mother brought up the topic of Sameer’s wedding.
“Shikha,” the name flashed in his mind and he wanted to fly back instantly to her. But, before anything he wanted to make sure what the situation at Raj’s place was. He tried reaching him through the telephone number he had but in vain. He wrote letters but no replies came. Now, the only way left was to go back to Amristar and see what had happened.
Travelling back to the land, which once belonged to you, as a foreigner is such a bitter feeling. He had Raj’s address. After reaching Amritsar, Sameer stayed in a hotel and in an hour he was knocking at Raj’s door.
An unknown female opened the door.
“Namaste, I am Sameer. I have come from Pakistan. Is Raj at home?” He asked hesitantingly.
“Yes, Bhai saab,” the female replied with a warmth in her tone. “Please come in. I am Raj’s wife, Ankita. He has told me everything about you.”
Sameer was pleased to see that Raj’s wife was a good-looking woman, full of respect for Sameer.
She knew him already. Within minutes, she brought tea and refreshments for him and told him that Raj was on his way home from work.
Raj was pleasantly surprised to see Sameer. Both friends hugged each other and shed silent tears.
They shared their parts of the story. Then there was the question that Sameer was reluctant to ask but it was written all over his face.
“Raj,” Sameer was about to say something before Raj stopped him.
“Wait…” and he left the room.
Raj came back with a blue velvet case. Sameer’s heart was beating so fast he could feel it in his throat.
“This is yours, Sameer.”
“What is it..?”
“Come with me,” Raj went out of the room and Sameer followed him like a robot…
He took him to the locked room on the first floor. The same room, the same window, where Sameer saw Shikha for the very first time but to his surprise the room was locked from outside.
Raj opened the lock and with a click it opened. It was empty, just a bed and a table, with a golden kalash (pot) covered with a red cloth at its mouth.
“Shikha…” Raj pointed towards the Kalash and Sameer stared at the pot and Raj blankly.
“What is this? Some kind of practical joke. I’m not liking it Raj. Please tell me where is Shikha?”
“Sameer, after you left there were riots here as well. Shikha lost her brother and father and they came to live with us. When things settled, Shikha’s mother wanted to get her married and settled. She was very worried, as she was a widow and had lost her son too. Everyone was forcing Shikha for the marriage and then she told me about you. Told everything. And begged to find you. I tried my best, my friend, but I couldn’t. Then came to this very fine proposal and the family pressure was increasing every passing day. One night Shikha came to my room and gave me this ring. She told me to return this ring to you, whenever you came back. She had so much strength in her voice that I couldn’t refuse. She said that as she is moving on with her life now she cannot keep it with her. She went back upstairs. The next morning, we found her dead in her room. She had slashed her wrists and had bled to death.” Raj had tears in his eyes.
The earth spun before Sameer’s eyes. He was dizzy with disbelief.
The woman he loved was no more and he was not able to absorb this shock. His jaws stiffened with grief as if someone was cutting into his flesh with a blunt knife. His mind was blank. He didn’t know what to do. He felt like a gambler, who lost the game, the moment he was about to win!
July 29, 1950
The winds were pale, like an old white scarf that has been washed many times. Stars faded. It was the end of the world for Sameer. He slowly opened his closed fist. Very slowly, like a new born babe opens its eyes. There it was. The little emerald ring, shining bright.
“Shikha was never afraid of death,” he thought. “The only fear she had was of her name plucked away from mine.” In the whisper of her words, he took one more breath. “I will be gone but this name will stick to me.” It’s a sliver of remembrance. A name that stretched in all his life. The more he tried to run away, the more he found falling for her. As if he was stuck in quicksand. And then he gave up!
He looked at the ring one last time. Placed his lips on it, like he never placed on Shikha’s lips, absorbing whatever remained of his life, before fading into the arms of death…
“They were so close to each other that they preferred death to separation.” ~ One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Photos from the internet.
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