Friday 17 February 2012

A melody from the past

He was not yet 20 when he moved to Delhi to take up a job. India was still undivided then.
He had done his schooling and graduation out of hostels in what is now Pakistan. He would beam from ear to ear as he related his youthful pranks, his cheeks turning brilliantly rosy. Times without count he narrated how their stern warden shone his torch into their eyes to assure himself they were asleep, and how they scrammed the moment his back was turned. How his best friend beat up a roommate for stealing his alarm clock, and how in turn he had taken the rap (literally, a thick wooden stick) for him. How movies were such a big thing in those days, how they travelled by train to Lahore just to watch one.
Hostel at school meant living on a sprawling campus outside Sialkot, many many miles from home. It meant being hustled out into the icy, windy open for a bath at 4 in the morning. The boys queued up for their bucketful as a bull walked around a deep well to work a wonderful contraption that brought up warm water. The tinkling of the bells slung around its neck could be heard for miles, he’d say.
Bath over, teeth chattering, they would dash indoors for the hot milk served in big earthen mugs. He’d go into the campus gurdwara to say his prayers, his friend completing his namaz separately. Then they got together for the sumptuous morning meal in the hall. All vegetables came from the institution’s backyard.
Food was served in generous doles, but those wallops of ghee on top came from tins the boys had fetched from home. The tins were zealously guarded, for not all could afford them. His friend had no tin of his own, so half the ghee his grandma so lovingly packed for him would go into his friend’s plate. They also shared precious dry fruits and nuts, woollens, books, stories, smiles and tears. He was quite brash, even foolhardy; his friend was reticent and in his cool-headed way the perfect foil to him.
Time whizzed by. They turned into fine young men, skipping classes to play hockey and then attending extra classes together, visiting home once in a fortnight or two. Through the bone-chilling cold and the searing heat, the two were inseparable at school and on their journeys home and back.
In the cruelly hot summer, they would sneak out for a splash in the nearby canal. When it was time to head to their respective villages, each would carry his slate and books on his head and firmly hold the other’s hand as they crossed the fast-flowing river that cooled their dehydrated bodies.
Then school-leaving time arrived. The two were perched on their favourite spot on the boundary wall, sharing a packet of roasted peanuts.
It was the usual, silent camaraderie they enjoyed. Suddenly his friend spoke up. “Will you remember me after today?” he asked tremulously. “Of course, no question,” pat came the reply.
“I’ve always dreaded this day. I have written a nazm for you, brother,” his best friend said, pulling out a scrap of paper, and forthwith recited a beautiful but melancholy melody.
Recalling that forlorn voice inevitably brought a quiet mist to his eyes. “We were always together, but I had no idea till then that he could compose, or sing. Somehow, that day, he was so sure we were parting for ever.”
With a faraway look he’d recall bits of the poem. “I went away to college, he back to his village. I always thought one day I would look him up, till Partition happened and that path I thought would wait for me disappeared without trace,” said the man who had moved to Delhi.
He lived for seven more decades, but did not get over the childhood buddy he couldn’t meet again. Deprived of their farmland and all other property, locating his family and his wife’s after a traumatic separation, helping them all resettle, these were like a bad dream after some years. What he never forgave the Partition for was eliminating any chance of reunion with a friend who wrote a nazm only for him.
He was my father-in-law.


  1. superbly written..have heard these stories all my life..brought tears reading this..happy tears though :)

  2. Yes, dear, indeed. How we all swam merrily in the great ocean of his affection!