Based on a true story
“It was well past afternoon in the year 1947. The sun was bright and warm after a mild shower. There was no sign of dark clouds in the sky, though I was oblivious to the fact that the clouds would soon come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain but to usher a storm that would stir up the rest of my life.” Saying this, my great-grandmother, who is well above ninety, looked at me and her shriveled faced was puckered into a dry smile. I hugged her and pestered her to tell me more about the days of her yore. She continued…..
That day I had quickly finished all my housework. I was a young housewife with three kids. My eldest daughter who was five years old was playing with her dolls in the room where the other elders of the house were sitting. My two-year-old son followed me everywhere I went. The youngest that was barely six months old was in my arms. I had bought some jewelry recently and I was eager to show it to my best friend “Nigar”, who stayed next doors. Her house was adjacent to mine and there was only a very small brick wall which divided our terraces.
I quickly picked up my jewelry box along with the recent purchase and went upstairs towards the terrace. I called out Nigar once I reached the terrace. She had been my constant support since the day I had got married and shifted to my matrimonial home. I gleefully struggled to pull out the necklace from the box while she took the baby from my arms. “Wait!”, she cried. We heard some commotion in the street below. She peeped into the street to check and I asked curiously what the matter was.
We had been hearing of some cases of rioting but our area was always considered safe. However, that day was different. She immediately rushed back to me all pale and sweaty. She was in a state of shock as if she had seen some ghost. I again asked what the matter is. She mumbled, “downstairs in your house….” I panicked. “What?” I turned to go down but she held my arm and said, “No. Don’t you dare. The rioters are in your house. Come, cross over the wall and come inside my house I will hide you”.
I had no concept how to react. I was dumbfounded. My daughter along with all my family members was downstairs. I wanted to rush back home while we heard some footsteps coming upstairs. She quickly pulled me and my toddler on the other side and dragged me towards her stairs. She closed the door and asked me along with my son to follow her while she herself held the infant and the jewelry box in her hand.
I was in a state of trance. I did not know what was happening. Late night I decided to go back to my house to check on the situation. Nigar and her husband came along with me. Everything was vandalized. My complete family was ruthlessly massacred to death. I encountered the dead bodies of all my relatives one by one but I could not find the dead body of my daughter. I was horrified to death. My blood froze in my body.
I did not know what they did to my daughter. Did they sell her, kill her? Oh! My cute little princess where are you? I was aghast. “Oh, Harmeen, Harmeen”. I called out again and again. She is such a delicate girl of only five. I wailed my heart out. It was gruesome. I wanted to kill myself then and there. I screamed, again and again, calling out Harmeen from one corner of the house to another stumbling upon the dead bodies of my near and dear ones on the way. After that, I do not know what happened when I opened my eyes. I was at Nigar’s house.
Her husband informed me that the division of India and Pakistan was inevitable and it would be better if I go to my brother’s house in Amritsar. Nigars husband had already contacted the government authorities to ensure that I could safely reach to my destination with my sons. Though I did not want to live, the couple calmed me down and said: “look you have to live for your sons”. I was still in a pathetic state and was running a high fever while I left for India along with two small kids. I was barely twenty-six when I was wronged by the vultures of righteousness. Life in India was tough. I had to fend for my two little kids. Sometimes I thought it would have helped a little if I had brought the jewelry box which I had forgotten at Nigar’s place in all confusion.
Things started to become normal politically; however, our lives were still far from being normal. I was slowly staggering to get my life back on track when one day I heard a knock on the door. Who could be there? I had no one who would call on
me. I opened the door and was pleasantly surprised to find Nigar and her husband standing at my doorstep. I was overjoyed to see them. I invited them to my modest accommodation. Bewildered, I asked her what brought her to India? “Your jewels”, she said candidly.
My great-grandmother stopped to wipe her moist eyes. She could not speak after this as her voice was choked with emotions.
History is filled with such chilling examples of the “righteous” driven to acts of savagery in the names of their chosen gods. I strongly feel that there is no good or bad religion. It is only the good or bad people. True religion is love and compassion. No one needs the complicated philosophies that divide one man from another. No one needs the cold doctrines that segregate humans. There are only a few true righteous people like Nigar who spread and share love.