by Sukhie Vohra
“Dalvinder, phag jaaaaaaaaa!!!!!” she remembers that moment vividly, to this day.
The goat kid Guddi whom she was tenderly holding had jumped out of her arms and scampered out into the gully. Behind him, the rest of the goats ambled out, thinking it was time already. Hushing and shushing them, she tumbled out with them.
Outside on the mud road, she could smell the chulha in the neighbors homes and the parathas, though it was already too warm to eat. To the right, Dalvinder and Mohsin were squatting to play kanche and as she gazed left, she froze.
The silly Guddi had dashed into a group of 15 men holding naked swords and the other goats were running pelmel now.
“Dalvinder, phagggggggg!!!!! “ she screamed as she dashed towards him, alerting him.
It took Dalvinder only a fraction of a second to realize what was happening. He ran like the breeze, while the men slowed down by the goats glared murderously at her and retreated to chase him through another gully.
She couldn’t find Guddi for a bit but then she did.
The sun filtering in through the jamun trees, the faint smell of mangoes from the orchard behind and the blaze of the amaltas flowers at the end of the street The vivid imagery stayed sealed in her mind seventy years later, though everything else changed after.
Because after that came consequences.
Nasreen was the daughter of the Maulana. She had heard rumblings that she hadn’t understood except that ‘some lesson’ was to be taught to these Hindus and Sikhs. The religion of her friends had sunk into her consciousness only on that day as she had asked Ammijan about everyone in the gully.
That day was one of the darkest in the village.
When the tallies were being done, her helping the five year Dalvinder was not taken lightly by the community. He had run home shivering and scared. His family had assembled with other Hindus and Sikhs and, together, they had escaped, swords in hand too. And who knows what they could do!
Crowds appeared outside their home that evening. Shouting slurs. Casting aspersions on Maulana and his family. But most of all against the traitor Nasreen.
Maulana, a gentle soul, did not utter a word in defence or against her. He was revered in the community for his wisdom as much as Ammijan was cherished for her needlework.
But he had been labelled a traitor and he knew there could be consequences.
In the dead of the night, he too packed their bags. With three kids, they left the goats and the home and the mango baags and the peepal jhulas and the home they had lived in for generations and walked, and kept walking.
They were more or less safe. In what was to become Pakistan, maulana’s beard and robes were evidence of his citizenship but people openly questioned if they had been uprooted by Hindus.
Revenge sat on the tip of everyone’s tongue and sword.
He vehemently denied it. Ammijan said nothing, clutching Mohsin’s hand and the little Ibrar in her arms.
Safe but hungry. Safe but weary tired and hurt. They reached a small city. Ammi had given them pieces of the rotis she had grabbed from the tandoor in a hurry before leaving and they stopped at a tiny roadside dhaba that looked abandoned..
Maulana looked at Ammijan. The dhaba had been vandalised some, but the inner store and the sleeping quarters seemed intact. Ammijan went in gingerly.
“Sab kuch aithe ta changa hi hai”, she thought.
She sat down and pulled out some dal and atta. Maulana picked up the one charpai not broken.
“Aithe baith jao chup chap. Koi aaye te andar nas jaana,” (Sit here quietly. If anyone come, hide inside) he told the kids. He got the tandoor going.
The hand pump at the back gave a gush of clean cool water that the kids bathed in. The images of saints and gods were packed and put away in the old emptied-in-a-hurry sandook.
Someone came by and asked for food. A few annas were earned. This gave Maulana the idea to make and barter it for more provisions. The room inside was cleaned and Maulana prayed there for his family daily.
Everyday, they were ready to handover the dhaba back to the rightful owner. No one came.
The neighbors were few and far. Ammi missed the warm chatter of the ladies as they passed by and stopped to wish each other. She now started wearing her burqa to the market to buy vegetables and found a school for the kids.
Maulana became silent. What use wisdom and words if you were to be called a traitor anyway? Religion shrunk inside him like a personal sacred act only.
Every night, Nasreen had a dream.
“Dalvinder phagggggg!” she cried.
Each day a different scenario played out. She lived the horrors of every story she saw each night, dreamt of people dying, burning, mutilating!
The paranoia would wake her up.
Nasreen carried his guilt of being the traitor the most. In different measures she mourned the companionship they had in the gully, the pride and respect that her father had held and the comfortable life they had led.
Cutting the trees for the wood and slogging over the food aged her parents but she also saw the deep silent bond they lived with. Each picking up from where the other left. Each filling gaps in the other’s life.
Many months later, Maulana got Ammi a square cloth and some threads. Her joy was visible though her eyes barely strong enough to embroider at all. They made new friends but stayed cautious.
Eventually, people from their village did connect on their way to the city. Maulana and ammi stayed polite but aloof.
Many years later only once did Nasreen say, “I wonder what happened to Dalvinder?”
Maulana calmly replied, “Naa pata chale te theek hai. Naa main baaghi naa tu baaghi. Bas ”. ( It’s better we don’t find out. You’re not a traitor, I’m not a traitor. That’s it.)
That night, as usual, Nasreen went to sleep but this time she had no nightmares. A gentle voice whispered in her ear….
Main baaghi nahin. They can call me a traitor. Maybe I am. But I did what I had to do and I would do it all over again.
Dalzeen, her daughter, never tired of hearing this story. In her heart she always credits Dalvinder both for her name and her law degree. She often hunts for some clue on social media.
Inshallah, one day, she will find him.
This story was written as part of the Writer’s Gym program open to those who have completed the Short Story workshop.
14 thoughts on “Consequences”
Beautiful moving story. Very well written!
Brilliant read. A time travel to the partition days Gives goose bumps. And I love the ending.
What a beautiful story. Pain love poetry. And hope. Each scene came alive in front of my eyes.
Beautifully written …..it stays with you even after the story is over …..
A beautifully written story. Could visualise the scene so well. Looking forward to your next, Sukhie!!
Loved the story, Sukhie. A wonderful tale of hope and so evocative of those turbulent times.
A lovely story narration depicting humanity staying alive amidst the most inhuman mindset. I could visualize the entire story
Phenomenal, phenomenal story! All the Hindus and Sikhs in my nani’s village were saved and personally put in the army trucks by the grandson of the founder of the village. he said, “Pind te mere daade da naam hai, is naa te main khoon di ik chhit nahi pain deni.” (This village bears the name of my grandfather. I will not let a drop of bloody fall on that good name.”) They all reached the border safely, unlike my dadi’s village, where they were among the few families to survive.
Would love to read th le remaining parts of this rivetting story.
My Nana and family were tipped to leave quickly too. Instead of 5 km, they took a 16 km route to reach ‘safer’ station to board the getaway train. Their 16 km journey was perilous, and filled with almost-close encounters with rioters that were out for blood. My Mom was 10 at the time. Scarred by PTSD, the family never looked back, nor talked of their experiences. In her 74 years of life since, my Mom has consistently denied any ‘want of going back’. However, about 7 years back, I was able to find current photos of her Pakistan side village online, posted by a young teen. It appeared that the time had stood still. Because of being border-close, the train station was shut down and according to my Mum, it looked exactly how she remembered. She was so thrilled and was able to tell us the stories from her childhood that happened around that building. The Dam of forcefully repressed memories and the ‘will to forget’ broke. It was one of the most memorable and meaningful experiences that I have shared with her!
Liked it as it’s very similar to what my grandfather used to tell about how he had
managed to save himself and his family and finally reached Amritsar.
Religion is what your inner voice makes you do as this story very strongly brings out.
Nicely written story which got remembered expriences of our elders of family.
My grandfather used to tell about his escape during train journey by using their muslim name. suddenly, his brother called him with hindu name and he was thrown out of running train. After becoming concious, he travelled on foot.
Such instances of escape from murder during travel after partition are very common.
Beautifully written,I could visualise the scenario and loved the ending! Keep them coming Sukhie,looking forward!