Chapter 4: An Eye Witness

Second time, I had visited England on account of the wedding of Subhash’s son. I met a lady from Pakistan who was also on a short visit. Most of the time, she became focus of my attention as she resembled a lot with Shazya. Staring at her, I had thought that she could be a cousin of Shazya, and I laughed within myself at my silly thought.

That night, my thoughts had been playing with horrible memories of the past. My innocent childhood and the time I had spent with Shazya, visualized on the screen of my mind like the scenes in a film. I simply can’t help forget all that. More than half a century had elapsed, yet the picture of Shazya fixed in the frame of my memories, had not been bedimmed.

Pursuing these memories, I am able to see some horrible incidents of innocent life scattered before me.

Meetu was said to be a ruffian in the whole village. He was a very handsome, young and stout. He had a fair complexion and was six feet tall. He was considered to be a fortunate enough to consume dairy products at home. All the people were afraid of him. On the day he died of a snake bite, our whole family was wailing and crying but I alone, watching his dead body from the roof, was feeling happy in my heart of hearts.

I often think that in my childhood and also now, people of similar age of mine were and are still much more clever and shrewd than me, in worldly manipulations. Let people think of me as they like, for being simple or straight.  I am not the one like them. While strolling about, physically they see things, but do not feel like me. They flee from the sufferings, in order to cherish joys. Unlike them, surrounded by miseries, I make my life worth living. This knack, I had picked up when I was hardly six or seven years old.

There was a big mango tree in the courtyard of our house and in the rainy season, it was laden with sweet mangoes. The girls from neighbourhood not only used to eat its fruits but also hanged their swings. Along with old women doing little domestic chores, they added cheer to the courtyard. Some of them would ply the spinning wheel making balls of the cotton thread. While making tassels of thread, young girls cut jokes with one an other, and also gratified their urge to backbite.

In the opposite house in a corner, they had a small plum tree. No other tree in the courtyard. In the winter season, women assembled there to ply spinning wheel or to bask in the sun. It was a common courtyard of three brothers, but it seemed as if it were a common property of the whole street. Both, Nurdin and Khushia who were elder brothers of Amroo, ran an oil mill. Adjacent to the oil mill, they had a fold where they kept two buffaloes and a cow for dairy products. Their younger brother Amroo and his wife, worked as a tailor. They catered to the needs of our village, as well as of the neighbouring one.

Sartaj, son of Nurdin was very fond of catching quails. His sister Nadira was of my age. For the entire day, we played and ate together in each other’s house, wherever we happened to be. Up to the age of seven, I used to go to play with Nadira. Her mother, Fatima had a very good equation with my mum.
Aunty Fatima knew a bit of midwifery as well. She was also called in if some woman got a spasm and needed message.

May it be the fair of Peer or Baisakhi, Ramadan or Dusehra, everybody participated equally.  

About a couple of miles from our village, celebration of Dusehra was held at Bundala. Being slightly ill-disposed, my mother wasn’t going. Nadira and me, both of us had been advised to stay at home. Aunty Fatima said that the previous year Nadira had got tired and she was obliged to carry her. But I, through my stubbornness, went to the fair leaving poor Nadira weeping behind. Uncle Nurdin’s son Sartaj, my aunty, Amroo’s wife, aunty Karmo, Shazya and me, joined others and trod the way like a caravan. My mother had given some change which Shazya had tied in one corner of her veil.
For about more than a mile, I fondly walked ahead of every body and then started lagging behind. Aunty Karmo had shouted Sartaj, “Do pick up the boy for a while, poor fellow, seems to have got exhausted.” But enjoying the company of his mates, he paid no heed and remained unconcerned.

When the big idol of Ravana became visible, Shazya said, “Pali, look at that huge idol of Ravana, we are not very far now. Let me carry you for a little distance.”

First, she carried me on her hip and then held me against her bosom for a short distance. I put both my arms around her neck. She pressed and squeezed me a little and then, gently pinched me on the back. She put her hands under my arm pits and pushing me a bit away, she looked into my eyes mischievously. 
“You are not a small boy, you have to walk now”, she said smilingly lowering me down.

On the return journey, Sartaj carried me for some distance and then aunty Karmo. I had been roaming in the fair nearly half a day. I don’t know why, instead of Karmo, I wished that Shazya would carry me once more. While travelling from the village early afternoon, when Shazya carried me, a cosy touch of her body had given me a strange sensation. An inexpressible …….. Only I could realise this. May be, that’s why I never ever dared to share it with anyone else.

These were the days of advancing winter. I was having symptoms of bad cold. My mother had given me a maize chapatti, along with pulse of black beans which was leavened lavishly with fresh butter. I didn’t like it very much. May be my taste had been spoiled on account of fever. I could hardly eat half a it.
Fatma and my mother, before setting out to get cotton carded, had shouted to Shazya, “Look here girl, we are going and in our absence, do look after Pali.”


My mother had laid a cot spreading a sheet on it in the sun. I was sitting on it pulling half the quilt on my legs. I did feel like going to play in the street but my mother had forbidden it, lest I should get fever again.

As Shazya entered our courtyard, she immediately sat beside me and asked, “Are you all right? “
“Only a slight headache, “I had answered that much.
She had put my head on her thighs and started pressing gently. Then hearing the voice of Nadira she said, “Let me fetch Nadira to give you company to play with.”
As she got up to leave, I held her hand firmly. I had also dared to tell her that I liked her company than Nadira’s. Looking at me, she laughed gently holding a mysterious smile in her eyes, and then lay down by my side pulling over the quilt. A sense of soft touch and warmth produced a tremor like feeling in my body. I wished I kept lying like that and Shazya kept soothing me in that manner. I felt that my ailment lead to comfort through Shazya. I realised a stream of energy softly flowing from her body into mine, and I was recovering. That’s all I can say!

Nadira was my age mate and Shazya was senior to me, by seven or eight years. Yet, I don’t know why I wished that Nadira should keep away, whenever Shazya was with me.

When the mustard crop was harvested, all the oil seeds were collected in Karmo’s courtyard. There was always a sort of commotion. One day, Sartaj filled a gunny bag with oil seeds to get oil extracted, then, Nadira and I too, followed him to see how oil is squeezed out of seeds. My mother and Karmo, never entertained any barrier in eating or drinking. We used to eat food cooked in either house, without any discrimination. Many a time, I remember, we were disallowed to eat meat cooked in Raulan’s house. I don’t know, why? They were also Muslims just like Karmo and others!
Niaz, a rice offering, we all used to eat. Sometimes, fresh vegetables and salads grown by Arayeens, were delivered to us and in return, my mother also sent sugar canes, corn cobs, curds or buttermilk etc. Whenever uncle Amroo prepared meat, he never forgot to send some for my father as he was fond of it.

I have never, afterwards, seen such a social integration as it used to be at that time. Limited needs and a simple life! Do the routine work, feed yourself and go to bed to get ready for the next day. More or less like domestic cattle, stress free, but not completely worriless. Life was, as if it only needed that much. No one had the knowledge of what was happening in the rest of the world. No roads, no radios or newspapers! It was completely a peasant rural culture; simple, sweet, natural, loving, innocent, heavenly yet, bitter and barbaric. For everybody, this rural world was roughly confined within the radius of twenty to forty miles, from their own village.

Hot winds had been blowing this year in May and June and the earth seemed to be parched, still life was so careless that we used to play barefoot, at noon time.

The rainy season set in and was extremely troublesome. Outside the village, banyan trees kept yearning for the swings and songs of young girls, but it seemed as if village damsels had forgotten the swings, and lost festive feelings of ‘teean’. Both in young and old, hearing the gossip like conversation at home and in streets, the desire to play and sing seemed to have been exhausted.

What is happening and why, nobody knows at all. Only seeing one another, the people are flaring up. With the dawning of every new day, people who used to meet each other like brothers, have suddenly started looking enemies. Rehmu was himself a Muslim but was obliged to beat the drum, at the roof of village gurdwara as a caution. He was announcing that Muslims had attacked from the east. Intermittently, beating the drum, he announced that the Muslims had invaded from the north as well, and on the eastern side, two nearby villages, mainly of Muslim habitants, had been looted and plundered.

When father and Meetu had joined the gang of invaders to rob the neighbouring villages, mother had brought all the women and children of Nurdin’s family, to our house in order to protect them. I remember that for three nights, Shazya and others had slept at our home.

My grandfather had done his best to assure them, that as long as he was alive, nobody in the village could dare to cast an evil eye on them or their property. But they took his assurances to be a hollow consolation. Actually, in their heart of hearts, they were badly terrified and didn’t consider it sensible to believe. My grandfather and wrestler Milkha Singh would keep sitting on the platform under the giant banyan tree, holding choppers in their hands. Instead of courtyards or streets, now people had started sleeping on their roof tops.

When two Sikh young men had abducted Sughan, the daughter of Raulan to their outer mansion, mother and aunty Karmo said to grandfather, “Not only men inhabit this village; women also do. Then why is it that men, alone are overpowered by contempt and hatred?” Perhaps, grandfather had no answer to this question. That’s why he had left without uttering a single word. Almost five to seven other men were sitting there already, holding choppers and spears when grandfather rejoined them.

Even now, I have a very clear recollection of several such incidents and dreadful sights. Such riots, no doubt, may have taken place in earlier times, too, and perhaps, will continue to take place; because in the name of God, it is a very common practice to get people killed by lunatics. I have developed a great hatred for these riots. It seems that the entire world has been changed for me. From that time up to now, these pseudo-religious people seem to me an object of dislike. People engaged to participate in a game of bloodshed, can never be religious at all, in the true sense. They can only said to be opportunists, traitors and mean, nothing else.

Those Sikhs, who at that time, were planning and thinking of plundering the household goods of Nurdin, and of molesting Shazya, I feel ashamed to call them humans. And also those Muslims, who had severed one breast of Taro in the millet field, seem to me, disgrace the name of Allah. It reminds me the words of Mohammad Rafiq, he used to say, “Love is God and God is One, You may call this omnipotent Ram, Allah, Rabb, Krishna or Vaheguru, it does not matter. The creator of life is the One and only One. He is shapeless, changeless and timeless; yet Nature is changeable.”

“If people be afraid of God, the schemes to plunder and slaughter, cannot be possibly hatched in the Sikh temple or in the mosque. I can’t understand why men have become so barbaric and brutal! They do not feel even the slightest fear of God,” sitting on my mother’s bed, aunty Karmo had been talking like this, and crying for a long time at night. For the last two days, Fatima, Gulabo, Nadira, Karmo and Shazya had been coming to sleep at our house. I had been cursing myself, since Shazya had gone out accompanied by me, since noon today. I thought that if I had been a grown up man, surely, I would have struck grandfather’s axe on the head of that maniac beast, Meetu.

At night, the rain became torrential and just because the rainwater was slanting towards the verandah, we had been obliged to lay two of our cots in the parlour. Since my cot and Shazya’s were in front of the window, the gust of breeze brought some occasional drops on us.

Suddenly, I heard a sound like that of sobs. I felt as if Shazya was crying secretly. I became curious to feel her face with my trembling hand. Her face and cheeks were drenched with tears. I also felt like weeping, and of course I was when Shazya softly wiped my tears, but this even made me cry aloud. That time mother had said, “Well boy, what has happened to you now?”
“He seems to have been terror stricken,” said aunty, Karmo.
The sound of rainwater falling through the roof spouts from outside was audible.  Shazya put her arm around me, and embraced me tightly.

The next day, they had themselves, distributed their household goods to the people with whom they had better equation. They handed over some furniture and a buffalo to us. At that time, I was too young to think of this, but now I realize, how they could have felt while giving away their goods and with what courage, they would have obliged to abandon their native land.
 In the afternoon, at the time of their departure, I had been able to ask only this much to Shazya, “Whither are you going?”
“Pakistan, “she had replied wailing.
“Where is this Pakistan?” this question died within me, before taking verbal form. I had held Shazya’s hand and cried bitterly.

Passing under the big mango tree, walking along the bank of the pond, they were going further and further away. My grandfather and a few other men of the village had accompanied them, to see them off across the river. When Shazya turned and looked towards me, I could not help bleating like a baby lamb. My mother pressed me hard towards herself. Early in the morning next day, I learnt from my grandfather that before reaching their camp, while crossing the river, Shazya had been swept away in the river.

The environment was charged with fear of plundering, slaughtering and molestation of young women and girls. Nobody had ever thought that they would become aliens in their own homeland.
Young girls were afraid of to go out for the call of nature, in the crops around the village. That’s why perhaps Shazya had taken me along, holding my hand that afternoon. She had gone inside the sugarcane field, asking me to stand on the bank. She had not gone far away either, shortly after, I had seen Meetu entering from the side. Soon, a suppressed cry had been rendered mute. Meetu had pulled her a little further inside. Hearing the sound of a scuffle, I thought of informing aunty or mother. Then I started advancing to the place of the incident but, suddenly stopped. I do not know why?
After a short while, Shazya had come out crying and holding an empty pot of water.
Coming towards me, she only said this much, “Pali, for God’s sake, do not tell this to anybody at home or outside.
I nodded in assent.

I am an eye witness of this incident, if at that time, I had told anyone; I could have said only that Meetu had held Shazya and beaten her severely. But after growing up a little, I had soon realized that Shazya had been raped.

Now I think that the river had not drowned Shazya; she had drowned herself in the overflowing river. And being an eye witness, I can assure of this fact.