A Tryst with Destiny
A Tryst with Destiny17 mins 355 17 mins 355
A Tryst with Destiny
“…..Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny…..”
Mahipal Singh heard the words resonating in his ears. They were not just words, he knew. They were reflections. Reflections of an entire multitude of people, that had just been told that they were free. Free! What an emotion! Freedom! But what was freedom, after all? Was it the right to do what you could, or the duty to do what you ought? Who could really say? He did not know. All he knew that he was taking in the air of freedom. He had been waiting for this. For years. Except that the air didn’t really feel free. In these bleak surroundings, standing with a huge crowd, with its deafening roars, he had had a different insight to freedom. He was standing on the platform now and he was surrounded by these hordes, hordes of desperate, ferocious looking people. People with a sense of purpose, a sense of desperation, a sense of hope and longing and loss. And also a sense of jubilation, of joy, of happiness. It took all kinds to make up a world. And fill up a platform too. A cataclysm of emotions and outpouring.
“…..the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge…..”
He had longed to see the Harmandir Sahib, known throughout the world, as the Golden Temple, nestled in the centre of a pool, called the Amrit Saras, by which the city had derived it’s name. He had heard about it so much, on the lap of his grandfather. Now that he was here, he was going to visit it. He could still picture the golden dome in his mind, though around him, the crowds were roaring. The trains were late today. Really late. But the Golden temple would still be there. He had longed to see it from the moment his grandfather told him about it and told him tales of Guru Nanak. Satnam Waheguru. He had borne that dream deep within him; it was one of the things that had propelled him here. And now that he was free, really free, when he could move about without his movement being called into question, well, it was only a matter of time.
“…..At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps…..”
He was waiting for Sunaina. The woman of his dreams. The object of his affections. Her family didn’t approve of him, because he had joined in the freedom struggle and now, even when the torch of freedom was lit, they were still harbouring their grudge. Or was it irritation? Status symbol? In the rarefied circles that they moved in, having a relative who had been a freedom fighter, well, it was below their dignity. And they didn’t want to leave the land of their ancestors now, so what if another country was being formed? What would they do after going to India, anyway? And who were freedom fighters, anyway? After freedom, they became a nuisance. Unless they assimilated peacefully with the populace, they would only be a source of irritation and not a source of veneration. The parents had a status in society, of course. A non-existent society in the given circumstances, but times changed constantly…
It had been a long discussion and in the end, they were very firm, Sunaina could not marry him.
Well, he had had to leave, but he had met Sunaina before he embarked on his journey. There was nothing left for her but to elope, he said. He told her he would send for her after he had settled in Delhi. She had mumbled a few words but she was downcast. He could see that she wasn’t as confident, as he was.
Thankfully Jasleen Bua wanted to bring them together.
And now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge
“That Yasir Baig!” Sunaina had exclaimed. “He tells me he wants me to convert and my parents are saying that he is a very rich landowner, even they are thinking of converting! They’re adamant!”
“How dare he?” Mahipal Singh had muttered angrily. “Does he think we’re scared? You’re scared?”
“Don’t blame him!” Sunaina had admonished him gently. “These are hard times. He’s told me that we can have a good life here, if we convert.” “And” she whispered, a bit shyly “He does love me – just like you do, Mahipal” she ended, hastily. “But he doesn’t know about your feelings for me, Mahi” she ended, using the short name that she reserved for him. Making him feel special, like she always did. But then she called his rival Yaasi, so it was a double edged sword. Hanging around his neck, all the time.
Yasir Baig had been a friend, earlier. A rich friend, of course, but nevertheless a friend. Until the day Mahipal found out that he had also longed and pined for Sunaina, as Mahipal Singh had done, but there was a major obstacle, of course. Unsaid, but nevertheless very important. The problem was that all said and done, Yasir Baig was a nice person. Very kind and generous and helpful. He had helped give recommendation letters for Mahipal Singh earlier, when Mahipal had wanted some loans to fund his business, not that the letters had helped, because he didn’t get the loan, but still. And a bit of a fool as well, he didn’t figure out Mahipal’s love for Sunaina. Trusting, innocent, stupid fool.
Sunaina was fond of them both. But Mahipal was sure that her emotions went further, with one of them, atleast. He was not sure, who. But things had changed in August 1947. One piece of land was being ripped apart into two. And with that, the souls of people were also getting ripped, it seemed.
And so, Mahipal wanted to take her away, before something happened. Something bad.
“…..when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance…..”
Well, Yasir had changed now and was in the process of changing Sunaina’s parents also, it seemed. Conservative, sanctimonious, holier-than-thou self righteous hypocrites! They would enjoy the benefits of freedom now, they would maybe convert, because the prospective suitor was filthy rich and moved in the same circles as they did, but they would not allow their daughter to link her lot to someone who was part of the freedom struggle! All because of what? Money?
“…..and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and grandeur of her success and failures…..”
Mahipal Singh’s friends had helped him. He didn’t have a family left now, his aged father had passed away, in a senseless feud. And so had his cousin brother, Parminder Singh, just a few months back. Because Parminder did not pay heed to some anonymous letters that he had been receiving, for the past few weeks, preceding his death. Telling him to leave, telling him he didn’t belong here. And then one day, he was found hacked to death, by sharp swords and left to die on the roadside. A cruel, painful, agonizing death. A message for others. And then he, Mahipal, had received threat letters. As had some others. Reminding him who he was. Telling him that this was not his land, not his place. His birthplace was no longer his place. That because certain people decided the fates of a nation, and the multitude had given them that power, so he had to accept it. Collateral damage. Boundaries had been drawn across human hearts and they were being reproduced on maps. You could tear maps. What could you do, with human hearts? He had read about something called the Holocaust once and he had been small and hadn’t really understood it. But now he understood, when he received those malignant letters, he understood.
“…..The achievement we celebrate together is but a step…..”
Mahipal Singh was practical. Two of his friends had already left and reached Delhi some six months back and they were going to open a garments store. They had asked him to come. And so he had met the local imam of his locality and said that he wanted to sell his house and leave. The local imam had known him since he was a child; he also knew his father and his cousin brother and he had heaved a sigh of relief. In that sigh of relief were embedded several messages and Mahipal Singh had seen enough tragedies to be sufficiently mature to understand those messages. He knew that the imam knew much more about his cousin brother’s death. And he knew that the imam knew he knew. And the imam didn’t care.
“It’s a good decision” the Imam had said. “I wish it didn’t turn out this way, but at least you are being forewarned. Its maybe because you already had s lot of friends.”
Mahipal Singh had shrugged. Indifference was worse than enemity, he wanted to say – at least with enemies, you knew where you were.
The threat letters stopped.
“…..Before the birth of freedom, we have endured all the pains of labour…..”
Mahipal had come to Delhi six months ago. When the fervour and pitch was at a hysterical level. He had met his friends. And it was becoming increasingly better to start something new, because even the British Government knew they were on their way out and therefore even the policemen, mostly Indians, were on the fence. And there had been danger – imminent danger to his life – so he had to leave fast. And when he was here, he had met people, who were still underground, people who explained how hard life had become and how important it was, to restore normalcy, as soon as possible. And Mahipal had learnt of certain things, that made him nervous, scared, witless, almost in a state of panic. Nothing was what it seems. The upper crust were battling ideologies, but the rest of them were battling quite a different battle, it seemed. And in the herd mentality and jingoism of targeting a class of people, all objectivity had been consigned to the flames of hatred…..
“…..the past is over and it is the future which beckons us now…..”
Mahipal had gotten his message across to Jasleen Bua. Yasir Baig’s visits had grown increasingly frequent and it was necessary for Mahipal to do something soon. And so Mahipal had asked her to help Sunaina to come to India. There was a channel that was helping people and Mahipal had reliable friends who would see Sunaina through. And Jasleen Bua had acted. Because things were getting worse over there as well. Sunaina had to see that, she had to see reason, she had to act.
“…..the service of India means the service of the millions, who suffer…..”
The arrangements were being made. It was a frantic time everywhere, nobody knew what was going to happen. There was a sense of something happening, a foreboding, a sense of closure but it was closure of one era, not a sense of peace. Freedom had come at a very big price for some people. Every day, the number of riots were increasing, the number of rapes and brutality, it was sickening to behold. People unleashing their demons on survivors, hell bent on creating a new life for themselves and for their family. Countless Phoenixes rising from the Ashes that they had themselves created…..
“…..Peace is said to be indivisible, so is freedom, so is prosperity now…..”
Sunaina would be coming over on this train, now. Finally, she had chosen. She had oscillated between him and Yasir, but now she had chosen. At long, long last. The wait had been interminable and it would finally be over. She was coming.
“…..This is no time for petty and destructive criticism…..”
Yesterday evening, he had lain awake, picturing it all in his head. The life that they would lead. The honor and dignity that he would give her, the pride that he would have, at declaring to all and sundry that she was his wife. Oh, how he had loved and pined for her. He didn’t care whether her parents were coming or not, whether they had already converted or not. He would accept them even if they were converts. Anything for his Sunaina! And his business had started well, started to flourish, in fact. It was a time when people helped those who had reached their comfort zones. Reaching the comfort zone, however, was what was really important.
Then Jasleen Bua had called, informing him about the final arrangements.
“…..The appointed day has come, the day appointed by destiny…..”
And there it was. The train. There was a huge roar on the platform, the hordes of people waiting and roaring. Mahipal had heard about other trains, which had come on similar platforms, on both sides of the great divide and there had been dead, rotting, mutilated, burnt corpses, humanity at its lowest ebb, a nation paying the price for shedding off the yoke of 150 years of servitude. Or so they thought. Because the yoke had adjusted itself and morphed into two different colours. A servitude of a different sort. And he could see from the distance, and thankfully, there were people inside that train and they were alive and well.
“…..Yet the turning point is past and history begins anew for us…..”
And the train came chugging on the platform, the crowded passengers screaming, some with delight, some with terror, they knew not what the future had in store for them. These screams were matched in intensity by the waiting crowd as well, brandishing flags and welcome mats and swords and incense sticks and whatnot. People trying to get off, those outside trying to get in, a lot of shouting, crying, sobbing, screaming, hysterical laughter, tears, hugs, kisses, shouts, insults, groans, the whole gamut of human emotion was on display.
And there she was Sunaina. His Sunaina. Come across the great divide.
“…..A new star rises, the star of freedom in the East…..”
Sunaina smiled as she looked at him. A beautiful, sensous smile, one that had melted his heart all those years back and was capable of melting his heart even today. Eyes that contained genuine warmth and gratitude. For all that he had done. And sitting right beside her, with a beaming face and devilish grin, was his friend Yasir. Yasir, with the trimmed beard and not wearing anything that would single him out as being someone different. Yasir, his rival for Sunaina’s affections. Yasir, still having the light of love for Sunaina, glowing in his eyes.
“And Yasir has told me that Sunaina is going to be Mehjabeen Bano, after their marriage” Jasleen Bua had stated. There had been emotion and tenderness and sympathy in Jasleen Bua’s voice, as it trailed off, explaining the arrangements that he was expected to make.
“…..And many of our people are sorrow stricken and difficult problems encompass us…..”
Sunaina looked at Yasir with an impish grin, as if to say – what did I tell you? Mahipal Singh would come through. Mahipal Singh the friend. Mahipal Singh, her go-to man. Sunaina started gushing as she started getting out of the compartment, her would be fiancée in tow.
And then Mahipal came forward. And smiled, as he helped her out, helped both of them out. And he embraced Yasir warmly and said “Welcome to your new home, brother!” And Yasir had grinned back and given him a hug in return.
“…..We are citizens of a brave country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to their high standard”…..
And he heard himself congratulating the happy couple for the love that had triumphed and felt Sunaina gently squeezing his hands and he saw himself asking when their nikaah was going to take place and Yasir getting all excited and laying out his plans.
And his friends also welcomed Yasir and Sunaina, the brand new love-birds, who couldn’t even take their eyes off each other. The two-some that had emerged unscathed from this ordeal, to live happily ever after.
Mahipal and his friends helped them with their luggage and they dumped it all in the four seater. It was black and shiny and new. Mahipal and his friend got in the front seat and the lovebirds got in the back, smiling and gushing for all their love’s worth. Mahipal felt his cousin, dying on the roadside back there, staring at him with empty, sightless eyes, as empty and sightless as his soul felt right now. He was grateful that his emotions were well hidden.
“We will go to your hotel, right now” Mahipal declared. “I have booked two rooms for you both” he said. “You both freshen up and then we will all meet in the lobby”
“Thank you so much, brother” Yasir said. “We don’t know what we would have done, without you.” Mahipal said nothing.
“The future beckons to us. Whither shall we go and what shall be our endeavour?”
The car arrived at Hotel Freedom Palace, the proprietors were already cashing in on the flavour of the season. Ironically, it had British guests also, who found the whole thing very funny. The receptionist was well known to Mahipal and bowed obsequiously all the way. Yasir checked in his room and Sunaina checked in hers, both agreeing to meet Mahipal and their friends in the lobby, in an hour’s time.
“Phone for you, Sir” said the receptionist. Mahipal smiled and took it. He listened for some time and said “Yes, he’s here”. Then he kept the phone back in its cradle and sat on one of the leather covered seats in the lobby. To wait.
“We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full….”
Thirty minutes later, there was a knock on the door. Yasir opened it, beaming. He had showered and freshened up and was now ready for the happiness, that was his due. The smile and color both vanished from his face.
“Yasir Baig?” said Inspector Vimal Sarin. Standing next to him were four constables and Mahipal Singh. “Or, should I say – Agent Baig of the just established and distinguished ISI?”
“What rubbish is this!” an enraged Yasir shouted “Agent? What do you mean? I have just come from there, to settle in India?”
“Oh yes?” said Inspector Sarin. “and what about the letters you wrote to your sleeper cell here?”. And saying that, he produced two letters with a flourish, letters that contained specific instructions on how the Indian establishment was to be rattled, contact points, delivery of weapons and the address of three important figures high up in the Indian Defence establishment.
Yasir laughed. A queer, cynical, malevolent laugh. “You have taken leave of your senses, Inspector.” He said. “Looking at these letters, you come to me? Why? Because I came from there? Have I signed these letters? Do they contain my signatures?”
“No” said Mahipal, stepping forward, quietly. “But the thing is, Yasir, my so called friend and brother – the handwriting in those letters is the same handwriting on the threat letters that I received and Parminder had received” he said. “And” he finished “the same handwriting on the loan recommendation letter you wrote for me all those years ago”…..
“I see” said Yasir, softly. “And that’s why you called me here, offering a partnership in your business.…..”
Mahipal smiled. “Yes” he said “and you got aa plausible reason to be here, to meet all your cronies, didn’t you?…..”
Yasir made as if to come forward and attack Mahipal, but Inspector Sarin put a warning hand on his gun holster and Yasir stopped. His shoulders sagged in defeat.
“Take him away!” Inspector Sarin said. And Yasir was taken away, hatred and malice in his eyes, a matching contempt in Mahipal’s.
“…..And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service…..”
Some time later, Mahipal entered Sunaina’s room.
“What happened?” she asked. “I saw a lot of commotion and activity out there. Is something wrong?’
Mahipal took her hands gently and said gravely “Sit down, dear. I have something to tell you”.
And he narrated it all to her. His discovery of Yasir’s treachery, through his friends who had connections with the police, the reading of the letter, the realization of the matching handwriting, of Yasir being a spy, of Yasir having sent those letters to him and Parminder. And how Mahipal had sent a message to Yasir about a profitable business venture, giving him an opening to come here and meet his agents and thus landing into the trap which they had prepared for him. And now Yasir was arrested and would disappear from their lives. Forever. An enemy of the State was one of the most heinous of offences, after all.
And then Mahipal held Sunaina close, as she sobbed. Shedding tears. For all the years of friendship that the three had had, in the years past, friendship that amounted to nothing in the end.
Mahipal looked at her and said “I know you need time. Time to heal. I have made arrangements for you to stay with my aunt, she’s a spinster and she stays alone. She would love your company”.
Sunaina nodded. “Thank you” she said, gratefully and smiled. And in that smile was a promise, a promise of a new future, a new start, for them. But she was also sad, this had been a terrible wound to her, Mahipal could see that. He would need time and patience. He would wait.
Mahipal got up, awkwardly. He said “I’ve booked you for tonight. Tomorrow morning, I’ll come to pick you.” She nodded and Mahipal left.
Later that night, she went for a walk. The park was nearby, she went and sat on the Bench. Then she took out her purse and unfolded another letter. It was in Yasir’s handwriting. And it was titled – Plan B. She would have to make arrangements to get this in the hands of Yasir’s friends. The spinster aunt was a useful place to start. A Godsend.
And as Mahipal’s wife, she would have the perfect cover…..