Guddo'S Wait6 mins 1.2K 6 mins 1.2K
It was time, wasn't it? She craned her neck towards the ancient clock hanging precariously from the crumbling wall behind her. Damn this train, she thought. Is it ever going to arrive on time? Her hand moved towards the cloth bundle in which she was carrying freshly cut cucumbers lovingly peppered with black salt. She knew Daar ji loved to nibble on them as much as he would do to her ears which now turned red at the thought. She quickly checked if in her reverie the thermos of lassi hadn't tipped over. Phew, it's fine but why the hell is the train so late?
The sun was blazing down on her and yet she refused to move towards the shade of the tree. She had to be the first one to greet Daar ji as he alighted from the steps of the compartment. Gulab Singh was a tall strapping young man with a long and flowing beard. His eyes always glittered with mischief every time he would gaze at her and twirl his moustache and she would invariably go weak in the knees as he would walk purposefully towards her. I know, she thought, tonight is the night when Daar ji will once again sweep her from her feet and hold her close to his chest. And this time I am not letting him go away ever again.
Although one never realizes it but an ageing body responds differently to the elements. There were times when she would jump and walk under the blistering sun and yet be back home fresh as a morning jasmine. Now the warm wind and the prolonged wait made her sleepy and hard as she fought it her head slowly slumped forward and immediately carried her into that beautiful evening when they had been crooning in each other's ears. His gentle words serenading her beauty almost never failed to amaze her. He was after all "Matric Pass" and could always dip from a vast reservoir of Urdu and Punjabi poetry. He could instinctively demonstrate his affection by words, gestures and touch. She would gasp as he held her hand and tremble when his fingers walked up to her slender shoulders. The world around her would cease to exist and all she saw was this rapidly moving flow of a stream of myriad colours which would so often explode with bursting stars. She was in love and hopelessly so. Daar Ji and Guddo ! Did a world exist outside their embrace? What was this distant rumble, she thought?
A quiet laid back village was unaccustomed to loud sounds. The rumble turned to a roar and rudely interrupted their moment. Gulab quickly went out to see what has happening and almost immediately rushed back into the room. Wide eyed, his face was flushed. What's happening, she asked? He reached for the sword under the bed and rasped at her "Lock the door and do not come out. Mirza and his family are in danger and I can't leave them at the mercy of the rioters". Mirza was a childhood friend of Gulab and the two shared a bond that sometimes even biological siblings are not blessed with. Despite Gulab's warning Guddo ran after him towards Mirza's house. He shouted "Go back" but she didn't listen. Resigned to her stubbornness he quickly asked her to fetch Mirza's wife and daughter while he himself ran towards the rice field next to the house where Mirza normally used to be. Almost immediately he slipped in the cow dung spread next to the field. The squish squash sound of dung and water brought Mirza out of the field. He too had heard the sound of violence heading towards them.
Run Mirza, roared a breathless Gulab.
"My child?..Sukham....she is in the hut with Nahid.
Shut up, shouted Gulab, they are with Guddo. Run as fast as you can..we have to reach the Railway Station before the rioters catch up. But, Daar Ji, what have I or my family done? Why should I run? Gulab was stopped short in his run. For all of a second he paused to reflect on what was happening and what he should tell his friend. He didn't have the time to explain the politics which was tearing their nation apart. Their mundane lives were about to be overtaken by the storm that had brewed from the coffee tables of self seekers. Ordinary lives are and have always been subservient to grand designs of rulers and wannabe greats.
Come my friend, whispered Gulab...the train to Layallpur is about to pass through the station. You must try and board it.. none of you are safe here. There will be an army guard on the train and you will be protected. Mirza understood and quickened his pace. Parallel across the field they saw Guddo and Mirza's family running towards the railway station too. Run run...faster.
Jo bole, so nihaal, rang out the battle cry from the frenzied mob which was now less than a hundred metres away. They had seen and sensed their quarry and like a crazed hunter were bent upon to satiate their blood lust. The soul brothers and their families reached the edge of the railway station just as the train slowly chugged towards the platform. Looking for the armed British guards Gulab shouted, sahib sahib bacha lo ! There was no response. Gulab jumped on to a compartment and recoiled in horror. All he could see was lifeless, butchered bodies. He jumped out and shouted..next compartment...quick. The train was now picking up pace and the mob was closing in from behind. Run, run Mirza..next compartment..jump in it and pull up the girls. Mirza lunged at the door of the next compartment and reached out to his daughter. Sukham held her father's hand and was yanked into the train. As he reached out for Nahid two gunshots rang out. One hit Mirza on the shoulder. He immediately lost his grip and Nahid fell on the gravel. Gulab picked her up quickly and ran with her. The train was gaining speed and the mob was less than fifty yards behind them. Nahid had tired and was falling back. Gulab's lungs were almost bursting but with strength which comes in extraordinary situations he lifted Nahid and ran faster towards the door of the compartment where Mirza was waiting with his good arm stretched out.
Guddo, exhausted as she was, tried to match the stamina of her Daar ji but fell behind. She was confident that Daar ji would be able to push Nahid to the safety of the train and now he was almost there. And then she was hit on the back of her head with an iron rod flung at her. Her eyes clouded as she clutched at her head. The last thing she saw was Daar Ji grabbing the door handle with one hand while lifting Nahid with the other. More gun shots, the roar of the train, a few kicks to her body and Guddo lost consciousness.
The Station Master bellowed "Bibi..o Bibi..get up ! You slept off again ? Go home now". Guddo whispered "Daar ji?" He hasn't come..probably the next train. I'll tell you when he does. The old lady let out a sigh and with leaden steps walked back home. Who is she, an onlooker asked? Pagal hai, the Station master replied. She has been coming here every week for the past fifty odd years thinking her husband will come back.
Twenty kilometres across the border an old man with arthritic legs trudged towards the local cemetery with his wife and daughter and lit a lamp on an unmarked grave. Mirza sat down and said a silent prayer for Gulab, his soul brother. The rioters had made the last shots count.