On a cold winter morning, in the sleepy town of Gorakhpur, Hussain was at his home waiting for his friend Lakhi, who was coming to meet him from Chauri Chaura where they had grown up together. Hussain’s family had shifted to Lucknow after his father’s transfer. They were now back at Gorakhpur where his father was in charge of a police station. Hussain had sent a message for Lakhi as he was dying to meet his childhood buddy.
Lakhi received the message through his sister, Mitti, that Hussain was in town. He wanted to meet Hussain but also wanted to participate in a demonstration for the non-corporation movement led by Gandhiji. He sent a word through Mitti, that he might meet his buddy, later in the evening. Hussain was waiting for Mitti, and then the unexpected happened.
Mitti came running. “Hussain bhai, do you know what is happening in the market?” she asked, gasping for breath. Hussain was elated to see her but was unsure of what she was babbling about.
“Hussain Bhai, the non-cooperation movement is gathering heat. Lakhi is joining the protest at the bazaar today and he sent me to tell you that he will meet you later in the evening.”
“But isn’t that supposed to be a peaceful gathering in support of the non-cooperation movement?” he questioned.
“I am not sure but what I heard last was that some protestors had clashed with a few policemen.”
“Oh no! These policemen under the British would retaliate. And youngsters like Lakhi are hot-blooded and may react brazenly. I wish I had accompanied him there.”
Just then Hussain’s Ammi entered the room with a worried look. “Hussain, can you go and check on your Abbu? I have just received a message that some demonstrators have set a police station in Chaura Chauri on fire. My heart is sinking. Why don ‘t you go and check?”
“Ammi, don’t worry. I will go right away.” And Hussain dashed off while Mitti stayed back to be with Hussain’s mother.
When Hussain reached the market, the scene left him dumbfounded. Hussain’s worst fears had come true. He could see a catastrophe unfolding in front of his eyes. The protests had indeed turned violent and he could see a cloud of smoke all around. The Police Station had been set ablaze. “Abbu”, he screamed as he ran towards the flames. The building was engulfed in flames and screams rented the air. Thick black fumes rose from the ‘chowki’, as it was called. Some protestors lay on the ground wounded, while others ran helter-skelter. Hussain was pulled back by some of the people around. “Abbu,” he cried again.
As he was carelessly moving forward towards the charred building, he was dragged back by someone. It was Lakhi. “What are you doing here Hussain? You shouldn’t have come here. Come, I will take you home.”
“Your father is home, Hussain. Mitti came to find us to tell us both that and I sent her back. This place is not safe right now. Let’s get out of here.” Hussain heaved a sigh of relief. It was good to see Lakhi and he was glad to hear that his father was safe too.
On way to Hussain’s house, Lakhi told him how the protestors at Chauri Chaura had turned violent and that led to this unfortunate incident. Hussain’s Abba was in the hall. He saw Lakhi with Hussain and
Hussain hugged his Abbu and cried inconsolably, “Thank God, Abbu! You are safe.”
“By God’s grace, I am alive. Before the incident, I was called at the head police station for some paperwork and that’s how I escaped the tragedy,” his father let in some further details.
Hussain’s mother brought some tea and snacks for everyone. A personal tragedy was averted but what happened at Chaura Chauri stunned everyone in the room. Though everyone was elated that Hussain’s Abbu was safe, the overall mood was still sombre. Underlying personal relief was the ghastly incident that had happened right in their midst. To set people ablaze! What a horrible thing to do and to endure.
Hussain’s father left the hall to get some rest. Only the two friends were sitting sipping their tea.
While Hussain still couldn’t believe what unfolded today and was almost in tears at the thought of losing his father, he saw a radical smirk on Lakhi’s face.
“What are you thinking Lakhi? What makes you smile at this sorrowful moment?”
What followed was something Hussain had never expected. He had never seen this side of his childhood friend. “I am just pleased with what happened to the goras. I think they deserved this,” sniggered Lakhi.
“Are you insane!” Hussain reacted. “It was not just the goras in that police station. It was our men out there. The police had our men and the marchers were our men. Do you realise what you are saying?”
“Stop being a fool, Hussain. The people who have sold their souls and work for the goras..,” a sudden realisation dawned on him that Hussain’s father was in the police too and he stopped short of his words.
“Look, Hussain, I respect your Abbu. But what I am saying is that, how long should we suffer at the hands of these Britishers? They didn’t even think once before opening fire on so many innocent people in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Now our time has come. We are not the weaklings that they deem us to be.”
“Didn’t you go to support Gandhiji’s non-violence movement? What has happened to your ideology?”
“Of course, I went to support non-violence, but I have realized that we would never be able to attain freedom like this. We cannot just quietly suffer all the atrocities of these goras.” They realised that they were getting into an unending debate.
For the first time in their life, Hussain and Lakhi were at loggerheads. The disagreement was about to bring a metamorphosis. Hussain could see Lakhi’s eyes sparkling with a desire unknown.
“Hussain, I understand you will somehow support the British since your father works for them, but never should you expect the same from me. They have met enough bloodshed. Now it’s our turn.”
“Lakhi, I am stunned to hear this. I will never support them. All I want to say is now that they have started listening to us after their higher authorities have condemned their atrocities, we can choose the path of non-violence and stopping all this bloodshed. It’s not going to lead us anywhere.”
“These things sound good only in books, my friend, not in real life. I think if this leads us to different paths, then so be it,” saying this Lakhi left. Hussain was left heartbroken. He had not even been given a chance to explain himself.
The protestors’ group was hocked to hear that even Gandhiji condemned their violent reaction. He called a nationwide halt to the non-cooperation movement. While others were debating about it, Hussain’s words rang in Lakhi’s ears.
Outraged by the incident at the police chowki, the British government declared martial law. Raids were being conducted to nab the guilty. Meanwhile, Hussain was going to Chauri Chaura to have a word with Lakhi. He had overheard his father speaking with the officers.
His father was telling about Lakhi and his big group of friends who were present that day. Whatever little Hussain could hear, it was evident that he was giving instructions to arrest Lakhi.
How could Abbu do that? He should have talked to me first. He should have talked to Lakhi first to understand what exactly happened that day. I need to tell Lakhi about this. He is my friend though I understand that the may have a different viewpoint than mine. Hatred makes people think and do things differently. But that can be corrected with love and time. Hussain ran towards Lakhi’s house like the wind.
Hussain reached Lakhi’s house and asked him to come with him quickly. At first, he didn’t agree, but then Hussain told him that the police was coming to get him. Lakhi with his peculiar smile said, “Who is afraid of going to jail? For the cause of the country, I can bear anything.”
While they were arguing whether to leave or stay, the police arrived to arrest Lakhi. At first, they were shocked to see Hussain there. Hussain insisted that they should arrest him as well but they refused on the pretext that he was Officer Ashfaq’s son and they had no such orders to arrest him.
Lakhi implored Hussain that he stayed back at the behest that if everyone goes to jail then who will stay back and carry on with the freedom movement. This made sense and Hussain let his friend go while he continued to peacefully inspire people to take the cause further through non-violent means.
And that’s how Hussain became a part of the non-cooperation movement much against the wishes of his father.
After serving two years in jail, Lakhi was released as it was proven that he was a part of the protest but he had no role in burning down the chowki.
Lakhi returned to find that Hussain had delivered what was expected, a non-violent movement that was affecting the British Raj. Hussain and Mitti were the torchbearers of the same. The two friends reunited with tears of joy. With patriotic fervour, they continued on their path, joining the nation’s cry for freedom.
On the anniversary of the Chauri Chaura incident, they remembered that unfortunate day when the temper of a few overpowered the peaceful intentions of the general public. But Lakhi didn’t completely condemn the attack on the police station. Guess his wounds were much deeper against the authorities. Hussain didn’t want to enter into any argument with him. He was hopeful that there shall be a day when Lakhi will withdraw his aggression and align with the ideology of non-violence.
That night, while recording the ongoing of the day, Hussain registered in his journal-
Isn’t true friendship all about this? People with different mindsets can still be best friends if they are tolerant of each other’s differing views. Friendship is about not being judgmental but giving space and time. True friendship doesn’t always look at the positive side of a person but also accepts the negative facets and tries to turn them into positive with the virtue of patience.
Such was the tale of camaraderie between Lakhi and Hussain. Their friendship stood the test of time and despite the differences, both were united by the dream of an independent India.
Contributed by-Sheena Jain, Sheetal Ashpalia, Sonali Prasad, Rashim Rohit Brutta, Aruna Menon, Kajal Kapur, Meera Barath
Connect with Penmancy: