Allahuu Akbar Allahuu Akbar
Allahuu Akbar Allahuu Akbar
Aashhadu Allaa ilaaha Illal-Laah
Aashhadu Allaa ilaaha Illal-Laah
The call of Ish namaz from the Jama Masjid beckoned the disciples and scuttered away its white-feathered guest, perched upon its minarets. The banished flock fluttered their wings, pirouetted and settled on the Swaminarayan temple’s dome.
Om Jai Jagdish hare,
Swami Jai Jagdish hare,
Bhakt jano ke sankat
Pal mein door Karein.
The tinkling bells and clanking manjeera accompanied by the sandhya aarti, made the omnipresent pigeons scurry away towards the Sisganj Gurudwara. This was their final resort to quench their thirst in its eternal pond. Their chirping cradled in winds, laden with religious sentiments, bid adieu to the pleasant February evening.
The mellifluous sounds, however, couldn’t calm the staccato rhythm of her heart. Each step on the paan strewn staircase seemed an effort. She looked up and sighed as the weight bore her down. Platform Number six seemed an eternity away. She adjusted her pallu over her protruding belly. Just one more flight of stairs and then it’s done. She motivated herself.
The long queue as she descended on the platform unnerved her. Her mind raced towards all combinations and permutations that could go wrong. She questioned her inclination to make the journey. Once beyond this counter, she would finally be a step closer to her dream; a dream to be on-board the Samjhauta express.
“Passport please,” the immigration clerk looked at her uncertainty plastered face, “ma’am, are you feeling fine?”
“Of course! It’s a treacherous climb for an eight-month pregnant lady, Sahab.” Mira was back in control.
“What’s your name?”
As the expected questionnaire started, she wondered at the futility of asking one’s name when they have all the identity proofs in their hand, but this was neither the time nor the place to act smart.
“Purpose of visit?”
“I have family in Punjab, I mean in the Punjab of Pakistan.”
“Why are you travelling alone in this condition?”
“My grand-aunt wants to meet me before she leaves this mortal world, Sahab, it means a lot to her and to me.”
He eyed her pregnant belly and exhausted face and stamped the passport. Why and how in God’s name can any husband allow his wife to travel alone in that condition and that too to Pakistan? He wondered.
As she collected her papers and started walking, suddenly a Pathan suit-clad young man spoke from behind, “Ehtiyaat se, Aapa! Be careful while climbing the train, ask for help. The passengers are mostly Pakistan nationals, my family members, returning from the urs at Nizamuddin Auliya. I would advise you to sit in the zanana section with them.”
A trickle of sweat down her face defied her cool exterior; however, the sweet address brought a smile to her worry lined face. Her brother would have advised her the same, she thought and acknowledged his concern with a nod.
Mira threaded through the surroundings with keen eyes. The bench gave her a clear view of the passengers strewn on the platform, little salwar kameez clad girls playing hopscotch with their dupattas tied in a crisscross. A group of serious teenagers engrossed in the game of marbles, as if their manhood was at stake. Mothers cajoling their kids to eat and fathers, busy with their favourite occupation; discussing politics.
“They look so happy, don’t they?”
A voice from behind startled Mira. She turned to discover a petite, dainty girl clad in a serene white salwar-kameez and a green dupatta covering her head like a hijab.
“Yes, yes, everyone looks sated.”
“Apologies for disturbing you, but I thought of joining you on the bench when I saw you sitting alone. I am Arim Sabz, Mira.”
“How do you know my name?” Mira asked distrustfully.
“Relax, your application form jutting out of your passport reveals your identity. You seem drained, here have these,” offered Arim.
“Dates? Are you from Pakistan?”
“Yes, I am, but dates are nutritious for all pregnant females irrespective of their nationality. So, please have some, if not for yourself, then for that little one inside you.” Mira couldn’t refuse Arim’s loving gesture and relaxed.
The distant chanting of namaz and tintinnabulations of the temple bells calmed the setting sun and its gazers. Mira and Arim sat with a comfortable camaraderie. Their conversations bordered on general and then to specific.
“Why do you address this station as Old Delhi railway station, shouldn’t it be Delhi Railway Station, as this is where the real essence of Delhi resides?”
“Arim, I never thought of it this way, you are right, though. This is where I live now, but my forefathers belonged to Lahore… they were… eh…killed at the time of partition. Only my grandfather survived the carnage as he hid in the train to Delhi. Apologies, but the hatred he had for your country still flows in our blood.” The anger though sheathed, was palpable.
“And mine to Delhi… Old Delhi, as you call it, Galli no. 10. They failed to reach Pakistan too, only my grandmother made it alive with her baby brother, and her life from then on was worse than death.” Arim lowered her gaze.
Mira’s anger didn’t abate,” but she at least had her brother, her sibling.”
Arim continued with Stoic calm, “a girl of ten in a refugee camp with her little brother to feed in any country is a cynosure of eyes full of lust. She gave in to the demands, initially unwillingly and finally with gusto. When you have empty mouths to feed, morals tend to take a back seat.”
“Doesn’t your blood boil with anger thinking of your family’s misfortunes, don’t you want to avenge them?”
“Yes, I did, Mira. Anger, revenge, and hatred fulminated within me when I became big enough to understand that my mother followed the same path as my grandmother and her uncle became her pimp. Despair seeped in my soul when I was forced into the trade too. But…”
“Beti, you are sitting here for so long, why don’t you join us,” a kind voice made Mira turn towards its source. Mira was absorbed in Arim’s pain filled past but the sparkle in the woman’s eyes made her forget the miseries of their life, momentarily. The woman was clad in a burqa, her radiant face jutting out of the black hijab. Her eyes surveyed the area where Arim was sitting and finally said, “you seem to be carrying a baby, join us for a measly meal… Whatever little we have to offer.”
“Amma!” Blurted Mira. She took control of her emotions, the kind look in the woman’s eyes made Mira lose her passivity momentarily, “I am not hungry, thanks for your concern.”
“Thanks? It’s a deed of sabab to feed a pregnant woman, Allah grants peace and compassion. May Allah bless you with a healthy baby, and yes, please name her Kajol if it’s a girl and Hrithik if it’s a boy. They are my favourite Indian actors.” The lady kissed Mira’s forehead and blew on it, whispering a dua. She handed Mira a paper plate full of biryani.
“Can I share this?” Mira asked, gesturing towards Arim.
“Yes, of course, it’s for you both.” She replied looking towards her tummy, perplexedly, walking away.
“Arim, please have,”
“No, I don’t like biryani, but I love your Chole-bature,” she continued, “This lady comes to India every year for the urs to offer prayers at the Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah, in hope of finding her son. People back there in Pakistan believe ardently in the power of Nizamuddin Auliya.” She said, whispering a prayer.
“You can’t gauge her pain by the love she exudes. Arim, where did her son go?”
“She lost him when he was a baby but didn’t lose hope for a better tomorrow, and so she continues to look for happiness. Hope is the only thing permanent.”
Mira chewed on the biryani and the thought, planted in her mind by Arim’s words. “Are you here to find the men who wreaked havoc on your family? How did you seek revenge? How did you quench your anger?”
“I fell in love!”
“Love? You mean to say that you fell in love with an Indian?”
“No, I fell in love with India!”
Mira stared as the green hijab laden girl got up and played hopscotch with the children and marvelled at the power of the human mind; how well it conceals secrets. She couldn’t wait for Arim’s return to the bench, she had to hear the end of her story. What did she mean by saying that she fell in love with India, her motherland but an enemy nation for Arim?
Arim Sabz returned with a brighter glow, “that girl, the one in pink churidaar, comes every year too, for the last three years. Her parents go to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences for her regular check-up in hope that this time they would find an ideal match for her heart transplant. Hope, isn’t it a magic word?”
“Heart transplant! How can God be so cruel? Poor child. Clinging to a hope that may never see the light of the day.”
“Then don’t do it.”
“Don’t do what, Arim? What are you asking for?”
“I am asking you not to board the train, go back to your world, and let me return to mine.”
Mira felt uneasy, “Who are you? I don’t understand what you’re implying.”
“I am you, M-I-R-A. I am A-R-I-M.”
The blaring horns of the train approaching the neighbouring platform cut through the silence like a cold knife.
“What… Do you mean?”
“Mira, I too boarded the Samjhauta express like you one day, years ago. I, too, had a belt with explosives strapped on my fake pregnant tummy. It was my jihad, my revenge from the country that snatched away mine and my family’s future. The difference is that your journey started in Delhi and mine at Lahore.”
“Rubbish! I don’t know what you are saying. You can’t accuse me of such a felony on my land. I shall get you arrested.” Mira felt appalled.
“If you call the police, you will get into trouble. Give yourself a second chance. They wouldn’t be able to implicate me.”
“Is it? I can throw away these explosives and put the blame on you. I am an Indian, my word will be taken against yours.” Mira sneered.
“You may be right, but that will happen only if they can see me.”
Pin drop silence ensued, “See… see you? I can see you; everyone can see you.” Mira’s apprehension grew multifold, “that woman who gave us food and that girl you played with.”
“Are you certain? That woman gave food to you two,” she said, gesturing toward Mira’s tummy.
“And I played with that girl, but as far as she is concerned, she was alone.”
An eerie feeling of doom descended on Mira, “Who are you? How did you know I had explosives strapped to me as a pregnant belly? Which terrorist outfit are you associated with? Are you here to thwart my efforts? And how am I the only one who can see you?” Mira asked, recollecting the confused look on the woman’s face when she had asked whether she could share the food with Arim. The truth finally dawned upon her.
“You can see me as I am your reflection. I am here because you are. I was also full of anger and resentment. I was trained by my organisation to kill and to do it with pleasure. I had a life full of bitterness, and thus I got deflected towards hatred but why you Mira? You were brought up shielded in love. I boarded the train from Lahore as a terrorist, and my journey concluded as a simple human being. On my journey to India, I settled in the coach thronged by Indians so as to cause maximum casualties by my sacrifice. But destiny has its course. That one hour was the most love-filled hour of my life. I met an ‘amma’ like you did, who fed me and caressed my forehead when I pretended to be unwell. A little ‘Radha’ frolicked around the coach, showing off her doll’s newly brought sharara. A fatherly figure who just didn’t let me handle my luggage in my pitiable pregnant condition and young lads playing marbles.” She laughed., “Have you noticed the similarities in our countries? How could I kill my own? That’s the moment I decided that neither shall I nor shall I allow anyone to disrupt this journey of love.”
“Then, then, what happened? Why weren’t you apprehended when you reached here?”
“Mira, I didn’t. The timer was already switched on. Wagah is just a sixty-minute ride. I didn’t have much time. I jumped off the train a little before Wagah and let the train of love rattle away. I was blown to smithereens, but I died in my motherland. My soul wanders and accompanies the train on every journey since then. I have met many like you. Mira, I can only request you not to board the train.”
Mira’s face turned ashen at the unbelievable circumstance. However, her inner turmoil didn’t let her rest. “Arim, you may have forgiven your perpetrators, but I can’t. They took our identity; your people assaulted and burned our people alive. No, I can’t forget. I shall kill them all.”
“But they are not-them. These innocents are not the ones who performed those atrocities. So, how can you punish them for a crime they didn’t commit?”
Mira slouched, no longer worried about her protruding stomach, mumbling unaware, “They are not THEM, yes they are not THEM! Arim, if I won’t avenge, how will I satiate my soul?”
“Mira Kesari, you have been named after the Hindu princess Mira, a symbol of undemanding love and thus you shall spread love and positivity in the real world. I, Arim Sabz, a little star close to Allah, shall do my job in the parallel sphere. This was your personal vendetta; none knows about it. I was planted by an organisation and thus had no chance of going back, but you do. We can’t reclaim our lost lives, but we can help build anew. Will you help me! Will you help me transform anger into love?”
Love wins all. Was Arim a part of Mira, sleeping within her somewhere. Questioning her moves, raising her conscience towards the right thing. Indeed, Arim was her. When did anger and hatred fill her core? When did she start collecting wires and circuits from her electrical engineering classes? When did she lose it all?
Arim’s sacrifice shouldn’t be wasted. She had understood. One can avenge only by forgiving and forgetting. The ones who wronged were long gone. Exacting revenge from innocents wouldn’t quench her thirst, but forgiving, would grant her peace. She wouldn’t sleep at peace knowing that she killed these kind people who helped her selflessly.
Samjhauta express reclaimed its track like an undeterred soldier. As passengers started boarding the bogies, so did some special guests. These unpaid travellers flapped their wings and sat scrutinising the ones getting aboard. They were chattering as if exchanging the tales from across the border. No enemy lines could stop the forces of nature, be it these pigeons, winds of time or love.
Mira Kesari adjusted her Kesariya pallu and dragged her suitcase towards the exit.
Arim Sabz smoothened her Sabze hijab and boarded the train.
They looked at each other, their eyes exchanging the language of silence. The anger dissipated, only love reflected. Both pairs of eyes misted, one in gratitude and the other in the realisation of the power of love.
Mira trudged down the staircase into the night sky. She unclamped the belt with explosives, snapped off its wires and placed it in her empty suitcase as she walked on the empty streets. She had assembled them herself, so it wasn’t a difficult job. The beautifully lit Red Fort looked picturesque. Arim was right, this was true Delhi. She had to reach home fast, even though she was an adult, her grandfather still awaited her for dinner and to retell her the stories about his long-lost Pakistan. Today she would have been extremely late, had it not been for Arim and her lesson of compromise; Samjhauta!
Kesari/Kesariya: the colour Orange,symbolic colour of Hinduism
Sabz/Sabze: the colour Green, symbolic colour of Islam
Ish namaz: evening prayers at the mosque
Sandhya aarti: evening prayers at the temple
Ehtiyaat se, Aapa: be careful sister
Pallu: latter part of saree, an Indian attire, draped on the chest and to cover the head worn mostly by Hindus.
Hijab: a piece of cloth wound tightly to cover the head, worn by Muslims.
Urs: an annual holy festival
Sabab: a deed of holy significance
Dua: a prayer
Salwar-kamez, churidaar: traditional clothing
Jihad: holy war
This story is a pure figment of imagination based loosely on innumerable attempts made to thwart the peace efforts, namely The Samjhauta Express, of both nations by terrorist organisations. Many such acts were also performed by simple people who couldn’t get over the pain of the partition. The writer has no intention of hurting anyone’s religious sentiment, but only to spread love and harmony.
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