Tanveer was making her way through the dusty streets of Amritsar. She had made kulchas for her friends waiting for her in the Jaliawala Bagh. A meeting was organized to condemn the Rowlett Act. Firangees were becoming audacious day by day, putting restrictions upon civil liberties. It enraged every Indian. However, the protest was going to be a peaceful one.
She was up by 5:00 am today. It was Baishakhi. She and her friends had been planning for this day for weeks now. Carrying crispy kulchas and aloo tikki in a picnic bag she kept taking long strides to catch up quickly with them. The plan had been to attend the peaceful protest and then gather at a friend’s house to discuss how they could contribute to the struggle. Just as she was about to enter the Bagh, her neighbor came running and told her that her mother wanted her back home. She could not stay with her friends till the end of protest.
That was probably what saved her life even though hundreds were lost.
At the other end, Simran was waiting for Tanveer. She sat waiting at the best place in the bagh, under the shadow of the mango tree. She was dressed in her best patiala suit adorning phulkari dupatta, in honour of Baisakhi. “Tanveer should have been here by now,” she wondered. “Can’t wait for the kulchas she had promised.”
In the massacre that followed, bullets hit Simran’s legs and she lost both her legs. Some of their friends lost their lives on the spot.
As Tanveer reached home asking her mother why she had called her when everyone was in the bagh, she suddenly heard thunderous sounds of gun shots in lieu.
“Where is this coming from?” she panicked.
As she rushed towards the Bagh to see what was happening, she could see utter chaos. She was aghast to see the bloodshed. While she gaped at the scene, tears already started rolling down her cheek. The next moment she thought about checking for her friends. But the entrance was blocked.
There seemed to be countless sepoys with countless ammunition barring the only entry to the bagh. All heads were turned towards the bagh. Sepoys went on shooting blindly, hitting anyone and everyone! Tanveer was aghast to see the sight. She turned around to look for an alternate way to enter the bagh.
Fortunately, the mango tree that Simran was sitting under was close to the boundary wall. Tanveer taking advantage of her athletic body and height climbed the wall and under the cover of chaos, rushed towards the tree. All her other friends were lying in pool of blood. Blood was oozing out from Simran’s legs but she was still breathing. She was unconscious due to the trauma. Tanveer had to save Simran at any cost. But for that she had to survive too. She decided to lie there pretending to be the victim while holding on to Simran.
“Hold on Simran. We will be out of this very soon. Bear it a bit longer.”
The gunshots had died down. Tanveer had no idea how long they had been lying that way. A distant shout made her look up. Help was coming in. She checked Simran. Swathed in blood, her friend had passed out. But she was still breathing.
“Is anybody alive?” A voice was calling out.
“Here!” Tanveer screamed.
As people rushed to gather her, she pointed to Simran. Somebody lifted Simran and hurried away. Tanveer followed, she wasn’t crying anymore. She just stared at the bloodbath, in silence wiping her tears.
There was blood everywhere. Bodies lay scattered. The expression of fear and helplessness was firmly imprinted on those dead faces. A toddler lay beside it’s mother, clutching her pallu. The mother had her arms around her baby, probably her last attempt to protect it. The stench of blood, the shock and the moans of the injured gagged her. She threw up.
The next few moments Tanveer was blank. She didn’t remember anything. When she gained consciousness, she was waiting outside the hospital ward. Her friend Simran’s legs had to be amputated. Surrounding her were their families, all those who didn’t attend the public address that unfortunate day.
While the entire family wept as Simran lay unconscious, Tanveer just stood there, stroking Simran’s hair. There was no sadness in her eyes, just silent determination.
Days passed on and Tanveer decided to go and stay with Simran for a few days to help her recover from the trauma. While Simran had lost her legs, Tanveer had lost her zestful smile but their hearts had become strong. The nightmare was not over.
“It seems one General Dyer gave orders to shoot,” Tanveer informed Simran.
“I heard he was punished for this act. They dismissed him and sent him packing to England,” said Simran.
“But he’s alive.” Tanveer spoke matter of factly.
“This act has been highly condemned even by the British. How cruel can one be?” Simran sighed. “People all over the world have condemned him. Even Rabindra Da has renounced his knighthood to show his displeasure,” Tanveer informed Simran.
“Whatever it is Tannu, the lost lives will not come back! I can still hear the screams and feel the horror.” Simran sobbed.
Her voice was quiet but there was a quality of steely resolve in it that was unmistakable.” I will travel to England if need be or at least help someone to reach there. He should not go unpunished for what he’s done.”
Simran stared at her friend in awe. This was someone she no longer knew. The massacre had changed her body and her friend’s mind. Irrevocably. Frighteningly.
She was no longer the same chatterbox Tanveer. Her mind was working faster than her mouth. Was she the same Tanveer who would get frightened on seeing a cockroach? Now she was thinking of taking drastic steps.
Simran blurted, “But how?”
“I don’t know yet, but don’t worry, I will figure it out. In the meantime, you take care of yourself and concentrate on the healing.” Tanveer kissed her on the cheek.
Tanveer had a fire burning within, she had always had sleepless nights after that tragedy. The visuals of pools of blood and bodies still flashed through her mind. She left Simran’s house with a resolve to avenge the misdeeds of Firangis.
Tanveer knew that, if she wanted to be strong, the key was not to make the strong stronger, but to reignite the spark gunned down within the surviving victims at the baug. And, the perfect person to begin with, was her friend Simran.
Yes, someone who had lived to tell the horror was just what was needed. They decided to round up the youth from their neighborhood and Simran would give an eyewitness account of the terror unleashed that day. They would become ‘krantikaris‘ too. Do their own little bit for the ‘andolan‘ that had taken the nation by storm.
They would gather nearby ladies and the youth. Initially, they all would meet at one of the neighboring houses. That day many people died. Somebody’s father, somebody’s son, somebody’s husband. Every other family had lost their beloved in the massacre that day.
One day an emotional Simran hugged Tanveer. “Tannu, when did we grow so big? Why do we have to suffer through all this? Will we ever we able to take our revenge? Will we ever attain freedom?”
Sensing the clouds of confusion in Simran’s mind, Tanveer responded, “Honestly Simran, earlier I could never understand all these freedom movements, these meetings and gatherings. We were happy in our own lives. But I guess when our close ones get affected by any such thing, then reality strikes really hard.”
“But,” Tanveer gave her a hopeful smile, “We owe it to those who fell, that the ones they leave behind find a life worth living. As one who lives to fight against these monsters, we have to help the survivors to face their reality and guide them on a path of healing. We owe it to them.”
Simran smiled sadly. She could feel her own loss churning within her soul, but she knew that she was not ready to give up yet. So, she agreed with Tanveer. If she could help them, then maybe they could help her find her way back too.
And so the first step was taken. Tanveer, Simran and the loved ones of the survivors became their counsellors. They became listeners. They took in the gloomy details of the eventual bloodbath of the ones that could not be saved by the hands of the ones that never wanted to be saved.
A new awakening was waiting for it’s outlet. Sharing the grief and the pain provided a path towards the healing of the soul. Hope and self-belief erased the memories of the turmoil.
Simran and Tanveer had become the pillars of support for the people who were left behind. They nursed the injured, helped the elderly, took care of the children who were orphaned. They tried to find ways of employment for the ladies who had lost their breadwinner.
In between matrimonial alliances would come for Tanveer. She refused them all stating that there was no way she would leave her friend alone on this path of self discovery. She wanted to devote the rest of her life for helping out the survivors and their family. Somewhere she knew that she could not reach the General and take her revenge but atleast she could aid in the emotional, physical recovery of the community. After all every effort counts in the service of the nation. She realized that they all need to respect and share camaraderie with the motherland.
Both the girls had moved on in life. Although they could never forget that fateful day, they had started to live a normal life devoting their lives for the cause of the community. One day when Tanveer went to see Simran, she found her sobbing in her charpoy looking at her dance picture from the school days. She was a brilliant Gidda dancer and had always dreamt of opening a dance school some day. But now all her dreams were ruthlessly snatched from her. Tanveer had an idea. She thought to herself, “After all what are friends for?”
Tanveer was totally dedicated to the cause. What had started as an ode to a friendship and a desire to avenge now turned into a cause. And she involved her best friend too. Simran and Tanveer would make pamphlets in pictures.
An idea flashed her mind, she discussed it with Simran. She was hesitant in the beginning, but eventually gave in. Tanveer arranged for a small group of girls, whom she and Simran would train for dance. Tanveer also wrote for a local newspaper voicing out her opinion regarding the political scenario every now and then.
Soon they had a huge women’s following which was as essential to the movement as was everything else. Simran and she would sometimes host meetings in Simran’s house together.
They combined Gidda with story telling and hosted stage shows from time to time to spread awareness about the current political situation and educating people about their rights. It used to be Simran’s script and Tanveer’s feet. On the occasion of their fiftieth show, when they both congratulated each other, Simran said, “Among the many other victories, its the victory of friendship too. You sacrificed your dreams for mine. I remember how in school you hated arts and dancing. But here you are toiling with me day and night.”
To this Tanveer replied, “Yes I did. But as time passed, circumstances changed and people began to rise to fight for the light. I have learned to adapt for the cause. And the cause is that, no matter how much we are put down, hope will never die as long as we do not give up on each other!”
Simran welled up, as they hugged amidst the eruption of applause.
They continued with the good work and did their best to help the survivors of the fallen to accept their fate and remember to live for them.
Even though there were few who did not make it, but the tides were changing and more were understanding that there was indeed a light at the end of the tunnel, if only they were brave enough to see it.
It was the dawn of a battling revolution…
…and they intended to win it.
Contributed by: Olinda Braganza, Sonali Prasad, Aruna Menon, Rashim Rohit Brutta, Amruta Wadekar, Sheetal Ashpalia, Shristee Singh, Preethi Warrier, Sreemati Sen Karmakar, Sonal Singh, Shweta Singh.
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