The Revelation

Sudha Vishwanathan posted under Short Stories Twisted on 2022-03-31



July 25th, 1947 Chandni Chowk, Delhi. The sound of the approaching ambassador heralded the arrival of the vehicle that Nihal Sabharwal had booked to take his wife, Ranjo, to the station.   Applying Tilak on her daughter in law's forehead, Nihal's mother blessed her.  "I hope your kid can hold onto your tummy till our country becomes independent. My grandson will be called Swadesh, and if it is a granddaughter, she will be, Sweccha." It was Ranjo's first delivery and it was to take place at her parents' home in Sialkot. September 22nd, 1975 Vasant Kunj, New Delhi. Fifty-eight years old, Nihal Sabharwal was restive.  Seated on the elegant sofa in the drawing-room of his apartment, he kept peeking at the telephone set. The black queen, a fantastic invention by Graham Bell, was a rarity those days. Only a few privileged could boast of its ownership.  Nihal's family was one amongst them.  "Wasn't Mr Lamba's uncanny behaviour rather evident today?" Nihal asked his son. Swadesh nodded in acquiescence.  "His etiquette did muddle me, Papa, especially because he had been pretty courteous the other day when Niharika had taken me home. Today that cordiality was missing." "Wonder what posed a deterrent to surmise the wedding talks there itself over lunch. I thought we had met for that." Nihal said, puzzled. The phone buzzed just then.  It was the much-awaited call from Mr Lamba.  "Mr Nihal, I do not think it will be gratifying for me to consolidate this proposal. I am not very comfortable giving my daughter away in wedlock to the son of a refugee." Mr Lamba, who sounded extremely blatant, seemed to have arrived at a one-sided decision. A seemingly irritated Nihal, almost shouted through the receiver, "I am not a refugee. I am an immigrant and I vouch for it." Not wanting to play with the conversation further, he disconnected the call. Swadesh had never seen his father in such a bizarre state of mind. What had Mr Lamba said to trigger the wrath of an otherwise peaceful man? 'Refugee,' immigrant,' whatever had these words got to do with a marriage proposal? The eeriness in the room was haunting, but Swadesh preferred not to disturb his father. He, however, realized that the marriage proposal was at stake. August 1st, 1947  Sialkot Ranjo rested her head on Nihal's shoulder. They gazed at the full moon, sitting on the terrace. "Do you have to leave tomorrow? Can't you wait till the child is born?" Ranjo's eyes moistened.  Giving her a loving hug, Nihal placated her. "Ranjo, I have already overstayed here. You know Papa cannot handle the shop alone, and Sujit is still not well versed in our grocery business. Don't worry, and I will come as soon as I receive news of Swadesh's birth," he playfully nudged Ranjo. He knew she would get upset when he said that it would be a boy and not a girl's progeny. Ranjo pouted her pretty cheeks in mock anger, "Why not Sweccha?" she asked. "I was just kidding, and I will come as soon as I receive the news, is that fine? Your Taiji* has roughly predicted the delivery date as August 18th.  I will try to come before that," he assured Ranjo. She snuggled close to him. September 22nd, 1975 Connaught Place, New Delhi Nihal and Swadesh were seated at a plush restaurant. They were waiting for the Lamba family to arrive.  "By what time did Niharika say she would get her parents?" piqued Nihal. "They should be here anytime now; she had said 1.30 pm," Swadesh informed. Looking at his wristwatch, Nihal twisted his lips; it was already 1.45. His first impression regarding the Lambas had gone for a toss. Nihal did not appreciate tardy people. Swadesh and Niharika had selected each other as their soul mates. He was a lecturer in the college where she was pursuing her post-graduation. The family had decided to meet over lunch and proceed with the wedding talks. The Lambas arrived at five minutes to two. The initial introductions were formal, and what followed appeared like cold hostility. Mr Indrajeet Lamba was not initiating any conversation and looked pensive. His wife, Sonam, tried to appear exuberant in every possible way, but she failed to camouflage Mr Lamba's lacklustre attitude.  Eventually, Mr Lamba made some excuse and said that he would call Nihal in the evening. August 14th, 1947 Sialkot Hearing a soft knock at the door, Ranjo's father went to answer it.  'Who could it be at this late evening hour?' he thought. On opening the door, he was pleasantly surprised to see Nihal. "Oh, it is our Damaadji*," he exclaimed, while Ranjo came sprinting, almost forgetting that she was expecting a baby any time. They ushered him in.  Ranjo's father did not fail to notice the forlorn look on Nihal's face. "Papaji, please pack all your things, we have to leave this place as soon as possible. There is news that all Hindus will have to move to Hindustan. Sialkot will be in Pakistan now." "What are you saying? I should abandon my home, where I have been living for so many decades. I have a grocery shop here, and my livelihood is in this place, I am not going anywhere. Let it become Pakistan or whatever." Ranjo's dad sounded unrelenting. There was a knock at the door. It was Ibrahim, their next-door neighbour, Rahim Bhai's son. "Kaka, Abu has sent you a message saying you people should move out as soon as possible. News about the sporadic incidence of agitation has been pouring in, and it won't be long before it assumes a huge form." Ranjo's dad let out an agonizing sigh hearing this. "Please pack your belongings. Abu is bringing a cart to take you all away to the station. All Hindus will be plied to refugee camps in Patiala in the special refugee trains arranged for them.  Abu said we could have given you shelter in our house, but it seems people are barging in to see if any of us has given refuge to any Hindu." "Hey, Ram!!!" Ranjo's dad nearly slumped to the floor, distraught. "Papaji, I have come to take you all with me. Let us leave quickly."  Nihal helped them pack a few belongings, and they all left. September 23rd, 1975 Vasant Kunj, New Delhi "Papa, what is bothering you? I guess it is something that Lamba's uncle uttered yesterday that has triggered your pent up emotions." Swadesh was concerned to see his father still upset. "He says he cannot wed his daughter to the son of a refugee. I say for the hundredth time that I am not a refugee; I am an Immigrant. I have lived in Delhi since my birth, and what makes that man utter such a demeaning word about me? Does he have any authentic proof that I am a refugee, and even if I was one, how does that deter him from wedding his daughter off to my son? He is only digging to find some reason to call off this wedding." "Papa, you, please calm down, we will talk about this later," Swadesh got up and left. He felt that there was something more to it. Mr Lamba's disposition had undergone a drastic transformation only after meeting his father over lunch the day before. He had to explore the reason behind it. August 14th, 1947 Patiala "Papaji, mummyji, come fast. The train is leaving; we have to get inside somehow." Nihal carefully pushed Ranjo inside. There was an utter commotion as they heard some people screaming and coming towards the train with swords and knives.  Fortunately, the train left, and they found themselves later at a refugee camp in Patiala. "Sir, I have a house in Delhi, Chandni Chowk, it is hardly 250kms away.  I have to go; my wife is expecting a child anytime now." Nihal tried reasoning with the officers at the refugee camp. They were not allowing anyone to move out, fearing turmoil, and indiscriminate death. Everyone at the camp had reached the end of their tether. There was a huge commotion. Some were missing from the refugee train, and people were screaming and crying. Nihal's words seemed to have caused vexation to an officer. "What do we do if you have a house at Chandni Chowk? Shall we celebrate?" he shouted. "You just wait here, no one can leave the camp now, everything is burning, and you want to go out?" the man fretted. He pushed Nihal and went ahead with some other work. "Papaji, I do not know what is going to happen, and when we will be able to reach my house safely. The atmosphere is filled with violence." Nihal looked worried, but there was little that the family could do other than brooding. September 23rd 1975 Anand Vihar, New Delhi   "I don't get this, why did you have to make such a ruckus if Mr Nihal is a refugee? How does it stop us from going ahead with this wedding? Swadesh is a nice boy, well educated, and holding a good job at the university. And as for Mr Nihal, he has a chain of grocery shops. I feel that this is a frivolous reason to reject a worthy proposal."Sonam grumbled. "I never said that Mr Nihal is a refugee. You did not get me right; I said, 'I won't give my daughter in marriage to the son of a refugee.' There was silence for a while as Sonam was trying to comprehend what her husband had said just then. Didn't he imply that Swadesh was not Nihal's son but was a son of a refugee? "I distinctly remember everything.  I was one of the officers posted in the refugee camp where Nihal had taken asylum with his family, coming from Sialkot." Mr Lamba tried to explain his stance. "I know he was from Delhi because he kept arguing with us to allow him to take his wife and in-laws to his house in Chandi Chowk. His wife died in the camp, probably while she went into labour. It was their first child. Swadesh is not his son, and I can vouch on it." Mr Lamba sounded very confident about his statement. "I saw Nihal leaving with a one-year-old kid who lost his mother in the camp.  The kid has to be Swadesh, and ultimately, he is the son of a refugee having been left orphaned.   So, where did I go wrong in saying that I won't give my daughter in wedlock to the son of a refugee?  How do you expect me to give my daughter's hand to a boy, whose ancestry is untraceable?" Mr Lamba had probably made up his mind not to go ahead with this proposal. "I still don't understand why we should reject an eligible bachelor like Swadesh, even if he is the offspring of a refugee. As of now, he is the son of Mr Nihal, a well-known figure in society."Sonam wouldn't let the opportunity slip like this. "There were so many in the camp, how would you remember only Nihal Bhaiyya's face?" she argued. "You might have made a mistake in identifying him. After all, it is nearing three decades." "Well…. Did you notice that Nihal has a bright red scar over his upper lips? That made him very conspicuous in the crowd, and that is how I could identify him. And I think we will close this chapter here." Mr Lamba was implacable. Swadesh, who had come to see Mr Lamba, overheard the conversation. Changing his mind, Swadesh left the place in a jiffy with some determination. 'Only Papa can solve this zig jaw puzzle,' he realized. August 16th, 1947 Patiala "Papaji, Papaji, where are you and Mummyji," Nihal's screams filled the air, as he cringed at the lifeless body of his wife, Ranjo.  Her parents came running, hearing the shrieks and were shocked to see their daughter lying motionless in a pool of blood.  "Ranjo said she was famished. We had gone to fetch food.  She had shown no signs of discomposure then. Poor girl must have gone into labour and died due to heavy bleeding. God, have you got no mercy on us?"  Ranjo's mother wept in despair. Nihal stood transfixed there, too shocked to devour the situation. His world seemed to have come to a standstill. His dream of holding his child got crushed in a matter of a few seconds. September 23rd, 1975 Vasant Kunj, New Delhi Swadesh opened the door to his father's room. Nihal was sitting under dim light and sobbing intermittently. Swadesh's warm touch on his shoulders brought some respite to Nihal. "Papa, I know I am not your son," Swadesh began slowly. "Please tell me what happened, and where did you find me?" Swadesh was trying to seek answers to a plethora of questions that plagued his mind. "Did Mr Lamba meet you? He has been calling me a refugee, and I should have known that he has seen me in a refugee camp, but believe me, son, I am not a refugee…." Nihal hugged his son with tears in his eyes. "Papa," Swadesh interrupted, "He is not calling you a refugee, he is calling my biological father, a refugee," Swadesh's eyes too were brimming with tears. "Please tell me the facts.  I need to confront Mr Lamba with them." Wiping his tears, Nihal continued, "Ranjo had gone for her first delivery to her parent's house at Sialkot, and then the partition issue happened. I had to get them safely to our place in Delhi, but at the camp, she died before she could deliver our child.  With a broken heart, Ranjo's parents and I continued staying there till such time we were able to move to Delhi. Just as we were leaving the camp, we heard the cry of a baby from one of the tents. It was I who spotted you, hardly one year old then, sitting near the dead body of your mother and crying. A thorough search for any near kith or kin drew a blank. Not having the heart to leave a small kid alone in the camp, we brought you with us. We christened you Swadesh, the name we had chosen for our first son."  Nihal broke down, unable to compose himself. Swadesh's eyes fell on something that his father was holding tightly. "What is this papa?" he asked, trying to open his palm slowly. It was a round brass locket with Goddess Parvati's image embossed on it. Swadesh fervently observed the locket, while Nihal unravelled the story behind it.  “This probably belongs to that scoundrel who had sexually abused your mother and brought her end. The locket should have broken in the struggle that your mother might have put up in vain to save herself from the beast." Nihal's voice kept breaking. "I have never shared this gruesome incident with anyone. Other than brooding within myself, I could do nothing about it. I don't even know who the scalawag was, but the rogue was somewhere in the camp." Nihal's voice choked with pent up emotions even as Swadesh looked intently at the locket. "Papa, doesn't this look like a second piece of a locket?" Swadesh asked, rubbing the side of the locket that felt rough as if a rivet broke. "Could be," nodded Nihal. "The other part might have the embossing of Lord Shiva. Parvati is His consort, you see." Nihal asserted. "Please hand over this to me. Let me talk to Mr Lamba with this evidence." Nihal was clueless as to what Swadesh was up to.  He took away the locket and left in a hurry, his thoughts meandering elsewhere. September 23rd 1975 Anand Vihar, New Delhi. Sonam was somewhat petrified to see Swadesh at her doorstep.  Not sure how her husband would respond, she gestured to him to leave, but Swadesh walked in with full determination. "I want to see Niharika," he said, seating himself comfortably on the sofa. "I am not giving my daughter's hands to the offspring of a refugee, I said, don't you understand?" bawled Mr Lamba. "You have chosen your words correctly, sir, by calling me thus,   but I need to talk to Niharika, and I want it to happen in your esteemed presence." The clarity in his speech compelled them to summon Niharika. Sonam looked puzzled, wondering what the boy was trying to convey. "Niharika, do you mind tying the knot with the son of a refugee?" Swadesh asked, gently taking her hands into his, as she came into the room. He knew she loved him and would not retrace her steps.  Niharika showed no signs of resentment, thereby giving her silent consent for the wedding. "Then let us solemnize our wedding at a civil court soon," he said much to the annoyance of Mr Lamba. "I thought you understood that I am not in favour of this marriage. You still dare to propose to my daughter, right in front of me?"  Screamed Mr Lamba. Swadesh was not paying attention; he continued talking to Niharika.  "And I suggest you remove that rivet broken locket in your chain with Lord Shiva.  Though you had told me that it holds a special value for you because it belongs to your dad, It  gives me a creepy feeling." He caught Mr Lamba looking askance at him. "We can embark upon our married life only without it. Otherwise, I will keep getting reminded about the fact that my mother had ruthlessly fallen prey to the lust of a selfish man who had worn this locket of Lord Shiva and His Consort." He handed over the embossed piece with Goddess Parvati to a stunned Indrajeet Lamba.  His dark facet had been revealed and also his motive behind rejecting the proposal. Indrajeet Lamba floundered as he met with the reproachful glances of his wife and daughter.

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