“Simon, go back.” The streets reverberated with charged up people. The British had become so audacious that they were going ahead for constitutional reforms for India and did not have a single Indian in the commission. This was intolerable.
Somewhere far away from all the commotion in Lahore, was Vasant who was traveling through the village of Pandupur. The sombre pond side beauty, the mango trees, and the polite, peace-loving people was all he could hope for, to halt and learn about the place. He had been a wanderer of sorts, moving from place to place with a hope to learn a new musical instrument. This time he landed at a landlord’s haveli and hoped to gather some knowledge on the piano that the landlord’s lawyer son had got from London.
The haveli looked magnificent from the outside. It truly depicted the wealth of the landlord. The huge doors to the haveli welcomed him to the world of luxury. Sitting in the verandah were the landlord Lala Raichand and his son Rajveer who was immaculately dressed. They were having tea from immacualetly placed kettle and cups with impreial roses printed on them. The mouth-watering aroma from all the food laid out in front of them was enough to intoxicate Vasant. The haveli was grand and tastefully done and was nothing less than an English palace.
Rajveer sat waiting for his friend, Charles. The son of the local police officer, Charles and Rajveer had studied in the same school since childhood. Theirs was a friendship which had transcended all barriers and was still going strong.
Looking at the unkempt hair of Vasant and his pale clothes, Lalaji enquired from his son if he was really going to teach music to that wanderer. Rajveer understood his father’s intent as he could see disgust in his eyes for Vasant. Responding to his father he said, “Music doesn’t know any caste, creed, religion or color. It is free from any boundaries. He has come here to learn piano and I shall try my best to do so.” Rajveer put forward his point as politely as he could.
Vasant stared at the grand beauty, the piano, that shone in all its glory. Nestled beside the grand staircase, it’s keys were covered at the moment. His fingers longed to touch the shining back and white keys in a perfect rhythm to make music that he had only heard of. Rajveer smiled at him and asked, “What made you so keen to learn Piano?”
Settling himself on the chair in front of Rajveer, he answered, “There is enough noise in this world. The people have forgotten the rhythm of life amidst this hustle bustle. I am all by myself in this world. Through nature and art, I strive to discover myself each and every day. The piano as an instrument has always fascinated me. I know it’s the music of the elite. And I am so grateful that you considered my request and agreed to train me. So, when can we start?”
Rajveer burst into laughter seeing his enthusiasm. “Soon. We shall start learning it soon but before that I would like you to meet a very good friend of mine, Charles. He shall be here soon. When his fingers run on the keys, music sounds so enchanting. You must hear him play.” Rajveer boasted about his friend.
“But tell me one thing? Are you really not disturbed by the winds of change that is blowing across the nation.” This question, coming from Rajveer, startled Vasant.
“Like any other citizen of this country, I am equally concerned with what is going on. On one hand, I am happy that the British are starting to bring some reforms. They are finally working on their long lost promise of ten years. On the other hand, it was a big disappointment to see no Indian representative in the commission. This motherland has reaped such wonderful leaders whose names will surely go down in history. And yet the British thought it was okay to not consider their word while making reforms for the country.” Before Vasant could continue, Rajveer signaled him to stay quiet as he could see Charles coming towards them.
“Hello, my friend, Rajveer. How have you been?” Charles brought along with him an air of mirth.
“Hello Charles,” Rajveer acknowedged his greetings before turning towards Vasant. “Charles, meet Vasant here. He wishes to be trained on how to play a piano,” Rajveer continued as Charles extended his hand for Vasant to shake.
“Hello, young man. So what really brings you here?”
Vasant was about to respond, when Rajveer interrupted, “Oh, he is very enthusiastic to learn the Piano. I was telling him about you that how gifted a pianist you are.” Then turning towards Vasant, he continued, “Vasant, Charles brings life to all our social gatherings.”
“Aye, thanks for your appreciation but these days playing a piano has really taken a backseat with so much going on in the political world,” Charles took out a smoke pipe from his pocket and lit it.
“Oh, so are also keen on politics like me?” quickly asked Vasant.
Rajveer was trying to avoid any conversation on politics but the two men continued their discussion.
Vasant, an onlooker till now, muttered, “Yes, indeed. In fact, while I was on my way here I saw so many protests, people in large numbers on the streets shouting ‘Simon Go Back.’ Young and old people, children with their mothers. I am worried and hope it does not result in another gory bloodshed. But for me, I am only a music lover. I love playing the tabla and the sitar.” Vasant dodged the conversation, observing the body language of Rajveer. He understood that he must not discuss much about the political situation with Charles.
Gathering the cues, Charles played along too, “so where did you learn music from? Maybe one day we can juxtapose the piano and the tabla! What do you say Rajveer?”
Rajveer heaved a sigh of relief, for Vasant had understood what he wished to convey through his eyes and signals. He patted Vasant’s back and casually asked him, “Shall we begin, then?” Meanwhile Charles intervened, “let me also join in. I would love to be his guide as well.”
Rajveer looked at Charles, who was laughing sarcastically, “I was just joking. Look at the poor chap. He might not come again if I were his teacher. Anyway, I just came here to invite you for the party at my house on Sunday. The invite is for two persons.” Charles stood up from his chair.
“Two?” asked Rajveer.
“Well, I have two of my friends here”, smiled Charles and focused his gaze on Vasant. “Vasant?”
“Who?” Both Rajveer and Vasant exclaimed at the same time and looked at Charles.
“Yes, my dear friends. I would love to have you both at my party and yes, we will juxtapose a recital too, Vasant.”
As the two friends stood shocked, Charles walked up to them and put his hands around them.
“And Vasant, my dear friend, you can go with Rajveer and buy for yourself a nice outfit for the party. Let me drop you off at the market. Meanwhile, keep practicing, you both. I will join you whenever I get time! Okay?” Saying this, Charles rushed out.
On Sunday at Charles’ house, the three men walked inside the big hall which housed a beautiful piano. Vasant couldn’t contain his excitement . This was like a dream. Rajveer sat on the stool and started playing some music on the piano. Amidst glorious food, music and making acquaintances, the evening was sailing smoothly. Charles turned to Vasant, as he noticed the young man feeling restless among the unfamiliar crowd. Vasant gided from one part of the room to another, observing the high-life that he had never been acquainted to before. As a wanderer he had been to various places but nothing was ever like this.
“So Vasant, let me ask you from a layman’s point of view. Why are people so agitated about Simon Commission? The government is atleast trying to bring some reforms,” in his mind, Charles saw this as a common topic of discussion so he thought it was appropriate for him to talk about it with Vasant too.
Vasant, who was till now mesmerized with the ambience created around him, was shaken by this sudden query. “Perhaps, there is no Indian in the Commission and that’s why the public doesn’t trust the British Raj much,” was his reply. Rajveer gazed at him, startled. He was just worried all the time about any discussion going awry.
Even though Charles and Rajveer had been friends for long, yet they had always skirted discussions related to the political distrust and disturbances in the country. But when Charles commented next turned out to be a pleasant surprise for him. “Its always good to know the other side of the argument. I am an open-minded person who likes to learn new things and ideas. Maybe if I understand better about the reason behind people’s fury, I could convey this to my father and he being a government officer could get some perspective too.”
Both Rajveer and Vasant were surprised to hear Charles’ thoughts. They had both thought otherwise about him till then. Vasant was happy to know that not all Englishmen were the same. Some were friendly too, like Charles. Just then, the friends noticed someone carrying some musical instruments inside the room full of guests.
“Vasant, your tabla is here, why don’t you play it first. We can continue our conversation later.” Rajveer interrupted, pointing at the tablas which were placed meticulously on a small stage made especially for him. Everyone looked towards Vasant in anticipation. The tabla was a unique instrument for most of the guests there. And a tabla with a piano, juxtaposed, was something they had never heard together.
The evening ended on a high as the two musicians created magic with their instruments.
After dinner, Rajveer tried scurried and excused himself and Vasant to take leave. Vasant noticed that there was something going inside Rajveers mind. “What is the matter? Why do you look so tensed? You can tell me.” Vasnat aired his concern.
“Vasant, you don’t know Charles’ father. He is a very shrewd officer. He would be home anytime. If he sees you here, he will say all the wrong things about us Indians which I don’t like. All these years I have held my voice because of my father, due to his prestige. But I feel suffocated. My heart bleedds looking at our people die like this. But I am helpless. I wish I could simply take up the cause of our freedom but I often feel that I am good for nothing. My upbringing has been my biggest block. Charles is a good friend. Like me he is also inquisitive and wants to know what is happening at the ground level. But he would never go against his father wishes. We don’t have the courage like you to speak up our mind.” Vasant was astonished to hear all this. He couldn’t believe that a person of such authority could have such a stance.
On the way back home, Vasant discovered what he had never been prepared for. Rajveer shared some facts that blew his mind. “My dear friend, nobody knows that I am, in fact, working against the system. The British think I am loyal to them but it is not so! I am working for the freedom struggle with the HSA without anyone’s knowledge. And between you and me, I have some ammunition stored in my house which I need to send to the people who have taken the front seat in the agitation.” Vasant heard this with great astonishment. “Will you help me carry all of this ammunition to Patiala? You can hide and carry them under the pretext of your musical instrument. As a lawyer, I am always under the radar of scrutiny, however I believe, no one will ever doubt your intentons as a musician, traveling from one place to another.”
Vasant’s throat dried up hearing this. It was sounding very risky to him. He was a musician at heart and like any true artist he was far away from getting into the whirl of things. Agitation and ammunitions were things far away from his realm of thoughts. But he felt obliged to Rajveer for his courteous behavior.
Meanwhile at Charles house, his father had come back from his trip to Delhi. “You look very happy son! What’s special today? Did you have a good time with some pretty Indian woman?”, he winked. Charles was silent. He was not sure if he could tell his dad about Rajveer’s new friend.
His father continued, “I had a nice day today. These Indians, what do they think of themselves? Simon Commission showed them their true place. They will never get anyway close to the high authorities. We have ruled them for so many years and will continue to do so”. Charles was not surprised to hear his father’s thoughts. That’s how he was.
While Charles sat despondently after listening to his father, his friend Rajveer was making arrangements for Vasant to leave the haveli with the ammunition. There was going to be high alert on all the major highways, so he recommended Vasant to take the by-pass roads to avoid any confrontation with any police.
Suddenly an idea struck Rajveer. He swiftly went up to the phone kept in baithak. “Hello Charles! I forgot to ask you. There is a musical function in Patiala where Vasant is taking part. Toady after hearing the combined notes of piano and tabla, I feel if you play there along with Vasant, it will improve his chances of getting some work in his field of art. Are you ready to join Vasant for this?”
Charles was thrilled to hear this, “Sure! When is it?”
“It’s day after tomorrow. You and Vasant will have to leave early morning tomorrow. Will you be able to make it?” Rajveer inquired.
“Yes sure, I will inform dad,” Charles seemed to be really excited to take a trip for music.
Vasant, though had agreed to Rajveer’s plan, was deeply conflicted and diffident. What if he’s caught? What will happen to his music, his dreams? Suddenly fear overtook him.
“One more thing Charles, my friend. We will need your car for the travel.”
“Sure Rajveer! That’s hardly anything. I will get that ready.”
Rajveer smiled to himself. “Come to my haveli tomorrow 5am sharp.” Rajveer had now assured safety of Vasant and his ammunition as no one would doubt a British carrying these for the HSA.
Next morning Charles arrived sharp at 5.00 am with his driver. Vasant and Rajveer had spent the night packing their secret consignment with the musical instruments.
“Have some tea,” Rajveer invited Chrarles inside, signaling his men to keep Vasant’s luggage in the car.
“Where is the function, friends, and who all are coming? I am really excited to listen to other musicians and some Indian ragas,” said Charles excitedly.
“You will find that out Charles. I will explain everything to you on the way,” Vasant intervened. “Now let’s start, we have to reach in time. On the way there could be some disturbance so let’s keep enough time.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. This is my father’s car. No one will stop us. I will take care of that.” Charles assured.
Vasant held his breath as they left the village and reached the first check post on the outskirts. Two policemen stopped the car. They saw Charles and their stern expression softened. The driver mentioned Charles’ father’s name and the two gave way instantly with a sheepish smile.
The two reached the venue. Charles was looking a little tensed. The driver stepped out to take out the luggage. Vasant was about to get down from the car when Charles stopped him.
“What are you and Rajveer up to? After all these years of friendship, Rajveer has never cared to share anything with me”, he said. Puzzled, Vasant was still thinking what had Charles just noticed to have confronted him.
“Sorry Charles. Even I wasn’t aware of it. I got to know in the last minute. But Rajveer told me about this function only yesterday. I guess someone called him up, you know about his tie ups with the elite.” Vasant babbled and tried his best to dodge the true story. He was unsure that Charles had bought his alibi, but looking at him, he realized that even if he knew, he would still stay supportive.
On the other hand, Rajveer took a sigh of relief seeing his two friends going together, to a singlle destination but with two different missions. They would be supporting each other even without knowing. He thanked God for this and prayed for their safety all the more.
Everything went as per the plan. The ammunition was delivered safely. The musical event was a success, as well. There was a point in time when Vasant was skeptical about this whole thing. After all, he had known Rajveer only for a short time but somehow his intuition told him to trust his new friend. On the other hand, Charles always wanted to help in the freedom movement and today he got to do his bit, even though he was oblivious of the fact that he did.
Somewhere in this short span of time, a bond of blind trust, loyalty had grown among the three. Their families never got to know of their real intentions while they continued to closely work with the revolutionaries. They were content to do their part and form strong ties of friendship along the way. Not all the stories of camaraderie and freedom struggle gained fame and theirs was one of them.
Contributed by-Shristee Singh, Kajal Kapur, Sonali Prasad, Sreemati Sen Karmakar, Sheena Jain, Rashim Rohit Brutta, Anjali Sharma, Sheena Jain
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