NIHAL Masih and his son Wadhawa had been working for my family for quite some time prior to 1947. At the time of the Partition, when the family was getting ready to undertake a journey as part of a caravan, my grandfather saw Nihal and his son standing near our cart with a cotton bag. Both were adamant that they would accompany us to India. Grandfather, who was the Nambardar, cautioned them about the impending dangers on the way. However, they responded that he had stood with the family in difficult times and they could not leave him to fend for himself now. They insisted on returning only after ensuring that we had settled safely in India.
After making India his new home, grandfather gave Nihal a piece of land on which he built a house. In those days, Nihal could have easily returned to Pakistan, where his brothers were based, but he did not do so. Later, with the imposition of travel restrictions, it became difficult for him to visit Pakistan. Nihal used to say that no matter where he lived, he had to do manual labour. He said he was content to stay with the Nambardar and his family. His son got married and the family grew like a tree with several branches. Nihal died in 1995.
A few years back, I got an opportunity to visit my birthplace, Chak No. 96, in Sargodha district. I was looking forward to meeting my childhood friends Anwar and Saraj in the village. But my enquiries revealed that they had settled in a faraway city. Residents of my native village surrounded me and threw a volley of questions regarding my family.
When I especially enquired about Nihal’s brothers, I was told that they had all passed away. I met Aziz, a nephew of Nihal. His family members were eager to talk to me. A woman brought a bowl and asked me to read the name engraved on it. As it was in Urdu, I could not make out what it was. She told me it read ‘Nihal’. She also showed me other utensils with his name engraved on them. As she and others were anxious to know about the well-being of Wadhawa and his family, I stated that if she desired, I could take some of the utensils and present them to Wadhawa. The woman agreed and put some of them in a beautifully embroidered cotton bag.
During this conversation, I noticed a strange expression on Aziz’s face. He was silent, while the others were asking questions. When I stood up to leave the house, Aziz accompanied me. At the doorstep, he tried to take the bag from my hand and said, ‘Sardarji, give these utensils back to me. These are the only keepsakes of my uncle.’ Tears started rolling down his face. My heart melted and I felt sympathy for people like him who had not able to reunite with their relatives. Lost for words, I returned the bag and departed.
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