When the ‘enemy’ becomes saviour

When the ‘enemy’ becomes saviour

Representational photo

Lal Singh

An anecdote that I read recently reminded me of the bonhomie between Punjabis on either side of the Radcliffe Line. During a war, soldiers of their respective armies do not hesitate to kill one another. But their concern for one another when they happen to meet otherwise is exemplary. I recall Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘The Man He Killed’, where the poet conveys the idea that outside of the battlefield, soldiers on both sides have no enmity at all.

Once when our ship was at Gdynia, a port in Poland, I along with the captain, a Telugu gentleman, went ashore in uniform. In communist countries in those times, the locals were used to seeing people in uniform everywhere. In a brawl at a bar in the town, the captain, being a bit tipsy, confronted a local man who objected to a dark-skinned man dancing with a white woman.

Despite my advice to leave the bar and head for our ship, he started arguing with that man in his wine-induced bravado. Somehow, I managed to pull him out of the bar when I felt that things might get out of hand. We started walking back to our ship as there was no taxi in sight at that late hour. But we were still far away when the same man came along with some hooligans to confront us. Before we could look for any policeman nearby, to our good luck, some men came running towards us. When they saw my turban, they shouted in Punjabi not to worry as they were there to teach the ruffians a lesson.

Our rescuers turned out to be the crew members of a Pakistani ship berthed in the same dock. When the ‘policja’ saw our saviours, they just melted away. We thanked them and safely reached our ship.

There was another such show of bonhomie just a few weeks before the 1965 War. I, along with another officer, also a Punjabi in turban, went to see a movie when our ship was in the port of Karachi. The cinema was screening an Urdu film titled Mere Sanam. We were about to return when we saw the sign of ‘Houseful’. But soon, a person came asking in Punjabi if we wanted to see the movie, saying that the manager could arrange extra seats for us.

We were grateful for the gesture and when we wanted to pay for the tickets, it was refused as we were their guests. While watching the movie, snacks and cold drinks were served, courtesy the cinema manager. Many such incidents of display of amity, as opposed to enmity, on both sides of the border were experienced during my long sea service.

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