PERILS ON THE BORDER
It left ruins in a once prosperious village.
Satbir was an old friend of Jagdev. They were classmates in the Presidency College, Amritsar. They frequently missed classes for beer sessions in the afternoon, seeing movies together or chasing girls. Although they were both tall and handsome with plenty of cash to throw about at weekly jam sessions in the Ritz Hotel, they had had no luck in befriending any girl in college. This was partly due to their reputation that they were loafers not interested in studies at all and they were coming to college only to enjoy themselves with no control over them by their guardians.
However, they had succeeded in finding a woman living in one of the tenements built outside the college for the Class IV staff. Enquiries revealed that the dusky beauty was the wife of a peon hailing from Allahabad in U.P. Although they had been married for over 15 years, the couple had had no issue. Ram Sahai, her husband, was fond of not only tobacco-laced betel, but also opium when he could manage to buy it. But he was always short of cash, possibly because of his expensive drug addiction. He would ask even students for loans.
Thus, he was easily won over by Satbir when told that that he should forget about return of the money provided he and his friend were allowed to meet his wife sometimes. Under this arrangement Rupwati was prevailed upon by her husband to
However, they had succeeded in finding a woman living in one of the tenements built outside the college for the Class IV staff. Enquiries revealed that the dusky beauty was the wife of a peon hailing from Allahabad in U. P. Satbir was an old friend of Jagdev. They were classmates in the Presidency College, Amritsar. They frequently missed classes for beer sessions in the afternoon, seeing movies together or chasing girls. Although they were both tall and handsome with plenty of cash to throw about at weekly jam sessions in the Ritz Hotel, they had had no luck in befriending any girl in college.
entertain the two students as and when they called. All the concerned parties were happy. Rupwati felt that the two young fellows might succeed where her husband had failed: make her pregnant. Ram Sahai was happy because he could have free puffs of ganja and take opium whenever he desired now. And of course the two friends, getting what they had been trying long in college, were often willing even to give cash tips to Rupwati whenever she asked. One day, to her great surprise, Satbir gave her a new sari. She was overwhelmed.
As Satbir sat on her bed to partake of her charms, she bolted the door of her room. Although light coming through a ventilator in the small room was rather dim, they made love that thrilled Rupwati for she had never before experienced this kind of ecstasy. When they got up, she kissed him and asked,”when will you come again?”
The way Jagdev made love to her turned her into a putty in his hands. First he stroked her body, his hands warm on her flanks. Playing with her clitoris, he entered his finger in her hole as if to prepare for the final assault. Seeing his upright shaft Rupwati realised she had never seen anything like that before. She had wasted her years with her husband who could not even get a proper erection, what to talk of penetrating and impregnating her. Nor could she ever hope that her husband would be able to befriend such rich and tough guys as Jagdev and Satbir were and make them sleep with her again. Although she had not missed her periods, she felt if the two friends kept on visiting her, she could hope to be pregnant before long.
But their life of dissipation and debauchery could not last long. The approach of a final degree examinations made them change their tracks. Both studied hard now. But to no avail. Following his failure in the degree examination, Satbir was much depressed. He left Amritsar and moved over to Delhi to try his luck there. Having been a science student, he was employed by a drug company to sell its products. Soon he was able to establish himself. Whenever Jagdev came to Delhi, both would wine and dine together.
But seeing that he could not become as prosperous as his ambition was, Satbir set his sights on seeking his fortunes abroad and managed to get a visa for Germany. He opted for this country because one of his colleagues in the drug company had already settled there and, he thought, could be of help to him in the new place. After landing in Frankfurt, he met his friend who helped him start his life there as a gas station attendant. Within a couple of years he switched over to trading in curios and started doing well. Thanks to his interest in curios he was able to meet a German girl, Inge. They married before long and set up a flourishing business in curios, mainly imported from India.
Jagdev was among the important landlords of Pratap Garh hit hard by the Pakistani occupation of their village in the 1965 Indo-pak war. He had fled with his wife to Chandigarh with whatever valuables they could manage to carry. But when he heard reports about the devastation caused by the enemy troops in Pratap Garh he started weeping. “What will we do if everything we have in Pratap Garh is destroyed?” he told his wife. Meeting other near and distant relations he drew some comfort from the fact that, after all, they were refugees made to abandon their village because of the war. As such, whatever might happen, they would be fully entitled to compensation from the government after the end of hostilities.
Reading reports about the Indo-pak war and occupation of Pratap Garh by the enemy forces , Satbir was greatly worried about his friend. He contacted the Indian embassy in Bonn, but could not get any information about the refugees from Pratap Garh. “They are now scattered all over Punjab; some living in refugee camps set up for them and some had sought shelter with relations and friends. As such it is very difficult to find out the whereabouts of your friend,” said an Indian embassy official to Satbir when he was trying to trace his Jagdev. Satbir, was more distressed when he heard reports that Pratap Garh was under Pakistani occupation and before withdrawal after the ceasefire the retreating troops had set the entire village on fire. But, having lost contact with Jagdev , Satbir did not know anything about his friend.
Nearly 25 years after he had left the country, Satbir returned to India with his German wife, Inge, for a holiday and for meeting his old friends and relations. After spending some time in Delhi, they came to Amritsar and started making enquiries about Jagdev. But nobody could help them in tracing him. Thanks to a chance meeting with a common friend of college days, Satbir came to know that Jagdev had settled in Chandigarh. With the help of telephone trunk assistance, he was able to find Jagdev’s telephone number. But when he rang he was told that Jagdev and his wife had gone to Pratap Garh and were likely to remain there for some time.
Since he was very keen to see his old friend, Satbir hired a taxi and with his wife went to meet him. He had never been to Pratap Garh before. But he felt confident that since the
Jagdev was among the important landlords of Pratap Garh hit hard by the Pakistani occupation of their village in the 1965 Indo- Pak war. He had fled with his wife to Chandigarh with whatever valuables they could manage to carry.
Nibbers were the leading landowners there he would be able to locate his address as Jagdev also belonged to the Nibber clan. He directed the taxi driver first to proceed to the police station in the village. Since Jagdev had also been the executive officer of the Pratap Garh municipal committee, his residential address was there with the police. Getting directions to reach where Jagdev’s residence was, Satbir found the place. When Jagdev came out he could not believe his eyes that the caller was none other than his very old friend who had come all the way from Germany to meet him. There were tears of joy in the eyes of both mates. Satbir’s arrival gave rise to a flood of merrymaking in Jagdev’s
haveli. The fact that a foreign lady wearing a midi had come as a guest of Jagdev invited attention all over the neighbourhood.
Jagdev asked his wife not to spare any effort in entertaining their guests and making their stay as enjoyable and comfortable as possible. Inge was very happy with the warm welcome accorded to them. Going round the dilapidated building, she remarked it must have been an awesome mansion before the war. She sympathised with Jagdev over the loss he had suffered. Later, in the afternoon, Jagdev took them in his car right up to the Indo-pak border and showed vast fields under paddy and other crops which were once part of his family estate but had been disposed of due to uncertainty of life in the border area now. Inge was happy to see the no-man’s land dividing the two countries. She asked Jagdev about the possibility of the no-man’s land becoming a common territory for both India and Pakistan.
“Not in my lifetime,” replied her host.
“But you shouldn’t be so pessimistic. The world is fast changing now. The notorious Berlin Wall built to separate a nation into two blocs after the World War II has disappeared now. The families which had been separated for long because of the German Wall have been reunited and are living happily without any ire or misunderstanding. If divisive forces can be made to melt away in Germany, why can’t it happen in the Indian subcontinent also?”
“Your words are a balm to my psyche. Whatever you say, dear, union between India and Pakistan, the crumbling of barricades dividing the two nations does not seem likely, especially now when extremists seem to be gaining an upper hand in Pakistan’s politics. “
In the evening when they got back from the border, Jagdev’s wife Sonu had made arrangements for hot water for the guests to have baths and be fresh for the dinner, for which she had laid the tables in the big enclosure of their old mansion. When Inge was taken to the courtyard, she was surprised to find a marinated lamb being roasted for the dinner by fire lit beneath it. The lamb had been suspended from an iron rod held by poles on two sides. When told that this was the barbecue system in rural Punjab, Inge was delighted and sat comfortably on a heavily cushioned charpoy, leaning against the rolling bolsters placed there. Both the couples started drinking Blue Label Scotch which Satbir had especially brought for his friend. As soon as Sonu switched an Iball, half a dozen welldressed girls appeared on the scene and started dancing in tune to Punjabi melodies that began to ring loud in the enclosure. Inge was overjoyed to see Punjabi folk dances. Invited by Sonu to join them, she first declined, saying she was tired. When she had had two or three drinks, Sonu pulled both Satbir and his wife towards the floor where the girls were dancing. Sonu joined dancing with them. The visitors were thrilled.
Jagdev went on drinking and pulling his friend towards the table laden with chops, steaks, bryani
When Jagdev came out he could not believe his eyes that the caller was none other than his very old friend who had come all the way from Germany to meet him. There were tears of joy in the eyes of both mates. Satbir’s arrival gave rise to a flood of merrymaking in Jagdev’s haveli. The fact that a foreign lady wearing a midi had come as a guest of Jagdev invited attention all over the neighbourhood.
dotted with white almonds and partly covered with silver foils, large bowls of chicken curry, a huge salad plate, fried fish, cheese koftas, and wrapped naans. Tipsy Inge helped herself to the roast meat and Sonu kept on dancing to the tunes of Punjabi songs. The village girls were delighted to see a gori (white woman) dancing with them. Giggling, they asked her to hold their hands and made her go into a spin as they were doing. Never having been exposed to this kind of country pleasure, Inge was very pleased and went on drinking as much as she could under a moonlit night. Around 11 p.m. the girls left, leaving behind the two couples to enjoy themselves. Another Blue Label Scotch was on the table. .
“You really have a wonderful life. I could not imagine that our visit to Pratap Garh would be so enjoyable. Of course, Satbir was always telling me you are the biggest landowner here. But I could not believe that there would be so much to relish, so many girls to dance with, so wonderful would be the culinary skills of your charming wife who has laid a feast fit for a king for us,” said Inge when she sat down after the girls had gone. .
Responding to her compliments, Jagdev said:
“All that you see is nothing, Inge. We were the richest landowners of Pratap Garh. Now what we own is but relics of the past. Look at our dilapidated mansion, houses razed to the ground in the neighbourhood. Our vast orchards, fields under crops as long as one could see have all gone. Jagdev is a lonely, god-forsaken man today. No one ever visits me. It is really great of you to have come to meet me here. The sight of Satbir in my haveli has roused a chain of memories recalling which will not be easy just during the one night we are together. We had big escapades, lots of fun, nicknamed ‘Nawabs of the College.’ In the kaleidoscope of my mind, I see everything.
“Most of my relations have sold off all their holdings and abandoned their ancestral village. What remains now with the Nibbers? Handkerchief-size holdings and nobody to look after them. What to talk of others, my own three sons have snapped their links with their birthplace and migrated to seek their fortunes abroad. They live in Los Angeles, Virginia and New York, work like slaves from 9 to 5 five days a week, and are still happy with their lot. Inge, we are doomed.”
Then Jagdev collapsed on the charpoy lying behind him. Satbir quickly got up, wondering what had happened to his friend.
“Is he all right?” enquired Inge from Sonu.
“He gets sentimental sometimes and starts talking like that,” Sonu told her guest.
As Satbir helped him get up and sit, Jagdev said: “Why do you worry, my dear? I’m all right. The atrocities perpetrated by Pakistan on our ancestral village have not been able to break my will to live. I’m a descendant of Shamsher, the general who was the apple of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s eye, who made even the Pathans shiver in their pants.” He asked his guests: “Who is responsible for our ruin? Nobody, but people sitting across the no-man’s land where I had taken you in the afternoon today. They have ruined the Nibbers who owned the entire village. Now all you see are either relics of the past or upstarts from neighbouring villages overrunning the land where no one dared set his foot except Shamsher’s descendants. Pakistan wants Kashmir. Then they should go and fight in the valley. What have the people living in border areas of Punjab done? They used to break bread with their Muslim brethren until they were made to flee by the calls of fanatics on both sides and seek refuge in India or Pakistan.”
Continuing his blast, Jagdev said:
“Are we enemies of Islam? Why hold us as hostage to demand what you cannot get by war in another part of India –Jammu and Kashmir ? Is it fair, Inge? Must people in border villages perpetually live in terror of being attacked from the other side. Who’s going to listen us? We are doomed, Inge, doomed.”
Turning his face towards the table where drinks were lying, he poured himself a glass of whiskey and gulped it neat. With her mouth wide open in awe, Inge saw him, again falling on the bed. She asked her husband what’s happening.
“Don’t worry, darling. It’s okay,”
Satbir assured his wife and led her inside where their beds had been made.
The next morning when Jagdev awoke, he asked his wife where the guests were. He was surprised when she told him that they had packed up and left by eight in the morning, by the same taxi which had brought them from Amrtisar. With a sardonic grin, Jagdev said nobody wanted to live in Pratap Garh now. He came out of the courtyard and saw devastated buildings, all relics of the days gone by. Not even a crow cawed where there was so much hustle and bustle in the past.
A good idea plus capable men cannot fail; it is better than money in the bank.