PER­ILS ON THE BOR­DER

It left ru­ins in a once pros­pe­ri­ous vil­lage.

Woman's Era - - Contents - Janak Singh

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.

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