The time had come. There was a rage of fury everywhere. Pandemonium was in every nook and corner. And it was expected. People were running for their lives. The platform was full of people. Everyone had the look of despair. Their future was uncertain.
In the crowd, in the 3rd platform, she sat. She sat with all the necessary belongings she could gather while leaving her dear home. A woman of her age, she had witnessed everything except this. She was Khaleda Begum, a 58 years old woman, sitting in the platform waiting for the last train to Hindustan.
Khaleda was surprised at the situation. It was the August,1947. The so called educated people say, there would be two countries, India and Pakistan. Khaleda tried to justify herself. But her ignorant, illiterate mind could not find out the reason for separating her two homes. Her village Qazi told her that her paternal home was now in India.Khaleda was born in Amritsar, Punjab.
“It was East Punjab, now”, he said.
Last few nights, Khaleda could not sleep properly. There were shouts, cries from neighbours. She stayed awake thinking, it could be their turn. Khaleda remembered how she wept that night. Sultana, the pretty looking girl was taken away. People said they found her raped and murdered near the village 2 kms from the well. Sultana was born in front of her. She was such a sweet girl.
Khaleda was married to Zaqeer Ahmed at a very tender age. She was 13 years of age then. Zaqeer lived in Lahore. That had been her home since then. She remembered how shy she was on her wedding day. She saw Zaqeer through the semi-transparent veil of her Burqa. He was a well built man. He had worn a white sherwani and a beautiful silk cap. His beard was skilfully maintained. The surma in his eyes made them glow. Zaqeer was 25 then. He had dedicated his life to the freedom movement. Throughout her life, she saw her husband fighting to free the country from the foreigners, but she could never recall when the fight against the foreigners turned to be a fight against religion.
People have been given a choice to settle down in any one of the country. Khaleda thought and thought how to choose between the two halves of her country. Her son, Feroz and her daughter-in-law Nafisa had decided to shift to Delhi. They said, there were better chances in the Indian part of Hindustan as they would be considered minorities. Khaleda did not understand the term minority. She did not even understand the partition. But the only thing she realised was that, the division of the country had brought more tears than joy.
It has been 19 years now, Khaleda had last seen Zaqeer.
“It is a very important protest Begum. Lalaji is heading it. I have to go”, said Zaqeer for the last time to Khaleda.
He went to join the Simon Commission protest led by Lala Lajpat Rai. Khaleda had nightmares that night. Next day, Feroz informed her about Lalaji’ s death. Her heart sank in. Zaqeer never returned after that. Some say, he was arrested, some say he was killed. Feroz and Nafisa were now her everything.
She recalls how difficult it was to raise Feroz independently. Feroz is a qualified teacher now. He taught English and Urdu in the village madrasa. But suddenly, everything had changed. The madrasa no longer exists. It was burnt down to ashes. Khaleda had been thinking for some years now to go back to Amritsar. She dreamt to get buried in her birthplace. So, she gave her consent to Feroz’s decision of shifting to Delhi.
They had reached the station quite late. The last train to Hindustan, now newly termed India, was at 4 O’ clock in the evening. It was less than an hour left. There was a great rush everywhere. Everyone wanted to leave the city. Everyone dreamt of a better future. Feroz found a small wooden bench in the 3rd platform and asked Khaleda to sit.
“You sit here Ammi. I and Nafisa will go get the tickets. It’s a huge crowd. Stay here. Don’t get lost” warned Feroz.
“Let Nafisa stay here son. Why to take her in the crowd?” wondered Khaleda.
“The gent’s line is huge Ammi. Let her try in the ladies line as well. We need to get the tickets anyhow. We will come to get you. Stay here” said Feroz.
Feroz and Nafisa disappeared in the crowd. Khaleda sat in the bench thinking about her future. A sudden excitement rushed down her spine. She was going back to where she belonged after almost 40 years. She was lost in a wonderland. The other day, she overheard Akbar telling Feroz, that all the prisoners taken by the British would be freed. She thought, even Zaqeer could be one of those many prisoners. She regained back her long lost hope of seeing Zaqeer again.
“He must have grown pretty old by now”, thought Khaleda.
Khaleda would have loved to dream more, but was interrupted with a sudden whistle of the train.
The train was gearing to leave. It whistled again. The crowd was rushing inside the compartments. Some started to climb the roof. Khaleda tried to look for Feroz and Nafisa but she could not find them. She thought, maybe they were still in the ticket counter. The train slowly started to pace. A huge gush of smoke came out of the train chimney. Khaleda was clueless as she looked at the slowly speeding train. She wondered what happened to her son.
An old man saw her still sitting on the bench as the train passed. He walked towards her slowly and asked ,
“Apa, you do not wish to go? The train is leaving!”
“I am waiting for my son. He is getting the ticket for the next train.” she replied.
“There is no next train Apa. It seems even you missed the train like me.” He sighed.
Inside the last compartment, Feroz and Nafisa somehow managed to get a seat. They were making a journey to change their lives forever. Nafisa adjusted her hijab. Feroz looked at her and wondered how beautiful she was. For a moment he thought about his mother. But then he had already taken the decision in the ticket counter. It was important for them to abandon her. It would be difficult for Feroz to sustain 3 lives in a new city, especially, where there would be hundreds of refugees like him. Moreover, she lived in Lahore all her life.
“She would love to stay back”, thought Feroz.
Khaleda looked at the train as it slowly traced away the platform. Her eyes were hazy of the water that was flowing through her eyes. She realized she had been left all alone. She had lost her family forever.
The train slowly went out of her sight. It was 4:30 in the big clock. Khaleda Begum had missed the last train to Hindustan.