1. The Unanswered Question
“Good morning!” said I to my lovely daughter.
“There’s nothing good in this morning dad.”
She looked upset, the usual beautiful smile on her face was missing. I inquired the reason. “What happened dear”?
“Dad, you know that company where I was selected in the interview and got my first job, they haven’t yet reverted back regarding my date of joining.”
“Don’t worry, they will soon reply. Come have the breakfast.” I tried to calm her down.
But deep within, I too was worried. It’s been more than 2 weeks since she got selected. My daughter was upset and I could not see her in a situation like that. She loves to work and being at home with no work is making her sick. I had to do something to bring her smile back. So I decided to call the HR of the company.
“Hello sir, this is Aarti from TS Global Solutions. How may I help you?”
“Yeah, hello. I am Miss. Suhana’s father. Actually she got selected last week for the post of a secretary. And as per the instructions she had filled and submitted all the required documents.”
“Okay sir, give me a minute, I’ll cross check. Yes, Miss. Suhana was selected but as of now her candidature is on hold since she did not fill the form correctly.”
“Really? But how can that be possible? She had verified the form before submitting. Can you tell me which field is not filled?”
“Yeah, sure sir. The question on religion has not been answered. It would not take much time sir. Just tell me your religion and I’ll fill it for her.”
“Religion? Are you supposed to ask my religion? I mean I thought your company was secular.”
“Sir the form about which we are talking is not ours. It is a mandatory form required by government of India. The company would not make your personal information public. So don’t you worry about that sir?”
“Is it really necessary? Can’t we do without it?”
“To be honest, the problem is that in our family we do not know our religion.”
“You might be joking sir, in a country like India, where we say that we are secular but we live our religion, how can you not know your religion?”
“No, it’s true. Anyways I’ll get back to you. Thanks for the information.”
“No problem sir.” And the call was disconnected.
I know it’s hard to believe that we do not know our religion. We were neither told about it nor did we ever ask about it. My father is the only one in our family who might know our religion since when you ask him about the religion, all he says is “I do not remember”, and nothing else.
I don’t know what made him forget our religion but today when it’s the question of my daughter’s career, I have to know it. So I decided to ask him what happened when he forgot his religion.
“Papa, I never asked you about it but today I want to know when did you forget your religion and what made you forget it?”, asked I to my father.
“It all happened that unfortunate day. The day when I understood the very essence of so-called identity ‘Religion’. And it says ‘Forget humanity to guard your religion’. That was the day, when I started to fear; fear to follow religion, fear to talk about religion and that’s the day when I forgot my religion”, replied he.
2. August 14, 1947
“Today is not a beautiful morning but a strange beginning of a new life. August 14, 1947, at 8 am, I am at Amritsar station of undivided India. I have come to receive my sister. She is coming from Lahore. But for some unknown reason, the train by which she is coming is not on time. It has been at least an hour of wait at this platform. And I am not the only one waiting here for that train. The platform is filled with people. And it looks as if the platform has turned into an open waiting room. With every passing minute, I am getting tensed. I am worried about my sister as she is traveling without any relative.
The problem is not waiting. It’s more than that. Waiting in a normal and a peaceful situation is another thing. But today, when the announcement had already been in the air about ‘partition of the country’, the whole scenario is different now. Streets are filled with the news of riots in different parts of the country. To save their lives, people are crossing the soon to be called border of the two new nations, India and Pakistan.
It’s not easy to leave your place, your native, your home forever. We know once the partition is done we would not be easily allowed to visit out native again. What till now had been my motherland, will become just another neighboring country. And with whom, we might not even have cordial relation. Strange, it is. But this was perhaps not even taken into consideration during the acceptance of the two nation theory, dividing the nation on the lines of religious majority.
A weird perception they have. They divided my nation into two, my people into two and now they say merrily “happy independence”. Is this what they call independence? From tomorrow, I will no more have access to my village in Lahore. How can this be ‘Happy Independence’?
My back has started aching. I get up to stretch my back and l look at the clock hung at my left side. It says 19:45. The train is late by more than 12 hours now. It’s dark now. The platform is lit with few old bulbs. I can feel some vibrations below feet and can hear the whistle blow. Finally, I have a sigh of relief. The train has arrived and everyone at the platform is in motion now, looking for their relatives. I am looking for my sister. She has still not come out. And not just my sister, but to everyone’s shock, none of the passengers came down. Somebody started crying and soon the place filled with the cries and mourning. The old man who has been waiting for her son since morning, is now holding his dead body. I am really terrified now. I entered the train and this is not what I would imagine even in my worst nightmare. The compartment is full of dead bodies, body parts and the blood is flowing on the floor of the compartment. The dead bodies of men are brutally slashed, the wounds are deep. And worse is the case with the women in the train. Their dead bodies are all naked or partially naked, with blue-black marks on them, and deep cuts. And I have to do my toughest task ever. I have to find my sister in this train which is nothing less than a morgue.
Stepping on the dead bodies, as there’s no space to keep my feet, I am crossing each compartment and praying to find my sister safe. And my worst fear came true when I saw a hand with the bangles that I had gifted my sister last year for her birthday. They had chopped her hand off. Her hand had the holy book in it. And perhaps, because of the book, they identified her religion and slaughtered her. A few steps ahead, I can see a partially naked body of a female without one hand. I do not have it, the courage to see my sister in such a heartrending condition. My love for her has made me weak to face this situation. I stepped on the holy book that my sister’s hand gripped firmly and went towards her. A bed sheet soaked in blood laid beside her body. I wrapped my sister in it and took her home for the last rites. And I did the last rites of that holy book too, which could not save my sister, instead, to a certain extent, was responsible for all that happened with her.”
“It’s hard to forget what happened that night but since then, I do not remember my religion”, said my father.
Now I know what happened with my father that made him ignore religious identity. But what should my daughter fill in the form. Why in this secular country, we have to declare our religion? Why?