His sons did not listen to him. He would plead Bashrat every month and Saqib every other, as they took turns to take care of him in his last days, to take him back home.
“I’ve to refurbish the interiors of John & King gallery in West London next week. The firm will recommend my name for lifetime-membership of Royal Society of Architects if they like my work,” Bashrat would say.
“The molar-surgery of Mr. Neville Hitchkraft is scheduled this Friday. He’s a former Labour Party MP from Manchester,” Saqib would argue.
His memory was betraying him but the images of Firozpur, his white-painted home, and childhood afternoons spent under the mango-garden, survived. And finally, one day, after seventy two years and five months and twenty-one days after Abdul Ali first left India — on a ship from Bombay to London with the help of a Parsi gentleman, Faramroz Wadia, to study Law — his soul abandoned his body. And against his wishes, they buried him not in Firozpur, the homeland of his ancestors in India, but thousands of miles away, uprooted and exiled in London.
His soul swam across the Atlantic for thirty days, wandered across the Sahara for a year, before sympathetic djinns showed him the right directions, braved the black-magic of gypsies in Arabia for sixteen months, and coiled itself in a corner of an unoccupied cabin; on a ship to Bombay from Aden. Its resolution to see its homeland and its mango-garden helped it survive all those adversities. In Bombay, it overheard and followed a Sikh family; journeyed with them in an
overnight train to Amritsar. Overjoyed, it was the first to jump off the train before the train halted completely. It ran as fast as it could for the next three hours before it reached Firozpur.
The Sun was high and the town was abandoned. Its eyes looked for the mango-garden, where it was to spend each of its forthcoming day and night. But there was no mango-garden. Instead, there was a barbed-fencing on both sides as long as it could see. There were tanks
and cannons, and men with guns patrolling on each side.
To its shock, it saw several of its kind: souls of the dead in-between the two fences; in no man’s land. They were laughing and celebrating. They were cheerful and loud. They seemed happy and content. They belonged to no country. They saw it and they knew it existed. They called it over
and asked it, “What do you look for?”
And after two years and five months and seven days, Abdul Ali’s soul spoke for the first time,
“Where are my mango-trees?” They all looked at each other and then at him before an old-man’s soul answered, “There are no mango trees across the LoC. Years after you left they divided this country. Hindus and Muslims…”
“Yes. I know that,” Abdul Ali’s soul screamed, “I know all of that.” It almost cried.
“Some religion-fanatics came that day,” the old man’s soul continued with coldness, “and they argued if the trees were Hindus or Muslims; that they should remain in India or go to Pakistan. They asked the branches, the leaves, and the fruits, to what religion they belonged, but none
would answer. They would come every day to shout and curse, but the trees would not answer. And one night, someone burned the trees.”
“They burned my trees?! They killed my trees? The only reminiscence of my childhood!” Abdul Ali’s soul shrieked with a pain that penetrated the calmness of the dead. The Sun dimmed in brightness and the wind stopped blowing. And the soldiers patrolling across the
border felt restless.
“Next morning there was a massacre. The Hindus accused Muslims. The Muslims
accused Hindus. The Hindus killed Muslims. The Muslims killed Hindus. The Hindus raped the brides of Muslims. The Muslims raped the brides of Hindus. The Hindus burnt the children of Muslims. The Muslims burnt the children of Hindus. The Hindus blamed the Muslims of starting it. The Muslims blamed the Hindus of starting it. There was blood of the Hindus.
There was blood of the Muslims. The blood of the Hindus was red. The blood of the Muslims was red.” the old man’s soul completed. Abdul Ali’s soul fell on the ground; and when the night was cold and the stars shone bright, it took its hands away from its face. And it saw:
Millions of like it, as long as it could see
Between those who lived, on both sides of LoC
Children of massacre, from here and from there
Now all dead, they chose to belong to nowhere
Some were killed in Punjab, and some in Sindh
All in the name of Pak, all in the name of Hind
Now living in peace, and living in unison
Because they had no names, and they had no religion
Abdul Ali’s soul, no longer longed for mango trees
It learnt from the dead, to bury sorry histories
The brothers across the fence, it wished could understand
The love which bonds, the dead of the no man’s land