Saeed Mirza set the ball rolling with a cryptic “my mother came from Quetta.”
“Mine too,”said Reena,“she came away post partition, carrying memories she continued to relive. Constantly yearning for her lost watan.”
Watan, I mused. Same as mulk. Both being country.
Saeed explained the subtle difference. Mulk had a limited connotation. It would translate as nation. A physical entity circumscribed by borders.Watan was much more. It had deep emotional quotient. It was where the heart belonged. He elaborated by reciting a verse:
‘Aye mere pyare watan
Aye mere bichare chaman
tujhpe dil kurbaan”
Both Reena & Saeed went on to talk about their Quetta connection. Down to the weather & the purgatorial heat of the summers. Reena had grown up listening to her mother’s narrative. Nostalgic tales, that had culminated in a dedication & an offering. Her book: ‘From Quetta to Delhi. A Partition Story.’
Saeed too had his stock of raw, powerful memories. And he had also just released a book, ‘Memory in the time of Amnesia,’ its scale much larger than the tale of partition. It encompassed the entire world.
Coming from an Aligarh based family of scholars, Saeeds’ father had gone to Quetta to meet a sister & to find himself a bride. A man of letters, he was flabbergasted by the primitive ways & tribal mores of the clan. His most immediate worry being who would marry him, a scholar? Did they even understand one? Without land or property how would he support a family they had asked? His brother in law had come to the rescue by describing him as a teacher. ‘Ah, Talib,’ they exclaimed. Talib! He was thus able to procure himself a wife.
Asked why she had given her consent, his mother had said that she was fascinated at the prospect of getting to see the world.
“I loved the way your father talked about the outside world,” she said.
That sounded so much like my story. A military officer from Kathiawar my father had proposed to an aunt, Mum’s eldest sister who turned him down saying she did not want a nomadic existence.“Moving from place to place.”
My mother desired precisely that. “Moving from place to place. I want to see the world,” she declared. (vis-a-vis the WWII tagline ‘Marry an army man & see the world’) They were married & moved to Quetta.
To complete the quartet Deepa came up with this nugget of a tale. Her grandfather, a doctor in the Royal Medical Corps was stationed at Quetta in the years preceding the great earthquake, his young wife by his side. An educated Tamil girl she would take time determining the peculiarities of a wild & strange land. There were cultural differences galore. She did not cover her head, for one. It was not her custom. But the local women began to view her as a ‘besharam.’ That amused her no end for had she not seen them roll out chapatis squatting on the floor, heads fully covered, bosoms heaving, bobbing up & down?
But Sharam they countered was here. Only here – pointing to their head.
Do you not see a Karmic connect in four persons of diverse backgrounds getting together for a tete a tete? On Quetta. And in Kasauli – of all places.
I do believe that we connect through our stories. And our shared stories connect us over time.