Thursday, December 23, 2010

1947 - Hero


At the crack of dawn, Param and his family stood in mournful silence on Platform 7 of the Lahore Railway Station. The sun rose from behind the tall clock tower and broke the darkness. It lifted Param’s spirits a little.

Paramjeet Singh Raina’s was one of the thousands of Sikh Families leaving everything behind for the promise of a new world, a safer world. Having lost a sister and a grandfather to the communal violence against his brethren in their homeland, the abandonment of his roots didn’t seem too bad a bargain, considering he would live to see his children grow up in a world without hate, blood and heartless genocide.

For a 7 Year old, Param was a treasure chest of thoughts, dreams and introspection.

One couldn’t help it, possibly, if one grew up spending nights in slow, murderous, anticipation for their loved ones to return home, often fearing the worst and, on those torturous, tragic days, having their fears realized.

He would never forget the night his sister died. He didn’t even get to know of it till right before he fell asleep. His mother tucked him into bed, kissed his forehead and whispered into his ear “She isn’t coming back.”

Param never really knew why she told him. It might’ve been to help him brace the horrible news when it happened, but Param was pretty certain so that he knew the harsh reality of the world they were living in, full of hostile adversaries who would raise arms and behead them at the drop of a hat.

He heard stories soon after, how some young Muslim lads had dragged her into the back of an abandoned farm that once belonged to an old farmer who died in poverty. They’d violated her sexually, made her do horrible things, then chopped her up as easily as a knife runs through a pumpkin and dumped her in parts all over the place.

He was glad to leave this world of Hate and Violence. He wouldn’t miss it one bit.

As the train pulled in, he began to admire the beauty of the train station. The British had spent three times the cost of his entire village, he’d heard, to build a station magnificent as this one. The clock towers stood bravely in the face of the wind, not budging one bit, standing their ground though the wind blew fiercely in their face, pushing and howling the whole time. The towers never left their stand, they stood majestic in the place they’d rightfully claimed as theirs.

Maybe leaving wasn’t such a good idea after all.

When Param awoke, the sun stood high in the sky, beaming down on them brightly. It was a strong, blazing sunlight that tore through the lined windows of the train compartment and lit the whole train up. Though the train was still as a rock, he felt more alive than ever. He loved it.

He turned to his mother and smiled. She looked back at him with tears. Her face was pale and she was trembling like a leaf in the strong Lahore wind.

Tears weren’t the only thing in her eyes. Param looked into them and saw fear.

He opened his mouth to call out to her, but she covered his mouth with her hand, pressing down on his lips, almost crushing his face.

His mother’s eyes wandered to right outside the window and Param followed her gaze.

The floor of the station was a bright, blinding red. The blood from the bodies of hundreds of butchered Sikh bodies painted the station its terrifying hue.

He knew what this meant. The ones waiting at the station had been dealt with. The murderers were now coming after the passengers.

The Muslims had arrived.

They heard voices at the end of the train. The butchers were coming, and there was no way out.

“Get under the seat!”

It took Param a while to break out of the fear of what was coming and understand what his mother was actually saying.

“Param, get under the seat, quick. They’re coming.”

As she scrambled to get her son under the long, comfortable, sleeper seats, the noises kept approaching, closer and closer with every passing second.

His mother shoved him under the seat and pushed a enormous bag of clothes in with him to hide him from the enemy. That right on time, for as soon as she stood up, Param could see, through a slit in the shell his mother made, the feet of those who had slain the hundreds of travelling families at the station.

The fear of being found out shut out Param’s senses. For a few brief moments, he couldn’t hear anything, everything seemed blurred and he felt himself going numb.

When he snapped back to his sense, he could feel the weight of his mother’s body pushing the seat down on him. He could hear her screams tear through the drums of his ears, indeed through his very soul.

The young boy of seven didn’t know what he could do to stop it. What could he possibly do? How could a little child possibly attack a group of strong, crazed murderers?

Param lay there in complete silence, listening to the screams of his dying mother, and the cruel, unnerving laughter of her killers, slowly bringing her to the painful end of her relatively short life.

And then there was complete silence. The voices of the killers slowly faded away into the distance and the train started to move.

Param tried to move, but his body wouldn’t let him. He lay under the seat in a pool of blood thinking about the rest of his family. He wanted to believe that they were alive, that an old man and two young girls had fought off an army of butchering madmen and escaped to safety, but in his mind he already knew the answer.

As soon as he regained strength and complete consciousness, Param pushed out the bag of clothes blocking his exit. He regretted the move immediately.

The reservoir of the bag broke free, and brought down with it a river of blood that had, so far been held up by it. Param covered his mouth to stop screaming as his mother’s blood fell from above like holy water from a shrine. He bit his hand to ease the horror and drew blood.

Param didn’t leave the safety of the seat’s underside for the remainder of the journey.

“Is anyone alive?”

Param woke up to the screams of rescue workers, scrimmaging through the mass of dead bodies, pushing aside the dead and the departed in the hopes of finding survivors. He could hear the cries of women, beating their heads and screaming in agony over losing the ones they loved.

Param scrambled out from under the seat and out onto the station. The smell of dry blood filled his nostrils and he threw up.

A hand rested on his shoulder and picked him up.

He knew he was among his own, he knew he was safe now.

Param sat by his uncle’s side, drinking a glass of hot, frothy milk that he assumed what the best beverages in the world wouldn’t be able to match.

It had only been a week since the Horror of the train station, and Param was only beginning to adjust to the new home he’d been given, but it seemed like an eternity had passed since he witnessed the heatless murders of the ones he loved.

His wounds had already begun to heal.

That evening, Param strolled along the fields of Amritsar, skipping his way home.

Two men passed by, bearing swords. It wasn’t an uncommon sight, but Param was intrigued nonetheless.

“What are you doing with those?” he asked with the innocence of a lonely child.

“We’re going to get back at the people who killed your mother, boy. Don’t you worry, those miserable killers will be taken care of”, one of the men replied boastfully.

Param felt an insuppressible anger rise in him. The sight of his mother’s blood gushing down at him rushed to the forefront of his mind. He wanted revenge. He wanted justice. He wanted judgment for the evil men that took all that he had loved from him.

He followed the two men across the fields, keeping his distance, silent as a wolf. He could see the lights from the train station in the distance, warming his blood, heating up his soul.

The screams had already begun when he set foot on to the platform. Blood painted the walls of the train in the company of “This is your Pakistan” scrawled across them. Women, children and men ran for their lives, chased by the very men that had so mercilessly slain only so recently.

Param found himself smiling at the humor of the whole thing. As far as he knew, it served the murderers right to have their lives and loved ones torn away from them. It was fair, he reminded himself, it was only just.

Out of the corner of his eye, suddenly, he noticed a small creature whimper behind the metal pillar right next to the platform entrance. A small Muslim boy, no older than himself, his off-white attire stained red with the blood of his brothers and sisters.

When you see something that moves you immensely, you grow a few years in a few brief seconds. You become smarter, deeper, self-less and understanding.

That is exactly what happened to Param. In the boy’s eyes he saw fear he imagined had been in his own when he was under the train seat. In a moment of self-less life endangerment, Param pulled the boy out from behind the platform and under a sack of utensils pushed up against a wall. He then watched as the hundreds of Muslims leaving for Pakistan on the train were mercilessly slain by his kind, no different than what they’d done to Param and his family.

Was this really justice? Had he become just like the murderers? Did he disarm himself of all his logic and cloud his mind with so much hate, that killing other people with such ferocity seemed to make sense?

The crowd started thinning. The attackers had done what they’d planned. They’d killed, they had avenged the deaths of those they’d loved and lost.

Stealthily, Param slid the boy out from under the sack and scurried down the conspicuous by-lanes f the exit path, out into the fields where they couldn’t be found.

As Param the rescuer ran out into the open fields, running endlessly under the night sky, he didn’t know where he would take his poor, lonely friend. He just knew he wouldn’t let the world take this innocent boy’s life, after god had so mercifully spared him his.

He felt elated. His chest rose with pride as he ran through the fields of Amritsar.

Param knew his family would have been proud if they’d known he’d saved another life, he did not care to believe otherwise.

Param the hero clutched his friend’s hand and ran out to a better tomorrow.