One day, Gokuldas brought home three kurtas, three pyjamas and three Gandhi caps. When Ishwar asked why, Gokuldas told him, “There is a procession on Sunday. The Quit India Movement has started. Mahatma Gandhi has asked the British to leave India and return to England. So, the government has jailed Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders. We will also oppose the government here, in our village.”

The three children were around the same size and height. On Sunday, the three of them wore the kurta, pyjama and Gandhi cap Gokuldas had brought and went to school. The other children were also wearing similar clothes. Khan Bahadur, the village headman, called the senior police officer and told him, “There should be no harm done to children or adults participating in the procession. The procession will be peaceful; that is my responsibility.” He referred to the students and the teachers who were supporting them.

Khan Bahadur was a highly respected person. His words, people held, were etched in stone. The police officer knew this. He also knew that the village was peace-loving. And that the Hindus and Muslims there lived like brothers. The procession had two long queues waking parallel to each other. Ishwar and Ambi were in the first row and carried a banner with the words, “Quit India, Mahatma Gandhi ki jai, Pandit Nehru ki jai.”

The procession finally moved to the large village parade ground. Here, Ishwar and Ambi sang:

“Sare jahan se accha, Hindosta Hamara,
Ham bulbule hai iske, yeh gulsita hamara.”

(Better than the World entire is Hindustan Ours
We are her bubbles, she is our home of flowers)

As they were singing, Ishwar glanced at the policemen and found that they were singing along. The programme ended peacefully. They were studying in the third standard at that time. After returning from the procession, Ambi ran to Suri and said, “Kaki, (I am) feeling very hungry!”

“Where is Ishwar?” Suri asked. “He is with Kundan.” “Bring them along; I will serve khichdi in the meantime.” Ambi went and fetched both of them. Suri gave them the khichdi in a large thaali. The three ate together.

Life went on like this.

Suddenly, raindrops soaked Ishwar’s thoughts. He was covering his barrow with the torn durrie when his grandfather joined him. Both of them carried the barrow home. Rains and roasted chickpeas make a great combination drawing a number of neighbours to Ishwar’s house. The chickpeas and peanuts sold quickly, and customers stood around, nibbling on chickpeas and peanuts. He made good money that day.

Ishwar felt that remembering Ambi was always auspicious for him. It rained heavily for about fifteen minutes, flooding the roads. The next day, when Kundan came home, Ishwar shared this thought with him. Kundan laughed and said, “For sure, Ambi remembers you too. She will pull you towards her one day.” “If we see better times, I will search for her across India. I will surely find her one day.” “My good wishes are with you, Ishwar. I will also help you.”

“First, let Baba find a good job – when he has nothing to do, he starts talking philosophical stuff.” Kundan was listening intently. “Yesterday, he was saying, ‘Why are we born? Why is anyone born? Why do we fight with each other? They say that god is a sculptor. A sculptor does not destroy his sculptures. Why is he then intent on destroying this beautiful world?’ Tell me, Kundan, what do I reply? His questions have no answers.” Both of them smiled gently.

“Okay, leave this stuff. Let us go to the market and buy some raw peanuts and chickpeas.” The friends went to the market. A lot of things were being sold in the open. Wheat, maize, rice, chilly powder, salt, potatoes, onions and garlic were lying in heaps. Shopkeepers were using small scales to weigh them. Some shopkeepers had iron measure-weights; others used stones. Their customers seemed to have complete faith in the shopkeepers – faith that they were getting full measure. Ishwar and Kundan glanced at each other. It was the first time they had come to the market together.

“Kundan! Sometimes I wonder, when we human beings can have so much trust in each other, why do we fight each other? Why is there so much killing, fighting and looting? Why has the country been divided? Lakhs of people like us have lost their homes. Innocent people were killed, destroyed. We Sindhis are left with no land of our own. Bengalis and Punjabis went to other places in their states. We are scattered across the country – someone is at one place, someone else is at another. Brother has separated from his brother and sister. We are separated from our families, our relatives. (We) don’t even know where they are or under what circumstances they are living. Are they alive or not?”

“Ishwar, I do not know all this, but I know that misery has befallen us. And there will be more misery if we continue to harbour such thoughts; then we will be like living corpses. We have to work hard. We have to stand on our feet. Everything is in god’s hands – whatever he has to do, he will. Come, let us go home. Kaki will be waiting.”

The next day, it rained heavily. Ishwar could not take the barrow out and could not set up the shop. He stayed at home with his grandfather and father. Ishwar was filled with joy looking at the rain from his window. The sky was laden with clouds. The day seemed like evening. When the raindrops touched his face, he felt as if the cool shower cooled his heart. As if his heart, a friend of the clouds, was standing in the village pond and splashing its water. As if by splashing water on Kundan and Ambi standing near him, he was making them joyous.

When Suri got up to give her mother-in-law medicine, she saw her son smiling. At first, she was scared. What if he had become like his father, a bit lost?

“Ishwar,” she called him, “why are you smiling?” He got up from his sleep, and realising the situation, turned to her and said, “Ma, I am feeling hungry.” His mother was relieved, thinking that he may have been lost in daydreaming. “Okay, let me see what is there,” she said. Meanwhile, she forgot to give medicines to her mother-in-law. She opened the straw pod and placed a roti on a plate.

Handing over the plate to him, she said, “There is no saag, but eat this with sugar.” She placed a small pot of sugar close to him and left to give medicines to her mother-in-law. Ishwar took out a fistful of sugar from the pot and placed it on the cold roti. All of a sudden, Ishwar felt awful, and he started crying. His tears wet the sugar. By this time, Suri returned; she was dumbstruck to see him cry. Her child, who was smiling a few minutes ago, was now crying. Tears were flowing from his eyes.

“Why, Ishwar?” Before she could finish, he said, “Ma, I miss Ambi. Grandma would give us both maize rotis with butter and sugar. Seeing the sugar on the cold roti today revived memories of grandma, butter and sugar. It seemed as if Ambi was sitting next to me.”

“You remember and miss Ambi a lot, don’t you? I, too, remember and miss her a lot. When good times come back, we will go and look for her. I wonder where she is now.”

Ishwar saw that his mother’s eyes were also moist. Her ailing mother-in-law, unemployed husband, old father-in-law, small children, the poor state of the house – all of this seemed to reflect in her eyes. The burden of the entire family was on her and Ishwar. Their shoulders seem to be drooping under this burden. An uncertain future, impermanent place, temporary earnings – how would they face life?

To hide her tears, she went to the open courtyard outside the room. On seeing his mother in this state, Ishwar’s despondency receded. He went and embraced her without saying anything. Suri held her son close. They let the tears they had held back flow and were soon soaked in the deluge. The tears seemed to help cool their bodies and souls.

Sky In My Heart: A Partition Story of Sindh

Excerpted with permission from Sky In My Heart: A Partition Story of Sindh, Nandlal Parasramani, translated from the Hindi by Pavitra Mohan, Maple Press.