Days after the 1971 India Pakistan war, the small village of Hussainiwala, in Punjab border, still faced troubles to sustain it’s livelihood. After war effects are unimaginable to fathom for those who never had been in such devastating situations. Starting from escalated price rates for absolutely everything essential, to difficulty in running small businesses, and the prevailing uncertainty for life, their everyday was indeed difficult. Jagbeer and his wife Preeto lived in Hussainiwala, with their only daughter Jasmit, who was 9 then. Jagbeer worked in the Indian Police services and served in the local police station. Preeto was a home maker but she voluntarily taught stitching to the women of the village, and wanted them to be self sufficient. Jasmit had an uncle, who was his father’s younger brother, named Balraj. She fondly called him ‘Ballu chacha” -( ballu uncle). A couple of years back, her Ballu chacha was killed by some Pakistani intruders, amongst other Indian army men, when they were patrolling the borders. His funeral was attended by the lieutenants and the colonel himself, and that was the only sigh of relief in Jagbeer’s heart. Balraj was 10 years younger than him, and Jagbeer was not just his elder brother, but he had fathered him his entire life. The loss of his dear brother was irreparable. Just because he had Preeto and Jasmit to care for, he lived his life normally at the surface. But his nights witnessed his helplessness and anguish for not being able to avenge his brother’s death. He wanted justice for his brother, which he never recieved, because those Pakistani intruders who killed Balraj, were never caught.
One early morning Preeto went out to fetch water from a nearby hand-pump, amidst the dawn’s faint light that touched her face, she saw a wounded man lying unconscious on the sidewalk. She threw her pot of water in a hurry and rushed to check if he was still alive, she was in shock for a while, soon after she noticed a Pakistan Army badge stitched on to his shirt.
Jagbeer – “This scoundrel !! I cannot thank you enough Preeto, for informing me about his whereabouts. I waited for this to happen since 2 long years.”
Preeto- ” Are you not going to inform your department, or move him to the Police custody, so that they could contact the Indian Army and take necessary actions?”
Jagbeer- “Are you out of your mind? Why would I take him to the Police custody and thereafter to the Indian Army where due to foreign diplomacy and similar stuffs, he might just be taken back to Pakistan. I waited for my revenge, and now is the time.”
Preeto- ” You would kill this man? But why would you do that? We don’t even know him, we just know that he is a Pakistani soldier and…”
Jagbeer- “And that suffices for me to kill that bastard. Give him proper medicines and nurse him till he becomes conscious and fit and fine. I don’t want him to die in his sleep. I want him to feel the pain, pain of the death, like my Balraj must have felt.” Then he breaks down in tears, he yelled as if his deep sores were again being touched. It was impossible to console him because he was mourning for his brother’s death. He hadn’t shed a tear since the time Balraj was killed. But today he couldn’t hold himself back. Preeto hugged him tight and said, “All shall be fine, Balraj bhaiya is at peace, wherever he is. If you fall apart like this, what would we do?”
Soon after Jasmit woke up from her sleep, she enquired about the new wounded man in the house. She was told that he needed nursing and care, so they shall be taking care of him until he was fit to go. She looked at the face of the man which had a few scars then, but what took to her attention was his mole, just below his lower lips on the right. Her Ballu chacha had a similar mole, on the same spot.
After two mornings, the man wakes up to his consciousness. He enquiries about the place he was in. He was told that he was in Punjab and they had found him unconscious near the border. The man had deep wounds below his chest, which would take another 4-5 days to heal. He was in tears when he realised that he was saved by this family. He held Jagbeer’s hand who was just sitting on a stool near his bedside. The man holding Jagbeer’s hand said, ” Bhaisahab (translation-brother), you are my farishta (translation- angel), you saved my life. I remember the last moment before I was knocked out when I was running for my life, I thought I would never again get to see my Ayaza, my little girl, just like you have, I see. Because of your empathy, my old mother shall not lose her son. Thank you for this life, I owe you my life Bhaisahab”. Then he looked at Preeto, folded his hands and said, ” You are my mother now, I know you must be younger to me, but the way you took care for me, only a mother could do.”
Jagbeer calmly removed his hand out of the man’s clutches, and hesitantly moves out of the room. Preeto smiled at the man and gave him his breakfast, 3 alu parathas (translation- potato stuffed fried tortillas) with plain curd, and asked Jasmit to follow her to the backyard, for some work, who until then, was listening to the elders’ conversation.
Jasmit while she was about to follow her mother to the backyard, noticed that the man kept the bowl of curd aside, and ate the Alu parathas alone. She went to the man and said, ” Chacha (translation- Uncle), the curd is from our own cow, taste it please.”
The man said, “Gudiya (translation- doll), I don’t like curd. I feel nauseated when I have curd. Back at home, I used to eat Alu parathas with mango pickles.”
The little girl smiled at him and brought him some mango pickles in a small plate, and said, ” you shall have your mother’s pickles when you reach back your village, today taste the pickles which my mother had made.”
Another couple of days went by, the man grew more familiar with the family, although Jagbeer occassionally conversed with the him. He was still not aware that Jagbeer was a police officer. He asked Jagbeer, “Bhaisahab, now I am fine, I guess. I want to go back to my village. Please arrange something, I know if they see me, a Pakistani in Punjab, they will shoot me or put me behind the bars. Help me out.”
That night Jagbeer and Preeto were discussing about the man, in their bedroom. Jagbeer was then in utter denial to take his revenge on that man. He had grown familiar with him, also he had a little girl just like Jasmit, back in his village. But he still was a Pakistani. All of these thoughts were eating him up, and Preeto didn’t understand how to deal with the situation. Suddenly little Jasmit sneaked in their room and said, ” Bauji (translation-father), this uncle doesn’t eat curd and likes mango pickles instead with alu parathas, just like Ballu Chacha did. He also has the same mole below his lips. He is upset, I saw him in tears, I think he wants to go back to his family. Bauji, he called me ‘Gudiya’, the way Ballu chacha used to call. I know you want to put him in the jail, but what is his crime? Let him go and then may be our Ballu chacha shall come back to us someday.”
Jagbeer could not hold his tears any longer and took Jasmit in his arms. He promised her that the man shall safely reach his home.
That very night, Jagbeer wakes the man from the middle of his deep slumber, and asks to follow him to the borders. It was a black night, clouds had covered the moon, it was pitch dark. They sneaked in the border zone, there were military all over the place. Both of them crawled through the wild bushes for long 2 miles, until they reached a spot where it was easy to cross the broken electric fences. Jagbeer helped that man to carefully cross through the border, and when he was already on the other side of the land, he had touched Pakistan safe and sound, Jagbeer asked him his name to say a proper goodbye.
The man said,” Bhaisahab, you can recall me as ‘Ballu’, whenever you are reminded of this wounded man you had once saved from death. I know everything, I have read your diary. You saved your brother today.” He waved at Jagbeer and said, “Goodbye Bhaisahab”. Then he vanished into the thin air behind the large bushy vegetation. Jagbeer could only see the two borders then, which divides the land and their people apart.
He whispered,”Goodbye my Ballu, stay well.” His eyes were red and teary then, but his heart was calm. There was peace in his smile. His nights shall see his anguish and grief no longer.