22 August, 1947.
It was amidst the scary sound of raindrops on the roof, that Dwarka heard the Sarpanch’s voice on the loudspeaker – “Safety has become an issue, and we have decided that all Hindus must leave this place by tomorrow. Their early departure will make this area more safe, and also ensure the safety of Hindu ladies and children”. As his beeji and papaji collected all jewelery, money and foodstuff at one place, the 13-year-old Dwarka packed his schoolbag with the hope that he would come back home and attend school whenever the situation improved.
That was never to happen. In the kafila that traveled from Meerowal to Ajnala, his mom and dad were hit by a barcha (a long wooden stick, with a pointed iron tip at the end) on their heads. Master Mangal Singh, the best teacher in school, was killed by a Muslim bandook. He had been Dwarka’s favorite teacher. Overcome with anger and frustration, Dwarka told his elder brother – who was 18 years old – that he could no longer keep walking.
As the kafila came to a halt near the Ravi river, Dwarka looked at the wild currents of water, occasionally hitting strong rocks and then dying out. His elder brother threw the gathri (the knot of cotton cloth which they had been carrying) in to the river. It had all the jewelery of their mother, and 10 rupees which their father had given them. “Better to throw it here than let it go in to the hands of Muslims.” Many other people threw their gathris, gold-coins, and sometimes, even food.
When he reached Amritsar, Dwarka barely had a pair of clothes left. Penniless and hungry, he found temporary respite at the langar in Khalsa College.
Life was to quickly take a new turn. He searched vacated Muslim homes for utencils and stole fruits from Skathri Bagh, which he would later sell in streets – an anna for each item. There were days when no one would buy, and those when he’d have to do mazdoori for 10 hours to earn two rupees. He pulled a rickshaw for Seth Bhagwan Dass, who would pay 8 rupees for a ride of 20 kms. He saved money to rent a rehdi, and eventually bought a fruit-shop of his own. He educated 6 children, all of whom are decently settled in life now. And today, at the age of 73, he goes daily to the local mandi to earn a living, simply because he loves doing it. He’s someone whom I greatly admire. He is a hero. He is my grandfather.
Meet Dwarka Nath Madaan, the most cheerful man I have ever known in my life. Even with just 10 rupees in his pocket, he is the kind of person who feels like the king of the world. His grandchildren call him paaji (Punjabi for ‘elder brother’), and he is younger at heart than most people you will ever meet.
His is the story of hundreds of thousands of people who had to leave their homes, and start all over again in a new place. And yet, I have never heard him complain about any misgivings that life may have dealt him with. In his evergreen smile and youthful energy, he reminds me of words from Rudyard Kipling’s If:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
His is the story that shows how happiness can come shooting out even from black holes of despair. His is the story that is ordinary, like transparent air, and yet so extra-ordinarily powerful like a tornado. His is the story that I cannot capture in a 3-hour-long phone-call to India, nor in one blog post here …