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In its wake there were communal riots. The shop in Naya Bazaar was set on fire. Qurban bhai’s relatives left for Pakistan. Qurban bhai had two brothers. Both were murdered. Unable to bear the grief, their father too, passed away. The house was looted by the servants who then ran away. Qurban bhai gathered the few belongings that remained and escaped to Nagore. From there he went to Medta and then to Tonk. Where could he go? Where would he be safe? Should he leave for Pakistan as well? The question haunted him. But somehow, he could not bring himself to take that step. So many whom he admired had not left. The famous poet Josh had stayed on. So had the beautiful Suraiya. How could he leave?

With time, everything that could fetch in a little money was sold. Yet there was no employment, no work in sight. At that time, it was almost impossible for a Muslim to get a job. Besides Qurban bhai was not equipped to earn a living. He did not possess even the simplest of skills. His education too was incomplete. When at last he did get a job as an accountant in a shop, his honesty and sincerity were distinct disadvantages. He was viewed with suspicion by Hindus and Muslims alike.

If he associated with the Hindus, they treated him as an outsider. And if he mingled with the Muslims, he felt suffocated by the religious fervour of the various leagues. He could never regain the priveleged position that he had once enjoyed. Unable to hold a steady job, his status in life kept falling. From a labourer he became a coolie… and finally, he became humane. The force of circumstance taught him several new trades. He repaired punctured bicycle tyres, soldered tin cans, fixed locks, umbrellas and lanterns, dyed clothes, carved ivory bangles. And all the while, he kept moving from one town to another. Whatever work he took up, it slowly slipped out of his hand. now it was technology and not communalism that was the threat. Tossed about in this manner, he finally reached our kasba. An elederly Muslim lent him fifty rupees. A small stock of rice and pulses, matches, bidis-cigarettes… With these he started a shop. What do I say and how do I say it? The story of one man’s struggle against overwhelming odds cannot be summed up neatly in a few words. It would not only be unfair but an impertinence.

But the story I am about to relate is an altogether different one.

Soon the grocery shop began making a small profit. It was more than enough to meet the simple requirements of Qurban bhai and his wife.

Their children were dead. There was no one to spend the extra money on.

Continued next week

From The Bell
Publisher: Katha

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