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Tilak Rishi, born in India, has been working as a career corporate executive, after doing his MBA. Passionately pursuing his hobby for writing, he also remained a regular contributor to newspapers in India and the U.S. Many true happenings and characters he came across in life, including interaction with former president Bill Clinton, inspired Paradise Lost and Found, his first novel. A family saga, it starts from Kashmir, when this paradise on earth is lost for the tourists who thronged in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. Terrorists have turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world. The family is not only a witness to the loss of this paradise, but also to another tragedy of much bigger magnitude. In the aftermath of the partition of India, along with millions uprooted from their homes in Pakistan, the family leaves behind all that it has in Lahore. Starting from a scratch on the difficult path to progress, it still has many joyful moments when along the way it makes a difference in many a life. The survival-to-success story climaxes in California where the family finds the paradise that was lost in Kashmir.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

On that fateful day...

Lahore always remained a living example of religious harmony where Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians lived in absolute peace and calm without a single reported incident of communal clashes. People in Lahore generally were very broad-minded, who believed in Punjabi brotherhood rather than in religious divide. Promoters of Pakistan did not relish it as they saw it as a hinderance in their propaganda that Muslims would not be safe in the Hindu majority India after the independence. Disturbing the peace in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, was a dire necessity for them to demonstrate and prove their point of view that the two communities could never live together in peace. And it was not difficult to mastermind such a disturbance. They knew that even though the vast majority of the Hindus were secular, there still was a section amongst them who had hated Muslims for centuries for being the first invaders in history of the Hindu India. They only had to incite and trap this small section of the Hindus to start communal clashes in the city. They were still working on their strategy when an unfortunate incident provided them the opportunity to push their plans on a platter.

During a hockey match between two major teams, known arch rivals, heated arguments on a disputed goal got out of control and caused a fight between the two teams in which hockey sticks were freely used. Such incidents had happened earlier also, but this time it took an ugly turn as one player was killed in the clash. This was, in all probability, accidental, the hockey stick hitting some sensitive part of the body. However, since the boy who was killed was a Hindu and the one who hit, a Muslim, the incident started the rumor that communal rioting had started in the city with a Muslim student killing a Hindu. And in no time a Muslim student was stabbed to death in another part of the city, leading to a series of vengeful stabbing and arson in the city. Clearly, the extremist elements amongst the Hindus, who vowed to avenge every such killing, had fallen into the carefully laid trap of the fundamentalist Muslims, whose foremost agenda was to somehow shatter to pieces the prevailing peace between Hindus and Muslims in Lahore.

On that fateful day, I was at our Maths-teacher's place, along with some other students, taking last minute coaching prior to the ensuing final exams, when we got the scary news that the city was in the grip of communal violence. Our teacher, though a Hindu, lived in Bhati Gate in the the old city, which was predominantly a Muslim area. Till then it did not matter at all, Muslims living in Hindu areas or vice-versa. But all of a sudden that Saturday it mattered a lot. For the first time we felt that we were insecure, being Hindus, in that Muslim area. Even our teacher, who had been living in that area all his life, got nervous when there was some unusual commotion outside his house. He was not sure how safe it was to escort us out of the area to our respective houses. As we were passing through those most anxious moments of our lives and praying for our safe return to our homes, Bazal, my next door neighbor and best friend, and his brother, an army officer, appeared, like angels came to save our lives. My mother had immediately contacted them on learning about the communal flare-up and sought their help to bring me back home from our teacher's house, whose address she knew. They had arranged police escort to take us all out from the area to our homes safely.

There was an unusual commotion and quietness at the school when we arrived there the next Monday. As soon as we assembled for the Morning Prayer, our Principal gave the shocking news of the tragic death of our Maths-teacher late in the evening on Saturday. The police believed the miscreants had bolted his house from outside before torching it and the teacher was brutally burnt in the house on fire. The school was closed for the day after many teachers paid tributes to their colleague and two minutes silence was observed to mourn the tragic loss, when we all prayed for peace to the departed soul. It was only then that we, the students, who were at our teacher's house that evening, realized that we really were facing a life and death situation last Saturday at his house, and might have met the same fate if we had not been rescued out of the area in time that evening.


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