My first memory of friendship takes me back to the Forties in Lahore. The fondest memories of my life in Lahore were from my school days, especially the quality time I spent with Bazal, my next door neighbor and my best friend. Though we were not studying in the same school, still we were so close that there was hardly a day when he was not at our place or vice-versa. Together we would implement very innovative ideas, which were appreciated by one and all, especially the boys of our age in the neighborhood. Founding a library of our own when we were still fourth graders was one such idea which attracted everyone's attention. My father's library in our large living, spread over a dozen glass-paned cabinets, was not only our inspiration but also the sole source of supply of books to our “Boys' Own Library”. My father, who was the Chief Representative of Oxford University Press for Northern India, would pass on to us the books that he knew were surplus and suitable for our library, mostly story books and novels for school-age children. Apart from operating the library, we also started “Boys' Own Club” at the spacious bungalow of Ravi, our common friend in the neighborhood. There we would play badminton and many indoor games. Bazal's father being a professor at the nearby Government College, we also obtained passes to use the college swimming pool with his help. Life, indeed, was beautiful with a friend like Bazal around.
Everyone in our family loved Bazal and treated him a part of the family, particularly my mother who pampered him to the hilt. All the more ever since the day he had a miraculous escape from what could have been a fatal fall from our terrace to the street, three stories down. It was the day when everyone in Lahore would be on the terrace, looking at the sky that was covered with colorful kites of all sorts and sizes. One and all, irrespective of any caste or creed, celebrated Basant as the festival of kite flying at the beginning of the spring season. As usual with all festivals, Bazal was celebrating Basant at our place by flying kites with us from our terrace. When he was totally engrossed in a match with a rival kite-flyer from another terrace, he suddenly slipped over the low fence and lost control. A split-second move by my brother when he was about to fall down saved his life.
Since that fateful day my mother always loved and treated Bazal like her own son, especially so after his father suddenly expired due to deadly heart attack. A movie buff, my mother would even make me and Bazal her constant companions to watch the latest movie on every Wednesday, when it was a “Ladies Only” show at half the normal rates. Boys under twelve were allowed if accompanied with a lady. This was her own way to divert Bazal's attention from the sad demise of his father. Bazal too reciprocated by spending more time at our house than at his own. His step mother did not mind this, though some in our neighborhood did. They, the orthodox Hindus, did not digest a Muslim boy mixing so freely with our family, and even allowed to enter our kitchen where my mother would be serving us steaming hot meals, making fresh 'rotis' while we ate. They belonged to that section of the Hindu society who believed that the Muslims were impure and must be kept at a distance, and drank water at public places from the separate taps especially installed for them with the sign “Hindu Water”.
One thing about Bazal's house I will ever remember as that remains a a mystery to me, many decades after we had left Lahore for ever in the aftermath of Partition. It had a locked room that would come alive late in the evenings with mysterious sounds of music and dance. Nobody in Bazal's family, not even his elder brother, a Captain in the army, would dare disturb the ghosts during that time, by knocking or unlocking the room. The ghosts too seemed to reciprocate their gesture by refraining from entering any other room or disturbing them in any other way. But this mutual understanding between the ghosts and Bazal's family members was far too spooky and scary for any visitor to spend the evening in their home. I too invariably avoided visiting him in the evening and would insist on returning home before the sunset if I happened to be at his home in the afternoon.
And one thing that Bazal could never forget till our last day in Lahore, besides, of course, my mother's affection beyond any imagination, was that he owed his life to my brother but for whose miraculous move he would have lost his life on that Basant day. The time to pay back to my brother had arrived. On August 15, 1947, when the rest of the family was vacationing in Srinagar, my father and brother were still staying in Lahore, and actually continued to stay there for quite sometime when most other Hindus had left Lahore, which was now a part of Pakistan. Father firmly believed that sooner or later the atmosphere of hate and violence would calm down and people would settle peacefully as before, well protected by the new Pakistan administration. But his belief belied him when mobs of fanatic Muslims were roaming on the roads, resolving not to let a single Hindu or Sikh live in Lahore. They were on a killing spree and it was a miraculous escape for my father and brother when they forced their entry into our house on learning that they were still living there. Bazal and his brother came to their rescue, helping them escape by crossing over to their house from the terrace and later escorting them to airport to take a flight to New Delhi. This daring rescue by Bazal and his brother, as also Bazal's earlier Basant day escape from death with my brother's help, truly make Bazal a friend for life.