Happy Teachers' Day!
On that fateful day, when the pre-partition communal riots flared up for the first time in Lahore, 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 Aziz, 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.
Fast forward to over 10 years later:
Inderjeet and I both loved nature and headed for Nainital, the beautiful hill-station on the Himalayan mountains, for our honeymoon. We enjoyed boat ride in the big and lovely lake, but what we loved most was long walks on the trails in the mountainous terrain. It was during one such walk, when we were coming back after enjoying breathtaking views of the snow covered Himalayan peaks from a famous peak near Nainital, I was shocked to see a man whom I definitely knew to have died long back in Lahore. He was standing at the gate of his gorgeous looking log house and greeted us warmly when we came near him. He invited us inside for a cup of tea, and we accepted his invitation with great pleasure. Apart from giving us the much needed mid-way break, it would provide me the opportunity to know the man who was still a mystery to me.
On entering the house, he introduced us to his wife, a very pleasant and warm person, who insisted that we have breakfast with them, and without waiting for acceptance she ordered the servant to make something special for us. The man was equally warm and made us feel at home by engaging us into interesting conversation that mainly covered his and his wife's hobbies. He was a painter and spent much of his time painting, while his wife was good at growing vegetables, fruits and flowers in their backyard. But all the time, question on the man's identity kept troubling my mind, particularly after knowing that he was a painter. The dead man who came to my mind instantly on seeing that man, had not only the same face and figure, but also the same hobby, painting. As this mind boggling question kept bothering my mind, the man himself came to my help with the answer, when Inderjeet and his wife were in the backyard exchanging notes on their knowledge of gardening.
“I know what must have been troubling your mind ever since you saw me here. I'm surprised you did not ask the obvious question that crossed your mind on seeing me alive. Yes, I'm your same Maths Teacher and still alive. I did not die in the fire in my house on that horrible evening in Lahore. Well, here is the true happening that had remained hidden from the rest of the world so far.
“ One of the social programs that I was pursuing relentlessly aimed at rescuing helpless women of Hira Mandi, the 'Red Light' area in my neighborhood, who had been forced into prostitution after having been kidnapped by bad characters and sold to the brothels there. My wife is one of the women I had rescued, and was in my house waiting to be taken to her village at the opportune time, when there was a knock at my door at dead of night. It was the pimp of the prostitute from whose place she had run away. He forcibly intruded into the house to take her back and attacked me with a knife on my refusal to hand her over to him. But before he could do me any harm, she pounced on him with a sharp edged garden tool she had grabbed from my backyard, and he succumbed to the serious wound she had inflicted on him. I was too shocked by the incident to know what to do. After weighing various options I thought the best would be to first take her out to a safer place, if possible to her parents, and then report to the police. However, she was not going to let me take the blame for the incident for which she was responsible. She came up with an idea that she had read in a novel.
“The pimp, who was killed, had more or less the same physic as mine. We made his body look like mine by putting on it my clothes, slippers and glasses, and then torched the room so that the body was burnt beyond recognition. We escaped from the house with all my valuables and cash, after putting the house on fire too. We went straight to the railway station and took the earliest train to go to her native village in the hills near Nainital. After handing her over to parents, I stayed on in their house for some days when they insisted on it. Although I could have remained in that remote village indefinitely without anyone ever knowing my whereabouts, my conscience did not allow me to take that course. I decided that I must go back to Lahore and inform the police all about the incident, but leaving her out of the picture. But she was absolutely against my going to Lahore and admit to a crime that I had not committed. She was adamant on it and I had to postpone my return till she relented. In the meantime, Partition came making Lahore part of Pakistan and beyond my reach. While there, I found that her parents were extremely perturbed by the situation their daughter had put them in. They knew nobody would marry her after knowing that she had been rescued from the 'Red Light' area of Lahore. I offered to marry her, not so much to please her parents, which they were, as for our own happiness. We had fallen in love, right from the moment she ran into me in Lahore, requesting to rescue her. We did not say it in so many words, but all our actions thereafter reflected our deepest feelings of love for each other. After our marriage we shifted to this peaceful place for our permanent stay. Today I am feeling a great relief after revealing the truth to some one who knew me from Lahore. I did not want to die with the secret disturbing my soul”
We celebrated surprise meeting with my most respected and adored Maths Teacher with the excellent food his wife served us. On Teachers' Day every year, I cannot but commemorate survival of my Maths teacher on that fateful day in Lahore.
Happy Teachers' Day!