MAN WITH A MISSION
he city of Srinagar nestled in the Kashmir Valley, surrounded by tall mountain ranges of the Pir Panchal along all its sides is a paradise on earth. The layout of the town is molded by the hands of God and spanned along the two banks of the river Jhelum. A few settlements also exist around the famous Dal Lake with a picturesque view all around. Well within these confines is a small locality, called Rainawari, an erstwhile hamlet of the Hindu dominated population. It was here that in the month of August of 1947, when India got its independence from the British Raj, a boy was born to a family of devout Hindus and was the first child of the deeply religious and loving couple. The boy brought joy to the family and was aptly named as Jai. Jai Jalali took the family name after his father M. K. Jalali who was a well-known schoolteacher in the neighborhood school. From early on in life the boy exhibited promising traits of being an intelligent student who excelled in his school curriculum. He would comprehend the subject matter easily when taught at the school and showed interest in science. He was also adept in water sports, like swimming and rowing, being close to the lake and its tributary canals. He was so much in love with water that he was mostly seen in the canals and even referred to as a “Kol Batukh” meaning a Water Duck. His only other sibling, a younger sister, was as brainy as himself but received lesser education for no apparent reason and dropped studies after high school. His father had a small income but he would supplement it by giving tuitions to students desiring an extra attention, just so as to ensure that his promising lad did not lack resources as he grew up under his care. Jai took admission in the science stream in a college and cycled his way up and down from home every day in all weather conditions with not a single break until he graduated with distinction.
Jai did not comprehend as to the profession he would pursue after graduation and relied on his best wisdom to take up a job so as to supplement his family income. His father was not keeping well lately and he knew that he could not take up any professional course of study, like medicine or engineering a common stream of study, which would take another four or five years to complete and also require leaving his hometown, besides enormous expenses to keep him going. His father required constant attention and the mother was too distraught to part with any help that came from him physically or monetarily. He kept postponing his decision until the month of October when he learnt about an emergency commissioning drive by the army and decided to take armed forces as a career. Jai was a non-violent type of a person and disliked hurting anyone. And if he joined the army it would mean killing people in the battlefield. He debated the pros and cons in his mind and spoke about it with his father and friends before he eventually submitted the application well before the last date. He was called for test and interview in early February of 1967 and by April he was ready to join the Indian Military Academy at DehraDun as a trainee Second Lieutenant.
The first opportunity he got to showcase his talent was to participate in an army parade at the Independence Day celebrations in 1970 after he had successfully completed his course at the Academy. He got his first posting at the front where his experience with actual war encounter occurred in 1971. What surprised Jai was his ability to unleash terror that he did not know resided in him as a dormant force. He got an opportunity to display his brave action and a very high skill of strikes at the enemy killing the most number of them in an individual score. He saved some of his colleagues from enemy fire and to the amazement of superior officers showed exemplary courage in facing the enemy with solid determination. At the end of the war he was recommended for a gallantry award, which he received at a glittering ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan at Delhi.
Jai got married to a beautiful girl from a well-to-do family of the city in 1979 with the blessings of his parents. Within the first year of his marriage a beautiful daughter was born to him. He had a peaceful posting in Srinagar for two years where he was able to look after his ailing father and also arranged the marriage of his sister. Life seemed to be good to him for the moment. Then in a turbulent period of his life in the next four years he was shunted out of town on posting to three different locations where he could not take his family with him and in this period he lost his father to a dreaded disease followed soon after by his mother’s demise that was caused due to distraught at the death of her mate. She had loved her husband and was respectful of his authority. This did not, however, deter Jai to perform well in his ranks. Soon Jai got accelerated promotions and was constantly in focus with his zeal and enthusiasm to perform well in his field of activity. His good days had returned. He considered his daughter to be a source of his fortune and would spend most of his available time with her and encouraged his wife to groom her well. In time he found out that his wife was not able to give him another child because of a physical problem and he stabilized his emotions at that and gave all his love and affection to the daughter.
In time his name was recommended for leading an Indian contingent to Africa in the UN Peace Keeping Mission. He and his team earned accolades for their services there. Soon after the completion of his tenure he was sent to the USA as a military Attaché in 1999 and it was here his son was born a year later on September 11, 2000, nearly 20 years of his first child being born. This, he thought, was a miracle. He was 53 and his wife was close to 48 when women generally enter the state of menopause. He was happy that God was finally kind to him and his mind was at peace. He would soon regret he got a son.
The fall season of 2001 was close at hand when the colors of varied shades of red and brown would mark the skyline, the shoreline and the valleys all around. Life was at its most beautiful form and Jai was in the best of spirits and happy with his family. On one of the September Sundays when the weather promised a brilliant outing, the family decided to drive up to New York where the daughter had taken up appointment as a trainee software engineer with a Delhi based firm. Although she had taken up her residence on a shared basis in New York with her Indian girl friend who worked for a bank in New York, she still visited her parents by driving down to Washington at the end of each month for a couple of days stay with the family. She had started to like the company of her little brother. In fact it was his first birthday that the family wanted to celebrate all together and since it was not possible for the daughter to move out to Washington, the parents decided to go and be with the daughter at New York to mark the event. The family left Washington at 0700 hrs early Sunday and took the Interstate route I-95 to New York via Baltimore, Wilmington, and Trenton taking a stopover at all these places to cater to the needs of the infant who was packed up in a bucket baby seat at the rear. They arrived in New York towards the end of the day after driving for six hours excluding the breaks that they had to take in between. The baby was showing promising manners by not crying and would enjoy his drive even as a year old.
On Monday the daughter showed them around the Manhattan. She took them to the World Trade Center, where her offices were located. They had their lunch at an Italian restaurant on the 34th Street close to the Empire State Building, which they visited later. They went to the Times Square and also spent an hour at the Central Park. She promised to take them across by ferry to the Ellis Island the next day to visit the Statute of Liberty. They planned a little shopping after that and spend the evening with the Birthday celebrations for which they had bookings at a cozy restaurant nearby. On Tuesday she said she had an early call at her office to dispatch some papers to New Delhi and she would join them in the afternoon for the trip. After she left for her office early on September 11, they watched TV to while away the time when they saw to their horror the WTC being hit by two aircraft within the span of a few minutes and the whole world crashed right in front of their eyes. They realized their daughter was at the WTC at that time and was in trouble. In panic they started calling her on the mobile. There was no response to their frantic attempts to establish contact. It dawned on them that something was really wrong. How would they know that the planned Birthday celebration for the son was going to be the demise day for the daughter? They loved her more than anything in the world and she was their hope and dreams all combine. Jai rushed to the accident site but could get no help from anyone. In fact he saw distraught people all around looking for assistance similar to his own predicament. At the end of the day he gave up and decided to wait for an official assessment of the situation and a more logical conclusion to his quest.
They have still not found the body of their daughter or any trace of her presence at the WTC and no one acknowledged her existence. Through months of mental torture and distress they suffered, they decided to quit, as being around in the US was too painful for the family. The memories of his daughter haunted him badly. In a state of anguish Jai arranged an early retirement from service and returned to India in March 2002. They found they had nowhere to go as the only house they had was at Rainawari, and things back home had changed altogether with the Hindu community being driven out by fanatics from their birthplace. His sister was the only living soul close to him and she was now at Delhi after migrating from her own home in Srinagar. Jai was taking time to decide his future step and his wife got worried lest he get driven into an abyss or get into a state of depression. Her faith in him started dwindling with time because of the tragedy they had just gone through together.
Jai was, nevertheless, made up of a different gene altogether. His adversaries did not beat Jai at any game ever and he would not accept defeat so easily. He left his bags unpacked at Delhi and went to Srinagar with his family to claim what his parents left behind before their death earlier on. His grief at the loss of his beloved daughter turned him into a more resolute man and he energized himself into doing something useful that would be a tribute to her memory. Reaching Srinagar, he found his home robbed of all contents and in a state of disrepair and in need of attention. He took up residence in a hotel and soon arranged the repair work in his house on a war footing. Although the then Hindu dominant locality was now a Muslim dominated one, it made no difference to his ideology of staying where he belonged. Within the month he shifted to his own house after the repairs were carried out and improvements made in the original design to accommodate his new belongings and needs. His Muslim neighbors are happy to see him back and are at his beck and call whenever he needs their help and assistance. Once settled he got into a thinking mode and decided he would do a bit more than he had set out to do. He turned his tragedy into a mission and that is to see that all his fellow Hindu brothers and sisters who left town early on in 1990 return to their homes. It is his desire that things are back the way they were before the migration of Hindus to other parts of the world with no resolve of a return to their place of birth. Now he sits all day long drafting letters to government and non-government organizations asking for help in the rehabilitation of all displaced Hindus. He takes up cudgels to dig into issues about the distress sale of land and homes by the Hindus and is devising means to see that such assets are returned to the rightful owners in a legal manner. It is his dream that the places of Hindu worship are once again alive with the sound of temple bells mingling with the “azan” at the mosque signaling the return to normalcy of relations between the two communities. They were living in harmony and will continue to do so in the future that looks so bright to this son of the soil.
His son is now eight years old and attends a school where he proves to be as good at studies as he himself was before army took him out of there. He is hopeful his mission will have success one day and all his kith and kin are resettled in their own homes. He would love to see the festivals being celebrated once again in the same manner as he had done and live the life as he always dreamt. He just wants himself and his children to follow the footsteps of his forefathers for generations to come. The whole world may be one for all but your humble home is where you were born and nurtured till you grew up to be a man.
Any coincidental similarity to this story is unintentional and this is a work of fiction. That the moral of this story be true is the wish of all right thinking persons as characters of this tragedy.
B. L. Dhar was born and educated at Srinagar. Did Master's degree in Mathematics. Took up appointment with the Civil Aviation Sector of the G.O.I. as a gazzetted officer and later joined the PSU, Airports Authority of India (AAI) from where he retired as General Manager in 2000.
At present residing at Delhi with frequent visits to the US and Europe where his kith and kin reside. Has interest in writing.
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