With a newly married

SWEET AND SOUR

It must be more than 50 years ago when I was living in London to gather material from the India office library to write my two volume history of the Sikhs.

I took a break of a couple of weeks to be with my parents in Delhi. On my way back to England I took a British Airways flight which touched down in Karachi to pick up Pakistani passengers.

I was travelling in economy class and found a window seat at the end of the plane. The seat beside me was vacant. I ordered a Scotch-and-soda dinner to be served after the plane picked up passengers from Pakistan. By the time Pakistani passengers were shown to their seats, I was somewhat sozzled.

To my utter delight, the seat alongside mine was allotted to a newly-married girl of around 18. She was in her bridal attire including ivory bangles (chooras) covering both her arms. She turned out to be quite a chatterbox but spoke only Punjabi. I have related this encounter before adding more mirch masala to each narration. She opened the dialogue as dinner was served.

She picked up a lice of bacon and asked me Soor da maas - is it pig’s meat? I replied, “Yes, it is pig’s meat.” She dropped it on my plate saying “Soor khaanaa haraam hai” I picked up a slice of beef from my plate and dropped it on hers saying “Gaan da goat haraam hai” - cow meat haraam hai. So we got chatting in Punjabi as she spoke no English.

I asked: “Naveen naveen shaadee hoi hai -Are you newly married?”
“Haan - pichhley haftay - yes, only last week.”
“Gharwala kithey - where is your husband?”
“Lunnan (London),” She took out a photograph of her husband, and showed it to me.
“Kee karda hai - What does he do?”
“Naukree - service”
“Pahley milley sao - did you meet before?”
“Na, na, sirf fotoo vekhee see - no, no, only saw his picture”
“Nikah kivain hoya - how did you get married?”
“Foon tay, Qazi sahib nay usnoo phoon marya, tay puchhia, meher kitnee deynga - how much will you pay her as dowry?”
“Then he asked me on the phone: Qabool ay? I replied, it was acceptable to me. He pronounced us man and wife, all done on the foon.”

So we chatted on and on through most of the night before we dozed off in the early hours of the dawn. I woke up and found myself holding her hand. At London’s Heathrow Airport we stepped out of the plane with me carrying her hand luggage. Her husband, relations and friends who had arrived at the airport in large numbers to welcome her were bewildered to see me.

After embracing her in turns, they asked who I was? “Naal dee seat tey baitha see - he was in the seat next to me, naan shaan nahin pata - don’t know his name or anything. Gapouri bahut hai - he just kept on talking. And finally she added: “Saaree raat suttey nahin- we did not get a wink of sleep.” I never got to know her how she explained her conduct to her husband and in-laws.

Parsiana

In the few months I spent in Shantineketan, I learnt to play the sitar. I also learnt I would never make a professional sitarist. I also learnt to paint, but realised I would never make a professional painter. About the only plus point of my stay there was to befriend an attractive Parsi girl from Bombay.

To start with it was largely due to fact that neither of us could speak Bengali. I was besotted by her. When I returned to my college in Lahore, I started writing to her. I addressed her as comrade which in the lingo used at the time was synonym of sweet-heart. Our correspondence lasted a couple of years till she got married. Then she stopped answering my letters. Her name was Mehera Jussawalla. I kept track of her movements for many years.

Her son, Adil, now over 70 years old is an Oxonian and lived in London till he returned to Bombay in 1970. He has been teaching English at St. Xavier’s college. He has already published two anthologies of his poems. His latest offering is Trying to Say Goodbye (Almost Island Books). His poems make good, thought-provoking matter. I give one example.

“I was raised to hink I’m no pushover,
But you see, I am.
All houses are fall guys.
The plans you, say to set us up
Touch our very foundations.

Stranger, still looking for home,
Who watched me for months,
Pay attention:
I am setting you free.
Your future’s got bothing to do with what’s happening to me.

Your universe was built to dance on a pin,
Mine to stay still. Tell your guru
Stillness did a house in.

Learn balance with nothing to stand on.
Though you’ve lost heart, lost ground,
Go rootless, homeless, but balance.

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