The partition was not an easy affair for anyone. People were killed, murdered and those who survived and crossed over were constantly haunted by the memories of the home and the people they had left behind.
My grandfather’s stories of partition exodus had always fascinated us. The lazy Sunday afternoons were spent sprawled near his armchair listening to the stories with open-mouthed fascination while he reminisced about the painful affair. He poignantly described those agonized moments when he had to say goodbye to some of his childhood friends.
During partition, my grandfather who was known as Brigadier Singh was serving in the Bikaner State Army. He was stationed in Churu district in Rajasthan and it was his job to ensure a smooth transit for those who were setting out for a new life in India’s new neighbor.
‘But, why didn’t you hide them grandpa? You could have hidden them or may be some of your friends somewhere and they could have continued living here.’
‘Don’t be silly. They were all my friends and I couldn’t have hidden some and let some go. It would have been unfair.’
‘So didn’t you call them up or write to them or something?’
‘How could I write to them ? It wasn’t like an army posting. They didn’t know where they were going to be, so there was no address to write to. We also didn’t have any phones at the time.’
He told us about how he could never bring himself to revisit their abandoned mansions because he knew he would experience nothing but their pain and loneliness.
‘When I was a boy, we all used to play together. Manu Khan, Sugandi and many others. It was sad to see to them go. We spent days playing and running around in those mansions and suddenly they were either deserted or someone else came to live in them.’
He barely talked about anything else but the heartrending tales that were an inseparable part of the whole affair. Once or twice he mentioned how people told him about the treasure that they had buried in the sand so that they or their children could come and claim it once the political environment improved.
However, as children, we were more interested in the treasures left behind by those who were leaving their ancestral homes and going towards an unknown future. We often made him repeat the parts where people buried their treasure in the desert sands and told him to keep a watch on it till they came back for their precious heirlooms.
‘But Grandpa, what was in the treasure and why did they bury it?’ we would constantly ask.
‘Oh, nothing much, just some gold bricks and jewelry which they could not carry. They buried it because the riots had started and news had spread of people killing each other ‘, he would reply.
‘Did you see them?’ How big were the bricks?’
‘No, they just told me that they had buried the treasure near this sand dune or that tree and I just told them not to worry.’
‘So you never actually saw it?’
‘No, I didn’t. I couldn’t have gone and seen everything. Many people had buried their treasure in the desert . I was taking care of lakhs of people. I couldn’t have seen everything.’
‘But then they wanted you to look after their treasure, that’s why they told you, didn’t they?
‘No, they just told me because they wanted to tell someone they trusted. The treasure was buried in the desert and the desert would look after it.’
‘How would the desert look after it?’
‘The desert is wise. It hides many secrets in its depths and reveals only those which need to be revealed.’
‘So, where is it now?’
‘I don’t know, probably somewhere in the desert. ‘
‘Did anyone come to claim their treasure?’
‘No, I hoped they would come so that we could meet and talk. But no one ever came back.’
‘But had they come back, would they be able to find their treasure?’
‘Probably not. The dunes keep shifting. ‘
We would don our thinking caps, just like our favorite detective Sherlock Holmes and try to pin point the exact location of the buried treasure on a small map of Rajasthan. For us that treasure represented the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, which would end all our problems and help us to live life king-size. We would analyze every word uttered by grandpa and try to deduce the exact bearings but the exercise was usually a frustrating one and we would end up more confused than ever. We tried to ask the others members of the family, who would shake their heads and tell us to ask grandpa.
‘Please tell us grandpa where exactly was the treasure buried?’
‘The one you were talking about. The gold bricks and the jewelry left by your friends.’
‘I told you I don’t know. They buried it in the desert and that’s all I know.’
‘Grandpa, we can look for it and probably we can find it. We can even give it back to them.’
‘You children are crazy. I don’t know where it is and I cannot tell you anything else. Now go and let me sleep.’
We, the children would try our best to cajole him to tell us about the location of the treasure but to no avail. My grandfather was never interested in money or the luxuries that came with it. He believed that money was just needed to feed the family and ensure that they could live a decent life. The trappings of the rich were not his idea of a good life. For him, his treasures were his friends and the time he spent with them and no amount of gold bricks could bring that back.
Published Author, Poet and Youtuber
This article was published in Rahstradoot’s Arbit Section in September 2015