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Memory Speaks

Feb 05, 2004
A ‘family’ that was Hindu and Muslim

Dr S D Sharma, now 80, is in retirement. He reminisces about a ‘brother’ who went away to Pakistan but stayed in touch till he died.

‘I grew up in Kanpur, where my father was a doctor. Ours was a large family, and my mother was known for her strict ways with children. We were nevertheless, a merry band of 10 children—siblings and cousins-- that lived in the rambling house. Mummy, as we all called her, showered us with love, but could be a real tyrant if we did not study. For her it was imperative that we do well in school, as she intuitively knew that learning was the key to the greater things in life. And what was even more remarkable was that she had the same view for both boys and girls

One of my father’s good friends was a Muslim trader. We knew him as Khalid Chacha. He was an imposing man, with a long beard and we were always in awe of him. One day, Khalid Chacha came, holding the hand of a young boy, maybe 10 years old.

That is when I first met Umar. Umar was Khalid Chacha’s son, and was, as we learnt later, a naughty boy who hated studies. My father and Khalid Chacha had decided that only Mummy could get him to study, so Umar would come and live with us, in our home.

Umar turned out to be a lovely boy and he became my best friend. He lived with us for over 10 years, till he passed his BA. Initially it was hard to get him to study, but later it was Umar who decided that he preferred living with us, even though he had to work hard at his books.

In 1947, Umar’s family left for Pakistan. We were bewildered, hurt, sad and also a little bit angry at their decision to leave. But we did not know the power of love. We all thought we would never see him again.

Umar Bhai died in Rawalpindi in 1990. Each and every year till then, political conditions and regulations permitting, Umar made his ‘pilgrimage’ to India. As the rules demanded, he had to fill in the names of people he would visit. And the names would be those of my family, all Hindu names. This surprised the authorities so much that once they asked him why he came every year to meet Hindus.

His answer was the simple: ‘They are the only family I have’.  ‘The heart has its reasons that reason cannot understand,’ said a French poet. Well Umar Bhai proved it in a remarkable way.’

Dr Sharma now lives a quiet retired life in Delhi. He wonders what became of Umar’s children. Do Hindu and Muslim children grow up in the same household now? Or has the Partition put paid to all that?

--Anuradha Bakshi

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