"Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage, assassination. This is the war of the future. "
Diwali. The festival of lights.
Vikramjeet Singh was a Punjabi. Just another Punjabi. Into his late sixties, Vikramjeet always sported a smile. So beaming a one that a hundred diyas couldn’t provide a luminescence so charming. A small scale shop owner. At one of the oldest localities of Delhi, Paharganj, Vikramjeet owned a shop that sold curios- soap, talcum powder, baby clothes et al. He had a thick white beard, reminiscent of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and eyes as sharp as Om Puri’s. I used to frequent there for buying clothes, especially winter clothes for my kids.
During the time of partition, Vikramjeet was 7-8 years old. His ancestral home was close to Lahore. As someone satirically put it, ‘It became two after partition-Pakistan and Bakistan.’ Vikramjeet’s family was a tiny dot among the thousands displaced as a consequence of the partition. Initially, he was in a relief camp at Purani Delhi-for about 4 months.
He faintly remembered Jawaharlal Nehru as a person with a red gulab in his pocket and a charming personality that had a natural wound-healing effect, visiting his camp at Purani Delhi area. Within a short span of time, the Government allotted land for his family, as along with thousands of others, at a Muslim dominated ilaaka near Paharganj. Initially, he always used to say, that they were very much helped by a Moulavi of the local mosque-to the extent, he recalled, from possible suicide.
His shop was an extremely small one. Possibly smaller than a paan ki dukaan. But there was scarcely anything that was unavailable there. He once took me into his godown, a few hundred metres away, tucked away unnoticeably in the large gullys of Paharganj. I distinctly noticed a rugged map of undivided India hanging over the godown wall.
He missed his home though he was at home. He missed India.
2005. The eve of Diwali. Terrorists strike at the heart of the capital, with three bomb blasts occurring at three distinct and crowded markets in the capital. As ever, dozens of common men bear the main impact. It is that time of the year when cold starts setting in over Delhi and North Indian plains. A week after the blasts, I went to Vikramjeet’s shop to buy a few winter clothes. It was not odd to find Vikramjeet’s son managing the shop.
Until I noticed a portrait of Vikramjeet hanging on the wall, with a diya lit underneath.
His son started sobbing on seeing my countenance. "It happened that day. There was no polythene cover in the shop to pack goods. He went to a nearby shop to buy covers. Hardly half a kilometre. We couldn’t identify the body. "
I bought a red coloured sweater that time.
2007. Navratri. I forced myself to make a visit there. I found Vikramjeet’s widow, sitting at the entrance of the shop. With a visage, as if she had pardoned the entire world for whatever happened. Behind the dull and cheerless decorations, a speaker kept chanting those verses of Guru Gobind Singh,
" Eeshwar Allah tere naam
Mandir Masjid tere dhaam"
I still have that red coloured sweater, but I haven’t used it yet.