From a distance…… in that darkness….. an incessant sound of wailing could be heard. Wailing women. In unison. Many of them ……!

I was just a child at that time. I don’t remember much. But the one thing I remember clearly is that sound of wailing and sobbing. It sounded as if many ducks were being slaughtered, all together.

Now when I think of it, I realize that sound was of what is called ‘bain’. The loud crying of women when someone dies, intermittent with words of grief and loss. And broken sentences in slow, sad wailing sounds of loss.

Now and then, above that non-stop wailing rose the beats of ‘dholak’. A woman’s voice singing ‘suhaag’, the auspicious wedding songs. This solo singing was my maternal grandmother’s voice. She wailed and sang the wedding songs for her daughter who died.

They said “Poor woman! She has lost her mind. Her daughter’s death has driven her mad.”

I cannot visualize and remember the features or any face out of that crowd. My other aunts, however, used to tell me that my maasi who had died was particularly fond of me. She bathed me, sprinkled sweet-smelling talcum-powder on me. Black ‘surma’ was applied by her in my eyes, the kohl that had been kept out to soak and rubbed in the night, dew was mixed with rose-water, and ground with the grinding stone for several days. She very carefully rubbed oil in my hair and lovingly washed them.

I remember the long baths, I remember the lavender smell of the talcum powder, I remember the kohl in my eyes, but I just do not recall or remember her face. Nor can I remember the faces of those wailing women.

All that comes clearly to my memory is that the walls of my Nani’s house in Peer Makki street on Ravi Road, used to throb and tremble with her wailing and crying. Getting extremely scared and upset, I used to climb on to the terrace and looked down at a graveyard behind the house.

Much later…. one of the heart-rending, soul-searing loud wails of my Nani that I remember happened in her house in the room of Guru Granth Sahib.

I was a small girl at the time. I entered that room to receive ‘Prasad’ from Bhabhijee, that is what we called our granny. She was sitting motionless, with eyes closed. I stood quietly, waiting for her to open her eyes. I was getting impatient. My Maasi from Delhi had come visiting. All her kids, Darshan, Kawli, Gurmeet, Manjeet, were playing on the terrace. Even Jasbir, my own brother. They had sent me to the room where my grandparents had ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ to get ‘prasad’ for all of them. And here was Bhabhijee who just wouldn’t open her eyes.

Then I happened to glance at the wall in front. On black velvet there was a verse beautifully embroidered with golden thread. There were two couplets. The black-velvet piece was framed and hung on the wall opposite the Guru Granth Sahib.

I wondered why I had never noticed it before.

Perhaps I had never had a chance to stand quietly in this room for so long.

Bhabhijee opened her eyes, took a long breath and said. ‘Waheguru’, while I was gazing at the golden embroidered words on black velvet. I was trying to connect each letter and figure out what was written when Bhabhijee noticed this. She herself read it out to me –

“Nivan So Akhhar khiwan gun, Jehwa manian mant. Eh trai bhaine wes kar, tan wass aawi kant.”

She was overwhelmed and read it with a lump in her throat, with her voice quivering.

“This was embroidered by my Prakash” and she broke down. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Wouldn’t stop.

I just stood numb and motionless, utterly speechless.

Perhaps in our childhood we are much close to reality. Close to truth. The so-called practical wisdom, as yet, does not make us talk and act superficially. Silently I watched her, wrapped in helpless despair.

May be my sixth sense told me that in such a heart-rending wailing of personal pain, one is always entirely alone. Every effort of help is futile.

Bhaiyyajee, my grandfather, was a senior officer in the railways.

During the British rule such posts were normally given to the Englishmen, but my grandfather had held this position partly because of his extra-ordinary capability, and for the simple reason that one had to tour all over the country and it was a difficult job those days.

He had four daughters and two sons. When the girls began growing up to be young women one after another, Bhaiyyajee went to the principal of Khalsa College in Amritsar. Bhaiyyajee, wrapped in his super-idealism, said to him, “Please suggest to me a few very capable, promising, honest but very poor Sikh boys, to whom I can give my daughters in marriage. Thus I can help them get good jobs and make a decent living.”

So this was the way an eligible young man was found for my aunt Prakash. An only son of very poor parents, he was studying in Khalsa College on scholarship. Though poor, he was diligent.

My aunt Prakash had received more formal education than the other daughters. After passing matriculation she had done graduation, which was quite rare for girls those days. Good-looking, intelligent, and sober.

Wedding was performed, with dowry sufficient enough to start a proper house-hold from the very scratch, she left for Delhi. Bhaiyyajee had already settled his daughter Balwant Kaur in Delhi, when she was married off. It was Bhaiyyajee who had helped Prakash’s husband as well to get this job in Delhi.

Perhaps during the first year they led a fairly happy married life. She had grown up chanting the Sikh holy hymns. “Nivan So Akhkhar, khivan gun”, which conveys that the magic is to be always humble and forgiving which carries life smoothly. Forgiveness of others’ faults or sins is the greatest quality. With this conviction, she had gone to her husband’s house.

Her husband was also intoxicated with the excitement of a new well-paid job and a young wife.

He had seen a comfortable and proper home for the first time. He must have felt like a king.

Eventually aunt Prakash had to go back to her mother’s house for the delivery of her first baby. She went to Lahore.

So that her husband did not have to eat out, so that he was not uncomfortable, so that he was looked after properly, she had requested her sister Balwant Kaur to see to it that he had dinner at her place. Lunch was always manageable in the office canteen. Breakfast anyway is never a problem. Milk, eggs and bread. That was easy.

Hence Prakash Maasi’s husband started coming every evening to Balwant Maasi’s house to have dinner. It wasn’t much of a distance either. Prakash Maasi’s husband was allotted a house near Mata Sundri Gurdwara, pretty close to Balwant Maasi’s house in Gole Market. Both were government accommodations.

Four or five days passed when Balwant aunt’s mother-in-law told him, “You are so intelligent and educated, and you happen to be here in the evenings every day. Why don’t you help my Tari with English home-work and the blasted geometry. Her examinations are starting very soon.”

Thus started these daily Lessons. Every evening for half-an-hour or for forty-five minutes, Tari was taught English, Algebra and Geometry by him.

Then, gradually the half-an-hour stretched to three to four hours. It made Balwant Maasi to cautiously supervise that room – of course from the other side of the ‘chick’, the jute and bamboo curtain. A strange unpleasantness and tension pervaded the house…..

Eventually, Tari’s examinations were over. Balwant Maasi heaved a sigh of relief. At least, she thought, now the two would not be sitting in the room for hours together.

After her exams, Tari’s visits to Prakash Maasi’s house started. Daily. For hours.

The house was a safe place for the lovers to meet. Prakash Maasi was in Lahore. She was going through that narrow rope-walk between life and death. Child-birth. So the house was all to themselves. The two of them.

Prakash Maasi’s letters came regularly. “I wish that you should be here when our baby is born. I feel scared without you. I have everything here. But without you I am scared. I feel lonely. Specially these days. In a few days, life will be at the threshold of death, knocking at its door. Death itself will open the door, gift a new light to your family on the palm of my life. Anything can happen. It will be a moment like a doomsday.

Who knows who will survive and who won’t? Please, be with me at that moment.”

(My grandmother had kept a bundle of Prakash Maasi’s letters in the room of Guru Granth Sahib, lovingly wrapped in a red silk, and kept in a niche. It was after the death of her daughter that she went and collected all these letters from the drawers and shelves of her daughter’s house from Delhi. She said that she did not want those letters to be touched by the dirty hands of that sinful man, Prakash Maasi’s butcher husband).

Well, Prakash Maasi’s husband had no intentions to go to Lahore. He didn’t go.

Then a letter came. Prakash Maasi gave birth to a baby girl. Even then he did not go.

Bhaiyyajee wrote to him that it was a tradition that when the first child is born, someone had to come and bring the mother-and-child back to the husband’s house. He requested his son-in-law that he could come whenever he conveniently got leave from his office.

He may have taken leave to spend time with Tari but he did not go to Lahore on leave. He ignored all requests coming from Lahore.

Balwant Maasi wrote to her sister, “He is extremely busy. Why don’t you come yourself? How long will you sit there and wait?”

In truth Balwant Massi knew what was happening between Prakash’s husband and her sister-in-law Tari. But she was helpless, felt a foreboding fear. Apprehensive, but helpless.

Tari used to be out of the house almost the whole day. Told her parents that she was spending time with her friends.

Balwant guessed that she must be in Prakash’s house. Once or twice she took courage to call up the office of Prakash’s husband. She was informed that he was on leave. Yet she didn’t have the courage to quickly wear her slippers and go straightaway to Prakash’s house and see for herself what was happening there. She could not discuss this either with her own husband or mother-in-law, for it involved their daughter’s disgraceful behaviour. Maasi’s mention of this affair might raise a storm in the house.

Nor could Balwant Maasi write anything in a letter to her sister, as she had just been relieved of her child-birth ordeal and was gradually recovering. How would she take such a shock? All Balwant Maasi could do was to advise her to return as soon as possible. Through letters. She was prostrating and praying to God constantly. She was almost trembling with fear.

Prakash Maasi read her sister’s letter. She lay with her baby girl next to her. She stared at the roof for a while. She thought and thought. It dawned on her that there was something very significant in the letter. Something not written or expressed. All the same she probably never imagined the seriousness and enormity of the situation.

She told Bhabijee, her mother, that the letter was from her husband. He could not get leave, and so he had asked her to catch a train on Saturday, so that he could receive her at the railway station on Sunday morning.

There was no possibility of anyone asking her to show the letter. How can parents read the letters written to their daughters by their husbands? There are a thousand confidential matters between husband and wife. So everyone started preparing for Prakash’s return journey to Delhi.

…Maasi embarked on her journey with her little daughter, delicate as a flower in her lap, and several boxes and packages along with her – ghee made of home-made pure butter, clothes, pouches full of rupees. She boarded the train.

It was the first time that she was all alone in a train, on a long journey from Lahore to Delhi.

Evidently, she did not expect anyone to receive her at Delhi railway station.

When she reached home, her husband was getting ready to go to the office. He was completely taken aback to see his wife.

Then started a long series of tortures and oppression. It was time to test the faith of Prakash Maasi, the faith given to her by her Guru in ‘gurbani’ : “Nivan So Akhkhar, Khivan Gun…”.

His intention was that Prakash should get fed up. And unable to bear the torture, she herself should leave for Lahore for ever.

This would make his house a meeting place for his sweetheart with no obstacles at all.

But Prakash Maasi had told a lie to her parents and had come away to Delhi. Now in order to protect the family honour, she could not leave. She had to endure all the torture unleashed on her body and soul by her husband. To maintain the pride and self-respect of her family, and to obey that advice with which a father gives away his daughter as if he is giving away a bowl of rice as alms, to obey the age-old tradition of respectable families : “My child, my daughter, now go to your own home. This house was not your home. Go in peace. Now our honour is in your hands”. Every mother teaches her young daughter that her childhood and early youth was spent only in the preparation of going to her husband’s house, her ‘real home’, from where only her shroud should come out ready to go to her funeral pyre.

She carried on, silently enduring all the lashes on her soul by heartless behaviour of her husband. Just to cover up the honour of everyone, to protect the unblemished turban of her father, and the ‘dupatta’ of her mother. The honour of her family name! Carried on with all her duties on her frail shoulders!

Prakash Maasi’s husband had forbidden her to visit her sister. He explained that when he used to go to their place to have his meals, Balwant Maasi’s mother-in-law had been mean to him and insulted him. He ordered that his wife had no business to go to that house.

Living in the same city, hardly three miles from each other, the two sisters could not meet. On one hand was a guilty husband who wanted to guard his secret. On the other hand was the ferocious mother-in-law who, scared of the scandal which would involve her own daughter, guarded her daughter-in-law gated Balwant and kept a watch on her.

Though Prakash Maasi’s husband went to his office in the day, and Balwant Maasi’s mother-in-law went to the Gurudwara morning and evening, yet these too did not dare to disobey their despotic rulers even in their absence.

What was their crime? Why were these two suffering?

What an irony! If it was a debt or an obligation that Prakash Massi was repaying, what was that ominous debt, after all?

The man who used her to cook for him, to satiate the need of his flesh, used her womb to beget his own children, confined her to a terrorized concentration camp and ordered her to obey his commands. Which debt was Prakash Maasi repaying?

Of resentment or complaint, there was absolutely no question. To have revolted, of course, was an impossibility. From the time a child becomes aware of things and understands, girls and daughters of respectable families in the country are taught that the husband is God. So were Prakash Maasi, Balwant Maasi, all their sisters, even my mother, told. Whatever God wills or does, has to be accepted quietly. There was no alternative.

Days and weeks went by. Prakash Maasi would look at her little daughter’s face and weep, “You too will have to suffer all this. You too will go through this hell!.” 

……………

One day Prakash Maasi’s husband woke up in the morning loudly chanting Japjee Sahib prayers. He spoke very lovingly to his wife just before going to the office. He embraced her and told her, “When I saw your pale face today I was really ashamed of myself. I am guilty. Please forgive me. Why do you look pale and pulled down? Don’t you eat properly? From this evening I will sit with you and make you eat. You are feeding this baby. You must drink milk two or three times a day. Will you? Don’t be upset. I cannot tolerate your tears! I love you very much. Today I shall bring some tonic for you.”

Prakash Maasi lay her head on his chest, sobbed and cried. She felt that a cloud had passed and cleared the sky. Good old days were back again. Death almost came but had turned away. She felt that all her prayers had been heard.

The whole day long she went about doing work in the house very happily. With a lighter step, and lighter spirit. She gave bath to her baby, dressed her up, chanted her prayers.

In the evening her husband came home early. For the first time he held his daughter in his arms and played with her. Then he sat down with Prakash Massi to have dinner. At night Maasi slept in his arms.

Next morning was full of dewy fragrance. That day again Prakash Maasi’s husband chanted the verses of Japjee Sahib in a loud voice. Ready to leave for the office, he had proper breakfast. Then, as if he remembered something very important, he took out a little wrapped-up paper from his pocket, and said, “Oh, I forgot yesterday. I had been to the doctor. Here is the tonic. First, eat only this one dose. If it suits you, then he will give medicine for the whole month.” He put in her hand that medicine wrapped up in a tiny paper. “Eat it right now”, he said, and left for his office.

Maasi held that tiny paper-packet on her palm and her heart sank with fear. Tonic? In paper-packet? One dose only? She touched the stuff lightly with the tip of her finger. A kind of powdery thing. She put it on the tip of her tongue. There was a burning sensation. Instantly a little boil appeared on the tip of her tongue.

She shuddered. No matter how horrible life may be, but one shudders at the really horrible face of death.

Prakash Maasi really wanted to show that sachet to someone and ask whether it was poison. She wanted to go to her sister’s house and show it to her sister’s husband. He was a fine gentleman. It was his mother who was wicked.

But she did not have the guts to cross the threshold of her house.

She quietly threw the contents of the sachet under the tap to flow away with the water and vanish. She pulled her child tightly to her breast and kept sobbing.

In the evening, when he returned, he saw her and fumed with anger.

“Did you have your medicine?”

“Yes I did”, Prakash trembled and replied.

“Don’t talk rubbish! You didn’t! Now you have started lying to me too?” He gave one tight slap on her face.

Once again her life started creeping inch by inch towards death. Be it day or night, every moment she was being slaughtered. She pined and prayed for endurance.

In a few days Guru Gobind Singh’s birthday was to be celebrated. An auspicious day for all Sikhs, when all the gurudwaras reverbrate with singing of holy hymns, and free food is served to everybody who visits the gurudwara, the Sikh temple.

The evening before that, Prakash Maasi’s husband again started pampering her. Again he asked forgiveness for his sins and crimes. He said, “Tomorrow Gurupurab is to be celebrated. It seems at night Guru Gobind Singh himself shook me up and rebuked me for my deeds. “My follower, get up. Your wife is crying her heart out. What is the purpose of your life? Enough is enough!” “So I woke up to Guru’s beckoning. I must obey the Guru’s orders. On the day of this Gurupurab, we shall start a new life. Let bygones be bygones. You must forget everything! I shall bring so much happiness in your life, that you’ll forget the love and affection of your parents.”

He woke up early in the morning. He bathed. He came out as Maasi was making tea. He said, “No! today we’ll go to the gurudwara fasting. We’ll listen to ‘aasa di vaar’ without having eaten a morsel. I don’t want tea. Yes, if you wish, you may have it.”

He knew that she wouldn’t eat a grain unless she had fed her husband first. How can a worshipper put anything in her own mouth before making an offering to God? God, the husband!

All this scheme was to keep Maasi on empty stomach, so that when poison was given to her, it should have an immediate effect. Within seconds. Even the air in the room would fail to realize when and how her last breath mingled with it.

Both left for the gurudwara without eating anything. There she continued breast-feeding her baby on empty stomach.

In the afternoon, with great difficulty she found her husband in the crowded section of men, and suggested that they should return.

He knew that she must be really hungry. Her stomach must be starved and crying for food because she was breast-feeding her baby. That is exactly what he wanted. She would not eat the langar food, as only light digestable special meal is taken when babies are breast-fed.

The long and short of the matter was that Prakash Maasi remained hungry past afternoon.

On reaching home, he got busy in lighting candles around parapets and verandah of the house. The evening shadows were lengthening. In loud and clear voice he chanted shabads, the holy verses.

Maasi’s heart was sinking with hunger. As she was making fire to cook, she peeped into the rent house. She asked her neighbour whether she had half a roti, as her heart was slipping towards her knees because of hunger. Her legs trembled. Her eyes went hazy. She told her that she hadn’t eaten anything since last night.

Hunger must be a monstrous thing. Maasi was the last person to ask for food, even if it was from a neighbour, who told her that she had half a chapati left over from lunch.

That half chapati she ate, with a little mango pickle. She picked up the ‘angithi’ in which charcoal was getting amber-red, and came in.

She set the water to boil to make tea and began chopping cauliflower and other vegetables to be cooked.

Having lighted the candles all around the terrace, her husband came down singing holy hymns in his loud voice. He called Maasi into the room saying that there was something important to be discussed.

Maasi said she’d come once she added seasoning and spices to the cauliflower. He ordered her to rush at once.

Once she entered, he placed a capsule on her palm, “This is poison, this is arsenic. Now either you eat it, or I will eat it. I am madly in love with Tari. I cannot live without her. That is the reason I used to tell you to go back to Lahore. You never did. Now this is the only course left. Either you die or I die.”

When he said all this, he was neither out of himself with rage nor was it a sudden stupid idea. This was well-thought of, well-planned, well-calculated, properly planned murder.

….Maasi, knowing fully well that she was being killed, accepted this murder. She said, “No, in front of my own eyes, with my consent, how can I let you consume poison? If this is your final decision, then I shall eat it”

Her husband gave her that capsule and a glass of water in her hand.

Staring death in the face, she made one last request, “….but… what will happen to this little girl? Can’t it be possible that you get married to Tari and I remain with you like a servant, and look after this child? Even as she stared death in the face she made this last request.

“No. that can’t be. That cannot happen as long as you are alive”.

Maasi almost tumbled the capsule in her throat and gulped it down with water.

His plan was actually flaw-less. He had planned that when the poison went into her system, it would at once have its effect as she had been on empty stomach for almost twenty four hours. Arsenic would rip the stomach and finish off her life within seconds.

But his scheme went astray because Maasi had eaten that bit of chapati given by her neighbour. As a result, as soon as the capsule dissolved in her stomach, she had to throw out what she had eaten. So she started vomiting fiercely.

That moment when she stood on the threshold of death she shed all shame, pride, and her loud wails tore the walls of the room.

Her shrieks and screams could be heard in the neighbourhood too.

The neighbour ran inside, “What happened?” Prakash Maasi’s husband answered promptly, “Perhaps she over-ate at the ‘langar’. She could not digest the heavy lentils perhaps. I fear it may be a slight infection of cholera.”

He had already planned to say this of anyone questioned.

‘Eating at ‘langar’? She was absolutely on an empty stomach since yesterday. Half-a-chapati that she ate was at my place’: the kindly neighbour thought to herself. She was bewildered. She didn’t say a word. Troubled and worried she quickly went and brought her husband over, who went and promptly got a doctor.

The doctor said, “It is obviously a case of poisoning. It is a police case.”

Consequently the police came, squatted there nice and proper.

The neighbour called my grandparents in Lahore on phone.

I have no idea why doctors continued treating her at home. May be she was not in a condition to be taken to the hospital.

From Lahore my grandmother, uncle and Bhaiyyajee, my grandfather, arrived.

The food pipe from the throat, all the way to the stomach and beyond was torn and burst. Inside her mouth she had bleeding wounds and swelling. She was thirsty, but could not swallow a sip of water.

She did not give any statement to the police. Every time the police interrogated her, she would shake her head conveying that she could not speak. However, when no police constable was around, when the nurses were nowhere near, when the doctor, having fixed glucose tubes, cleaned the stomach, extracted some of the poisoned blood and transfused some fresh blood, would leave, then and then alone would Prakash Maasi tell her mother all the details. “What else could I do? Could I raise to the ground the honour of our family? Sitting at the door of Bhaiyyajee’s house would have been such a blot on his revered ‘pagri’, blemish the honour of the family. Wouldn’t I be taunted all my life by my brothers’ wives? Wouldn’t I have orphaned this delicate, little baby daughter? I have simply carried out what you taught me. The house where I entered in the bridal ‘doli’, I will depart from here in a shroud”.

As my grandmother would clasp her daughter to her bosom and wail, earth missed revolving on its axis, and the sky trembled.

At any opportunity that fellow who called himself her husband, and who was her murderer, would throw his head on her feet and cry, “Oh! I have done wrong. Just forgive me this time. I’ll keep you happy like a queen. If you disclose all this to the police, I shall rot in jail. You are recovering now. What will you do by yourself? Alone? And…this daughter of yours! Who will accept her, after her father is sentenced to imprisonment for attempting murder?”

“You are a goddess. Please forgive this sinner. All my life I will wash your feet.” Thus he would kiss Maasi’s feet. He would wipe his tearful eyes with her toes.

Consequently, Maasi did not give any statement whatsoever to the police. 

………………

On the seventh day the doctor told my grandfather, “Congratulations, Sardarjee. Your daughter is eventually out of danger. There has been a total blood transfusion. The wounds of the stomach are also healing. I am taking out the glucose drip. Today you can give her lentil soup to drink, with God’s blessings. But only give two or three spoonfuls. After eight days she is going to be fed by mouth, so be careful.”

My grandmother placed the pan of lentils to cook on the mud-oven, ‘chulha’. Her eyes brimming with tears of gratitude, she prayed to God who had given this new life to her daughter, had brought her back from the clutches of death.

Bhaiyyajee was sitting in the verandah. My grandmother opened a knot in the corner of her ‘dupatta’, the long scarf, gave him one hundred rupee note and said, “Please go to the gurudwara and offer this money for the ‘langar’ as a token of thanks to the Almighty.”

My grandmother sent a thousand thanks to God in her thoughts, and with that she gave a little lentil soup to Prakash Maasi. With the first spoon, Maasi said, “It is tasting very bitter.”

Bhabi jee said, “After many days you are eating something. That is why…..”

Second spoon. Then the third spoonful. Instantly, Prakash Maasi vomited so violently that the walls of the room shuddered. She had thrown up a lots of blood. She had thrown up pieces of flesh. Within seconds Prakash Maasi died. All was over.

Absolutely towards the end, when the Police Inspector asked her to at least write down some statement, she wrote on the paper in a zig-zag scribble, ‘Dadda dosh na deeje kaahu, dosh karramma aapnnian’ meaning ‘never blame anyone, the fault lies in one’s own past deeds and karmaas’. The pen tore the paper, the nib broke in her twisted finger, which became still.

She fluttered, gasped, and was cold for ever. She was gone.

My grandmother could not fathom what had happened. “I just fed her lentil soup…. only a little lentil soup….lentil….”

Police took the soup pan in their custody. Lentil soup was tested. It apparently had arsenic.

At the time my grandmother was giving the hundred rupee note to Bhaiyyajee to be offered at the gurudwara, Maasi’s husband crept into the kitchen and mixed this deadly poison in the cooking ‘daal’.

My grandmother was too shocked to cry. In that state of shock every nerve in her brain went numb. In that shock she lost her mind. She went actually crazy. Had a massive nervous breakdown.

For four to five years my grandmother sat like a stone. Once in a while she would play the ‘dholak’ and sing auspicious wedding songs, “Oh, my daughter, go to your own house…. From your mansions my palanquin cannot pass…oh, I shall get a row of bricks removed, but you have to go to your own house, o daughter….”

When the first time Maasi was given arsenic and was almost on her death-bed, when the doctors were doing their best and were busy with blood transfusions, there was hardly any hope of her surviving.

She told her mother one of those days, “Here are the keys. Open my cupboard. My ornaments are in the safe, in there. They should be used to get water-taps fixed in the gurudwara.”

My grandmother wailed and said, “My daughter, why are you so very depressed? Prakash, my child, you will certainly get well.”

But Prakash Maasi insisted, “No, right in front of me, you remove those ornaments from there, and keep them with you.”

When she ultimately died due to poisoning, four or five days later, those ornaments were still tucked away in my grandfather’s pocket.

It was written in the post-mortem report that the lentil soup contained poison. For seven days the doctors had been washing her stomach, and changing and purifying her blood. Hence the case was clear. The police took Prakash Maasi’s husband under custody.

He sent a message to Balwant Maasi’s father to come and meet him in jail, or else….

When the old man went and met him, he told him, “Try and save me and get me out of here, because your daughter is an accomplice in giving poison. So I won’t be alone when I get hanged! If you do not help me to get out of here, I shall make a statement and get your daughter also arrested. I’ll drag her down with me.”

Balwant Maasi’s father-in-law told my grandfather, who was already a completely broken man due to his daughter’s death, “She is dead and gone. Now if you do not save her husband, if you utter a word against him, if my daughter is touched by the police, I shall shoot your other daughter Balwant.”

Everyone advised my grandfather, “One has already died. Now protect and save the other.”

My grandfather had no choice. He himself helped that murderer to be acquitted with the help of a hundred recommendations from the highly-placed Englishmen he knew because of his very high job in the railways, and giving thousand bribes to the lower police hierarchy.

Hardly a month went by when that murderer registered a case against Bhaiyyajee that he had stolen his dead wife’s ornaments. When his wife died, he had a legal right over that gold jewellery, he claimed. He was the rightful heir, the legal husband.

How Bhaiyyajee might have gone through that law-suit, is beyond any pen to express in words. At least not mine!

An old man, baffled and broken with the murder of his daughter, who was carrying out the last wish of his daughter, who died by inches in front of his eyes, was getting water taps fixed in the gurudwara. A father he was, with broken back and trembling turban.

His wife, my grandmother had lost her mind with that unearthly heart-rending death of her daughter. She sat speechless like a statue.

How that old man would have handled that case, and had gone through that hell is not within the power of my diction to describe.

He returned all that jewellery to that murderous man and got the taps fixed with his own money, thus fulfilling the last wish of his dead daughter.

When after the last rites of Prakash Maasi, my grandparents were leaving for Lahore like plundered penniless travellers, Bhaiyyajee picked up the little baby and put her in the lap of his wife who was still as a stone. At once a distant elderly aunt of Prakash Maasi’s husband pounced on him. Like a hawk she pulled the baby from my grandmother’s lap, “She is our property. She will remain here, with us.”

In about four months, news travelled to Lahore that those butchers had killed that little baby girl also. It was not clear whether they actually killed her or she pined and died having been plucked from her mother’s care and milk-filled breast. No one knew.

When Bhabijee heard the news, she only said, “It is God’s blessing. She had taken birth as a daughter. What happiness would she have seen or experienced in life, had she lived?”

Out of the dark corners of her crazy mind how such a clear-thinking outburst would have emanated is beyond my comprehension today. Even at that time it was beyond the comprehension of everyone else.

Many years later, when this whole matter and murder was forgotten, that murderer became the President of that same gurudwara. The Chief. Under the water-taps, on a marble slab, my grandfather had got Prakash Maasi’s name engraved. That man got that particular slab removed.