A young couple sat quietly by the sarovar, gazing at the glittering Golden Temple. The afternoon sun shone on, captivated now and then by the clear water. The girl adjusted her dazzling glass bangles. Her husband smiled as she sat fidgeting with the red and silver. Ever since they had first fallen in love, he hadn’t had eyes for anyone else.
The little boy with the blue cap squealed, pointing downwards. A huge orange fish was swimming about, a black one following suit. She probably thought she was the queen of the sarovar and liked to make that known to admiring human crowds. When evening would descend, she would swim out to the gold. There, she would float and tune her ears to the holy hymns.
Give me strength, God, she prayed. Do forgive my sins and help me be more tolerant of others, more loving. People banged into her in their rush to have their prayers heard. She wondered how many prayers would make it to God that evening. There were distraught wives, happy ones. Frustrated men, proud daddies. Disillusioned teenagers, class toppers. Newly married couples, several hoping to tie the knot. She closed her eyes and bent her head.
The cycle rickshaw wallah advertised the open air comfort of his vehicle. You can see the sights and sounds, he said in Punjabi. Why be cramped in that ugly auto? The driver of the ‘ugly’ auto advertised economy. Moreover, he said, you are one family. Why travel separately? Away from the squabble, an old woman sat in her house, perfecting the dough for paranthas. It took her a while. Like the houses in the street she lived in, she too was growing older by the minute.
The Mummy of the girl with the butterfly hairclip was a talking-walking textbook. Remember you read about this in History last week? General Dyer shooting innocent people at Jallianwala Bagh? Where did the people stand, Mummy? Then her eyes fell on the grass, the walls, the well. Where bullets once splashed blood, now stand rectangular blocks, highlighted with white paint. Visitors peeked; the water deep down stood hushed. The water from where 120 dead bodies were taken out after that fateful evening in 1919. The little girl hid behind her Mummy and tried to focus on the blooming flowers in the garden.
Sabse aage honge Hindustani, screamed the few thousands of people who had gathered at Attari-Wagha border. Dadaji could not sift through the crowd. Seating himself on a stone bench, he noticed how there were people from all parts of the country, speaking different languages and dressed in varied attire. Yet they all stood in the blazing sun, singing with the record – is des ka yaaron kya kehna. yeh des hai duniya ka gehna. On the other side of the gate, he saw on a screen, was gathered another big crowd. But for the barrier, with the BSF standing guard, the crowd could seem identical, almost one. If only he could stand and sing – wohi shaam hai, wohi savera, aisa hi des hai mera, jaisa des hai tera!
I will surely have the paneer, he pleaded. I have heard it is delicious here. She grinned. In the last few years, ever since he had been diagnosed with high cholesterol, she had had a hard time being stern. When they passed roadside vendors, he raised the volume of the car stereo. When an oil company promoted pakoras on primetime television, he switched channels. You can have it, she said. Refusing him shahi paneer at Amritsar’s famous Kesar Da Dhaba – established 1916 – would be a sin.
Promise to be back after we are married? She looked up at him and saw him smiling. He nodded. Of course we will be back. He thought she looked really cute with the pink dupatta around her head. The day had been bright and sunny but now, it was gentle. Quiet. The water glimmered in the darkness – gold, blue, silver. Who needed shooting stars to wish by? This night by the Golden Temple was just about perfect.