x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The dishonest bridegroom is now the suitor of Indian politics

Seventy years ago, my friend betrayed his fiancée. These days, Indian politics also often end in tears.

Minuscule coal particles from the steam engine flew into our train compartment through the windows, and soon our clothes were dusty and black. But we did not mind. It was 1942, and we were in jubilant spirits during that train journey from Lahore to Gurdaspur, (in British Punjab, now in India).

Our mate Chandulal was getting married and six of us were accompanying him as his guests to the bride's house in Gurdaspur. We were all hostel-mates in Lahore, and so we had accepted his invitation to attend the marriage.

Chandulal was a tall, handsome and charming lad, and he was ecstatic about his wedding. "This is going to be a unique marriage," he proclaimed. "The bride will not cover her face. I will garland her and she will reciprocate."

True, in the 1940s, Indian brides never revealed their faces during wedding ceremonies. The long, traditional veil covered their faces completely.

Around noon, the train ground to a halt at Batala station. Two tough-looking men boarded our compartment. "We want to speak to you," said one to Chandulal. He disembarked, and we followed him onto the platform.

And as Chandulal talked in a huddle with the two men, he started gesticulating wildly. We were intensely concerned and wondered what the commotion was about.

The engine blew two quick shrill blasts and the guard unsheathed his green flag and raised it to wave the train on. Clearly, it was about to depart from Batala station.

We were getting panicky, but the two men and Chandulal were still engaged in a frenzied discussion. So, we quickly retrieved our trunks. As the train started to move out, the tough-looking men boarded it. The train chugged on to Gurdaspur, without us.

Chandulal stood forlorn on the isolated platform with his iron trunk containing his new wedding cloths. We crowded around him seeking some explanation of these bizarre developments.

"We have to return to Lahore," he announced.

"But what happened? Who were these men? Is the bride ill? Is her family troubled about something?" we asked him.

Chandulal did not respond, remaining silent and petulant.

The train to Lahore was not due for many hours. We strolled on the platform, had some tea and ate spicy Punjabi samosas. Chandulal would neither eat, nor talk.

The return journey was very sombre. Chandulal sat next to a window and gazed silently into the dark night, absolutely miserable. We whispered among ourselves, speculating what could have gone wrong.

Returning to Lahore, we resumed our normal routines. The mystery of the aborted wedding still baffled us, but we never spoke to Chandulal out of sensitivity for his feelings.

One day we found him very morose. On quizzing him, the dam burst forth. He blurted out: "I am already married. I saw the Gurdaspur girl at a friend's wedding. She is very pretty and I wanted to marry her also. However, I did not want to separate from my first wife.

"So I just lied to the Gurdaspur girl's family saying that I am a bachelor. The night before the wedding, the bride's family discovered that I was already married. That's the reason they sent those two men to stop us at Batala railway station."

We were flabbergasted. "Had we reached Gurdaspur, the bride's family would have clobbered you. They would also have beaten us to a pulp, presuming that we are party to your immorality," we scolded him. "Do you realise how embarrassed the bride and her family would be?"

Chandulal did not respond to our indignation. He was drowning in despair.

Finally, he finished his tale of woe: "Now, my wife has discovered my Batala escapade. She has walked out on me." Somehow, none of us felt too sorry for Chandulal then.

I am reminded of this story far too often in modern-day India. These days it is common for politicians to change affiliations simply to win an election. Political parties swap alliances, irrespective of ideological considerations, to get a share of the government.

There are many similarities to the capricious conduct of Chandulal, 70 years ago, who had forgotten that those who row in two boats with a foot in each invariably fall between them into the sea.

 

Hari Chand Aneja is an 90-year-old former corporate executive who now keeps busy with charity work