The Feminist Times
Yaariyan: A Special Place for the Broken Radio
The Radio was the only thing I brought from Pakistan with me”, Bhappaji said when I woke up to find him banging his hand against his broken radio one morning. “Bhappaji” which usually refers to an elder brother in a Punjabi household is what we called our nana (maternal grandfather), and we never understood why. Everyone in our house including nani and their children called him that.
Bhappaji breathing heavily continued, “Through the years I’ve changed its parts and have repaired it more than 20 times, but I think nothing will work today”. The radio made a faint and cracking noise that used to wake us up every day at 4:30 am. Me and my cousins used to hate it because it almost ruined our summer days. But that day I felt really sad for him, he rarely talked about his days in Pakistan, and even my mother knew so little about his childhood, and yet we sensed that he cherished those days and that radio was a significant part of his past.
Bhappaji brushed off his sadness and asked me to wake everyone since it was already 5 am. I told everyone about the broken radio and asked them to come to bhappaji’s room. While all my cousins made their seats in that small room, which was also the pooja room, my nana was happy to see that we cared.
Nana ji started narrating, “it was my 16th birthday, and nothing in the world fascinated me more than the new radios which had just come to our town in Multan. Radios were a luxury back then and we didn't have enough money to buy that luxury, so my friends and I decided to steal it from the most affluent family in our neighbourhood ‘the Sheiks’, who had just got theirs. (Chuckles) I was very naughty back then.” While he told us about this incident, he made sure to give us enough disclaimers that one should never steal - before we could get any ideas from this story.
He continued, “we set the putsch in motion, we asked Zubair Sheikh - our friend and the one and only chirag of the The Sheikh family if we could play in his house, and as sweet as he was, he readily agreed and we were happy that step 1 of our plan was perfectly executed. As soon as we went to his house my eyes were glued to the radio kept on the kitchen counter, and once my friends were busy distracting Zubair, I took the chance and went for the radio. And when I was just about to run from their living room, I was caught by Zubair’s Baba. At first he looked enraged and I was scared to death, but it took him just seconds before he started to laugh out loud, looking at my innocence he forgave me instantly. I was ashamed, I begged him for forgiveness and requested him not to tell my parents, he very generously agreed, but he said to me Rab ne tenu chori karan waste hath ni ditte, kamman waste ditte hai (God gave you hands to earn not steal). But nothing registered to me then as all I wanted was to run away from there.
A few days later the news of partition broke, though we were aware of the crisis going on we never thought it would reach our homes. I remember, all my friends gathered near Thara Sahib, our Gurudwara, to pray for Multan to be declared a part of India, but in no time we had to escape. Thinking of the last night in our house in Pakistan still gives me goosebumps. We were busy packing our things, my mother was sewing her gold jewelry into her dresses and stuffed some in my sister’s band which she used to tie her pony with, but we planned to leave most of our stuff their in the anticipation and hopes of coming back and then taking care of them - we never understood the seriousness of the situation. My friends gathered for the last time around our usual play area, even Zubair was there - he was staying back in Pakistan.
I was ashamed to look into his eyes but then he suddenly started to approach me and pulled his hands from behind handing me the radio from his house. My eyes remained wide open, he told me that his father has asked him to give this radio to me, I felt ashamed again andtold him that I could not take it, but he insisted, when I didn’t give in, he said 'accha iss radio ke 12 aane tere mujhpe uddhar rahe.' Now I know that radio clearly wasn’t worth just 12 anne, we were so naive.”
Bhappaji had tears in his eyes, but also a once in a fortnight smile. He gasped and said, “Next day we left for the refugee camp and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Zubair or any of my friends. But I had this radio with me, some brand new Xp Radio. This is the reason the radio has been with me through all these years, I have repaired it so many times. It was symbolic of my time in Pakistan, and I still owe 12 anne to Zubair which I don’t think I’ll get a chance to return.”
It didn’t strike me then but now when I am sharing this story on his behalf I understand the pain he must have felt while leaving his house behind with nothing but a radio in hand. So many people from partition have so many stories to narrate of their struggles and of the atrocities that they faced, but I’m sure the stories of their friends and the neighbourhood that were left behind must be their favourite, just like Bhappaji held onto his with the highest regard. With a glance on the watch bhappaji asked us to go and have our breakfast, we jumped out of our seats and just as we were about to leave the room, bhappaji spoke, “and by the way, you know what my friends used to call me?”, we exclaimed in unison, "KYA?" He smiled and said “bhappaji”.
(This is a story my grandfather told me about his days in Pakistan, these are true events, unfortunately he is not present with us today to verify the facts, but this is a version I remember)
By Aarzoo A.Guglani