For my Mother

Someone always told me this with tears in her eyes

A wife left South Africa in the 1960's to join her husband 

who was in exile at the time.

In 1970 the husband was sent by the African National Congress to India to be its representative there.

The husband and wife spent two years in Bombay.

One afternoon the husband fell and broke his leg.

The wife knocked on their neighbour's door, in an apartment complex in Bombay.

The neighbour was an old Punjabi lady.

The wife asked the neighbour for a doctor to see to the injured husband.

A Zoroastrian 'Bone-Setter' was promptly summoned.

The husband still recalls his anxiety of seeing 'Bone-Setter' written on the Parsi gentleman's bag.

By the way, the 'Bone-Setter' worked his ancient craft and surprisingly for the husband, his broken leg healed quite soon.

But still on that day, while the 'Bone-Setter' was seeing to the husband,

the wife and the old Punjabi lady from next door got to talking about this and that and where these new Indian-looking wife and husband were from as their accents were clearly not local,

the wife told the elderly Punjabi lady that the husband worked for the African National Congress of South Africa and had left to serve the ANC from exile,

and that they had left their two children behind in South Africa and that they were now essentially political refugees.

The Punjabi lady broke down and wept uncontrollably.

She told the foreign woman that she too had had to leave her home in Lahore in 1947 and flee to India with only the clothes on her back when the partition of the subcontinent took place and Pakistan was formed and at a time when Hindus from Pakistan fled to India and vice versa.

The Punjabi lady then asked the foreign woman her name.

'Zubeida', but you can call me 'Zubie'.

The Punjabi woman hugged Zubie some more, and the two women, seperated by age and geography, wept, sharing a shared pain.

The Punjabi woman told Zubie that she was her 'sister' from that day on, and that she felt that pain of exile and forced migration and what being a refugee felt like.

Zubie and her husband Mosie became the closest of friends with the Hindu Punjabi neighbours who were kicked out of Pakistan by Muslims.

Then came the time for Mosie and Zubie to leave for Delhi where the African National Congress office was based.

The elderly Punjabi lady and Mosie and Zubie said their goodbyes.

A year or two later, the elderly Punjabi lady's daughter Lata married Ravi Sethi and the couple moved to Delhi.

The elderly Punjabi lady called Zubie and told her that her daughter was coming to Delhi to live and that she had told Lata, her daughter that she had a 'sister' in Delhi.

Lata and Ravi Sethi then moved to Delhi.

This was in the mid-1970's.

Lata and Zubie became the closest of friends and that bond stayed true, and stays true till today, though Zubie is no more, and the elderly Punjabi lady is no more.

The son and the husband still have a bond with Lata and Ravi Sethi.

A bond that was forged between Hindu and Muslim and between two continents across the barriers of creed and time.

A bond strong and resilient, forged by the pain and trauma of a shared experience.

And that is why, and I shall never stop believing this, that hope shines still, for with all the talk of this and of that, and of that and of this, there will always be a simple woman, somewhere, anywhere, who would take the 'other' in as a sister, a fellow human.

And that is why there will always be hope.

Hope in the midst of this and of that and of that and of this.


(for Lata-aunty's late-mother, who was my mother's 'sister' and who took us all into her heart, and for Lata and Ravi Sethi of Defence Colony, New Delhi)

Afzal Moolla was born in Delhi, India while his parents were in exile, fleeing Apartheid South Africa. , He then travelled wherever his parent's work took them and he still feels that he hasn't stopped travelling. , Afzal works and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa and shares his literary musings with his most strident critic - his 12 year old cat. 

Last updated July 14, 2015