Life goes on and on. Its ends never meet. Neither in the mundane world of realities, nor in fiction. We drag on drearily in the hope that someday these ends may meet. And sometimes we have the illusion that the ends have really joined.
Manohar Lal and his wife had also once lived under a similar illusion. They believed that a great calamity had at last passed over their heads. That the knots that had formed in their lives had been untied. But knots of life never get fully resolved even in stories, much less in one's life. No sooner is one knot untied than another knot forms in its place. The story thus never comes to an end.
One end of Manohar Lal and his family's life was left behind in a small town distantly situated across the border of Pakistan, a country newly carved out at the time of the Partition. With their meagre belongings, the little that they could carry, Manohar Lal and his family had joined the caravan of the countless uprooted people heading for India. The dust raised by their feet hung like a haze in the atmosphere. Like a big river forming into many channels on its onward sweep towards the sea, this vast concourse of unfortunate humanity also proceeded towards the boundary line demarcating the two countries.
Manohar Lal, his wife, and their two children—a little girl in her mother's arms, and Pali, a boy of four, holding his father's finger—trudged along, carrying their bundles on their heads, their weary eyes searching their way through the haze, their ears pricked for any stray remark that might guide them onto the correct path. They were anxious to know the lay of the land and, more than that, what was in store for them.
On the last day, the refugee camp had started emptying out. Carrying their belongings on their heads, the refugees left the camp and proceeded towards the convoy of lorries, ranged one after the other along the road, which would carry them to the border. Holding his son's finger and carrying a heavy bundle on his head, Manohar Lal walked towards the lorries, his wife, Kaushalya, following close on his heels, her baby daughter nestled in her arms. Like her husband, she carried a big bundle on her head. The refugees were frantically throwing their things into the lorries and storming [End Page 56] their way into the vehicles, some of them wriggling in through the windows. Manohar Lal was struggling to push his way towards the entrance when he suddenly realized that his son, Pali, was not holding his finger. Kaushalya had already managed to enter the lorry. Manohar Lal felt no alarm, thinking that the child must be around somewhere. The sensation of the child's grip still lingered on his hand. Everybody was madly pushing from behind. There was a babble of sounds, and the crowd got more frantic with the passing of every moment. The camp managers shouted at the top of their voices, urging the passengers to hurry up and get into the lorries. They had to cross the border before nightfall.
When Manohar Lal failed to find Pali, he became very anxious. He rushed back crying, "Pali! Pali!" but failed to get any response. Becoming alarmed, he raised his voice. His son's name rang in the air above the pervading din. Then he started running frantically alongside the lorries, which had started leaving one by one. The lorry in which his wife was standing with their suckling child was jam-packed, and its horn was blowing insistently, warning the people that it was ready to start. Manohar Lal's throat had gone dry shouting "Pali! Pali!" His legs shook and his head reeled. Such was the irony of the situation for this homeless man: he was shouting for his son on a road crowded with people, and yet he appeared to be shouting in a desert.
He was still searching for Pali when the lorry started moving. His wife's anxious eyes were fixed on her husband in the crowd, and to her horror...