- Many Dreams Later!
Liye Jaati Hai Kahin Ek Tawaqqo Ghalib. (A certain hope drives me on, O Ghalib!)ghalib
A certain hope had brought me here the first time—and with what joy and excitement I had come! I had waited a long time for the opportunity. Naturally, I was very excited and wished I had wings. My desire to visit my basti was intense, but the path refused to reveal itself. I made repeated attempts to go, but always had to turn back at its threshold. I once found a way forward, but an old vagabond dream of mine blocked the path. Again I was forced to turn back. Now, after so many years, I have arrived on the threshold once again with the same hope, the same joy and excitement, and I am on the path to my neglected basti.
Well, this time I’m not going to be turned back. A caravan accompanies me, and the shadow of Khwaja Khizr1 is walking beside me. Also, my basti is not as unforgiving as it was before. How quickly we find our way, and how many landmarks flash across my memory! But what is this? Is my memory fading? Have all those landmarks, imprinted in my memory for so long, been erased?
“Arre Bhai Prem Kumar, where are we? These paths are bewildering. I don’t know which one to take.”
“Intizar Sahib, we are in Dibai.2 Show us a landmark that’ll lead us to your mohalla.”
“That’s what I can’t find.”
Has time erased all the landmarks one by one? I look around. From one end to the other, the bazaar is crowded with people. But all the faces are unfamiliar and the surroundings are alien. Where have all the old buildings gone? I try hard to recall a landmark that time would not have disfigured. At last, memory gives me a clue!
“Prem Kumarji, there must be a shop somewhere in this bazaar that survived. Mitthan Lal Halwai’s sweetshop? Mitthan Lal’s gujias3 were famous far and wide; they still are. Please ask someone where the shop is.”
“Yes, yes, I’ve heard about it, too. Let me find out.”
And who is Prem Kumar? Well, he is like Khwaja Khizr, a god-sent guide. He joined us at Aligarh, where he is a professor of Hindi. Noticing my anxiety, he had said, “I am familiar with Dibai. I will accompany you.” So, here we are! He found where Mitthan Lal’s sweetshop was. He instructed the driver to turn into a certain lane, and lo, we were in front of Mitthan Lal [End Page 189] Halwai’s sweetshop. Exactly as it used to be; the same old look. Time had done it no harm.
So, how come Dibai has changed? Wrong! Dibai has not changed. Maybe I have, and that’s why Dibai can’t recognise me. After all, no self-respecting basti reveals its secrets to strangers easily. But Mitthan Lal Halwai . . . where is he? The man sitting at the counter—lean build, wheatish complexion, dressed in white dhoti kurta, bespectacled—is someone else.
For my own satisfaction I ask, “Is this Mitthan Lalji’s shop?”
“Ji, yes.” The man looks at me with curiosity.
“But where is he?”
“He left for paradise long ago. I’m his son.”
“This shop is famous for gujias. But I don’t see any.”
“They are being prepared. They’ll be ready soon.”
“Okay, I’ll return at another time.” I came to the point: “Tell me, will our car fit through that narrow lane?”
“Han ji, it will.”
“Are you sure it won’t get stuck?”
“Nahin ji, it won’t.”
I recognised the lane and confidently told Asghar Wajahat, “Now let’s go straight. My house isn’t very far.”
So Asghar Wajahat, too, is with me. How come? Well, listen: I came to Delhi at the invitation of Dr. Gopichand Narang,4 to attend a seminar on Sajjad Zaheer5 organised by the Sahitya Akademi. There I met Obaid Siddiqi, who had previously worked for the BBC...