Four Decades Ago
Totally uninterested in studies of any sort, he said hilarious things that drove us laughing or made us think of the way we are:
1. Coming from Lucknow, a place with a famous Imam Baa∂a, he asked us one day: "I know who Hasan and Husain are, but who was the third brother called Imam?"
2. He once tried to open a bottle that Nuzhat couldn't open and said: "Aap nay mayree nisvaaniat ko lalkaara haé …"
3. During a car accident we had in August, for which Nuzhat and I had to go to court, Mazhar was always with us. He just could not understand why people were lying against us in court about being at the site when they were not there at the time. I told him they'd been bribed. "Laykin yeh to court haé. Yahaañ to yeh naheeñ kar saktay."
During the days we were appearing in court, the holiday of 6th September arrived. The night before, Mazhar said he'd like to spend the night at his parent's house. Of course, I learnt the next day that he chose that option because he felt that I would have asked him not to go to the picnic he'd decided to go to with some friends. But that's too late to think of, now.
A whole day of crying and sadness in that house - and at ours - went on. The next day we were told by a friend of his that he had tried very hard to swim back but couldn't. The navy boat people who were there had also seen this happen.
"The Navy boat? What Navy boat?"
"The people who are there as coast guards, I think", said the boy.
"There are no coast guards there, " said I, "in fact we don't have such people."
"Ohh, they were there," said the boy. "But they only save the person if he's from the Navy."
I couldn't believe this — and, in fact, I suspected that there was something wrong or was being misrepresented here.
On the morning of the 8th we were told that Mazhar's body had washed up ashore and could we go over to identify him. His brother and I went off to Hawke's Bay and saw his naked body lying there. Mazhar's arms had cracked near the shoulders. Another body had already been taken away yesterday, we were told.
I took off my shirt and covered him as best as I could. I told his brother to go and inform the police and get things started so we could take him home. He left.
While I sat next to Mazhar's body, a young Petty Officer marched up to me and said "Iss ko yahaañ say üthaa layñ. Saahab aur bachay tahelnay aatay haéñ idhar. Yeh jagah saaf hona chaahiyay." ("Please take this body from here. The chief and his family will be walking this way in a while. The place must be cleaned.")
I went to town on him. Totally and as angry as I could get. Perhaps seeing that I was sitting without a shirt he wasn't expecting me to speak in English. When I told him that I was a Merchant Navy Master, he started to say Sorry to me. I then asked him that someone has said there were people from the Navy here. Could they not have helped? He said, "Sir - they are only allowed to help Navy people! It's not their fault, sir." — I could say nothing. I just told him to get his Saahab to go the other way but I would be sitting here until people arrived. He went back, running, to prevent a Navy man see a dead body.
An hour or so, later, the brother arrived with a few policemen and others. "The body is to be taken to the Mortuary at Civil & Military Hospital. You'll have to take it from there." The body was loaded and taken.
We followed. Other friends arrived. We met the family of the other young boy who had also lost his life in the same place. He had gone with Mazhar's friends, too. We were all told to come back the next day because the doctor wasn't at the place and would be there the next day. We shouted at everyone and finally got the phone number of the doctor who should have been there but was at a friend's house. Playing Bridge! He finally agreed to come as soon as he could. We also got some help from the other boy's family who phoned up a couple of people, as did we.
While waiting for the body I walked around and came upon an old man, perhaps 75-ish, crying near there. He was holding an old topi and asking people to donate some money to him. I asked him what the problem was. He said his only son had died by falling off the top of the house and the body had been here for two days. He wanted to bury his son. The people at the mortuary had told him that unless he paid up Rs 500 he could not take the body and that it would be used for medical research by students. He had Rs 430 now and could I give him the rest. I gave him the money. But I said he will not have to pay the amount as I would speak to the doctor. He should keep the money for his son's ghüsl and other things.
The doctor arrived an hour later and insisted that we must allow for a post-mortem. We used everything we could and finally got Mazhar, the other boy, and the old man's son out of there. It took an hour or more, but all we could do we did …
I knew then, as I do now, that we were in a really bad space. Nothing would ever change, except for the worse.