Four days after this piece is published, the Nation will be celebrating its Independence. For some, the day will evoke memories of one of the greatest trans-border migrations in history and the millions, who left home and hearth, braving the perilous journey to the newly born State of Pakistan. There will also be many for whom the day will signify celebration, but without a single thought of how much blood was offered on the altar of freedom and there will also be a group to whom independence meant becoming a millionaire overnight.

There was a time in the 1950s, when an industrial exhibition was held every year in Minto Park (where ‘Minar-e-Pakistan’ now stands). This ‘mela’ not only showcased industry, but was a venue for entertainment, food and fun. My parents were regular visitors to the event and I along with my siblings accompanied them gleefully.

It was during one of these visits, somewhere in 1955 that I saw my father staring at an old man, selling spiced chickpeas on a handcart. The person was dressed in a spotless white ‘kurta pajama’. His ‘desi’ footwear was polished and the white cotton cap on his head was faultlessly creased. The man was accompanied by a young boy dressed in an identical manner.

Moments later, my father grabbed my hand and walking over to the old man, ‘salaamed’ him in a very respectful manner asking me to do likewise. The two conversed for about fifteen minutes, while I wondered at the entire interlude. It was on reaching home that my father recounted a story that haunts me on every Independence Day.

In the years before Independence, Muslims owning textile manufacturing business were not only affluent, but rated as leading citizens of Delhi. When the life and property of Muslims became ‘open game’, one such family gathered whatever they could and boarded a train for Pakistan. This train was stopped between Amritsar and Attari by a mixed mob of Hindus and Sikhs, who indulged themselves in an orgy of killing, rape and looting. The few who managed to escape, included the head of this particular family and his wife, who was pregnant. They finally met up with a group of stragglers and stumbled across the border into safety.

From riches to rags in a single day and bearing the loss of all their family members (including a son), the couple found shelter in the Walton refugee camp. Not content to subsist on handouts, the man sold his wife’s gold ornaments and bought a push cart. He also rented a room in the locality once known as Krishen Nagar, where a child was born to them. The old man in Minto Park was none other than him and had been recognized by my father as an old friend of my paternal grandparent’s family.

In one of my columns, a long time ago, I wrote about a character who ran a ramshackle ‘chapar’ store in an open space behind our house on Queen’s Road. Everyone in the area called him ‘Taoo’, a distorted form of ‘Taya’ or uncle. The man was witty and large hearted letting no child leave without a titbit or ‘jhoonga’. There were times when he would call on my father with the latter emerging from these meetings in a somber mood. Then one day I found this jolly individual, sobbing uncontrollably in a dark recess at the back end of his store. It was much later in life that I came to know of his story.

‘Taoo’ hailed from a small town near Delhi, where his family ran a small, but successful business. When the killing of Muslims began, he along with his mother, father and two sisters joined a group of people who had decided to migrate to Pakistan. As the train carrying Taoo and his family neared Wagah, it was attacked. Severely injured and left for dead, he watched as his entire family was butchered before his eyes. The young man was lucky that a military detachment arrived on the scene and took him to safety. The enigma of Taoo’s meetings with my father now dawned on me. When grief became too much of a burden, Taoo would hasten to find comfort in my father’s benign presence.

It is because of stories like these that I am dedicating this week’s column to all the ‘Taoos’ in the land – to all those, who sacrificed life, loved ones and home, so that they could live out their lives in accordance with Jinnah’s dream.

The writer is a historian.