Readers from my generation will remember the television play, Daur-e-Junoon, as Khalida Riasat and Muhammad Qavi breathed their last, clutching pictures of their children and grandchildren, in the forlorn hope that their loved ones would return from across the seas to end their loneliness. I was reminded starkly of this play, when I recently met an old, long lost friend and his wife in Lahore, but what shocked me was the change that had come over the couple since our last meeting. I searched in vain for the naughty smile and the happy radiance that had been their calling card, but found only lurking shadows spawned by loneliness and untold agony. This is their story, with names and places kept anonymous at my friend’s own request - for even in their pain, they were hesitant to ‘embarrass’ their flesh and blood.

They were a happy lower middle class couple, blissfully gifted with two boys and a girl. I remember spending time at their small neatly kept house and basking in the happiness that filled their home. My friend was a government servant, while the wife taught in a private school thus facilitating her children’s education and both parents would often deprive themselves of small needs just to ensure that the young ones got what they wanted.

Seasons chased each other in an unending cycle and hairs turned gray, as the patter of small feet changed to heavy footsteps. My professional commitments and distance reduced interaction with my friends, till one day I heard that one by one, the two boys and the girl had gone abroad for further studies. I was pleasantly surprised by the news and often wondered as to how had my friends been able to generate funds in order to send three children to good overseas universities? On one of my brief visits to Lahore, I went to the house where I had spent many happy hours with the family and found my answer staring me right in the face. I was told by a neighbour that the owners had sold their house and moved out without leaving behind a forwarding address.

Months passed into years as both husband and wife waited, eyes riveted to the door, for news of their loved one’s return. Return they did, only to tell their parents that they had found jobs in the so-called Land of Opportunity and had come to bid goodbye. Wiping a tear away from her face, the mother told me that not once did any of her offspring even say that they would make arrangements for their parents to join them.

These renegades, for this is what they were, now lived their own lives with their children around them, leaving their aged parents with memories and some photographs. Subsisting on his meagre pension and whatever his wife could muster by providing tuition to neighbourhood children, the couple often sat in their bedroom clutching these photographs to their bosoms.

In stark contrast, I know of a young man, who was taken abroad by his parents, when he was just a baby. He grew up to become a professional and one evening saw his father and mother looking nostalgically at old photographs of their home and relatives in Pakistan. It was then that he decided to give up his high-paying job and move back to his roots. He did so and married a wonderful young woman from his native city. I happened to visit the family last Eid and found myself surrounded by love and contentment. I asked the young fellow if he had ever regretted his decision to return. His response humbled me and made him grow tall in my reckoning. He said: “No, never! How can I regret doing something that makes my Mum and Dad happy?”

The other day, the young woman, who cleans our house, told us the story of the family where her father works as a cook. “Baji,” she began addressing my wife, “aap ko pata hai Qiamat aane waali hai ji. Hamara Chota Sahib apne Abba aur Amma ko beemari ki haalat men chor kar walait chala giya hai.” I quickly removed myself from earshot without hearing the rest of her story, as I felt nauseated and full of remorse for the unfortunate young man.

These then are some stories that may even now be unfolding in hundreds of families across the country. I chose to recount these tales in the forlorn hope that maybe somewhere, a home with two aging lonely figures may soon hear a knock and on opening the door, would see their loved ones standing on the threshold to give at least one Daur-e-Junoon, a happy ending.

The writer is a freelance columnist.