You could spot him from afar, carrying his large conical basket filled with delicious and crispy ‘papars’ and as he came within earshot his hoarse cry of “Garam Papareeoi!” was enough to impel us indoors for loose change. His name was Din Muhammad, but everyone called him ‘Deenoo Chacha’ because of his aging years and white whiskers. It was generally known that he migrated to Lahore from a village near Jullundur along with his wife and two children, but any query about his family evoked a violent emotion that precluded any more conversation.

Deenoo’spapars were a wafer thin, spicy product made from lentils and roasted over charcoal embers. This added a smoky flavor to this snack making it unique. It was perhaps his love of children or a rapport that sprang up between him and ShadiLal, our driver that this interesting character always took a thirty minute break under the shade of the ‘dharaik’ that grew at the entrance of our garage.

It was during these thirty minutes that ‘Deenoo’ would become the center of our world. He would make magic out of pebbles, paper and bits of string and spell bind us in a world as exciting and fantastic as the best of fairy tales. Then one day his figure did not appear on our drive, nor did he come the next day. ShadiLal avoided answering our persistent questions regarding his absence, until one day he gave us the news that ‘Deenoo’ was no more. It was years later that I heard “Deenoo’s” story from my father, who had heard it from ShadiLal.

When nearby villages began experiencing unrest in 1947, Din Muhammad and his family decided to quietly leave their comfortable home and head for Pakistan and ‘prosperity’. They took what little they could carry and the family of four - husband, wife and two sons aged six and ten, stole out of their home to trek westward. The rising columns of smoke and the stench of death hastened their steps by night, while they hid in standing crops by day.

It was on the second day that they were discovered by a band of marauders and ‘Deenoo’ watched in mute horror as his sons were disemboweled and his wife led away screaming into oblivion. Himself wounded by a spear thrust, the man crawled into a water channel and dragged himself to a metaled road, where he was picked up by an army truck and driven across the border.

Arriving at Walton Camp, his wounds were treated, but he became incoherent, when the camp authorities began asking him about his family and other details. He would sit staring at female inmates of the camp with tears streaming down his cheeks, till rumors began spreading about him and he was told to leave the place and find a job for himself. He never returned to the camp after his expulsion – his days were spent on the roads of Lahore and his nights on some cold ‘thara’. He did not starve as some sons of this great city had set up ‘langars’ for destitute refugees and it was at one such ‘free kitchen’ that he met Sheikh Sahib, a venerable gentleman from Krishen Nagar, who took him in and financed his ‘papar’ business.

To us, ‘Deenoo’s’ story appeared to be a film script, but it provided with some understanding as to why the old man was so affectionate to us children. Perhaps in us, he found a reflection of his loved ones, who were so cruelly taken from him. Din Muhammad’s story is told and retold in my family for the simple reason that it reminds us of the sacrifices made during the creation of our homeland. It also brings home the painful fact that the great transmigration in 1947 spawned many such tales on both sides of the border and that many a family going east must have undergone similar trauma.

The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.