Midnight strolling on The Mall, Shimla when the temperature had dipped to 3 degrees and even the dogs had taken shelter in creeks or cozy hideouts, I was the lone soul out there heaving deep breaths after having walked up the Command steep from Shimla bus stand on my way home. The mist and fog had wrapped the pole mercury bulbs, which could barely pierce the mist and appeared only like tiny bulbs.
The vast expanse of Mall road at Scandal Point appeared like a play ground bereft of the day’s crowd. Lone, yes but as I was engrossed in my own thoughts. there I noticed mysterious human shadows walking ahead towards The Ridge. Just close to the Gaiety Theatre as I slowed down to overhear their conversation I could figure some more human shadows overlooking the cascades of renovated structure of historic theatre, a legacy of the British Raj.
A bit scared, I chose to walk slowly along the railing. Of two figures strolling at a slow pace one was walking with a tall stick. To my surprise the frail old man was clad only in a dhoti. The sight sent shivers down my spine as I was shivering in cold waves hitting me in the open. How come he was braving the cold in jus a lion cloth at such an unearthly hour, I wondered! The other guy was donning a majestic turban and full Sherwani over his churidar lowers.
“You know I sacrificed my life for the freedom of the country and how these so called neo politicians are bringing the country to a shame in the name of caste, religion, regions and selfish thoughts.”, the one in turban was overheard saying. “There was never a divide between Hindus and muslims, as we laid our lives for the cause of freedom”, I heard him say. “Don’t you think Gandhi ji that your decision of partition was wrong?”, he added.
“No, Lala ji, after your sad demise at the hands of cruel Britishers, the Congress was all getting divided. I was only trying to keep the flock together” the frail leaning man said.
“And to please your staunch followers you accepted division of the nation?” the turbaned man spoke. “But what you got by coronation of Nehru and Jinnah in a divided India?. Only you yourself became the first casualty of independent india? And a lot of bloodshed during partition, which is still going on”.
“Till we were fighting for nation’s freedom, Congress was united, but on gaining power they became a divided lot”, the frail looking man uttered in disgust. “And becoming the first toll of independent India I am not anguished nor annoyed with Godse or the group he belonged to. I am thankful to him for having relieved me of many more sour experiences”.
“Bapu, you know when I was fatally wounded in the cane charge by the British controlled police, the one thing that came to my mind was ‘each and every blow of lathi on my body would prove to be a nail on the coffin of Britishers”.
“Yes that was in 1928 and exactly 20 years later I too laid my life”. They both laughed saying “and happily we are statued at one place”. “But your finger warning the Britishers remains stiff and erect the same way it was, alas the present politicians could understand it,” Bapu was heard uttering with a sigh.
A little further as they reached Ashiana Restaurant three more shadowy figures joined them. One was that of a woman in saree, the other in the guise of a Himachali leader and the third, of an army officer.
Gandhi ji and Lala Lajpatrai noticed them as all the three bowed down to wish Bapu and Lala. All the five walked a little further when a tired Bapu bid them adieu and merged with his statue and Lala Lajpatrai too disappeared in the mist of cold winter night. Obviously back to Scandal Point.
The woman in saree exclaimed in honour of the great leaders “we bow to their selfless service for the nation. And I draw more inspiration with his true blessing in marriage by giving Firoz his surname”.
The conversation between the three now turned towards the cross border export of terrorism. The one in army uniform expressed his awe on the state of affairs in Jammu & Kashmir and on the killing of army people by Pakistan sponsored terrorists.
“Lt. General Daulat Singh, I admire your contributions to the Indian Army as Commanding-in-Chief of Western Command at Shimla,” the one in Himachali dress said. Alas we lost a dedicated soldier like you in the air crash in J&K,” he added. “Rather the entire Himachal Pradesh is proud of you for your courage”. The army officer bowed his head in honour of the great founder of Himachal Pradesh as an independent state Dr. Yashwant Singh Parmar.
The bold and mighty looking woman in saree couldn’t restrain her feelings on the role of Union Government in tackling the Pakistan problem. “Only I had the guts to take on Pakistan head on in 1965 and 1971 after we became an independent nation.. And I could force them out of Bangladesh thus breaking their backbone” she said.
“Of course madam that is the wound they still nurse in their hearts,” Parmar was heard saying. “You truly proved to be an iron lady drawing international honours”, he uttered. “What do you think of Pakistan threats of nuclear war madam”?.
“Bullshit, their borrowed technologies have never worked in earlier wars, and now their brags too will prove hollow” the iron lady laughed.
“I wish I could again prove my mettle in the battlefield” the army officer said.
Walking slow the three stopped in the middle of The Ridge maidan and suddenly disappeared. Obviously statued again.
Nearing the huge tree close to Padam Dev complex I again looked back at the statues of Indira Gandhi and Mahatma Gandhi overlooking each other while Dr Parmar and Lt General Daulat Singh in the park.
Was it a daydream in the midnight I wondered as I hurried home? But truly the whole thought process was triggered by the ongoing Indo Pak relations boiling at the level. The Uri killings of Indian soldiers and earlier Pathankot attack and also the militant dictated Sharif government in Pakistan.
Obviously the Pak threat of Nuclear war fare threatening lakhs of lives was also on the back of mind. The beads of sweat on my face again needed to be wiped off as cold clime was chilling my moistened shirt.