After their meal, Sohan Singh and Prakash Singh took refuge from the persistent mosquitoes—which, Sohan Singh remarked, sucked blood as efficiently as the British—in the inner vaulted chamber where the great Mughal lay buried. It was considerably cooler there and as they sat beside the sarcophagus with its intricate and faintly glowing pietra dura work, the marble floor felt pleasant to the touch. Sohan Singh broke the silence. “Brother, why do we not see what is obvious? These goras devoured our Punjab because Sikhs intrigued against Sikhs, Khalsas fought the Dogras, and the Muslas sided with the Afghans against us. All the while, Company Bahadur kept extending its borders and sucked up the lifeblood of Punjab, like the akash bail strangulates a tree so that there is nothing left but a squeezed-out stump enmeshed in tendrils resembling thousands of spindly yellow snakes.”
“Don’t forget that we have been fighting and killing each other for a very long time—long before the firangi ever came.” Pointing to the marble sarcophagus with his foot, Prakash Singh responded, “Look! For here before us lies, after all, the man who had Guru Arjan Dev killed.” After staring at the Mughal’s grave for some moments, he continued bitterly, “Firangi or no firangi, we would still be clawing at each other’s faces in the name of dharam. The firangi isn’t emotional like us. His dharam is only paisa. He is quick to convert anyone who can’t resist the lustre of the yellow coin, provided the new convert can help the firangi find more loot. And crafty as a fox, he knows all the tricks to keep us, if it suits him, frothing like mad dogs in the summer sun. It’s strange though, how roles change . . . Today, we look to the very regiments that sharpened their swords on our flesh in our wars with the gora, to rise against the firangi. And the Sikhs who gave them battle then, like myself, have become the naukar of Company Bahadur. All the Bengal Native Infantries are crawling with caste Hindus and Muslims—poorabiyas; I am but one of a few Sikhs. But more and more Sikhs now fight for the firangi as mercenaries or regular soldiers. Yesterday’s rebels are today’s trusted troops and yesterday’s troops are tomorrow’s rebels— even the firangi is confused about who to trust. Who is loyal and who is not? As for me, the enemies of the past are today’s comrades, for we all smoulder in our loathing for the Raj.”
“But, Prakash Singh, it wasn’t always so among us. After all, it’s said that the foundation of Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar was laid by Hajrat Mian Mir Saab. Even today, our people travel to his shrine to pay their respects and seek blessings, don’t they?”
“That’s what I also believe, but then I also know some who would rather not have anything to do with the Muslims. They lack the seeing eyes of our Gurus. Holy people recognize spiritual merit everywhere; evil men see nothing but evil,” Prakash Singh said quietly.
Sohan Singh reflected on this. “Perhaps at all times and especially during times like these, we must all think of men of God, like Hajrat Mian Mir, whose hearts were large enough to embrace all of mankind. He is never forgotten. Unlike Jangeer Badshah, who lies here all alone.” And then he laughed. “Alone except for the beasts that roam the jungle and the khalsas who find cool refuge in his tomb.”
Prakash Singh locked eyes with his friend. There was a marked steeliness in his voice. “Yes, Sardara. We need to come together and remember Hajrat Mian Mir . . . For he belongs to us all. And even more so the Mian Mir Cantonment, for that will determine whether we will ever live again as real men or if freedom will simply be what a slave can dream of, but never live to see.” He paused and then spat out, “These firangi bastards don’t even leave our saints alone. Tainting his holy memory by naming their fauji cantonment after one who only preached love and peace!”
Excerpted from Osama Siddique’s Snuffing Out The Moon with permission from Penguin.