At a low moment in his life, a father takes comfort in the lessons of history that his children had playfully discussed.
“DO YOU know what Gen Grant said to Gen Lee when the later surrendered during the American Civil War?,” asked Junaid, the eldest of his three siblings. He was testing the general knowledge of his younger sister and brother.
“He said – War is a strange game where the best warriors lose,” Sayeeda replied back proudly.
“It may not be exactly what he said but it was exactly what he meant,” replied Sayeeda who was confident of her reply.
The children were soon aware of their father’s presence and they cried with joy “Daddy is back, Mama. Dad is back from work.”
“No son, this is no longer the era of conventional wars. I had seen the coffins of the martyrs only.” As the subject turned serious and dreary, nothing more was said on this topic.Days and nights went by in the same pleasant rhythm. The family could have lived the common life of happiness had the pink slip not appeared on the father’s desk one day.
For long, he had a very good job. It was steady, safe and secure. He used to attend many seminars and lectures; he used to go on company sponsored tours and visits, national and international.A bolt from the blue came when the big corporations and banks across the world began to collapse. A time that had began with pleasant certainties seemed to be turning into the darkest evening. That day he returned home a different man. That day, he believed he had an answer to the last question asked by Abid.He thought he might have said, “I have not seen a vanquished soldier but look at your dad today and you can see what you were looking for.” He was imagining how Gen Lee or Raja Porus must have felt when they returned home to face their wives after defeat. Everyone has to fight his own kind of battle and everyone has to bear his own cross. He was a modern day Lee and Porus welded into one.
Instead of going home he went to the dargah at Mehrauli. It was a place that had seen the rise and fall of many dynasties; it was the place where the last Mughal emperor Bhahdur Shah Zafar wanted to come after his throne was thrown into the dust. It was the place where Prithivi Raj Chauhan had meted eighteen defeats to Mohammed Gori. It seems that when nothing else can console, history takes you in its lap. You sleep while you are awake. As he entered the gate of the dargah, the shoe-keeper asked him to hand over his shoes. When he checked his pocket for change, he realized that he had forgotten his purse in the company toilet.
Resigned to fate, dejected and disappointed, he told the shoe-keeper,”I have no money to give today. Let my shoes be there. No one will take them.”
“Whoever has taken your money from you will also arrange for the removal of your shoes. Give them to me. I shall keep them for you. I am not asking you for money,” Reluctantly he agreed. He spent some time inside the dargah. He emerged from the dargah relieved, and the shoe-keeper welcomed him with a broad smile.
“Listen brother, you might have been a poor man when you entered this gate. You are a rich man now. You went with faith and hope. As long as you hope there is a possibility of better life. Hope is the antidote against cynicism, fear, apathy and malaise. Have you not had any faith you wouldn’t have come here.”
Suddenly there was a ring from his mobile. The call was from his boss.
“We are sorry for the letter we had issued this morning. Come back tomorrow and resume your duty. Your purse is lying in my office. Have a nice evening.”