Who will call the PM ‘Mohna’ again?
by Rashmi Talwar
I look at the golden shower cassia tree in my garden and I am reminded of two such cassias growing in far-off Gah village in Pakistan, that I had presented to the late Raja Mohammed Ali, a childhood classmate of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“Meinu mere Mohne nal milva do! Meinu Hindustan da visa mil gaya hai!” was one call I received in May of 2008 from Rajaji alias Babaji. I was aghast! ‘Mohna’ was the nickname he used for the Prime Minister. In March that year I had met Babaji the second time in Katasraj (Pakistan) and carried copies of an article by me in The Tribune about him and his friend ‘Mohna’. I gave a copy to a senior officer of the Indian High Commission at the Katasraj shrine, urging him to issue Babaji a visa.
After four rejections, three months later, Babaji was ready to come to India and elated in anticipation of a meeting with his illustrious classmate – albeit without any appointment!
I looked for ways to fix that seemingly ‘elusive’ appointment, on the Net. I wrote on the PM’s website, even found an IAS officer, seemingly by divine intervention, who helped script a letter and fax to the Prime Minister, but to no avail.
Meantime, a thrilled Babaji, unaware of the ‘trials and tribulations’, called everyday and we agreed on ‘priceless gifts’ for the Prime Minister comprising ‘soil and water’ of the PM’s school and ancestral home in Gah besides ‘tilley wali chakwali juttis’ and a 150-year old ‘resham ka lachcha’ made by Babaji’s grandparents.
A week left, and still no reply! Finally, media had to become my ‘sole-mate’. There were renewed media contacts in Lahore, Amritsar and Delhi. A foreign news agency in Lahore filmed the story about preparations to meet the Prime Minister, and ended it with a question –‘Whether the Pak friend would meet the Indian PM?’ It was featured on BBC just prior to Babaji’s arrival in India. Still no reply!
On Babaji’s arrival a local school gave him a thumping welcome with bhangra by kids at the Wagah Indo-Pak border. The press grabbed bytes of the dancing children, gifts of soil, water and juttis!
The same night an official of the PMO called! More relieved than elated, I requested for accommodation and conveyance in Delhi for them, besides security during travel to Delhi, the following day.
Babaji reached Delhi and was whisked off to a five-star guest house and given a chauffeur-driven car. Two days before the meeting, Babaji urged me to accompany him but my refrain was “this is the time for only friends, not me”.
It turned out to be a most poignant moment between India and Pakistan. Later, a tearful Babaji left India carrying the cassia saplings, a booklet with publications of his visit, a large photo with the Prime Minister and him wearing the chakwali juttis, gifts by the PM of a pair of watches, suits, shawl, dry fruit and Assam tea and even a doctor’s prescription, as live proofs for his village-mates.
Even though Babaji is no more, the entire village safeguards these prized possessions and has even framed the Indian doctor’s prescription — as a historical memory of Gah’s priceless connection with India.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN “THE TRIBUNE” ON SEPTEMBER 30, 2010
FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE TRIBUNE