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Two Family Stories by Sivasish Biswas


Captain Gurbaksh Singh Atariwalla! My father’s best friend from the Military. Whenever he would visit our place, he would shout : ‘Biswas darling!’ in his loud, nasal voice from the gate ... and my father would run out like a school-boy and straight into the out-stretched arms of his friend! It was a sight to see! Two big hefty ex-army officers – locked in a tight embrace outside the gate right on the road! with generous back-slapping and even more generous tangy Punjabi gaalis freely exchanged! All for love...the Army mess comraderie! Accusations and allegations – ‘why havn’t you saala written to me so long?’ ‘You didn’t reply to my letter why should I write again?’... the more spicy gaalis cannot be reproduced with due reverence to the Heavenly status of the two dear friends!

By that time a bunch of children and some curious neighbours would have collected to enjoy the spectacle!

So close at heart were these two friends that one post-card with a terse ‘Biswas come immediately!’ was enough to make my father jump onto a train and travel 36 hours towards the border town of Atari. And my school vacation being on, he took me along.

We were received in style by Captain Gurbaksh Singh Atariwalla himself with a jeep at the station and taken to his house. As we approached, the neighbourhood seemed excavated. He spoke to my father in hushed tones : ‘Tell you everything after nashta ...’ Entering the sprawling house – we were greeted by Aunty, fat and matronly, and an army of girls. Gurbaksh Uncle joked that he had one son and only one dozen daughters! A cricket team with one extra to carry the drinks! And gave me a bone-crushing slap on the back : ‘Changa hai!’- and declared that I can pick and choose! The girls giggled...some turned away ... I believe I turned red too.

There was an imposing painting of a Sardarji in the hall. ‘My grandfather – General Shyam Singh Atariwallah!’ announced Gurbaksh Uncle. He was Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s General, and Atari was his jaigir from the king. Half the land is in Pakistan now. Whenever the army was victorious in battle, the lion’s share of the loot would go to the General, with due tributes paid to the king. And Maharaja Ranjit Singh was so satisfied with his fierce General that villages and land kept on getting added to Shyam Singh’s jaigir! And Shyam Singh looked real war-like and grand, sitting on a white horse, wearing white kurta pyjamas with a white turban and black nagra shoes! But most impressive was his sword – hung from his broad shoulders by a black belt, the hilt of shining gold, and the scabbard of shining gold. Even the horse looked proud and war-like!

This General Shyam Singh had hoarded a huge treasure from his military campaigns, and like the olden days, he kept it with his person always under heavy guard. But towards the end of his life, when he understood that his treasure would be looted away, he very wisely buried it in some secure and unknown place. He never told anyone the secret in his life-time. But on his death-bed, he gave his eldest son a Guru Granth Sahib, his famous sword of many campaigns, and a piece of paper with a diagram and a riddle written in Gurmukhi Punjabi. The riddle gave the directions of how and where to find the treasure. Underneath was a threat : ‘If anyone dares to access my treasure before time, my curse on him : may he die a pauper! I am leaving it behind for the grandson of my grandson!’

General Shyam Singh’s sons presumably never tried to find out the hoard. The peril of their father’s curse was too strongly dreaded in those days. But Gurbaksh Uncle was his grandson, and at that point of time, his grandson, too, had been born...Shyam Singh had uttered ‘I am leaving it behind for the grandson of my grandson!’ Gurbaksh Uncle’s son Major Bansi Singh was in the Army posted in Kashmir