Jayanarayanan and Premnaseer were neighbours as well as thick friends. Their friendship continued till Pranav was born. Not only till Pranav was born, but much after that also. Pranav as a baby, was a chubby, robust active and ever smiling boy. Anybody who saw him, was bound to take him, fondle him, cajole him and be like another baby in his presence. Jayanarayanan was a very proud father of an attractive robust baby. As Pranav grew, he kept buying dresses, toys and what not. Once, he bought a beautiful expensive toy, much beyond his means. It was a battery-operated toy of a buffoon, which upon switching on, would nod the head and turn, round and round and also clap hands. In the name of making the baby, happy and amused, everyone would turn the switch on, and amuse themselves.
Razeeya, Premnaseer’s wife came and played with the boy and while going back home, took Pranav also with her. The toddler had the toy in his hands. Raaji who was Jayanarayanan’s wife, acknowledged them going, and bade bye-bye to her son. He smiled as joyfully as ever. Both, Raaji and Razeeya were also good friends just as their husbands were. Jayanarayanan, better known as Naren, and Premnaseer, fondly called as Naseer were known in the locality as though they were made for each other. Somebody cast an evil eye upon them and suddenly things turned bitter for both.
It was feeding time for Pranav and so he was brought back from Naseer’s place. Nobody took notice of whether Pranav came home with the toy or not. After a few days only, Naren felt the costly toy missing. He searched helter-skelter and hundred times, he asked his wife about the missing toy. It was not traceable. Then she faintly remembered Razeeya carrying Pranav and Pranav carrying the toy while she bade bye-bye to her child. She could not solemnly confirm whether Pranav brought it back or not. So, she told Naren to find out if the buffoon toy was, by any chance lying in their house. Nasser, unaware of anything, at first said he did not have any of Pranav’s toys in his house. But he agreed to make a search of his house and confirm. He asked Razeeya about the missing toy. She too drew a blank face. They both searched hither and thither, but to no avail. Pranav’s favourite toy and an expensive one, such a toy getting lost disturbed them very much. Razeeya remembered carrying the child to her house but, she failed to register the child having the toy with him on that day. She could not strongly put forth her statement. But she told Raaji that they made a thorough search. But, despite that, they could not locate the missing toy in their house. Raaji did not approve it. She very well remembered Pranav, carrying the toy with him. Though she did not pick up a quarrel with her, she turned a wry face and went inside. Razeeya too felt very bad. For no fault of hers, she was made to stand as a culprit, as though she stole and hid the toy on that day and to cover it up, telling a lie today. There stood a veil of curtain and a cold war erupted between the two ladies. Their friendship turned sour. The same thing reflected upon their husbands also.
Days rolled on to months without any change in their sour relationship. One day, suddenly, Naseer came running to Naren’s house with the toy in his hand. He was so full of joy and with great enthusiasm, said,
“See, our housemaid, while sweeping the house, had kept this toy on the loft and we never knew about it. Now, when I was taking out some old books from there, I found it. I am very-very sorry to have upset you people. I am very sorry for Pranav also.”
Naren was not at all impressed by his explanations. He dismissed it, as a cock and bull story, rather, a cooked up one. He strongly believed Naseer deliberately put it on the attic and once, the issue became a cold one, he was now bringing it to patch up. He shrugged his shoulders and did not pay any heed to his ‘lofty’ explanations. He never thought Naseer would steep so low to play with his sentiments and tease him. He thought,
‘How strongly I trusted this fellow! On the contrary, he was mocking at me and fooling with my simpleton attitude. Let him also know that I am no more that old gullible fellow. I have my prestige and honour.’
Naseer, finding Naren stiff and rude, went back with a heavy heart. He was sad for two reasons, -- one mistrust and another, loss of friendship. The old saying that ‘Death of friendship was worse than death of friend’ was very true in his case also. He was wondering whether the good old days would ever come back.
Time and tide wait for none. But, winds of change did not blow on their side. Pranav was no more a toddler. He was a school-going boy. At times he used to wonder, ‘why these elders, once they quarrel, never patch up. We boys do have tiffs and very soon it is all forgotten and we are back to play together with shoulder to shoulder.’
Pranav wanted to see a sports programme on TV. But his father did not allow. He said an important issue was being discussed on TV and the verdict was about to be announced. The whole country was very eagerly watching and waiting. The suspense element was mounting. The outcome of century old issue of Ram Janmabhumi and Babri Masjid was to be announced. Naren was keenly watching the proceedings. The verdict might be in favour of any one community. He was sincerely praying that there should not be any riot or rough handling by any politically motivated group. If so, the whole country might flare up. ‘Oh! God save us and our country.’ Finally, the verdict was pronounced in favour of Ram Janmabhumi and at the same time, it was also asserted that a masjid which was demolished, had to be constructed at another site, as acceptable to the Muslims. Naren was neither happy nor gloomy. He was under tension that the Muslim community should accept the verdict in good perspective. He terribly missed his friend Naseer. He wanted to know what was his reaction on this particular topic. Occasionally he used to feel sorry for him. ‘May be was right. Maybe, he was truly not aware of the toy kept in the attic, Maybe, in right earnest interests, he came to offer explanations for the toy that was lost. Maybe, he was honest. Only I have failed to notice. Above all, he was an engineer erecting bridges. Does he not know to fill the gap in bringing hearts together and connecting them?’ Naren was lost in his thoughts.
The TV anchors, almost in all channels, were telecasting the views of prominent leaders from both outfits. Some anchors were even deliberately provoking the Muslims for giving up their hold on Masjid. One of their leaders, replied very benevolently, ‘We give, you take. We honour the court’s verdict. We will have our place elsewhere. Have you not heard of a story of two goats coming from the opposite sides, crossing a narrow bridge on a river? One budges and helps the other to move on. Nobody is a loser and nobody is a winner. Same thing, here also. There is no prestige issue at all.’ Naren was thrilled to hear such a heart-warming explanation. He expected an explosion and ego-fight from any or either side. But, what an amazing sermon from a leader, calling for unity and co-existence! He felt that he should immediately run to Naseer and hug him and express his sentiments. Why should he waste time?
Next minute he was at Naseer’s house. Pranav also went there without being told. Naren, without any pretensions or hesitations, said,
‘Naseer, I stand before you seeking apology. I am terribly moved by the benevolence of Muslim community in today’s typical historical case. You too are, no different in magnanimity and forbearance. When you first came to my house, offering explanations on that stupid missing toy, I simply sent you away, without even listening to you fully. I was ridden by my ego and was blinded by my false prestige. I had turned a deaf ear to you then. I am sure you will not pay me in the same coin today. Will you please forget and forgive? Daily I have been reading scriptures and reciting hymns and slokas. All the scriptures repeatedly emphasized that one should give up ego…. Shun Ahankar. But I have just failed to put it into practice. Today my eyes are opened. You had constructed so many bridges, connecting the two banks of rivers. For a change, why don’t you restore connectivity between us?’
Naseer stood motionless, like a statue. He turned his back on Naren. For a minute, Naren was stunned. Soon, the scene changed.
Naseer turning his back on Naren, called his wife inside. He told little loudly,
‘Begam, Kheer Banao!’ He asked her to prepare a sweet porridge. He then stepped down came to Naren and hugged him wholeheartedly. Both were in tears and the teardrops from the two men, touched the same ground. Pranav standing there as a mute witness, was now grinning from ear to ear.
Years ago, as toddler, he dropped the toy in Naseer’s house and was in a way, remotely responsible for drifting the two friends apart. Today the toy was in no way useful to him. But his presence at the precious moment of unity and meeting of hearts, made him a joyful boy. A playful boy with a toy, is now a joyful boy without the toy.