It had been twelve years since I had seen her. The troubles of the partition had been forgotten, and the countries, mine and hers were rebuilding themselves, and that meant hectic schedules. We did not have mobiles in those days, so we communicated using letters, which took months to reach. But, as they say, there is a sweet reward to patience, and every letter I received from her was like a gift, like someone had given me a new life. I read every one of her letters at least a hundred times, and then kept it safely inside one of my trunks. I replied to the letters as sweetly as I could, every square inch of the paper indicating my unquenched longing for her. I wanted to show her that the partition had obviously drenched our spirits, but I was working my heart out in India to make a fortune, and then settle down with her in the beautiful valleys of what they called Shimla.
All my letters to Peshawar were replied to within two months. So every year, six times on an average, I used to sit down and enjoy the letters. But as it happened in 1964, I never got a reply from her in six months; I started to worry, and the letters I started sending every week, telling her of my escalated concern for her well-being, did not bear any results. The thought of her leaving me for another man also cropped up in my mind, but later I realised that I should have been nothing but ashamed of myself, while doubting her unbounded love for me. In my unwarranted and baseless suspicions about her character, I never thought about the problems they were facing back in Pakistan, and she may have been a victim of the various riots, wars and the uprisings the people faced. To my relief, a letter came in the early months of 1965, telling me that she had been very busy in setting up a livelihood for herself and was sorry for the interruption in our correspondence. I was relieved and stressed at the same time. She, being forced to start her own livelihood urged me to hurry. I started preparing for the civil services exam that was to happen in the next six months. I hoped to get selected, and then go to Pakistan to escort her to India. Though I did write letters to her during my preparation for the exam, but that was the only distraction I had in those six months.
Till the results came, she kept encouraging me, boosting my confidence and my dedication, all for the better life I saw for the both of us. I got selected in the Shimla Municipal Corporation as the Deputy Commissioner, and the only aim I had in my mind now was to live with her in India. I took the earliest booking I could in the Samjhauta Express, the only way I could go to Pakistan in those days. I reached Peshawar in the course of a few days, and the strenuous rail journey could not dampen my excitement. I reached Peshawar, gave her almost a week to pack up her things, though I now realise I was rude in not asking her if she really wanted to live in India. She had changed a little, but I realised that twelve years could alter a person significantly, both mentally and physically.
The events that happened last week have taught me a life lesson. My mother used to say the following quote regularly, ‘An hour of crowded and glorious life, is worth more than a lifetime of anonymity and stillness’, maybe, like all mothers, she had sensed what I had in the future for myself. I was opening our old trunks that day when I carefully arranged the letters she wrote me on my shelf. I unpacked her trunk too, arranging her old clothes and memorabilia on the showcase we had in the drawing room. The only thing that was out of place was one letter and a rose with it, which I thought might be one of the many letters I had written to her, but when I read it, tears came into my eyes. My respect for her rose immensely, and the sacrifices she had done for me came into my knowledge. I thought I had worked for our future, but now I realised that it was much more difficult for her. I just went outside to the garden where she was sitting, hugged her, and started crying uncontrollably. The letter read:
As you know, the last few weeks have been terrible for me. The cancer has advanced, and the doctors say it is incurable now. I only have a few weeks to live, and I wish to ask for one favour from you in these last days of mine.
He has been preparing religiously for his exams for the past few weeks, and now if I tell him that I’m going to die, the love of his life will not be with him when he needs it the most, he will break down completely. My dearest sister, my soul mate, I need you to continue the conversation I have been having with him for the past twelve years, because the six month abstention I have been forced to have from writing letters must have aroused his suspicions.
You always wanted a loving husband for yourself right? He is a good man, and will keep you happy for the rest of your lifetime. All the hardships you’ve faced because of me, he will erase. He will give you all the joys you deserve to have, all the joys you sacrificed to save my already sad state. He will come to take me in a few months, and he should not realise the fact that I left him when I needed him the most. He does not know that I have a sister, and you must not let him know that ever.
Wishing you a great life ahead, dearest twin sister.