9th August 1947. India was burning. There was widespread chaos and mayhem all around, not to forget looting and murder.

But Rehmat Ali was in a world of his own as he paced up and down in front of his small house in an agitated state. His mind was preoccupied with what was happening inside his house.

He could neither see nor hear the din outside his Muslim dominated locality as he strained to hear the sounds from within his house. Most of his Muslim brethren had given up their homes and migrated to the other side with the surge. But he had no intention of doing so.

This was his country, his birthplace, his home. He felt pity for all those who had succumbed to the evil designs of those few in power.

His thoughts were broken when the door of his house opened. He anxiously rushed over as a frail old lady walked out smiling.

“Congratulations, son, your wife just delivered a baby boy.”

Rahmat Ali couldn’t control his joy. He quickly put his hands in his pocket and pulled out whatever money he had and held it up for her to take.

“Thank you very much, Daadi (Grandma)� I won’t forget all that you have done for her.”

The old timer pocketed the money. “Son, Allah is great. I am just his servant. Just take care that she gets proper rest.”

Saying this, the old lady walked away with small strides.

Rahmat Ali slowly entered the house. In the dimly lit room, he could make out the bundle of joy lying next to its mother. His face lit up. The baby seemed to be sleeping peacefully.

He gently picked up the child and held it close to have a good look. The features were sharp and well chiseled – just like his mother’s. He looked at her. She was looking at him with tears in her eyes. He gently sat down on the cot next to her, with one hand holding the baby close to his chest. Holding her hand with his other hand, he gave it a gentle squeeze of assurance.

Even a bit of affection in such a tensed up situation was the biggest solace anybody could give. Just a few days before, they had both been running and hiding from various unruly crowds who were hell bent on eliminating them till they finally reached his village. He knew that even this place wasn’t safe for long – at least not till everyone realized their mistakes.

Hindus were killing Muslims; Muslims were killing Hindus. If only they would learn to live in harmony. He had lost his family in the consequential riots and she had lost hers too. Yet, they had stuck together through thick and thin for the sake of the baby and finally today, the baby had come out into this world … a world of hatred and fanaticism.

But he was going to see that the child grew up loving everyone equally. As he continued to hold the squirming child against his body, he sensed that something was amiss. The baby seemed to be crying, but there was no sound. He looked questioningly at the mother.

There were faint traces of tears in her eyes as she realized the thoughts that ran in his mind. Surely, he thought aloud, Allah wouldn’t be so unmerciful so as to not give the gift of speech to this beautiful child. But his fear proved true as days passed and the child didn’t utter any sound.

15th August 1947. It was 12.01 a.m. and the world was lit up with lighting and din at such an odd hour. But it was a different kind of din than what Rehmat Ali had perceived in the last few weeks. There was rejoicing and dancing all around as the country celebrated its independence.

He stood in front of his house and watched the people dance and celebrate. Some were busy lighting up the fireworks, and some were distributing sweets, while others were involved in wishing everyone. He too was happy to be a part of a free country and murmured a silent prayer to the Almighty for this day. Yet, somewhere in his heart, there was a hidden pain, pain for the baby who had not uttered a single sound since his birth a week ago.

He didn’t notice that she had walked with uneasy steps out of the house to stand next to him and watch the scene. As she slowly held on to his hand to steady herself, he turned around to look at her. Just a couple of weeks ago, they were strangers. She was on the run from some people who were out to kill her. He had felt pity for her when he saw that she was pregnant. He offered her protection and they somehow managed to reach his house safely. He promised himself that today itself he would visit the Maulvi and legalize his relationship with this woman who had given him a reason to live like he had given her.

He knew he would have problems in the process, but then, marrying a Hindu wasn’t something he was averse to. He loved her. He had fallen in love with her since that fateful day when he had lost his family to the rioting mobs and in turn, had saved her life.

And for Bharti too, he was her future. Some fanatics from his clan had killed her husband and family, but this man was different. This man was her saviour. And she loved him for it.

Rehmat Ali slowly squeezed her hand gently and as the din grew louder, they heard an alien sound. Both Rehmat Ali and Bharti stood rooted to the ground, unsure if they had heard right. And then the sound of a baby crying, rose over the din and echoed in their ears. They both rushed inside the house to see their baby crying out hoarsely. And while the world rejoiced, the baby cried and his proud parents looked on with tears of happiness at this miracle. It was a genuine cry… a cry for freedom.

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