Satwant had listened with bated breath, often with tears rolling down her cheeks or sobbing quietly. When Saeen ended her story, she clung to her, saying, "You are wonderful! You have not let my hopes down and confirmed that Agha Khan is not only a Punjabi, but a Sikh. Please tell me the rest."
Saeen: There is not much more to tell. We spent about seventeen years imprisoned in that life. I wanted to fulfill my promise to my mistress and tell Agha Khan about his origin, but I wanted to wait till he was mature enough to handle the situation. And you can see how well he has grown.
His adoptive mother, Hasn Khan's wife, was a very good woman. She lavished a great deal of love and care on him, and treated me very well too. Sadly, she died and after some time Hasn Khan married again, a young and beautiful woman. She had been hostile towards my child in the beginning, but recently her manner towards him changed, and she began to show him a lot of affection. My son is too innocent and trusting, but I could make out that this woman meant to harm him. She had a son from a previous marriage, who used to live with her parents. But now she had brought him home. Her plan was to get rid of Agha Khan so that Hasn Khan would turn his love towards her son, thus making him his heir.
Once I had understood her plans, I warned Agha Khan to be careful. But youth is generally careless, and so, I began to be extra watchful on his behalf. One day, I took him aside to warn him gain, and in my haste I said, "My child, you must give up your carefree manner, and be more cautious. You can't trust these Pathans."
He turned on me in surprise and said, 'What do you mean by these Pathans? Aren't you and I also Pathans?"
I gave a sheepish laugh and avoided answering. Then I got up and became busy with some chores.
The next day, Agha Khan came to me and asked, 'Mother, you are the most beloved person to me. Last night I kept thinking about our talk and got the feeling that you were hiding something from me. I can't bear that there are secrets between us. This thought disturbed me so much that I couldn't sleep.'
I realized that the time had come to tell Agha Khan his mother's last words. I picked up his sword and keeping it in front of him said, 'Child, I am going to tell you something very important. I only ask that if you don't believe or don't like what I have to say, then you pick up this sword and kill me. But don't say anything against it.'
Taking this promise from him, I related all incidents that had happened since his birth. As I talked, the effect on him was amazing. I had thought that a young man brought up in an alien land, as a member of a noble family with immense wealth and status, would react with disbelief and anger at my words. But it was exactly the opposite.
As I told him about his origins, his mother's suffering and death, his face turned red with anger.
His eyes turned blood-shot and, chewing his lip, he picked up his sword. I asked him, 'Where are you going?'
"To take revenge on my mother's killer,' he said.
I pulled him by his hand, and holding him in a close embrace, I said, 'Your mother was an angel. She forgave her slayer before she died. What is of great importance is for you to carry out her wishes.'
He calmed down a little at my words and two scalding tears rolled slowly down his cheeks. Then he asked, 'Tell me what were my mother's wishes?'
I replied, 'I won't tell you that just yet. First you tell me what you are planning to do.'
He said, 'That is simple. I shall kill Hasn Khan and go to Punjab to find my old father and assure him that his lion-hearted son has returned after avenging his mother's death.'
I replied, 'Maybe he won't accept you. In our country people don't eat and drink with Muslims'.
He said, 'Won't my father keep me to cut grass and look after his horses? And what about my sister - won't she allow me to sit in her doorway as a watchman? You have cheated me by keeping me in the dark and allowing me to grow up in the house of my mother's killer. I have eaten his food for all these years. My life is cursed!'
At his better words, I burst out crying. He too was very agitated, moving restlessly all the time. Finally, he shook my shoulder and said, 'Mother, tell me what were my mother's instructions for me. I can't rest till I know. My blood is urging me to action'.
So I told him, 'There are no orders for you. They were for me to take care of you and to tell you the whole story when you grew up. She was sure that the moment you learnt who you were, you should no longer stay here, but rush to rejoin your people. This was her belief and she told me to convey this to you.'
He said, 'Yes, I will go to my country, but I will take the head of Hasn Khan on my spear and offer it to my father, and ask for his blessing for avenging my mother's death.' Very gently I told him, 'This will not please your mother, because she forgave Hasn Khan.'
"Wasn't she a brave woman?' he asked.
I said to him, 'My child, you are not familiar with Sikhs yet. They are not the wild people fighting randomly. They are spirited and brave people. They pray daily for sarbad da bhala (welfare of all). They are fakirs who try to remove the burden of misery and suffering of this world. They don't take revenge; they are without enmity. But they fight against all evil, tyranny and wrongdoing.'
In this way when I told him some more about Sikhs, his anger faded and tears of grief began to flow from his eyes.
I took out the kara and kirpan which I had hidden in my box and gave them to him. I also handed over the gutka which his father had written by hand and given to his mother. I told him that these were his mother's parting gifts to him. He took each item and touched it to his forehead with reverence. Then he said 'In obedience to my mother's and your wishes, I shall not kill Hasn Khan. But I will not now stay in his house.'
I warned him not to be hasty. 'Let some time pass and plan carefully. The road to Punjab is difficult and dangerous. We need to be cautious and circumspect now, and not take any rash step.'
He gave in to my suggestion quietly and as we continued to talk, his agitation too passed.
Things continued the same way in the household. But Agha Khan's behaviour towards his father and step-mother changed. They could make out that he was sad and preoccupied. Hasn Khan became suspicious that I might have revealed the secret to Agha Khan. He started spying on us whenever we sat talking. He could not hear very much, but his worry increased and finally he made the plan to send Agha Khan out of the country and, in his absence, to put an end to my life.
Jaswant: Why did he want to kill you in this stealthy fashion?
Saeen: Because he knew that if he did this in Agha Khan's presence, his son would pick up the sword against him in order to protect me. Agha Khan was happy to be going to Punjab with the caravan, but he was uneasy about leaving me behind. He was at his wits ends how to get me safely out, when by Waheguru's grace, he met you and now here we are.
They sat talking late into the night. Finally, Saeen went to sleep but Satwant still sat, thinking, "Oh Lord! What is wrong with our country? We have strength, but are unable to use it. The result is that my countrymen are captured and kept in such harsh circumstances, yet our misfortune is that we don't awake to fight back these tyrants." Slowly all the past events and the tragic details of Aas Kaur and her son passed before Satwant's eyes. How long she sat thinking, she did not know. After a while her eyes closed and she too slept.
(To be continued...)