Mission Delhi – Pramod Kumar Padhy, Sector 121, Noida
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The year is 1985. Place: Departure terminal, Rome airport. They knew they would not meet ever again. Moghul was flying to his home in Lahore, Pakistan, and Pramod Kumar Padhy was returning to Delhi.
Government employees in their respective countries, both were part of a scholarship program organised by the Italian government in the mid-80s, in which 50 participants from 30 countries stayed together in a hotel in Naples. Six months later, all went back to their places.
Decades rolled along and the Italian sojourn became a distant memory. Mr Padhy retired as a senior bureaucrat in the central government in 2013, and settled down with wife, Usha, at their 12th floor apartment in Noida’s Sector 121. He did mention the Naples friendship to his family, once or twice, but never extensively. “It had become a dead chapter of my life.”
Mr Padhy, 67, is chatting on WhatsApp video.
And then the coronavirus pandemic arrived, forcing the couple to stay cooped at home. “I started writing about stories from my life,” says Mr Padhy. And one of the stories that surfaced was about… you guess it!
The first reader of ‘Down the memory lane: An Unforgettable Encounter’ was his wife, who convinced Mr Padhy to share the account with their daughter, Priyanka, who lives in Sarita Vihar. She, in her turn, convinced her father to share it within the extended family’s WhatsApp group.
The story is moving. Two people from traditionally hostile nations strike a friendship in a foreign land. Mr Padhy was in his early 30s then, and his friend in his early 50s. Often missing their home while in Italy, they would find consolation in each other by talking of their families. The ghazals of Chitra Singh and Jagjit Singh were a common passion.
A scene from the story’s finale is particularly poignant: “As the moment to part finally arrived, Mr. Moghul gave me a tight embrace and wished customary ‘Khuda Hafeez’ in a voice choking with emotion. Then he said something in a whispering tone which is still reverberating in my mind after all these years. Said he and I quote ‘Pramod, I am a Muslim and do not believe in rebirth. But you are a Hindu and you believe in rebirth. If there is something like rebirth, I would like to have you as my younger brother in my next life.’”
Mr Padhy says he never got in touch with his friend after returning from Italy. “Somewhere, the friendship lives inside me. Maybe it is too late now to think of meeting him again. He must be in his 90s. But if we happen to meet, I’m sure he will instantly recognise me.”
[This is the 366th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Remembrance of friendship past