From Punjab to Fresno: A Fascinating
Mexico: How does one enjoy a much-awaited vacation
in paradise when heavens open up and pour rain on
your party? Located on the Pacific coast of Mexico,
Puerto Vallarta is known for its beautiful sunny
weather and equally sunny disposition of its people.
So it was with
much anticipation that our group from the Academy
of Medicine traveled from Toledo to spend a week
in Puerto Vallarta. Some go to play golf, others
to enjoy the sun and surf and read an interesting
book by the poolside. It had all worked rather well
in years past. But not this time. The inclement
weather affected golfers the most. Poor souls had
to walk through pouring rain carrying a golf bag
that must have felt heavier than its weight. They
had to make all kinds of adjustment to direct the
pesky little white ball towards a small hole in
the ground. Their efforts to plot the trajectory
of the ball paled the efforts of NASA engineers
who guided a school bus sized probe through the
rings of Saturn millions of miles away.
did not deter diehard golfers - are there any other
kind? - to play in the miserable weather. For three
days it rained continuously. Water was ankle deep
in parts of downtown Puerto Vallarta. So shopping
was out and so were leisurely walks along the beach
or through the rain forest. Swimming pools were
deserted and hotels appeared lifeless and empty.
There was a lot of grumbling and cussing. Amid all
the doom and gloom there was however a sunny side.
Once on such trips we have over the years tended
to go our individual ways doing our things and would
not find time to interact with others. Now the weather
forced us to linger on lunch and dinner to share
interesting stories. During dinner conversation
one particularly rainy evening Sarg, one of our
group members, asked me an interesting question.
How would one
go about locating an unmarked grave in Pakistan?
Whose grave you wish to locate? I asked. My father's.
But your father was a Sikh from India. How did he
end up in Pakistan and received a Muslim burial?
It is a long story. Tell us. Like weary travelers
from a bygone era who used to gather around a crackling
fire in a wayside inn on some ancient crossroads,
Sarg told us the story of his family. It was the
saga of his family from rural Punjab to Fresno,
California in the 1920's. Having heard the stories
of affluence and abundance in America, his grandfather,
a farmer, took the journey from India to Cuba and
then made his way north to California through Mexico.
In due course he became a successful farmer. Sometimes
in the late 1940's Gulzar Singh Purewal, Sarg's
father who was also afflicted with wanderlust, took
off from the village in search of fame and fortune
leaving behind a wife and two sons to fend for themselves.
He roamed the
world, sowed wild oats wherever he went, made lots
of money and ended up back in the village a rich
man some ten years later. He bought a failing bank
and invited his family and his friends to join in
the venture. He also persuaded his father in California
to come back to the village and enjoy a life of
leisure and comfort in his old age. The old man
sold his property and returned to the village. He
put all his money in his son's bank and settled
down to a comfortable life. Or so he thought. The
bank went belly up due to mismanagement and the
investors, including the old man, were left destitute.
While the bank was failing Sarg's father lived high
on the hog. To compound his difficulties he started
romancing a married Muslim woman. When the financial
realities and the fallout from cross religious romancing
caught up with him, he vanished and resurfaced in
Pakistan as a Muslim with the name Gulzar Muhammad
Purewal. After the death of his new wife a few years
later, he moved to the port city of Karachi where
according to his son he got involved with the underground
in some shady business.
He lived in
Sindh Housing Society as a resident manager. Sometimes
in late 1970's the man died under mysterious circumstances
and was buried in one of the tens of thousands of
unmarked graves in that city. It was the son's fervent
hope that some day he would be able to locate and
visit the site to bring some closure to the long
and tortured saga that has been unfolding all his
life. I for one was happy it rained during our stay
in Puerto Vallarta. Had it not been for the inclement
weather we would have never lingered on at dinner
to listen to this intriguing story. (Dr. S. Amjad
Hussain is a Professor Emeritus of surgery at the
Medical College of Ohio and an op-ed columnist for
the daily Blade of Toledo, Ohio. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)