Asalaam u alikum, I hope and pray that you are fine. It’s me Seher, your daughter writing to you for the first time as you know it is my birthday today. Ammi says that I was born 6 years ago on this day. It is so exiting that she remembers lots of dates and days especially the ones related to me. But Abbu, she sometimes forgets things also, like when I ask her about you she seldom has an answer, I reckon that she forgets. It’s ok, I know….”
“What are you doing Seher ? Everyone is waiting for you outside to cut the cake. You shouldn’t keep them waiting”.
The sudden voice from behind stopped her pencil. It was Sheeba, her loving mother.
With large, hazel eyes and a familiar question in them Seher turned towards her mother with a smile on her rosy lips, “Ammi I am writing a letter, Dadu taught me how to write it !”, she said with innocence.
Sheeba came close to Seher, and held her in her arms, and asked in a joyful tone, “And who is it you are writing to? Is this person so important that you are missing out on your birthday celebration ?”
Seher took the paper torn from her copy in her little hands, “Indeed Ammi, a very important person, I learned to write a letter for this purpose only”, she said in a falsely mature but concerned tone.
Sheeba, surprised at the seriousness of her daughter inquired with great curiosity, “So who is this very important person you’re writing this letter to? Won’t you tell me? May be I can help you in some way.”
In a soft manner Seher replied, “Sure Ammi, I will tell you”. With these words she let lose the arms of her mother that had fastened her. “You see Ammi, I am writing this letter to Abbu, I want him to know that it is my birthday today, I have to tell him many things, but there is a bit of a problem”, Seher said holding the incomplete letter in her hand.
Sheeba now looked less joyful, trying her best to hide her agony and pain, her eyes looked hazy and the smile in her lips was now a fake one. Somehow she mustered the courage and words to ask of her daughter, “What is the problem, sweetheart? Tell me.”
“I don’t think you can solve it Ammi”, replied Seher as if she was sure of it. “Try me ! Maybe I can do something?”, Sheeba said in a compelling voice. “You know Ammi I am writing this letter to Abbu, and I want him to read it all, but dadu says that unless we have the address of the recipient, the letter won’t reach its destination”, completing the whole sentence in one breath, Seher stopped to take a pause and the said softly with her gaze fixed on the tip of her shiny pink shoes, “I don’t know Abbu’s address, I don’t know where he lives, you don’t tell me, nobody tells me.”
Seher looked at her mother to find tears rolling down her cheeks as they always used to whenever Seher asked this question.
Sheeba was a 32 year old woman, who now looked not less than 45. The young charm on her face was nowhere to be found. She looked weak with her shoulders bowed down. She was of a fair complexion, but now looked more pale. Her hands had become rough and small cracks had started developing on her finger tips. Her eyes looked tired as if she had been awake for a long time. Her hair was turning grey before time. She wore an old sandal that could hide her cracked heels. She looked like a ghost of her past. She was nothing like what she should have been. She was nothing like what she was 8 years back; a beautiful bride of a handsome strong, well educated and well settled Aftab. Her life seemed to be in the twilight since she lost her sun. Now what she possessed were the blurred memories of the happy moments she lived with her husband. Those too were staggered by the painful end that followed her happy life.
Sheeba looked at the washed image of her daughter for whom she was holding her breath up. She could see in her the 6 years she had managed to live without Aftab. She could see in her the uncertainty that never left her through these years. She had no answer to her daughter’s question, perhaps nobody had. She had tried hard to look for the answer, behind the gallows and in the corridors. Inside the papers and on the pleas. Among her people and from the strangers. But no one seemed to know where Aftab was. She knew just one thing that, Aftab left with four uniformed men four days after Seher was born. She only remembers the words “Don’t worry, they just need a clarification on something, don’t worry, I’ll be back with milk and bread in a while”. With this he had left never to return. He had left leaving his old mother who could not fight her illness and foremost could not bear the separation of her only son, and passed away. He left leaving behind a father who had all his hopes tied up to him, and who now had lost all the hopes and the zest for life. He had left his infant daughter with so many questions and his wife with nothing to answer. Sheeba had an answer but it ended at a path hat led to nowhere. From the desk of the police and CRPF officials, to the corridors of Tihar, from the pleas in the state to the petitions in the courts, she had knocked every door at first to find her husband but later only to infer whether he was alive or dead. She had this question to ask to everyone, was she a widow or still a married lady. She too had become one of those Kashmiri women who call themselves half widows.
She had fought too much and gave away everything for a battle that resulted in absolutely nothing except a bunch of unceasing, agonizing questions. She had come too far for the sake of her daughter, but she could never fill that void in her life. She was helpless and hopeless. She couldn’t tell her daughter that her father was dead because she was not sure if he was at, in the first place. Neither could she assure the return of Aftab to Seher because she was not sure if he would ever return. She had no answer to anything. What she had preserved was the silence that perhaps helped her withstand the interrogating eyes of her innocent, 6 year old daughter.
Sheeba wiped the tear from her cheek, and saw Seher busy with her crayon colors. She must have lost the patience to wait for her mother to return from her reminiscence, or perhaps she might have lost interest in waiting for an answer to a question that was never answered. Sheeba stood up to leave without disturbing Seher who was now too deep into her crayons.
As Sheeba left, Seher placed her letter on the table, and started to write again:
“I told you Abbu, she forgets a lot of things, look like she forgot that everyone was waiting for me to cut the cake outside. She has too much on her mind and maybe that’s why she has forgotten your address. I wish she’d remember it.
She misses you Abbu, more than me. That’s why I often see her hiding her tears whenever I talk about you. Come soon Abbu, I want you to make everything good. I want you to meet my friends. I want them to see that I too have my dear Abbu….”
Written by Aiman Banday