Of people, the world records not anything and everything but their memories. My old granny used to say this to me while she would brush my hair.
Only a few years ago had my grandpa passed away; she was the perfect match for him, a soul mate, and I would observe her still keeping his bed clean as much sheen and then sitting just besides Dada’s place like she used to when he was alive. I could gather that she could still feel him there, reading Persian literature, newspaper and Kalhana while sipping Kashmiri green tea Khava from decorated bowl gifted by Dadi during their engagement days and biting with futile tooth a Kolcha. Dadi had always told me the fables, the moral stories and most of her private stories, how Dada managed to climb up in her room and talk to her like Romeo in those full moon nights once they were engaged. She also told me, how Dada would himself accentuate her ‘a one brave man,’ and when a rat would flinch in the cupboard, how he used to assemble his face with a slothful smile and ran down the ladder a few steps and they jump off, fearing it was her father. Or the time, he would sense that an Ikhwani, the then only militia in Kashmir, were on the road, how he disappeared like the dew droplets with the onset of sun’s first rays.
My father had no time to make even an eye contact and ask me, if I was doing good. Neither had I, this seemd like a cricket match at a tie – neither he used to win, nor the win was mine. Dada ji and Dadi were always the spectators and alone supporters of me. I always wondered how he was reminded of his work, when Dada told him to take me along to the market.
Dada was comical, mostly, when Dadi was worried about something. One day when I was having my green tea, Khava, Dadi came in worried about my tenth class results than I was myself. She was followed in by Dada. He dropped his crutch by the side of the bed, and nodded his head and coughed in a playful tone, “You know, there are two kinds of people in the world: One that have pride of having the wisdom tooth, but have no wisdom. The other, that have wisdom, but have no wisdom tooth,” He sniggered, pointing his figure towards Dadi.
“Then there is a third category of people around here your ‘Dada jaan’ might have forgotten to make a mention of: And these are the people, who have nothing: neither ‘pride’ or the wisdom tooth, nor have their wisdom,” Dadi babbled back, and it drew the Khava back from my nostrils, and I fell on the floor, struggling to get air in, laughing.
In the same month, I managed to pass my matriculation, but I could never pass 12th with same ease. Then my fate was nothing but to be a shopkeeper.
May 19, 1999
I am driving in my ambassador car to my shop at Lal Chowk, Srinagar. It’s a beautiful golden sunny Friday. My plan is to be at the shop until 12 PM and leave for Mughal Darbar, Residency Road, eat up my lunch there and then return. I do not go home for lunch on Fridays, because I would be given a torturous look by everyone, and the reason is, I do not pray. I have not prayed in years. I can hardly remember the most recent time I went to Masjid. At twelve, my clock makes a blaring ringing sound and, I leave the shop. Soon I step outside, I look around and see, all the shops have already shut down the shuttles. This was for the first time all shopkeepers had closed their shops before me. I was dazed for a moment.
I turned back to run down the shuttle when I heard a remarkable melodious voice say ,“Don’t close the shop. Just for a few minutes, please?”
I looked over my right shoulder and saw a beautifully carved girl standing if front of the shop. I turned to her, almost trying to say something, anything. I opened my mouth, furled my lingering tongue, struggling to breathe in the air, held firm my dangling keys in my left hand, and said nothing. I had never in my life loved a girl than two women; my mother – whom I had only heard of, and my grandmother, whose calloused hands had fed me, raised me, made me fall asleep by rubbing my hair gently with her fingers.
“I needed to buy a shawl for myself. I see all other shops in the market are down and I drove straight to your shop,” She said, taking off her eyeglasses and setting them on her forehead, then lightly stealing away neat streaks of hair up in the scarf above the earlobes at her temples.
When I was young, Dada used to take me on long walks through the Dal Lake. We used to sit near Char Chinari and one day Dada told me that one day he had recited only a few ayats from Surah Al-Jinn at 3 AM in the morning and told me that he had then seen gigantic Jinn. In my mind, these tales always took me to a world of the unknown. I, now think, if Dada had lived a few more years, I would have had a world of horrific and colorful stories to tell. I think I would have been then a great storyteller. On one day, I asked him,“Why God did not want to become visible himself before us by reciting a certain Surah from the Koran?”
He responded,“ Look, kid, I do not want you to think complex things. But I always do not want to hear you twisting things. The simple answer is this, Allah’s noor, his brilliance and radiance might be, and, of course, is disastrously bad for our wicked souls and dirty elements, of which we are made of.” He paused and resumed: “When all the doors will be shut, his blessing will come, shine and spread before you,” I could remember these words now, clearly, as if, Dada was saying it by now. All doors had shuttered down, for this girl, and for me in the first place, now, as if the blessing had come straight up to me. As a matter of fact, I did not know, why I felt like she’d come here as luck would have it, not by chance.
She strode up to the door of the shop, saw me still staring at her in an intense amazement and shrugged when she moved in the shop and I followed. She figured out a certain shawl, said she wished to buy it.
I asked her, perhaps she should take a look at other shawls of better patterns. By this way I got an extra edge and enough courage for breaking the ice and for a little brief conversation. During a little interaction with her, I realized she was not that modern the way she looked at my first glance; the way eyeglasses shone over her forehead in the gleaming sunlight. Though, she stopped to asking me to show her the other ones and was satisfied with a certain one. I insisted, perhaps she should have a look at other shawls. Within next fifteen minutes, since she had arrived in the shop, my shop was a goddamned mess. Only if I would count, I had not shown these many designs to all the people who had visited my shop, since I had opened it.
“I want to buy this one,” said she, and I sensed that I actually did not want her to buy the shawl, but stay here with me, tossing down the clothes and just talking to me.
“Tell me its price,” She said. “With its deduction,” She repeated my words, with its deduction. “Now that, you must be late for namaz.”
“Oh, no!” I babbled.
“What happened?” She asked, amazed.
“Nothing, nothing… I am…” I wanted to say that I was thinking she could come after the Friday prayer, at 2:30 PM, not degrading my image in front of her, and see her giving me the torturous look I was fond of. But I thought she might have her own work to do. Or maybe to attend an appointment or it could be something else. Who was I to ask to? A stranger! A shopkeeper!
I packed up the item and handed it over to her and took the money, 300 bucks, from her, ashamed.
I shut down the shuttle of my shop and drove about two Kilometers for 45 minutes through the heavy and light traffic jam. 45 minutes felt a big day in sweltering hell without her. How can I miss someone whom I couldn’t even be familiarized with. I lit 8 cigarettes during the travel, listened a few heart wrenching Gazals, and cried along the way. “So, this is what people call love,” I muttered to myself.
I arrived at the hotel, and drank a water glass. The harder I tried to forget her, the harder she started to pop up on my mind. Soon I started to daydream about her.
She comes wearing the same shawl I had sold out to her. The eyeglasses glowing against the red and yellow lights of alone lamps hanging on the ceiling of the hotel. Her conky nose gleaming like the twinkling water crystals in the roaring Arabian Ocean. Her perfect angelic smile and then she presses her thumb against her middle finger and cracking a ‘tip-tip’ sound. “Stop dreaming,” She said, I wake up to discover, it is not a dream that I had been assuming.
“I found a job,” She whispered, beaming.
“I think your Shawl did some magic, I was not expecting I would be selected,” I cringed, “Why are you superstitious? Speaking of superstitious people, I have a few more at home, so why not, you join them and make the company of superstitious people,” She laughed when I said that but she knew I was at some point, not making a joke, I was serious for her. Her brownish eyes lit that she had felt good for me.
“Today is one of the happiest day of my life. You can ask me if you want anything?” She said.
“Anything?” Said I.
“Of course, you can. Is that difficult. Just pick up the hotel’s menu, and order,” She said, smiling.
“I want something else. Something that you may not give. Something that is more costly than this hotel, than this world for me. Something that is not so cheap for me, so much so, that without which, my life will look like the Sahara Desert. Something without which my heart would be the fighting Afghanistan against my brain – the Taliban. Shortly, I will strive hard to live, but can’t and then I will die. Something…” She cuts me, “Bas, bas, bas…tell me, what is it?”
“You,” I yelled.
She said nothing back in a response. She sat quite and then smiled as she stood up to leave. I asked, what her answer was, she nodded her head.
I wondered what her nod meant, all night I could not sleep. I had become insomniac. I had read somewhere: Banana is a panacea for insomnia. Even that could not help now. It was a disease with no cure.
In the next morning, I told all the story to my granny and managed to give her their whereabouts. My granny couldn’t wait even a single day and got the whole thing fixed. The coming month was our engagement.
I am so amusing creature that I had forgotten even the name of the girl, whom I was going to get engaged with. I had to ask my Dadi, and she said,“Ayat,” The same ayat Dada used to recite over and over again. Maybe she was his prayer for me.
20 October, 1999
The day we were going to get engaged. My father seemed nowhere. My friends and I searched for him in every nook and corner of the town. But couldn’t find him. Dadi was worried and everything else seemed secondary now. I came to open his drawer, accidentally, and saw a letter, I knew it was his handwriting.
19 October, 1999
I won’t be present here at your engagement as you may have noticed it by now. You might be wondering why. Here is the answer of your all questions you were afraid to ask. The truth is that you are my stepson and I do not hold any grudge against you with it. I always knew that you truly loved me and truly hated the feuding. Your mother never wanted to marry me. She was in love with someone else before you were born to her. Only after your own father died of natural death. Your mother wanted to marry her dream boy. However, the fate was something else, but not good and she got hitched up with me. She always wanted to tell me this that she did not love me and did not want to get hitched up with me. But then, I too did not hear as I myself wanted to marry someone else. I ignored her. Until the day, she hanged herself from the fan. I read the suicide note she had written. I could never be happy after that. As your grandmother’s saying goes: “Of people, the world does not record anything and everything but memory.” So, I am a sinner. That’s why I always found it hard to talk to you.
Do not try to find about me. All tries will go in vain and your best time will be wasted.
Take care of yourself and my mother too.
Your sinner, your Abu.
When I finished reading the letter, my happiness was over. My cheeks which were spreading apart to smile until now began to stiffen and my eyes welled up and almond shaped tears began to drop down both of my cheeks. If they say, there is some Doomsday ahead, this day was far worse than that.
I cried a river when Dadi came crying and said,“Do not you cry now!” And I ran out of the room and heard myself scream at her, for the first time in my life,“Get the hell out of here! You could have at least once told me in all these years?”
I ran and ran until I faded from everyone’s gaze. Suddenly a hand behind of me caught my wrist firm, I looked back, it was, my friend Shoaib, I tried to squeeze my hands without saying a word.
“Haziq, someone wants to talk you,” He said, pointing his index finger above my shoulder.
I saw it my father and Ayat. Ayat had managed to figure him out and then begged before him. “He will forgive you.” She had told him. My one year old, love knew me, my 23 year old father’s love, didn’t. This made me think, that I shall be a goddamned man, if I forgave him. I told Ayat that I did not want to forgive them, how they have toyed me in all these years. But Ayat was my grandfather’s prayer for me. She reminded me of all, those promises I had made to her, when all hell broke loose.
I cried in her embrace after our engagement, cried through half the night. When I did not stop to cry over and over again. She said, “I want something from you?”
“What?” I marveled.
“Can you guess it?” She said.
I said nothing back.
“Okay,” she said, “‘I want something else. Something that you may not give. Something that is more costly than this hotel, than this world for me. Something that is not so cheap for me, so much so, that without which, my life will look like the Sahara Desert. Something without which my heart would be the fighting Afghanistan against my brain – the Taliban. Shortly, I will strive hard to live, but can’t and then I will die.‘” She recalled me the way, I had proposed her.
It made me smile broadly and then I rested my head in her, in my moon’s lap.
~Haziq Qayoom Lone