A search for answers that led them to rediscover their glorious past.
Continued from Part 1
Millennia old dread crept up on him like a snake stealthily slithering towards its prey, he was too transfixed to escape and then it devoured him whole in one bite. When he was spat out, he was not the same man. He was sobbing like the crazed father of those poor Hindu sisters raped and converted, that he had seen in the news, only here it was not a father but a son crying helplessly for his mother who had undergone a similar fate.
She would not give him any details but he could only imagine the horror. Of being pried away from the warmth of a maternal embrace, to be thrust into a society which spits on you for being different, for being idolaters, for being poor, and low-class kafirs. A whole network that encouraged this type of exploitation, from the police to the politicians, to the peers. It was out of fear for her life, and her parent’s that she had had to swallow all insults, and all abominations to carry on. Her purpose was clear, she could not let the memories die, she would not let her culture die. No. Never.
He played her conversation again and again in his head over the next few days while she went silent. She stopped speaking. Just like that. The only thing that gave her solace was to light the fragrant candles and sit outside in the morning sun. She was never tired of this ritual. Facing east she would sip her chai defiant, with a wry smile of victory, at last, she had won. No one could undo the truth now, the snake that had shed its skin and was now ready to take on a new avatar. He reminisced about their happier days, which was right after his father’s death, amma came into her own…she would organize Basant and Holi parties with bonfires at this very farmhouse….now he understood why…….and she would fly kites with the village kids, and jump up and down like a little girl, throwing caution and colour with such unbridled joy….he had marvelled at her cosmopolitanism then, not knowing.
“My father’s family were the caretakers of Mulasthaana mandir when it was ransacked by Muhammed Qasim. Although the mleccha desecrated the murti, the priests did shuddhi karaN, and reinstated it with great fanfare…but when the attacks kept persisting even after Qasim… when the Shias were coming to the city, my ancestors replaced the moola murti which had magical powers and healed the sick, with one of gold and rubies to ward off suspicion…they hid the actual stone murti which had been in our safekeeping for centuries, which was made sacred by our daily prayers and incantations and worship, they buried it deep into the Multani miTTi with apologies and a promise to bring it to light one day, to free it from the confines of the earthly womb….when they plundered our grand temple, the replaced gold murti, and the whole town for its riches, my people had to once again come up with another plan to safeguard our kula devata in the future. They decided to make a wooden image which would not attract anyone and install that in the now broken temple…..little did we know that all these marauders hated anything that was beautiful and sacred to us…..anything that gave peace or healed….anything that represented god on earth which is poison to their beliefs….so this too was finally destroyed by Aurangazeb…” They, their, them. Amma why did this happen to you. To us.
She was speaking like an oracle, a halo formed around her head from the single candle now left flickering in the heavy room. She was looking past him, devoid of all emotion or affection. Her only interest and duty seemed to be the telling of this tale. He knew it in his gut that this was the end. His life so far was a preparation for what was to come, and his mother had nothing more to give, to anyone. It would be cruel to even ask. She had made such a huge sacrifice, to be wantonly poor and out of sight, and in the wrong country, just so that there would be someone here to take care of their beloved deity. Her simple beauty even at this age, despite all that she had seen and endured, was the reason why she was abducted from her village. Her father had died of shock and heartbreak soon after her “marriage”, blaming himself and his god for thrusting such a painful fate on them Amma’s mother had lost her memory, erasing all the unbearable pain. But amma had bided her time, waiting for this day. She had not lost hope. She said her Soorya gave her health and hope.
“The angrez were no better, they dug out our temple premises for buried treasure and of course looted a lot of what was found – copper pots full of gems, stones, gold, silver…but they also found the actual murti and took him away. Why do they need him? He is our kula devata, and you are his sole heir……”
Nuruddin was not trying to process any more, he was in a daze, like a zombie staring at prey he kept looking at the photo of his parents on the chest of drawers, his father smiling genially, hands affectionately placed around his mother…he did treat her well after…after…
“When partition happened my father did not go to India as he felt that he must be close to Multan, even though our Aditya temple was now a dilapidated structure of broken bricks, facing a garbage dump which was once the famed Suraj Kund. Even if there was officially nothing in our name we stayed to keep the memory alive, to be connected to this sacred land, now in the hands of those who have wiped away every bit of that past. We took refuge in a tribal basti. My childhood was filled with these stories of how our family kept the deity alive in our thoughts, he belongs to us, to those who worship him and remember him, and to no one else. My mother’s side kept the oral records of our terrible saga via songs and stories. I would hum them constantly to never forget where I came from.”
“You must go to him. I hear him. He wants to be free”.
Nuruddin had been sent away to the outskirts of the city soon after, amma did not want him to reveal who he was inadvertently in a burst of emotion to anyone. He was grieving too, and the continuous stream of neighbours, friends, family, made it tough to keep a secret such as this. She had made it clear what his duty was, not to be with her in her dying days but to be the caretaker of Surya Dev whose exact location was not yet clear. This was the price of history that she was exacting from her son, who had been forced upon her. Why had she not told him all this earlier? Also, why had she suffered so many years alone…he knew the answers of course…his father was around, also how would a mother gather the courage to say something like this to her only child?
It must have taken years of preparation. So much grit to sit through friends and relatives wanting death and destruction upon those who had brought down the Babri Masjid…to witness mandirs all around her being routinely targeted and destroyed, she had prayed and played in the Prahladpuri temple as a child she had told him …’This is where Holi started did you know Nur’? When that came down in 1992, he remembered being home for the holidays from Oxford, and how she had reacted strangely that he thought to be out of character at that time, “when will all this end?”, it was a deep sigh of despondency. No social banter for the drawing-room, not a remark to fill the awkward silence, nor was it said in response to the violent mobs screaming on television. It was a cry for divine intervention. He had sensed it at that time but could not fully comprehend its import until today.
All his research online corroborated his mother’s memories, her family’s oral histories, their folktales and ballads. The dates were missing but the chronology and the facts all matched perfectly. It was uncanny, bizarre, it was..he could not find words..his head was bursting again.
He had to do something. Right away. He had to make a decision. There was not much time.
“Baaba …I need to go back to London for some urgent business, please pack my bags” Nuruddin got up with a start and put on the lights, and started opening the almirah to get his clothes out. “Bring the big suitcase, I might stay there for a few months, I will need my sweaters and other winter clothes too”. Ali looked at him quizzically, was sain not sick, how can one travel in this state, he should call begum right away. But she did not pick up her cell phone and her maid said that begum sahiba was not talking to anyone. Ali’s face displayed suspicion and sorrow, his shoulders drooped down, he could only guess what was going on, whatever it was…this was it, he knew it.
“Putt..I will have everything ready in an hour, please get fresh, naashta will be ready soon..” Nuruddin saw the first rays of the sun break into his room and felt a new surge of energy, he was convinced that this was the only solution. But before that, he had to make sure that what he was told was true, that it was not some old lady’s fervent imagination.
On the lawns where the breakfast of parathas, achaar, and dahi was laid out with freshly cut fruits, homemade orange juice, chai, and biscuits, Ali was arranging the cutlery and tablemats. He looked tired and gaunt from the sleepless night. “You were here, were you not when my parents got married, Ali?” there was no other way to ask this but directly. Ali dropped a knife. It had never happened before. “You were abba’s driver were you not? Did you drive him to Bharchundi to bring amma here” Nur said it casually, not in an accusatory way, his heart though was thumping loudly…afraid of what Ali might answer, he gulped the orange juice and the tea one after another not paying attention to the sudden burn in his mouth. Ali left the fidgeting and came and stood by Nur, “The peer had called saying that there was a perfect bride for baDe sain, it was sawaab…..someone wanting to take up our ways ”
Nur was happy that Ali was so forthcoming and not reticent, “but…amma was so young ….to be so far away from her parents…..she had me very young too…” Again it was more of a statement than a question..something to sound casual yet elicit a more elaborate response. “Begum Sahiba’s family had all moved to India, only her father was here, but he died soon after his daughter’s grand wedding, he was old and ill…her mother was never really a mother putt, that old lady doesn’t remember anything she has no memory …they lived in a poor Hindu locality…” Ali was implying that this was a great bargain..trying his best to keep his voice straight and strong too. He must have witnessed the horror. And approved.
Nuruddin ran to the bathroom to throw up, his stomach resisted all food. His mind resisted all thought, his heart resisted the care that was being showered upon by a very concerned Ali. He wanted to hit this old loyal man, beat him to a pulp, ‘Why did you not save her, why did you not help my mother escape…you have daughters too…how could you enjoy her plight…” but he smiled wanly instead and said, “I am alright…..car laayo..” He tried reaching his mother on the way to the airport, but she did not pick up her phone. He had implored to her, “It would be great if we can go to the British Museum together amma, you can pay your respects too..after all these years of waiting…” she did not let Nur finish his sentence, cutting him sharply, impatiently, “You expect me to be happy… to witness such travesty…a museum is no better than a jail …a living breathing devata we are talking about..his praaN pratiShTha has been done..he is throbbing with light and energy behind bars….waiting for his guardians to rescue him…you Nur, you are meant to do this…you cannot let me down…have I asked you for anything else, have I ever asked you to be different ..to change yourself…” The whole conversation after that had gone predictably, she was after all a mother, no different from the ones on TV, emotional blackmail was to be expected.
It started pouring as soon as Nuruddin left the farmhouse, with Ali waving a brave bye in his rearview mirror. Of course, Ali knew that something was amiss, that he would probably never see his beloved putt again. Neither could say anything meaningful when the time came to part, it was all done in complete silence and understanding, the loading of the luggage, the opening of the gates, the shooing away of the cats, the hens, the geese, the one odd peacock. Poor Ali, how could Nur blame him for the sins of his father, for the sins of this misguided ideology that tells you that it is perfectly alright to capture and convert, that violence as a means is fine if the end is a beautiful woman whose womb you will populate. He was angry at himself for being so harsh on Ali. Yet, who else did he have? Who in London could he confide in? Most of his batchmates would never comprehend this at all, they took him to be an atheist. Which he was, or was he? What did he really believe in? Was he going to the museum for his mother, or for himself, was it for redemption, to ask for forgiveness. What would he do once he came face to face with the idol..the murti….the temple was no longer functioning, or else he could have petitioned for it even if it brought opprobrium to his legendary Sindhi family name.
He was torn about the future but one thing was crystal clear. Nur was eager to take a look at it in person, in the day time, after so many nights of dreaming about this image, in fact, he was extremely excited by the time his seat belt was off and was practically running to catch a cab straight to the museum once he landed in London a few hours later! His mother had said to take some flowers, fruits, incense, as offerings and to light a lamp in her stead, but this was a policed museum in the West, not the ruins of Angkor Wat where such offerings would be treated with respect, even if a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Of course, he had googled. He found the museum, the image, the gory details, every shameful act was out there for everyone to see. It was a wonder that despite common knowledge there was not much outcry on this issue. On amma’s request, he knew he had to make some offering, it would be the first time in centuries that the deity would have anyone from Mulasthaana paying proper respects, someone who shared a common past…but what and how…there were many police officers patrolling the place since the recent anonymous threat. There was a high chance of the museum being ransacked, given the disgraceful amount of colonial loot it displayed…so the police were ensuring that they did not have another Palmyra on their hands..or the Bamiyan Buddhas.
Nuruddin hesitated before entering…he knew exactly which section he needed to go to ..his legs led him automatically, no he was not jet-lagged at all. He came to halt involuntarily in front of his ward. You are my responsibility now. Hands deep in his wool pockets due to the biting cold, he bowed internally to this being that had been calling him for weeks now, invading his sleep and dreams. He felt very foolish, in the light of the day, here in London, all of that which was real and meaningful needing immediate attention, now seemed like a silly exercise .. yet…he was unable to turn around and leave just like that…he must meet its eyes. Say a final goodbye, ask for forgiveness for the ills done in the past. Then that would be that. He could then face his mother with confidence having done his best. He took a few selfies. A few close-ups, amma would like these. He was about to leave when he spotted an Indian man surreptitiously leaving a flower at the pedestal where the statue was placed and bowing to it with great dignity and devotion. The man stood there, and chanted something…which sounded familiar to him..his mother’s sonorous murmurings resounded in his ears…..Nur got closer, the man was oblivious, tears streaming down his eyes.
Nur said this with total conviction, “It is a pity this idol is here, he should be in a temple being worshipped”. Startled, the Indian man woke from his silent prayer and looked up and simply stated, “This murti has no home now, what was home is occupied, he might as well be here”. Nur did not know how to broach the subject, he wanted to confide, and exchange phone numbers…to put his mother in touch with this man, do something…something that would bring hope to his mother. “Well there is a new movement in India,” continued the short and stocky man with tilak on his forehead, “to get back our stolen gods, I have emailed the organizers…..hopefully, they can put enough pressure through their sources and find a way to have this gorgeous murti installed in a temple there…its original home as you know has been lost forever” the man started walking away doing a namaste.
‘Surya with attendants I Hindu I Found/Acquired: India’ Nur rummaged into his pockets and brought out a tattered fifty rupee note and left it near the flower, this act of defiance brought back new vigour into him, and he came out into the sunlight, completely unburdened.