To live in a land with a horrifying past whose scars still remain.
Sri gurubhyo namaha!
Nuruddin was hallucinating and he knew it. That image of gold and red kept coming back to him, his eyes were reeling under the excessive light inside his brain, sending shockwaves through his body. He shivered more out of a need to shrug off this preposterous reality than fear. How was it even possible?
The streets sang with the camaraderie of foreign tongues, the lotus filled ponds and lakes were lit up with oil lamps all along the perimeters, the two-storied guest houses were decorated with mango leaves and rangolis, roads lined with flowering trees, incense-filled the air, fragrant in the cool spring dusk, beautiful dancing women heady with exquisite gold jewellery, tinkling bells and silver anklets, gliding gaily towards the massive structure, skipping and hopping, climbing the steps like deer springing away from strange sights… all this easy laughter heralded certain doom..such freedom, such magnificence, such celebration and riches …..
He follows them into the main hall and there it is, huge, this image almost fifteen feet tall. He can see himself looking at it in awe, staring upwards from its massive feet in slow motion, so dark yet lustrous studded with gems and brilliance…..and then when Nur’s eyes meet the rubied sockets, he cries out involuntarily, and wakes up the household. The river Indus behind his bungalow carries on in the night gurgling its secrets to the sea.
“putt …some cold water, it will help you sleep”, Ali was as usual like a djinn, never asleep, always at his service. It was quite a mystery as to how he managed the efficient running of Nur’s personal and professional matters without ever resting adequately. He had on a demeanour of subjugation, a slavishness that has been internalized, yet he was never subservient, only sincerely concerned. Nuruddin trusted him on all matters and consulted him especially on the history of his family, and Sindh. Ali had been their caretaker for generations, he was an honorary member of the Daharki khaandaan, as was his father before him, and his grandfather and….
“Did you have the same dream again putt?” asked Ali, as he handed Nuruddin a tall steel lassi tumbler, cold and dripping. Wiping away the extra water droplets on the outer edges neatly with his right hand, and placing a wooden coaster on the side table by Nur’s bed, Ali switched on the light.
It is not a dream, screamed the insides of Nur’s head, his whole being was burning with so many mixed emotions, it was hard to tell if this was because of lack of sleep, or due to the newly minted knowledge about his own birth. Whatever it was, it had brought this sudden bout of sickness. He was spending his days researching on his laptop furiously, meeting people online to confirm or deny the allegations, while the nights were a constant reminder of the terrible past that was flicked away as though an ant or a mosquito to be squashed, without much ado, without worrying about the psychological consequences or ethical justifications for denying one’s history. Not one or two or three hundred years, not even a thousand, like the Islamic rule of Sindh, no, this was so much more. As per his findings, this was a civilization that was at least a million years in continuum. He wanted to keep digging for more images…he was throwing up dry hot earth all around him…drowning in the quicksand of desperation.
“It is better to believe people putt than these machines” answered Ali pointing his chin towards the laptop, as though reading his thoughts. “What is troubling you, what is it that you want to know?” Ali brought a small bamboo stool from the verandah, placed it respectfully away from the bed near the now open door. He sat it down, lower than Nur, who was now sitting erect on the delicately carved four-poster teak bed sipping the lime laced water gingerly, one leg folded at the knee, and another dangling just above the ground.
Nur had to be careful, even though he was in a state of shock, and drowsy from lack of sleep, he was suddenly shaken by this direct question from his minion. Ali was devout, followed that local Barelvi preacher religiously, and was quite vocal about his glee at the assassination of a certain liberal politician. Nur knew that he had to tread carefully, servants talk, the word spreads, and before you know it you are on some hit list. And there were ample opportunities to get rid of Nuruddin. He was alone for example in this huge farmhouse far away from the main city, with only Ali and his family for company. Nur had read enough in the past week to appreciate how dangerous his situation was right now.
“I am just very very concerned about all these Chinese in our holy land Ali”. Nur was not lying and hoped it would be enough to convince Ali and get him up from the stool and outside the door. “Colonization starts like this, this is how the British entered India, via trade and economics, and look what happened”. He shivered and looked at this father figure of his with keen eyes and continued, “They follow no religion no rules, imagine the effect on our people, our culture and history” He stopped pointedly at ‘our history’. Emphasising it for effect, hoping to elicit some sincere confession of god-knows-what.
What Nuruddin wanted to say aloud to someone, to anyone, was that for the past few weeks he had been dreaming of this huge black bejewelled idol which shone like gold with rubies for its eyes, riding a chariot of seven horses looking spectacular while smiling with grace and beauty, pulling him into the world of infidels. If he came out with this he would most certainly be outed. He had to make sure that he did not slip. The exquisitely carved crown, the sun rays shaped in stone, the attendants and voluptuous females by his side, two fully blooming lotuses in the two palms, elegantly held in delicate fingers, while a chauffeur rode the chariot…all this appeared to him every night and disappeared at sun-up. Ironical. It was all so regal that he was totally enamoured with this figure whom the kafirs called Soorya, the Sun-God. Just like how his mother had named him Nur, the light of his religion.
Now he understood why. She had desperately wanted to keep some part of her previous life alive and had to be circumspect about it. The day before she stopped talking, Nuruddin’s mother had summoned him to her chambers and had sent all the maids away asking them to fetch this or that to feed him, giving her the time and privacy needed to confide in her son something she had held so close to her heart all these years. She no longer spoke after that, and she sent him away from the city too, to make easy his escape.
Ever since that fateful day when she was on her way back from Daharki having visited her amnesiac mother, she had encountered the poor father of the two young Hindu girls, sisters, who were kidnapped, and married off to old doddering men, all in the name of the deen. Her car had stopped at the Bharchundi shrine so that the driver could pay his respects despite her feeble protestations, and this man in a tattered pyjama kurta, face and body distraught with crying and hopelessness, was screaming in front of its gates, the pain of losing both his daughters to this racket of forced conversion was evident even from her sheltered chassis. He was pulling his hair out and cut such a horrifying figure, that no one in the vicinity with a heart could walk away with a clear conscience. To lose your children, your girls, to an alien culture and belief system by force, what can be more pitiable. She knew this more than most.
Amma had come back home, eyes red with suppressed rage and sadness. There was frightening anger to her presence, she told him curtly on the phone to meet in her quarters as soon as he was done with supervising the farmhands. He had been most surprised by her brusque behaviour. In all his forty-odd years he had never seen her as anything but soft and kind and affectionate. Even when she got to know of his disinterest in women which she had guessed and not asked him about but allowed him to be, even then, she had been most gentle. Her only word of caution was that it was not safe for others to know, especially servants and neighbours, hence he must never talk about it and that he must always say that he liked a lot of girls but never could decide on one, that was acceptable.
What he saw today was a different amma. She was blistering because history had let this happen yet again, despite partition, despite modernity, despite all laws and international courts of justice. He did not know that of course. Nuruddin until now was simply a rich kid wallowing in self-pity that his identity had to be under subterfuge as it could bring in the death penalty if revealed.
He decided to be cheery and optimistic, “Do you need to see the doctor, are your knees troubling you again amma?” Whatever it was she was sure to let him know soon over pakoras and chai anyway. He fluffed her pillows, helped her sit up against the wall, and sat down beside her, taking her frail hands in his. She never painted them nor grew them long like other women in his family who were all sophisticated and chic, she was never given to make-up either, her head and long hair were always covered with a white dupatta. But she indulged in candles, she would light them all the time, everywhere. Nur had always assumed that she had named him so because of her love for light. She liked to hum a lot too when he was younger, nothing filmi or romantic but something more powerful.
She rasped at him, “Close the door”!
Something about the dim-lit room, her presence in it, heightened by their shadows on the ancient walls in the candlelight, her transformed voice and body language, the whole eerie mood, prepared him for the worst. Would she order him to get married to a girl to ward off people’s suspicions? Is that why she was being so secretive and mysterious? Nuruddin, her only child, her shehzaada, who was once the pride of the whole clan for having studied at Oxford, was now all alone in his forties, without a future, without any hope or enthusiasm in him, his eyes devoid of life. Would she want to allay her own insecurities and fear of his future by requesting him to do right by her? Had she found a perfect match like all those TV mothers in the popular dramas?
“You must go to him. I hear him calling to me. He is waiting”. Nuruddin gaped at his mother as though in a trance, what in the hell was going on!
Continued in Part 2