[This essay was first published in Jalsa 4, 2015]
Eid it is, and yet its presence eludes us. The happiness that used to infect us with the very mentioning of Eid now turns into an alarm as if to portend some ominous news. That city where, with my dear girl-friends, I’d celebrated years and decades of Eid—that city, that country, is now gone and departed. Those characters are no more. Now listening to the azaan, the heart does not frame ditties, but fans a peculiar restive buzz. As if in this world adrift, people do not know what Eid used to be. Yesterday, in the market, I could not trace date-palms in any store. I returned with the memory of that store with a heavy heart, the one that used to be filled with the aroma and freshness of shirni-roti and date-palms piled in baskets. The silvery patterns that used to be glued on them glistened like the tinsel hanging over a bride’s countenance. With the very proclamation of Eid the marketplace would start to remain open till late at night. The tailor too, would stay awake till the wee hours of night so that he could complete his pending work of fine gote-kinari.Not just packaged but open yarn of sevaiyans used to be stacked in such a manner as if they were a skein of fibre. Around and above the market place and the street-corners a fine filigree of gote and kinariya patterns. With their designated work for the Eid in place, every craftsman would sit in easy, undisturbed meditation.
Like spinning tops, women would go about, radiant, making arrangements all through the day. Urad-daal would be soaked at night; curd cultured in big containers. As Eedi, assorted gifts, new coins and notes would be put away securely. Entrusted. Itr-daans would be filled with itr. Betel-nuts, finely chopped, used to be kept aside and along with cloves and cardamom, a full arrangement would be made for the paans to emerge in their full glory. Come dawn, urad –daal would be grounded and then more bades and sevaiyans would be prepared. Everyone would cleanse themselves, take their baths and don their finery as one is supposed to do for Eid. With the new dress, shoes or chappals would also have to be new, of course.
Films like Mere Mehboob, Tajmahal or Mere Huzoor would have special release dates, synchronized with the occasion of Eid. We used to look at the posters of such films with so much longing. Along with you, the whole day we used to visit the homes of our girl-friends—Farana, Farzana, Shahyada, Ishrat, Kishwar Sultana, Salma, Nujhat, Sanovar, Naahid, Gazala, Sabiya and to sundry other places. Like, one had to deliver sevaiyan to the blind peer’s diggings. O Durdana, once when I had asked the meaning of your name, you had explained that it means ‘the grains of the true pearl’ (सच्चे मोती का दाना). To this the Christian Isa sahab had smiled and said, what is truth but pearl! It is the same Isa sahib who would translate stories from Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe and Tom kaka and narrate them to us in Hindustani. There was another protocol between us—you would call my father Pitaji and I would call yours Abbu. In this way, apart from my girl-friends, I would also often meet up with my Ammi, Bhai-jaan, Chacha-jaan, Khala, Aapa, Ba-ji and Mamu-jaan and of course with my Badi-Bi. After we moved apart from each other, I have not addressed anyone in this manner, as if all of that were disaffiliated from my life. Unravelled.
The last time we had met, I was 23 and now I have crossed 60 and today I recall you in such a way that my tears won’t stop following me. Durdana, the town, the country we used to live, the place where every year we used to tie rakhis on a boy, where we used to steal guavas and cranberries and marry our dolls to the very boy we had tied the rakhis on—all that is gone, gone.
That mulberry tree is no more, climbing which we used to be completely oblivious to eating the berries themselves. Such was the engrossment.
There is no comfort, not any that one can feel, no. It is a time of terror. We are encircled. Bivouacs all around. False cases are being thrust upon people. Witnesses are being murdered. The places of worship are especially being targeted; preparation is being made to create breaches within ablutions and offerings. It is a dreadful time and our souls tremble. What Eid? What celebration? Just now they have wrecked the home of a lovely couple in the name of Love Jihad. What Eid can such ruined and desolated people celebrate? These days I begin to talk to myself and lose all sense of my interlocutor.
Am I speaking to the souls of those who have been killed or am I still with the living? These days the living are also like lost souls—now here, now vanished. My sleep is filled with nightmares, Durdana. I hear cries and howls in sleep. Often I see stupefied women, fleeing to nowhere. One day I have even seen dead bodies of children. Sometimes I tend to forget the country in which I am living. Is it that the Gaza-strip kids arrive in my dreams? Or were they our own kids? Which is our own, what is ours? Durdana, the ayaat that you had taught me comes to my mind every single day and I often repeat that, at random moments- या बदी-उल वाइबो बिलखैरे या बदी-ओ |
I have to keep doing my work. A difficult task. To prepare reports of murder and bloodshed. And weep.