Not a single cloud roofed the dark firmament. The black sky roared deafeningly of the tragic scenes from the past couple of hours and the stars flickered in sorrow. It was a strong chilly gust that tried to blow up the ignited flames. The ashes struggled in escaping to the other side of the river bank. Still the body inside the sweltering logs was blazing with all its might. The burning smell was too much to handle but he was compelled to stay there till the end.
From where he stood he saw the river dividing into two tributaries, each one making its own path by striking the river bank. As far as his vision allowed him, everything was covered in mist. He took deep breaths trying not to inhale the smell coming from the burning body. A breeze touched his dull face and his brain started recalling the past night. This appalling reminiscence made his eyes moisten. At the end of the antam sanskar, the mourners had started to depart, making their way back to their warm and cosy beds. They were leaving him and his father Hari Singh to stand alone in the cold weather stranded. Why would they stay? The smouldering corpse wasn’t related to them.
When his cremated mother’s cadaver had been reduced to ashes; he started to put the vestiges in the copper container. His father; who was standing opposite to him, helped him deposit the remains of his mother’s body. When Sardar Hari Singh restored the last residue of his wife in the pot he whispered his wife’s name, Beena Kaur. He used to call her beenu when they were alone; away from the whole world. He told his son to immerse the ashes in the river. This was the first sign of weakness, Hari Singh the man with wisdom and power who was the mukhiya of his village could not keep his emotions together. He didn’t shed a tear but his heart was bursting. He couldn’t stand to be away from his beenu. A relation built on 23 years of struggle, strength and love. A bond that resembled concrete and vagueness was destroyed by merely a misunderstanding or was it one? He never gave a second thought to her and their past and proceeded to the Gurdwara to purify himself and his soul.
He started walking towards the end of the river, holding the most precious one in his hands, his mother. Mother a creature carved with tenderness, painted with affection and gifted with ardour. She knows you even before you know yourself. She bestowed her blood and sweat to make her child stalwart and colossal enough to facade the realm but still you need her to hold you in the dark thundering night. You need her to show off your achievements and weep on your deprivation. A fall you had fabricated scars on her heart but still she buckles you up to conquer the unseen destiny. She makes you bold and intransigent; deep inside she knows you need her at every step of life. What is she? How can she love you more than yourself? What will happen when your only cling in life is no more?
She left him without even saying good bye. He couldn’t find his inner peace. Everything seemed fine yesterday; she made him Aloo ka paratha for lunch. Right now he was cursing himself for not finishing it and running away to play. He was unaware that it would be the last time he would taste them ever again. With regret in his heart and heavy legs he walked towards the end of the river
A single ray of sun illuminated the sky making the sight a little better. Through the heavy fog he saw something closing up towards him. A small boat perhaps, but why would someone travel the river at this time? He squinted at it struggling to inquire. He couldn’t make much of it; it was too far to mark an affirmative decision. He paced up so that he could finish his work before the arrival of the strangers. As he marched up he saw that a man was rowing the boat and there were two women accompanying him. He slowed near the river bank. As the edge of the dinghy touched the land the passengers hurried out. They were Muslims, their outfits indicated. The man was fussing about someone; the elderly woman shoved a bag in his hands and handed a pile of books to the other woman. The threesome started walking towards east. He was glad they were going away; he could finally perform his work in peace. The one carrying the books lagged behind due to weight she has been carrying as the man and the elderly woman made their way. To keep up with them she started pacing; caught her feet in the sand and tripped. Out of courtesy he ran towards her to help, unaware of his presence she was startled. He drew back, trying not to offend when suddenly a gush of wind blew up her veil. She was not a woman but a girl; a girl with a radiant face, a beauty worth capturing. He wanted to touch her face, to see if it’s real or not. May be she was an angel who descended from the heaven above, a virgin maiden of paradise. A glimpse was all he could get because she gathered her things and went running towards her partners. A prevue splendour had led him to a state of bewilderment, as he stood facing the runaway girl unasked questions in his head, attar; a hint of natural perfume in his nostrils and a surprise in his rib cage that he had never known before.
He sprinted blindly in the night not thinking twice about what he had done! Scared as hell he was but deep-rooted inside that the deed he had just performed was righteous. Never before had he thought about raising his voice before his father, Hari Singh; a man so mighty that even the elders of the village bowed their eyes before him. Respect was the only relation he had with his father but today he had done the unthinkable yet his anger patted him for his bravery.
He had changed since she had gone; nothing had remained the same as before. Days were passing by and people forgot about the terrible night when a woman had died of an unknown cause. But for him it was a treachery, a theft, a robbery of his concord and soul. Nothing was relevant, the air around his home, the lofty smell in his clothes was gone, and the food was tasteless. His pillow and his bed bunk were somehow alien to him in just a couple of days. The only worthy being in his life, his mother was taken away and there was nothing he could do about it. It was impossible to absorb the fact that his mother was not anymore.
He ran through the market, wiping his tears with the back of his hand, ashamed that if anybody saw him they would start to shower their pity and commiserate him but in truth they would be laughing at him not because he was almost a grown man weeping like a toddler but because he was Rajveer, the son of Sardar.
His legs carried him to the gigantic mango tree beside the dry well. What familiarity he felt almost like home, a place where he had spent the long days of summer hiding from the scorching sun eating the sour unripe mangoes with his partner in crime, Jamshed. Accustomed to the old tree he climbed up to the cradled branch, unable to fit properly in his old designated place; he settled to sit with his back leaning to the trunk. Clearing his face with the lap of his kameez, his eyes saw the weirdest things ever. The long forgotten haunted haweli had been let at last. In his early days of his childhood, he and Jamshed use to bet other kids around the village to go and touch the last stairs to the second floor, both of them would climb up the mango tree and scare the daring kid by making weird noises and throw stones at him. This past memory brought a flickering smile to his face. An illumination in the window above him caught his attention and he climbed up high to find out. To his utter surprise he saw that same alluring girl in the black veil, today she was engulfed in white drape. Enchanting as it was he stared at the meditating being and the world around him started to feel different yet miraculous. It was she who was offering prayers, but it looked like her prayers were being answered.
Mesmerized by either the faith or the girl, Rajveer had found an alternate to the commotions in his life. Early in the morning he used to wake up just to stalk her on the route to her school, hiding through the bushes, he had injured his feet once or twice. His frequent visits to Jamshed house hadn’t raised a suspicious eye on him yet but he couldn’t stop his pursue to see his mystery girl learning Quran from Jamshed’s Ami. His evening would pass on the gigantic tree watching the girl in white, praying to her GOD. He had seen Jamshed praying before but there was some captivating spirit around her prayer that made him believe in one GOD. She would raise her beautifully craved hands in dua and he too would imitate her. Even though he believed in Guru with all his heart but at the moment he wanted ALLAH to bless him. Sucked up in a trance he would walk home through the sleeping settlement. His aunt used to yell at him for not eating the dinner but how would he explain to her that his appetite was now grown to a hunger of love. The same pillow and a rough bed was now a mercy for him because in his eyelids he carried the image of the praying girl in white. | To be continued …