It is one of those medieval houses in old Srinagar that stirred up nostalgia. On its first floor, a traditional Kashmiri window is covered with perforated polythene sheet. Behind two holes of transparent cover, a pair of eyes is peeking at the ‘Eid rush’ on the streets. These are hazel eyes that seem to have a sea of sadness in them. They seem to intrigue, probe and explore. Maybe, among myriad faces, they (eyes) are looking for someone very badly.
The beholder is a motherless daughter, who is craving for an impossible reunion. But perhaps in the state of longing, the tender soul has forgotten: Departed souls burn all the boats of return!
A few days back, when her class 10 results were announced, Nadia leapt with joy. She had scored 460 out of 500. With big tear drops in her eyes, she then ran towards her home. Once inside, she quickly opened her cupboard. After a while, her father noticed her talking to ‘someone’. She was sobbing quite loudly while saying: Mom, I made you proud today. Look, I have stood first in my class, as always. Now, please fulfil your promise and come back!
Her sobs turned into inconsolable shrieks by the time her father came and saw her talking to the portrait of her deceased mother. Even he couldn’t control a sudden surge in his well tamed emotions. He hugged his daughter. And for a while, the house echoed with soft moans.
In that harsh winter four years ago, Nadia was left devastated, forever. In that chilly morning when snow had frozen the blacktops in Khanyar, vicious news broke out: Somebody hit the mother-daughter duo on the road. The impact was fatal in the times of shivered life. It was one strike and Nadia’s mother ceased to be!
Later it began snowing once again. Gravediggers had hard time to confront nature while creating room for her mother inside the snowbound cemetery. And then, mourners came out of that dilapidated house carrying her mother draped in white. “What a pious lady she was,” said one, amid wails. “Just three days before,” another neighbour spoke out, “I saw her full of life while talking to me. But Allah has His own plans.”
For a daughter of an aged carpenter, putting up in her parental home (in absence of her mother) became impossible. In that hour of grief, her uncle showed up with the help. Known for his egoism, he took her away from her father with the vow to nourish her “like his own daughter”.
In her uncle’s home, they simply poured their heart out for a new entrant in their family. Her void ebbed out in the cheerful company of her cousins. She carried her studies and received the treatment exactly as her uncle had promised.
But how much time does it takes for humans to turn the tables! Moods started turning sour and that oceanic patience for an orphan at first place disappeared. In the free ride of egos, Nadia simply became a pawn. She often found herself at the centre of accusations, fault and taunts.
By the time she was in class 9, her school teacher repeatedly noticed a sharp decline in her learning abilities. He (her teacher) would often find her lost in his class. Her concentration, attention and interest had badly derailed. That ‘pro-student’ teacher would often find Nadia missing her meals during lunch breaks. Alone she would sit in the school lawn, absorbed in her own grief.
But one afternoon when he couldn’t take it anymore, he asked her: the reason of her lost self. She only flashed wooden looks. But as her teacher’s insistence build up, she whispered through those often zipped lips. “Sir,” she began, “I want to join my own family.” She couldn’t reveal anything more, as her cries made the picture clear for him. Deeply touched by her woebegone, the teacher then called her uncle and aunt.
“Look, as a teacher, I am not supposed to meddle with the family affairs of my students,” the teacher told them, “but yes, if family affairs fiddle with learning ability of a student, then I have a full authority to ask you, Mr Shafaat [Nadia’s uncle], what is wrong with Nadia?”
Nadia’s visiting uncle and aunt exchanged swift glances with each other, before turning their stern faces towards Nadia, standing quietly at one corner of the room. Being university pass-outs, the couple understood the meaning of teacher’s query. “Nothing,” her uncle replied with an air of arrogance in his voice. “She must be missing her mother and that’s it. I don’t think we should make much about it.” He smirked and through the corners of his eyes stared hard at his niece before leaving the room.
Later at home, they unleashed hell for her. A vicious torrent of taunts almost damped Nadia’s grief-stricken heart. “Is this how you are repaying us for all the ‘favours’ we bestow on you,” her aunt pounced on her. “You ingrate soul, you should be ashamed of yourself.” And when all this was happening, her uncle stood motionless, deriving sadistic pleasure out of her bashing.
That night, Nadia stared at the dark sky outside the window of her cramped room. With each sob, she sent out a silent prayer towards the gates of heaven. She wanted her Allah to emancipate her from the life of taunts, mocks and smirks. “Uncle,” she silently communicated with her creator, “can’t be such an indifferent man. And those cousins can’t be such bullies.” While that aunt, she whispered, can’t be such a terrorist in that motherly figure!
A month after, Nadia left her uncle’s home for some distant relative of her mother. Their nasty wordplay had gone beyond the endurance of her tender nerves. Crying, she arrived at her mother’s relatives. They consoled her till she regained her composure. But as she started opening up; the mood inside the room turned militant. Some of them got up and visited her uncle. They ridiculed him for terrorising the little soul. After some time, Nadia’s custody was given back to her father.
Now, the days of vicious taunts are well behind her. But somehow her father’s house where she spent her early days in the most cherished company of her mother invigorates disturbing memories of past. Still peeking outside, through perforated polythene cover of her window, ‘Eid rush’ on the streets seems another reason for her to breath heavy!