LITTLE THINGS

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Dear June,

Some mornings I wake up only for you.

Thank you for embracing me without hurting my bones. For keeping the refrigerator stocked, filled to the brim with eggs.

For letting me walk you down the altar, weak and frail.

For forgoing not one, but two childhoods, yours and Susan’s, in my care.

I know living with me and my cancer is difficult, but thank you for never complaining about this untimely guest.

I will love you in life and in death, and I will try, for as long as possible, to be your

Mom

 

Remembering Love

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To my dead husband and my eternal love,

Who said time-travel has to be utterly physical in nature? I time-travel into your memories every day. Your memories are paper boats I can step into, row and glide in.

Each morning I travel to the damp porch of the earth, where naked sand is kissed voluptuously by the Dal Lake. The otherwise still water has developed small tremors in the fresh morning breeze, as if the lake was a young child playing joyously in its cradle after waking up from a complete sleep. I look at the warm boat that topples mildly in the lake; the boat seemed warm because it resembled the moon-shaped vessel in which Ammi served curry last night. Curry with thick-spiced Murgh-Masala. The delicious dinner was bland and colorless against my loveless tongue, it immediately took me back to that sunny afternoon where in the wait of your belated letter, I sat and learnt the traditional recipe of the dish from my mother, just so that I could get you to taste its beauty when you returned home. You loved it when I cooked.

I step into this boat dutifully each day, just before dawn is about to crack, when the sky is that tricky color of purple and white that one can never paint. It is just that hour before sunrise, before the birds woke, when you used to turn in bed and sheepishly hum, and rising from sleep, put your arms around me and kiss me with all the love you contained.

I seat myself carefully but with ease, the daily practice has made my movements natural. I untie the boat from the hinge of consciousness and I pick up the oars, and sail away, melodiously traversing this sea of memories, love, loss, pain, or alternatively, a simple sea of tears. I softly row my way to the other shore, the land of dreams…where I can lose myself indefinitely, where the vagaries of time do not trouble me, where I can think of you and remember you without guilt, sorrow or ridicule. Where you and I are one again – if not in soul, then in memory. I am taken back to the first day I met you, the snow-capped hills and the beautiful valley icy, the memory is pungent within me till date. I remember the subtle chase in our eyes, our subsequent interaction when I asked you for directions, and the many boat-trips in the Dal that you consequently took me on, on shikaras of happiness.

Sometimes I think, ever since that day, I have been sailing the same sea, while time and space have transcended and reshaped around me incessantly. To and fro, torturously.

I had decided to leave everything back at home and settle into this paradise only because the immensity and unbounded fearlessness of your love made me stay, provoked me to love you back, make you half as happy as you had the capacity to make me, to free you from all unprecedented sorrows, and forthcoming pain. My love was traditional, but complete.

It pains me to remember you, to memorialize your laughter and your love. But what choice do I have? I cannot afford to forget you or your memories, they keep me alive. I would have forgotten you if you were simply a man I loved. But you had washed into my world like a storm; to me, you had become love. And as you will understand, it is easy to live without the specter who stole your heart, but it is impossible to live without your very heart.

This sea that I travel is dark, Janum. And this land is villainy. But I must undertake this journey. With your silver hand in mine, as thin as mist, as warm as the sun, I must travel through time to reach your memories, because that is what true love is – unforgetful, forgiving, and lovely.

Inayat

Build Me Hope

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Throughout history, we have been building ourselves a brighter tomorrow at the cost of today.

 “What are we to do now, mother?” my daughter-in-law Rafiza spoke softly, uncertain of the life of her unborn child as much as she was uncertain of her own. Her misty eyes, fixed on the cloudless grey sky; searched for light; for courage; for answers she knew wouldn’t help. Who had seen this coming? The brutality and the force with which the war had destroyed our lives, had vanquished the human capacity to keep faith.

Bloodshed…No – Carnage. It had caused carnage. Blood painted the roads where children once used to walk to school. Bombs had bombarded what were parks, where I had once played with my young son Iqbal, and taught him of strength. Missiles had broken roofs to bits, roofs that were once adorned with stoned chandeliers. The country was enthused with anger and fury to a point where all beyond vengeance became subordinate; anger had gobbled our beautiful nation, and left in its place a community stitched together by terror, fear and empathy for each other’s pain.

The million men who left their families – newly married wives, old mothers, dyeing fathers, beloved children, and everyday stability – to join the war had deduced their homes to houses – homes where happy husbands used to return for warmth and love, where brides had settled to build new lives, where souls had affined, where stories rested, homes which were all people had, which were all people were; houses which the war had shattered to nothing. Families crippled – every plot had a husband dead in war, a wife destitute of her honour, and an innocent child orphaned. Yet tears no longer welled up in the citizen’s eyes – there was too much fright, pain and shock to make room for grief. The war had come like a tornado – destroying and wiping away with it the roots of everything they ever knew, everything they had, everything that defined life for them.

 I worked continuously on the patch of mud. My hands muddy, and sweat dripping over my head. The sound of bullets and sirens infiltrated inside us as we heard a bomb hit a nearby structure. Shards of metal fumed over us and the air grew hot. Military men marched outside the gates. Rafiza broke into bouts of tears. She shrieked with intolerable dread. “Answer me Ma! Why won’t you say anything! I wish not to die! I have another life within me. This child will be our only memory of Iqbal! Please Ma. Answer me! Tell me the war will be over! Say it for my child. Say it for your dead son’s soul!” she wailed.  

A tear rained down my cheek.

“Why won’t you answer me Ma?! Let us run away! Let us go! Let us leave all this behind and run away!”

I got up from the patch of garden. “You know how much Iqbal loved this house?” I spoke with the calmness of the morning dew. A sparkle danced in my eyes as I lost myself into the beautiful past, for it offered refuge, if not remedy, from both the present and what it was to bring. “How much he loved the country! He could have exhausted all his life building our nation. He spent more time at his plantations than at business or with us. Here, he planted his first plant as a child. This is my freshest memory of him, and I will not let ashes take it away from me.”

“What are you saying? Why would you say something like that? What are you doing Ma?” Although the panic left her voice, her tone was intrigued and frightened like that of an abandoned child– weak.

I moved my hands away from the plant of clover. “I am planting hope.” I clenched my teeth together, trying to curb my inner turmoil, for it was larger, and more colossal than the force of this war. I kissed Rafiza’s forehead as we embraced each other and closed our eyes to the last sound of a bomb as concrete dripped around us.