As the first teardrop slipped, she closed her watery eyes and raised her cupped hands. The tears falling down her withered cheeks raced downwards. A lady with a bucket full of Teher broke her trance.
“Rati moji teher, duekher hay kerzi, Be awlaad ches, Maenis peeras wan ti maen Koch ti barihay.” (Take this Mother; I am childless, pray so that I could have a child).
The purposes of these two ladies to visit the shrine of Sultanul Arifeen were poles apart- Young yearning to have a child and the old-abandoned by them. Both frequent the shrine. Both find solace here. They share the pain and break down instantly. The duo is consoled by few women seated next to them.
They have been visiting Makhdoom sahib’s shrine, situated on the hills of Kohi-Maraan, in the old city of Srinagar, for last three years. Both of them live with the hope that one day their woes will cease.
Life took an ugly turn for Maimoona, the oldie. Otherwise, she was a pampered child whose requests would turn out to be orders. Only girl child of her parents, her pals would envy her happy-go-lucky nature. She enjoyed her salad days to her fullest envisaging that she will have a smooth tread to track. Little did she know that it will turn out to be bumpy with breaks and barricades.
As she finished her lunch, she rushed to the attic and spread her braids. Her henna-dyed curls are flying in the breeze. This pretty pal caresses and rests blonde hair on her shoulders. Someone has locked his gaze on her from the neighbor’s guest room. He was Ashraf. He got stuck at the windowsill. Maimoona was beauty personified. After combing her hair, she fixed her gaze at fresh gurgling waters of stream flowing from the fringes of her orchid near her home.
To catch her attention, Ashraf threw a tiny object in the stream. This act reddened her face as both stared at each other. Maimoona knew that Ashraf is a noble young man. She was ready to settle down with this humble soul. She was not desperate. Boys would never dare to face her rebellious nature. She was not as calm and receptive as she looked today. She was a different material. Done and dusted with all the rituals and norms of an ‘arranged marriage’, both are face-to-face with each other, sweating literally. To be tied in a nuptial knot with Maimoona turned out to be a blessing for Ashraf. After one year of conjugal knot, Ashraf had a huge surplus in business. His earnings swelled. Contended couple was ‘happily married.’
Table Turner Tuesday
Her second anniversary gift to her partner was a baby boy. Ashraf’s joy knew no bounds that he fathered a son.
They digested lot of hardships in his upbringing since he had developed multiple complications after a few months of his birth. They visited all the doctors around, and shrines; both doctor and divine. But the going was getting tough.
One relatively humid afternoon, as Ashraf was flipping the pages of a National daily, he came across an article written about the disorder his child was suffering from. In a jiffy, he emailed the author and got to know the cure of the ailment. Perturbed parents pooled in some 2 lac rupees for the treatment of their kid.
They camped in Delhi, absorbed the sweltering sun and sweat. A month later, the ward was fine. The ‘Messiah’ at AIIMS suggested them to hurry home. With bag full of costly prescriptions, they flied back to Valley.
The couple could not sleep properly throughout their stay in India’s summer capital. They were concerned about the health of their child. Later on, insomniac duo developed many health eelated issues due to this restlessness and sleeplessness.
The kid was raised with proverbial silver spoon. Admitted in city’s top ranked school. Nicknamed as ‘Nawaz’, Shahnawaz graduated from one of the oldest learning institutes of Srinagar. Living in a posh locality has its own ‘perks and positives’ but books no longer interested Nawaz.
Many of his college friends were either seen loitering around in gardens and parks or restaurants, having fun. How could Shahnawaz lag behind? He had his own share.
Only child of his parents, he was a “boss” in the house. Before taking any decision, he never bothered to consult his experienced dad.
“Shoukh oosum Marne bronth rach’han Nawaz saebun neyuk (before meeting the creator, I wish to have my grandson in my lap).” Maimoona told her husband.
“Dapsa nitch (Girl instead).” Ashraf retorted sarcastically as the smoke came dancing from his mouth.
Late that night, “anxious” mother finally mustered courage to whisper the wish to her son.
“Talai kar moji choppy, me tagi teli paan ti, che kem wonnai ath baras manz sannun (Just mind your own business mom, you need not to think about it. I can do it myself).” Nawaz replied in a harsh tone.
On hearing this answer from her son, Maimoona could not utter a word. She was shell-shocked. Thereafter, they never “dared” to ask him about the marriage proposals. He had become “a source of scare” for his parents.
And then they faced another and probably the biggest shock of their life when he eloped with a college girl. Notorious now, he brought disgrace to the whole family. No one visited the abode where the old couple got caged. The suffocation reduced them each day.
Years passed. Ashraf, living with a burden of guilt and embarrassment cuddled her wife. It turned out to be their last hug.
“My heart is hammering hard.” He whispered to his wife.
Next morning, he suffered cardiac arrest and was hospitalized by his neighbors. None among his very own turned up for any help.
……and that night, as they were about to hit the sack, Ashraf told Maimoona.
“Look, it was destined to happen. We have full faith in fate. We have to accept it.” He pursed his lips forever hitting the bucket. Maimoona’s companion left her dull, dreary and disturbed.
His frozen body paralyzed her. She stared at him for quite long. Everything went black and blank. A loud shriek broke the pin-drop silence of night.
She started to pull her hair and beat her chest. She banged the door and came out, screaming.
In next 10 minutes, a posse of neighborhood ladies came to console her. She tried to tear her frock in frustration. This inconsolable widow had the intuition that the worst is yet to come.
Her husband’s sudden demise set the pall of gloom in the neighborhood. As Nawaz learned about his father’s death, he hurried home. As Ashraf’s coffin was lowered in the graveyard, Nawaz didn’t even come forward to participate in the last rites of his father.
His young wife Farheen was a trendy teen. She would scold her mother-in-law for minute ‘mistakes’. One day, as Farheen came back from her market sojourn. She shouted at Maimoona.
“Ye aab keyuth yetit, ye aesi pishaab kormut, dafa gechzehay yeti.” This warning frightened this ailing oldie.
She spent that dreadful night under the open sky. Next day, she was asked to vacate the lawn for never to return. His son is not in the gulf or the west but living just a mile away from her dingy tin-shed. She still prays for his success and good health. As she finished narrating this doleful tale, she heaved a heavy sigh, covered her wrinkled face with his tender hands, and pressed this stranger to have a cup of tea at her peher. She broke down, again.
“Dohoi chi yaper neraan gadi manz, zanh dechek ni nazar ama yi mouj maaya kini zindai chi (He zooms past this hut in his car but never bothered to see whether my Mother is alive or dead.)”
She still has that mai (motherly affection) for her grown up son but Nawaz does not care. The U-turn her fate took changed the course of her life. Beauty queen of the yore now sustains on alms. Of course, there are hundreds of Maimoonas suffering silently. Maimoona measures her time with grief as Austrian psychiatrist Victor Frankel puts it, “To live is to suffer but finding meaning in that suffering is to survive.”
“Yeli bi marri ati eiyas maen qadir yateemas kya chi gachaan.” She wiped a tear, brimming out from the corner of her eye, with the hem of her scarf.
Note: The names have been changed to protect the identity.