The Withered

A studious boy at school, Irfan was preparing for his senior secondary board
The Withered
"Nabeel was still a bud who was indecisive about life. But he was sensible enough to realize that he was the sole support of his bed-ridden mother."Wikimedia Commons/ Zaferauf

Much to the woes of his parents, Nabeel would readily mix with his village boys. No reprimand was rigid enough to confine his frequent outdoor movements. And, the same was making his poor parents anxious, very anxious. It would stir up the nightmare of some haunted past.

They had lost something very dear to the outside movement. In the face of that very loss, they had driven themselves crazy. They couldn’t have afforded another loss. So, they imposed a tough stand on their son to prevent another trauma.

At dusk, his coppersmith father Mohammad Rafiq would down the shutter of his shop and rush to offer prayers in a local mosque before returning home with kehnsa for Nabeel. His wife Mymoona would pray, at length for her elder son, inside their mud house.

What solace those moments on the prayer rug would give her! Those minutes would be her departure from the usual. And those tears streaming from her closed eyes would stare at her cupping hands. Praying over the years had become pleading for her.

A studious boy at school, Irfan was preparing for his senior secondary boards. No longer did he step out, after Sehri (pre-dawn meals) on the seventh day of Ramadhan, a Maruti car suddenly stopped and he embarked on a journey to nowhere.

The path he was forced to walk doomed his home. He could prove a valuable asset and serve his Watne-Aziz. But the brainwashing brigade succeeded to ruin another poor home. He had no inkling that he is being used as fodder in this proxy game.

The likes of those who instigated him are well off, their children are pursuing fellowships in Europe and US. They own properties in posh areas, within and outside the valley. Nonetheless, Nabeel was too naïve to understand this method of madness.

Those days, Mymoona’s tear-jerking appeals inundated cyberspace and moved netizens but failed to persuade the otherwise obedient son to shun the path of violence and return to live a normal life.

Everyone would empathise with Mymoona. But she was unable to resurrect her normal self. Her worsening condition alarmed Rafiq. He soon consulted his neighbor, Shahid Gulfaam, a doctor. Known for his generous nature, Gulfaam was akin to a textbook philanthropist.

A medical check-up was done. She was diagnosed with chronic depression. In her prescription slip, Dr. Gulfaam wrote in unreadable handwriting, otherwise a hallmark of medicos: “a case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” The doctor also advised him to take Mymoona to the valley’s premier Mental Health Hospital for a proper check-up. For his partner-in-grief (and long-parted-joy), Rafiq made up his mind to visit Rainawari.

It was a cloudy day when the couple boarded the passenger cab at Iqbal Market Sopore. Amid the shrilling sounds inside, they sat silent, wearing the tired eyes of wanderers. Mymoona set her gaze outside the windowpane. She was lazily watching everything on road drifting back. The sight was slowly sending her in past.

She was smiling upon recalling certain memories of Irfan – his unending nagging as a child, his first day at school, his shy smiles…A sudden brake broke her trance. She found herself in the bustling Pattan market. She rested her head on Rafiq’s shoulder. He was looking like a haggard man with an unshaven face. His growing grey beard appeared bushy.

Her murmurs became inaudible to him amid the vehicular din. He tilted his head close to Mymooma. “Are we meeting Irfan today?” Her query stung him. He straightened his head and resumed his frozen stance. Mymoona slept sans raising any more questions.

At IMHANS in Rainawari, Mymoona was getting nervy. “I am okay! But, no! Leave me alone. You won’t understand the pain of a mother whose child…” She broke down. Rafiq stood standstill. After a long pause, he retorted to her, “What do you mean? What about a father? Do you think only you (mothers) bear the brunt?” Tears brimmed out of their eyes. Cry, console, and concern followed. He grabbed her hand. They returned to their modest house in Baramulla.

Amid unfading gloom at his home, Nabeel started growing up. He was cheerful besides funny. He made quick friends in the village. He was receptive and smart enough to read the conditions around him. But he wasn’t fortunate enough to tap out his talents in the face of the tragedy. One evening, Rafiq was returning home.

Throughout the way, he was a brooding man lost in his usual somber thoughts. Without realizing it, he started walking towards the center of the road. Speedy vehicles would whiz past him. Soon, a loud thud was heard. A speedy Tata Sumo flattened him on the ground. Blood oozed out of his head like a fountain.

He was removed to SKIMS by nearby shoppers. Six pints of blood were immediately needed at ICU. Or, he wouldn’t survive. Nobody volunteered to donate to save the father of someone they would cheer on monstrous social media. Nabeel became an orphan. Mymoona, a widow.

Nabeel was still a bud who was indecisive about life. But he was sensible enough to realize that he was the sole support of his bed-ridden mother. To begin with, they sold their shop, to make both ends meet. But soon savings dried up. To run home expenses, Nabeel started doing some odd jobs. But earning wasn’t sufficient even to buy him one strip of the prescription for his mother.

The day of his birthday dawned. It was April 23. It meant nothing, except to be on a job hunt. His tender age and lean figure were his apparent woes. With the sweltering sun overhead, Nabeel saw a clean-shaven man dressed in denim jeans and a blue shirt stepping out of the mosque one day. He greeted him and asked for some alms.

His innocent pleading moved the man. He took him home and offered some food. He assured Nabeel that he would take care of him after knowing his story. But Nabeel wasn’t alone. He grew anxious for his ailing mother.

Six months had passed. Nabeel was still receiving financial help and care from the generous man he met outside the mosque. But one day, the man got a job in a multi-national company in Hyderabad and settled there. People get busy in their lives and forgetting is so short.

Nabeel was back to square one. But he pulled his socks up and went for stone chiseling at Drangbal village in Varmul. He sweated hard and was soon earning enough to feed his mother. Miraculously, his mother, who was on medication, started recovering.

On one wintry night, he woke up after a shriek broke the lull of the night. He heard his mother’s fainting voice, “Irfanoo… behaaa ayesai…” It unnerved him. He tried to wake up his mother. She wasn’t responding at all. He panicked. A shout for help followed.

But none turned up. He rushed to unbolt the door, pushed it hard, and came out in open. He started raising cries for help: “Anybody, please come to my rescue! My mother needs help. Please…” And soon, a swarm of them were inside, feeling sorry for him.

A short while later, it was decided, that she would be buried after Fajr (morning) prayers. With dawn, neighborhood women came wailing; others screaming. Days after the demise of his mother, Nabeel was seen carrying heavy logs of wood for the living. It was too much burden for his tiny shoulders. Nobody owned the orphan. One afternoon, with a heavy heart, he rested under a walnut tree. Soon he spotted Shakir.

Shakir was the son of Dr. Gulfaam. He was returning from school and sat with Nabeel who was in agony. Shakir didn’t notice Nabeel’s pain and went on to talk about his school activities.

Naively, he raised his eyebrows and posed a question to Nabeel, “Why don’t you come to school with us?” Nabeel couldn’t move his hands, let alone his parched lips. He was tired, both- physically and mentally. Soon, they walked away. Nabeel stepped inside his dingy room, feeling dull. He skipped dinner and fell asleep on that old mattress.

He woke up at 10, the next morning. Sun was shining. He stepped outside. It was a customary day for him. But his waning strength for doing tough work didn’t encourage him to work for a day. Instead, he visited his distant relatives nearby. He stayed there for a night. At dinner, his future was discussed. But he stayed quiet.

The relatives decided to send him to an orphanage and keep the small patch of land Rafiq owned. A long spell of motivation began. Quotes from Quran and Hadith were recited to dissolve all his confusion. The next day, family patriarch, Ismael dropped him at a seminary in Srinagar, meant for orphans. This was the last time he saw one of his own.

(Names are all fictitious. Any resemblance would only be coincidental)

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The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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