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From History to Chance: A Girl's Journey

 

 

From History to Chance

A Girl’s Jounrey

 

 

Chapter 1 – Relation

Chapter 2 Entertainers

hapter 3 – Suppressed Shriek

Chapter 4 – Birthday

Chapter 5 – Female’s Slap

Chapter 6 – Red Lipsticks

Chapter 7 –The Little Lovers

Chapter 8 – The Rose Petal Thing

Chapter 9 – The Picnic

– The King Crocodile

Chapter 11 – The Pretty Foreigner

Chapter 12 – Reconditioning

Chapter 13 – The Chocolates

Chapter 14 – Her Two Hopes

Chapter 15 – Playing Human

Chapter 16 – Big Questions

Chapter 17 – Blind Investigators

Chapter 18 – The Culprits

Chapter 19 – Night Walks

Chapter 20 – Dance at Airport

Chapter 21 – Sweet Cousin

Chapter 22 – Classmates

Chapter 23 – Buy Me a Father

Chapter 24 – Tell Me Everything

Chapter 25 – You Are Mine

Chapter 26 – The Blast

Chapter 27 – The God of Next Moment

Chapter 28 – A Lovely Maid

Chapter 29 – Human Circle

Chapter 30 – The Bait and Lure

Chapter 31 – Acts Done in Dream

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

Relation

Sitting in my house in Lahore where, away from my family, I spend most of my time like an escapist, I am gathering the scattered parts of my history. Every part of it is important to me, but my sympathies are with the victims. There is a long list of victims in my life story, and thinking about them, sometimes I feel like a judge, and the case situation that I am facing becomes extremely sad and complicated when I hear the victims and the culprits crying in one voice, competing for justice. I have to take tea breaks when things get mixed up. Recess gives me clarity and keeps me intact.

My cook, Shakeel, who sometimes behaves like my mother or a best friend, is noticing my unrest. Using his cooking and force-feeding skills, he is making all efforts to bring smiles into the house. He doesn’t like seeing me taking too many tea breaks. To refresh my mood, instead of tea, he wants me to drink fruit juices and milkshake and forget everything. I respect his emotions but can’t take his juices when I need a cup of tea. A man linked to my history has died in a blast. Should I forget him and enjoy fresh fruit juices? He thinks that is exactly what I should do. People die in bomb blasts. It is a normal thing. He isn’t wrong either. For him, it is just another way of dying and nothing more. He doesn’t know the victim or my relationship with him. He is standing outside my history. I have never allowed him to look into my hidden substructure.

Looking sad, he leaves for the kitchen to make tea. Every time he asks me to take care of myself and I ignore his advice, I feel as if he is saying, ’what has happened to you? Why have you stopped smiling? What was your relationship with the blast victim?’

I haven’t told him what he was to me. The covering words, ‘a family friend’, which I have been using for him since the day of the blast has not satisfied the cook. I know he isn’t sad for my family friend, he is sad for me. His behavior is quite normal as he is linked to me, not to my ‘family friend’.

The victim was a special client of my father. As a lawyer, my father had once contested his case without taking any legal fee. He was my grandfather’s son, not genetically, but still a son. How could my father take a fee from his father’s son? In Pakistan, nobody takes a fee from one’s brother. Thus, he was my uncle, not genetically, but still an uncle. My cousin Najma called him a jungle man. He didn’t mind it. He loved her. She was introduced to him on a road. Before that time, he didn’t exist for her. The roadside meeting linked her to him forever.

“Who is this jungle man?” Najma had said when she saw him for the first time at a bus stop near Okara city.

“Behave yourself, Najma!” Auntie had said, snubbing her.

“He is a human being like us,” Auntie had said, correcting her daughter. Auntie was right. He was not a jungle man. A real product of the soil, he was only a little rough and daring. We were artificial; he was real. The environment inside the car was artificial; on the road it was real. He was standing among the real people. He was one of the passengers waiting at the bus stop, but a bit different, self-assured, strong-bodied, normal height, but his demeanor was towering and noticeable.

We saw him running on the busy road, coming to us from the other side, not in the least bothered that a bus could hit him. We were coming to Lahore for a picnic. Standing at the bus stop, waiting for a bus, he saw my father’s dull-while car coming and raised both of his hands in the air almost unconsciously, waving greetings to my father. Najma did not like the way he had raised his hands. My father stopped his car under a tree at the side of the road and waited for him. His name was Basu. As he came to us, I noticed that the arrogant looking, thick mustached man had no fear in his limbs. No bus could kill him. He was waiting for his blast. Quite normal. It is an Islamic way of dealing with difficult things. God had willed it so. A blast or an accident… what difference does it make? My father died in a road accident. My mother died during an earthquake created in our lives artificially by a civil engineer. But what happened to my mother hurts me. It makes me, at times, extremely sad, as that is what made us what we are today. Killers.

To tell everything and to do justice to all, I would like to start it from the beginning, the time when I entered into the love story. The beginning and the end are debatable subjects. Wise people say every end is a beginning so there is no absolute end, or beginning. Even then the beginning is a beginning. I am talking about my beginning.

I was born during my father’s absence. He was contesting a murder case in the Lahore High Court when I came out of my mother and saw the first glimpse of this world. Compensating for his absence, my mother’s younger sister, Salma, welcomed me, giving me the feel of importance that I still enjoy.

It was the final year of her graduation from Government Degree College for Women, Okara, and she had come to Hasnat Agricultural Farm in Dev Singhwala to spend the summer holidays with her elder sister and see me coming into the world. Her hands were the first hands on earth that held me with love; only the midwife, who delivered me, using ancient techniques, came in between us. She was waiting outside the makeshift labour room in the farm house. After I was given a bath, the first kiss that fell on my cheeks came from her lips. And the first feed that my mouth took was also given by her.

One day when Auntie was in a pleasant mood she told the story of my birth. Her narrative was quite interesting. About my first food, she said it was honey in a cotton swab prepared by our experienced maid, Bashiraan, and under the maid’s guidance she gave it to me with her fingers. She said she laughed with disbelief when, with the sweet honey, I began to suck her fingers too. Wrapping me in tiny clothes tenderly, the tall and slim, beautiful-limbed college girl brought me out to Dera where Dadaji, my grandfather, was waiting to see me.  It was 1986. General Zia-ul-Haq, was in power. He was everywhere in the air.

As she reached there with me in her arms, she said, “Uncleji, your grandson, see…” What she really meant was, ‘Uncleji, see what my sister has produced. A hungry beast who, with the honey, started eating my fingers too.’

For bringing me to him, and for showing me to everybody, Dadaji gave a cash prize to her. After all, she had shown him his male progenitor. While I was in her hands, Dadaji named me.

“His name will be Ahsen!” he said.

“What?” Auntie asked, and then understanding what he was saying, she continued, “It’s a good name.” 

Thus named by Dadaji and approved by Auntie, I became a proper human being. In the green farm air Auntie announced it for the knowledge of everybody, so much so my father and mother also heard my name from her. It was an unchangeable verdict of Hasnat Agricultural Farm’s chief executive officer and she knew my father couldn’t change it. Though a lawyer and the most important man in his world, he was just an obedient boy in his father’s book.

Auntie, Okara-born daughter of a wise woman, knew that her elder sister’s son had been named and that now nobody could change it.

That day, they say, when my father came home, he was extremely happy. Not overjoyed, he was arrogantly happy. The honourable Lahore High Court had granted bail to his client in the hard-to-contest, unbailable case and he was in high legal mood. Later when he heard the blissful news about me and the details of the naming ceremony from Auntie, everything in his life began sounding perfect. He was an agriculturalist, a criminal lawyer, his father’s obedient boy and by coming into his life I made him a father.

Auntie was the most important person that day in the house and at the farm. I love the tall and slim, beautiful drum beater. I am thankful to her for hundreds of things and I want to say sorry to her for hundreds of things, but I don’t know how to say it. 

When she completed her graduation she was happily married to a civil engineer. His name was Nauman. He was a fair-skinned, clean shaven, handsome man. Their lives were beautiful. She loved him and he loved her. The marriage had filled her body a little. However, her tall trunk was still slim. Eyes still long. Her smiles still the same. The college girl still lived in her. Except for her hips nothing had changed. Her hips had become heavier, or they too were still the same, because they were already a little heavy. Like my mother. It was their family feature, rich, classy, heavy hips.

My mother was Auntie’s three year older version. Different face, but inside the same. Like a car’s new models. About Auntie’s new charms, my mother would say that the marriage and Lahore had enhanced her beauty. She wouldn’t say it had ripened, nor would she give any credit to Auntie’s husband, though the civil engineer had played a big role in it, in the filling up of her form. They were a nice couple. The serious-looking, clean shaven, fair-skinned civil engineer loved her form. She had made his house a picnic place for him where she entertained him daily, smiling for him all the time with the whole of her being to make his life a playful affair. He was happy with her, as she was with him. Or it looked so. How it looked to others was important. Appearances are important. Always. Like the face. Their lives would smile at them daily with a happy face, asking them to return its smiles. But one day it got angry and stopped smiling; it happened when they ignored it, their fine-looking, ornamental family life. And the day it chose to be angry was the fifth birthday of their daughter. Their house in Township Lahore is registered in my memory as one of the happiest and saddest places.

The sudden and humiliating divorce of Auntie Salma created an earthquake that changed the course of many lives forever. Its shock killed my mother. No, that wouldn’t be fair. It killed her elder sister. It was her loss. She was pregnant. The shockwaves hit first her baby and then her. As my mother died, sad and broken, with tears in her eyes, taking me in her arms, Auntie said, “Now, I am your mother, son. I will always be your mother.”

She married my father and fulfilled her promise. Afterwards, in the jungle of weeds and crops where we lived many things happened. Some are known to people, some are not. I saw her crying in the open-air-prison silently, concealing her tears. Najma was sleeping when the big things were happening. I was awake. She grew up in a safe vacuum, in a long dream. I didn’t believe when one day she said, “I am not a child.”

Seeing her standing in front of me with her fully developed limbs, I had to admit what she was trying to tell me.

“Yes, you are no more a child,” I said, studying the change in her and then lowered my gaze.

In her dream world, only thing she didn’t have, and couldn’t have, was her civil engineer father. He was prohibited item in our house. She was not permitted to talk about the civil engineer thing. But as he was her father, she would sometimes bribe me to have some talk with her about him. She is now living a clean, happy life in USA with her cousin turned lover and husband. She doesn’t know what haunts me nor do I want to tell her anything. Like other people, her eyes look outside at the world, while due to my experience with life, my eyes look inside; inside me where I live hidden, or am trapped within the jungle of my memories. It’s a thick jungle where men and animals live together as they once lived during the pre-history. My memories have made me what I am. How we look at things, what we know and how we see our past are the things that define us.

I like Najma’s clean and calm world. When she went to USA and was trying to become a good part of the society, I asked her what the difference is between Pakistan and America. She said, “It is a different world. People are free to live their lives the way they want. While in Pakistan, our thoughts are controlled and that makes us hypocrites. We live our lives restraining ourselves, trying to be what other people want us to be. Here, they are allowed to be what they want to be.”

“And what do they want to be?” I asked her.

“Whatever they desire to be. Anything. They have all the freedom. To begin with, girls openly admit here that they are lesbians. In Pakistan, they never do. Boys admit here they are gay. In Pakistan they never do. You know why?”

“Why? I asked.

“We are hypocrites,” she stressed.

“But Najma. Hypocrite is an English word and like the English language, it is international, a universal phenomenon. And you should know that it does not apply to nations; no nation is completely good or bad, its men and women are. Plaster saints and double-faced people are found everywhere, their percentage may vary place to place. You are new to the land, you will meet many hypocrites there, wait a little.”

“No, I am not talking about a few people. I am talking about the collective behaviour of a nation, its collective culture. That it is a closed society and an open one, its mind-set is liberal or conservative.”

“Any regret, Najma?”

“No, I don’t have regrets. Why would I have? I was just telling you.”

“Thanks. Any good thing about Pakistan you felt comparing both cultures? What astonished you most?” I asked.

“You know it is a developed world. Not one, but several things surprised me. Pleasantly. What I like is that girls have more opportunities here. They can move around, even at night like the boys do, and they have no fear of male presence around them. If anything wrong happens to them, the culprits have to pay a heavy price for spoiling their lives. They have to spend the rest of their lives in jails. This, I think, has made the girls bold. They have no shame or shyness in their thighs.”

“Shameless thighs?”

“Shameless legs,” she corrected, feeling the shame.

We both laughed about it and a moment’s pause came to our discussion. I thought about her legs and thighs. I knew them. Her up-going, trouser-clad legs.

“And Pakistani girls?”

“They’re shrinking violets. Like blood in veins, modesty runs in their legs,” she said. She knew in her own ‘made in Pakistan’ legs and thighs that represented her country.

“Najma, girls in Pakistani too are making great progress these days. In Lahore I have seen many who don’t show even a trace of shame or shyness, rather sometimes they make boys feel timid. Especially when they put on jeans or when they wear half-sleeves or sleeveless…”

“You can’t say they are many, you would have seen only a few. At social gatherings. Pakistani girls stand no comparison to what I saw here. Our half-sleeve or sleeveless shift which gives an extreme modern look to us in Pakistan appear conservative here.”

“And those who wear veils or face covering scarfs?”

“Oh don’t ask about them. They are a live threat to America. Due to security issues, you know.”

“You are learning, Najma!”

“Not much yet, but it is natural that we learn. To adjust. Adjustment at new places takes time,” she said.

“Well, I hope you will adjust soon and that one day you too will have no shyness left in you and you will become one of them.”

I did not say your thighs too have become shamelessly bold.

“We can’t be like them,’ she said.

“Why?”

“Girls here feel proud of their figures. In Pakistan we are trained to hide it. They show it to others like a trophy. As if they were saying, ‘see what I have got’. In daily life, they use it for practical purposes.”

“For example?” I asked.

“In relationships, jobs and practical life, as models use their beauty. These are advanced people. We are still trapped in ancient things. Divorce does not hurt here. Single moms are in a great majority and they love being single. It opens the gates of opportunity to them. In Pakistan, single moms become almost outcasts. Illegitimate children have no big issues here, nor have their mothers. That is what makes America, America. A land of liberty. They have the freedom to do anything, to adopt any life style. Religion is their private affair, ours is not. Their religion is soft. Or they take it lightly. Or they have shelved it. Our religion is active. It drives us. Chases us. It is stronger than our society, and our civilisation. Everything. It is our biggest issue…”

“Najma what type of book are you reading these days?” I asked.

She laughed and said, “I am sorry if I have said more than I should. I read a lot of books. Of all types, you are right. I am studying Islam.”

“Najma don’t go too deep into anything because it will make it hard for you to adjust to the new place. Live in a liberal way. That would be better. Keep your religion your private affair. Don’t talk about it to anybody.”

“I never talk to unknown people. Adnan also says ‘adjust yourself. Meet people. Talk to them. America is a good place. Free yourself of all ideologies. Don’t compare this land to Pakistan. Live here. Not in Pakistan’.”

“He is right,” I said, “It will help you. Go with him to the beaches. Watch people lying around on the sand.”

“Yes, we go. To see people. To study them. But Ahsen, they are not what they appear to be while lying there. It is just an outing for them. Divorced people or bachelors can do anything, but when they are married, they remain very loyal to each other, like us,” she said.

“Are all Pakistanis loyal to each other?” I asked, teasing her.

She ignored the sting hidden in my question and said, “I don’t know but our marriages are successful.”

“Marriage are successful due to some other reasons,” I said, laughing.

“And what are the reasons?” she asked.

I wanted to say hypocrites are more successful in their married life. Marriage is a social arrangement and in it hypocrisy always helps. Truth often pulls the house of marriage down, demolishing it as if with a bulldozer. But I did not say this to her. I did not want to hurt her.

Instead I said, “Najma, women don’t have options. You don’t have options. Other than Adnan.”

As I said it I heard her typical reaction, ‘I will kill you’.

“I am sorry. I was just joking.” I said.

She accepted my apology immediately. She’d always want me to create such situations where she may say, ‘I will kill you.’ It was her pet sentence.

Now whenever I miss her and feel her absence, I dial her number and we talk about America and Pakistan, about ourselves, about the thing that we call life. I know our sweet Najma still has no big options. She lives in Pakistani- America. But even so, it is America. It gives her freedom to think. The freedom to act is not available to her. Nor does she want it. She is a Pakistani-American and is happy with her life there. No book is banned there. She can read anything. That is sufficient freedom for a girl and she enjoys that freedom. She can read erotic books. And I know she reads them. Once she had told me,

“I read a book and it was so vulgar I couldn’t finish it.”

I did not ask her why she could not finish the book.

I know they publish all sorts of stuff. What surprises me is why such titles sell more. Are Americans sexually frustrated? Maybe. Despite all the freedom. Maybe. If yes, I don’t know why it is so. It may be the side effect of their freedom. Someday, I will ask Najma. She is studying everything. But can I ask her everything? No, not everything, but indirectly I can discuss everything with her. She is my cousin, my sister, my best friend and has been all of those from day one. Adnan has given her good space and all the freedom she needs to live her life the way she wants. She is the boss in the house. He is her humble servant. He himself told me once that Najma is very ‘bossy’.

“You are praising her, or making some complaint to me against her?” I once asked him.

“No, I am just praising her,” he said, laughing his big aping laugh that travelled all the way from America and hit my ears.

She is his beloved. Najma is lucky. He too is not unlucky. Najma is such a nice girl. A lovely wife. Her stunning figure and all her charms belong to him. Her heart. Her mind. Her limbs. Her dreams. He fell in love with her when he was six and she was five. It was a time when they did not even know what love was. It matured with time, dawning on them slowly.

The ‘Oh my God, I am in love’ stage came later at the right time. I know when that stage had come. I had advised Najma to be careful. And she had said, ‘don’t worry, I am careful’.

It was at the time when Adnan was yet in Pakistan, in Okara. Later he went to the Windy City for his MBA studies and forgot Pakistan. But he did not forget Najma. He came back and married her and took her with him. Though he is younger than me, I respect him for keeping Najma happy. It is not him, but Najma who matters to me. Her happiness gives me hope. When Auntie talks to her on phone, she forgets her sorrow, and I forget mine.

Chapter 2

Entertainers

Now, loving my love, I often wake up from good adult dreams smiling, but the nightmares of my early years are still fresh in my memory and have become part of my being.  

“Auntie, the snake is coming after me,” I say to my auntie and second mother.

“Where? There is no snake,” she responds, taking me in her beautiful protective fold.

“It is there, waiting. See, Auntie. There…” I say. Then I wake up.

Good or bad, memories once made stay with you forever. All you can do is that you can only deal with them wisely. Wise people use their good memories to beat others and create a healthy balance. I learnt this from my grandfather. He was a university in himself. He is my teacher, though he taught me directly nothing. I grew up in his world, studying him. Despite that I am not like him nor is he like me. I am different. He is a bold man; I am an escapist. No two people can ever be the same. The teacher and the taught, a son and a father, a daughter and a mother, all are different, their lives, their fates, their time, their sorrows, their joys, their memories, their histories, and their chances. What surprises me most is the unpredictability of our lives. When does it start? On the day when we are born or before that? I think it happens long before that, before our seed is sowed in any womb. A seed never knows where it is going to grow up. It has no mind. You grow up and find it, your mind, your place, your purpose and your line. You learn about yourself; that what you are; that you are a Pakistani, Indian…or American.

People like our family. What are we? That is the question that I sometimes ask myself. ‘Nice family!’ people say, when they see us living our lives smiling. Like the buyers of smiles, we talk only about the good chapters of our history, never visiting the parts which may bring tears to our eyes.  Our lives are like a huge building with hundreds of rooms. We live in some of them and keep others locked and never open them. We act like we have thrown their door keys away. We pretend we can’t find the keys in the hay and that we have forgotten where we threw them. Loving each other, we live in the rooms that we like.  That is how we live and have lived, protecting our smiles. We never allow anyone to come and peep into the rooms where the opposite of our public image lay hidden from view like a hissing snake.

The farm settlement where we lived was a little away from Dev Singhwala village. Our house was amid overgrown huge trees at the back of Dera, a place where my grandfather, held regular assembly with the village people. Circled by tall trees, the house looked like a beautiful female statue. It was a double storey structure with a light brown façade and snooty crown facing east. Its real grace, I think, was from the high concrete pillars that stood under its wide stone chin, balancing and sustaining the projected weight of its front veranda, allowing the sun and light to reach into all the rooms. Sometimes, during my younger years, I feared that with some strong earthquake or any other mega jolt, its front part would crumble, but it survived many of them and is still intact, like us. The interior of the house, the alive and throbbing parts, had an air of secret assets, visible only to those living inside it. Us.

It had a private lawn which gave us ‘a cool sitting and playing space’ each evening. The farm workers and their families who lived at an adjoining farm settlement were our immediate neighbours. From Dera the house looked like a marriageable shy girl trying to hide herself behind her mother to avoid earthy boys’ lewd staring eyes. Dera served as ‘headquarters’ of the Hasnat Agricultural Farm. Dadaji’s headquarters. It had a bus-sized wooden black gate and inside it was wide enough to accommodate many tractors, trolleys, cars and people. A full potato procession could enter through it at one time, but it routinely served as home to Dadaji’s vulture-winged black jeep, my father’s dull white car and two tractors. Its bare courtyard and openness was in dire need of change. Its open air rejoiced when guests visited it. So they often came just to please it! Tea and refreshments for guests, mostly prepared by our maid, were sent to Dera from the house through a private doorway which connected the two places. For guiding the uninformed, the driveway that led to the place made a sudden V-shape, parting its brick-legs sharply; the right leg led straight to Dera’s bus-sized gate and the left leg went to the house. Led by the driveway’s leg signs visiting public went mechanically to Dera while family members went on to the house. The tractors, trolley, thrasher, harvester and other agricultural machinery also used the driveway’s right leg to move in or out. By overuse and movement of heavy machinery on it, the Dera leg had become partly damaged like something in public use. The one that led to the house was unspoiled and cool, but still it looked lonely, sad and deserted. There was very little movement in this exclusive leg.

The house leg led to a private lawn, veranda, lounge and spacious rooms, enjoying an unvarying air of privacy which was uninterrupted, except for chirping sparrows, noisy crows and other feathered individuals that lived in the trees, claiming they too had a right to the cool place. It was a safe place for their newly hatched, for their fledglings that fall by chance to the ground when their nests were shattered by sudden windstorms. The fallen fledglings could wait there for their wings to grow and then be able to fly away at the right time. Like my cousin, Najma. Her original nest was in Lahore where she was born, but from there fell down. Exactly like a baby bird. In a mad moment when he had lost his mind, her father threw her down and she found herself in the jungle of weeds and crops. It was a world unto itself, our world, a little away from Depalpur, a little away from Okara, a little away from Lahore, in Pakistan.

In the morning, birds blessed the place, starting their chirping and crowing at dawn, performing a regular worship, taking joy in free play of their instincts. But at dusk, they got mad for nothing, owls blinked eyes as if they understood darkness; the flying, approaching times. As if they had obtained knowledge of the next moment and they wanted to warn us in their own way against time waiting in the thick, clouding air up in the sky. I knew the feathered creatures secretly went up, saw the timeclock in the sky and returned with unexplainable knowledge of tomorrow, but they could not guide anybody. There were language problems, you know! At times, they made beaked howls at dusk when they saw snakes, or other extraordinary creatures in their habitat raising odd heads… In such situations, they behaved like stray dogs did at night when they saw unfamiliar shadows. The dogs barked nonstop when their ears interpreted unearthly voices. The night barking evoked in us an unknown fear of approaching time.

To the contrary, the squirrels had no interest in the next moment, or the future. Or perhaps they did not care. They were mere entertainers there, asking everybody to watch their daylong show, their gymnastics in the trees. They loved the overgrown and aged Cissoo, Acacia, Jambulan, Neem, Banyan, Whitesilk tree, many of them bending down with unbalanced growth and old-age; reflecting on times past, through their cracked-up black bark, waiting for their natural collapse or to be felled. The squirrels sprinted up and down on the crooked trunks soundlessly, as though they were silencer-fitted planes trying to take off on a Dev Singhwala runway, asking everybody secretly to rise into the trees after them and take pleasure in climbing. As though they said, ‘See, it’s easy! You can try.’ The mousey creatures were very naughty. They taught us many things. The grey, flowery tails made love in the open, chasing each other on the wide trunks. In broad day light. And they had no fear of the squirrel society. For them, it could be as lawful as eating food. Their brown nuts. Anyway, rules and laws were for us, for those who lived in a man-made agenda society maintained to attain ‘better’ ends. The squirrels on the other hand, did not make anything, neither agendas nor rules. They lived in nature, in the joy-land with plenty of interchangeable partners to play with and mount up the trees, and enjoy free races on the bent trunks.

The house had an exclusive out-gate by which we could go anywhere unnoticed and see, or become part of nature. It was a small gate at the back of the house that led to the open fields and the cattle shed. It also took us to a thicket of tall trees and plants which, standing together like couples at a party, kissed each other high in the air with their leafy lips and hugged madly when the wind blew its blithe music. Our family would use this gate for evening walks on the narrow brick-way leading to the cattle shed. For the farm people and public there were many inroads and footpaths through the fields to reach the cattle shed, therefore nobody from among the workers came to this side of the house and it was a place as safe as a squirrel’s nest in the woods. Like the grey flowery tails, I too loved this place.  I would sometimes come to this side of the house during the day to study the farm’s soil and watch the children of nature living in the bushes, trees and the grass. It was a perfect hideout.

Dev Singhwala has a rich, fertile soil. All the villages in the Depalpur region have lovely land. You visit the area and you will see a jungle of competitive weeds and massive crops everywhere. Because of its soil’s fertility, the region is known as the maize-potato capital of Pakistan. Visitors love its productive diversity. Depalpur is a tehsil of Okara district of Punjab, but sometimes I feel Okara is in Depalpur. Like alphabets in a word they are into each other. Compared to Okara, Depalpur is a much older and more mysterious town. History lives here, not just mine, you can hear the whispers of the Old World in its air.

Back in time, a river flowed here that somehow later changed its course, dried up, or it was diverted by ancient men to examine its fish and frogs. The river is no longer there. Its memories are everywhere. In hot summers its angry dust rises up in the air and sitting on the leathery leaves of lush green trees tries to tell its sad story to everyone.

The species of reeds and weeds of the bygone ages have hidden their bushy faces in ‘the graveyard’ levelled long ago for sowing crops. However, their infinite weed seeds still sprout up at empty patches of ground and seem to make claims on the land. Sometimes, children find the river’s sandy skeleton buried in the soil’s deep belly like a secret and ponder their motherland’s hidden history with renewed interest.  People say the village belongs to Alexander the Great and to Maharaja Ranjeet Singh’s great-great-grandfathers’ times. Only its name is new, all else is old. In the soil studies, not the name, but the body matters. It is as old as the earth itself. It has a prehistory body.

Yet, on the face of it, quite deceptively, everything appears new, green and fresh by the waters of new age canals, fertilizers and unfailing agricultural technology. The fuming machines, harvesters and tractors (men not included) roar in the Dev Singhwala fields in all seasons. The soil, which has plenty of ancient sewage, animal droppings, and compost in it, seems to whisper continually in the ears of greedy growers to sow more into its chocolate body. As though it is trying to say, ‘Come!  Take…! Take potato, maize, wheat, paddy, sugarcane, vegetables and pulses, mango, orange, kino, malta, musami, lemon, grape fruits, loquat, melon, guava, red pomegranate and everything that I produce! Come!’ 

As the village was close to the main Depalpur Road, from time to time the students and professors of the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, visited our farm to complete their research in the hybrid crops. When they saw the soil loving European seeds and the seeds loving the soil, they would strongly recommend the marriage of east and west to sustain better yields. They never noticed the soil’s anger. I had seen its angry face.

Growing up at the farm I noticed that unwarranted ploughing hurts the soil and strong fertilizers make it angry. It grieves when pesticides and herbicides annihilate its children, the creepy-crawlies and others, but like a helpless mother, it can do nothing. It can’t even cry for justice like we do. Being supreme creatures, only we cry for justice. Not just victims, sometimes killers also cry for justice. I have watched them closely. I know how they feel. They feel they are innocent; time is the killer.

Chapter 3

Suppressed Shriek

I was a certified curious boy. I would spend a lot of time studying the soil and its creepy-crawly species. Auntie Salma called me a ‘curious dog’. It was a title of honour for me. Nobody knew me better than her so whatever she said about me could not be wrong.

In the very initial ‘now-I-am-your-mother’ days she caught me studying an ant festivity from a zero distance, kneeling on the top of a flourishing ant hole like a monitor appointed by the UNO Peace Mission, looking at a ‘peaceful activity’ in a war zone. From the exclusive backdoor, she came to the back of our Dev Singhwala house looking for me and found me close to the deserted brick path that led to the cattle shed. The shed was set up a little away, perhaps to avoid the smell of animal dung, but that still came whenever the mood and wind direction changed.

“Oh God, look at him! Ahsen…! What’re you doing… here?” She almost yelled at my back. I looked up in shock and tried to stand up like a habitual offender.

“Nothing… I was… just… watching… it,” reading a wave of stabbing anger on her lovely face, my sentence stuck mid-way in my throat.

She held my thin arm and almost hauled me along the bricked pathway to our house. My arm was hurting in her grip. Now, a puzzled anger had taken seat on her face as if she didn’t know what to do with me. As though she couldn’t decide whether to take me to safety or throw me back with the creepy-crawlies to reek. At that time the ‘curious dog’ word rose up from the pool of her mind, slipped out from between her lips and hung around nastily in the hot air near my ears, with the buzz of hovering, swarming honey bees, and with it, anger rose from my legs and surged up with my blood, making my legs awkwardly uncooperative. She used even more force to pull me along, giving me a few dragging jerks along the way.

Walking fast but with small steps, an inherent habit of her feet, she brought me home. Her cheeks wore shades of cherry, either with the heat of June or the exertion of hauling me. She took me straight to the bathroom, pulled off my T-shirt and then pulled down my trousers to give me an urgent bath. Auntie had spotted some brown ants engaged in long bites on my skin, others were still roaming to choose the right places on me. To bite. I hadn’t paid much attention to their presence on me. Ant bites are not dangerous, I knew. I was not worried until I saw tears welling up in her eyes as she pulled unfriendly brown ants from my brown skin, one by one from my arms, shoulder, neck and thighs. Then, I heard her cry loudly and the white tiled bathroom walls watched her pull me against herself, closing me in her caring, soft arms, sitting down right there. And in her trembling fold, I stood frozen at equal height with her like a human stone with eyes in it. Until her sobbing ended we were one body, her warm tears slithering down my small, neutral shoulders. The feeling mother and the unfeeling son. When we unlocked, I noticed there was a flood of sorrow in her young eyes. I struggled to understand; why was she crying? Was it due to me? No, there were other things, it was not just me, I realized. She brushed aside some thought and began to give me a soapy bath with her hands moving like a machine. On my baby skin. It was the skin that she knew from day one, like her own. I was one of her limbs, growing separately like a branch that sends its separate roots in the available patch of soil and starts growing up. She was my mother. I was her ‘son’. The time had made us one. After a detailed wash she went out, brought clean and pressed clothes from the room, dressed me up hurriedly, and silently took me to the room where Najma was taking an afternoon nap in her yellow frock under a sluggish ceiling fan, knowing nothing about the bathroom cry. The ‘BBC News’. The bathroom cry was an outburst of some deep suppressed shriek over the sad twists caused by time in her life, or in her elder sister’s life; the twists that made her a mere substitute, a device, a spare part in society’s nonstop social machine.

It happened when her husband divorced her and my mother died. There was an opening for a mother in Dev Singhwala and to fill the space she married my father. For me. For Najma. And to live her life. There was no other reason. This part of the story hurts me. She had done it for me.

She walked me to the single bed next to Najma and said, “now lay here, close your eyes, and go to sleep. Like a good boy!” Then, I don’t know what came into her mind, but she suddenly started a questioning session. “By the way, what were you doing there?” she asked.

I said nothing. She was looking down at me with her questioning eyes. I was standing before her like a crooked offender, looking down using the force of my neck. “Look up!” she said, lifting my chin with her right-hand fingers. It was a very embarrassing moment for me. I looked up, unwillingly. Her eyes were teaming with questions. “Would you tell me why you can’t stay in like normal children?” she asked. “And play here?” she hurled her final question into the room air, still staring at me. I had no answer.

There was a regime of sleeping silence everywhere in the house; my grandmother, Fatima, was also taking a June slumber in her room, knowing nothing about the ‘bathroom cry’ and the serious investigation happening in the room next to hers. The door that could carry some air to her and awake her mind and her ears was closed. Dadaji was away in Depalpur while my father was in Lahore, perhaps contesting some case in the Lahore High Court. ‘Me Lord, it is a planted case. My client… is innocent.’

Our maid, Bashiraan, was on short leave; one of her daughters was sick. Auntie was tense and so infuriated by my obstinate silence that she pushed me back with both of her hands; I fell down on the floor. It helped me! As I fell the expression on her face changed. She bowed down to the floor in a flash and picked me up.

“Did it hurt? I’m sorry, my child!” She inspected me to find where I might hurt. There was nothing there. “But why don’t you listen? You wander in the hot days like dogs. I can’t bear it. I can’t see you become one of the creepy-crawlies. What am I here for then? Why can’t you see I’m here only for you… and for Najma? Did you see yourself today? You were sitting over ants. You did not even know they were eating you,” she said with moving concern. “On grime and rotting leaves, you were lost in I don’t know what!” she said, making up the case against me.

I said nothing, only watched her talking nonstop. I knew she wanted to amend me, but I didn’t know what was wrong with me, or what was wrong with the simple act of watching the ants. I just liked watching them going into the earth and coming out with broken secrets. With vague answers. But I did not tell her that I loved the secrets buried down in the earth. I just stood before her like a stubborn accused child never knowing his offence.

“Okay, leave it!” she changed the subject when she finished the grilling session or got tired of it. “Will you eat something?” she asked me, returning to her normal air. In an awful mood, I shook my head in the negative. It had hurt me how she had pushed me away with disgust in her eyes. However later, with a compensating care, she took me to the kitchen where Bashiraan’s ‘I am on Leave’ notice was making a dent in the air with a hammer.

She made a fruit apple milkshake for me. It was frothy, milk white, and sweet. Like life… She took a glass of it for herself too. She tasted it. “How’s it?” she asked. I smiled for her. And then two smiles filled the kitchen air. “Staying in is good or out?” she asked, trying to gauge the depth of my smile.

“In, is good,”’ I said.

“Tell me how?” she asked.

“Because the ‘in’ has delicious milkshake made by Auntie herself, and everything.” This was the right answer, she accepted it as right. I read her mind and it was saying, ‘Yes the ‘in’ is good, the ‘out’ is nothing.’

“Will you still go out for nothing?”

“No,” I assured her. Then she mimicked my ‘Nooo…’, her soft fingers leaping onto my cheeks, pulling the right check out, making it crinkly, red and happy. A shy smile rushed onto my face and covered it like a car cover covers a car.

When the white ‘apple milk shake’ relaxed her, she said, “You can go out, but you will ask me first, understand?” I nodded. As if we were signing a pact, agreeing to its terms and conditions that she had tabled before me. “I must know where you are. And when you go, take Najma also with you, play with her, not alone. Together both of you will at least remain human,” she said.

I didn’t get what she meant by that ‘human’ and ‘not-human’ thing. Grappling to understand what she had said, I looked up and saw a layer of seriousness on her face. No smile appeared there until she saw that her seriousness had made me look terribly serious. Her smile was not genuine, it was a forced gesture. Why was staying together so necessary for us? I got the answer to this later.

She wasn’t happy in Dev Singhwala. Part of her still loved Lahore, her smashed heaven. Still, I knew she loved me and that now she would stay here for me. Forever. She was like a refugee that could not return to her country. She hated the city of Lahore. For her the city meant the civil engineer. He had spoiled her dream of the good life by creating a foreign situation out of nothing. She too had an active role in spoiling her life, but I always give her a concession. I have to because I have a soft spot for her. I am her advocate. She has paid me the fee. In which currency? In the universal currency of love.

Chapter 4

Birthday

Whenever I think about my history, my thoughts run back and forth and stop at Najma’s fifth birthday. It was the turning point of our fates. Though now it looks like a dream, back then it was a real birthday in a real house celebrated by real people.

Auntie had invited us. All of her relatives had gathered at her house. We had reached there with lots of gifts and a truck load of good wishes for Najma.  She wanted lots of smiles and happy faces in her house on her daughter’s birthday. Their engineer designed, cream-painted house was waiting to hear happy birthday songs. The cake-cutting was in the evening, almost an hour and half later. It was August.  16th August, the birthday of Pakistan had passed, but the city air was still in a celebrative mood.

To celebrate Najma’s birthday we were waiting for the sun to go down. It was a diverse gathering of our combined relatives from Auntie and her husband’s sides. His side was weak. Her side was strong, in numbers.  My father was the chief guest and uncle Usman played the guest of honour. Auntie gave no special chair to her husband’s guests. It was the blunder of the day, I think.

After giving gifts to Najma, my mother was making love to her civil engineer designed, wide-eyed face in their bedroom. All the women, including Nani, my maternal grandmother, were waiting for their turn. Auntie had asked my mother to come a little early, not on time like other people, so we had arrived about one and a half hours before everyone else, for her. The people whom she called ‘other people’ were her husband’s relatives…

The males were in the drawing room, locked in a debate on the politics of Pakistan. My father, uncle Usman and his younger brothers, uncle Shafqat and uncle Umerdraz, together with other nameless guests from the civil engineer’s side.  Uncle Usman was a cool-minded, anti-change Muslim League man.  More than his party, politics or Pakistan, he was devoted to his family and its proof was that he left an important party meeting in order to come to Lahore. He was sitting in his dear sister’s drawing room. 

Likewise, my father, leaving his law and clients was smiling in their drawing room, to give a happy face to Najma’s birthday, although in the morning he had attempted to escape from it. He said he was busy. And for that he gave my mother details of how busy he was but she didn’t listen to his ‘I have to go there and there and there and there’. When airing her decision she said nothing was more important than Najma’s birthday so he dropped his ‘I have to go there and there, there and there, there and there’, and placed himself at her disposal. Such was the importance of Najma’s birthday for our family and for all the uncles and aunties and cousins. Everybody knew that missing Najma’s birthday meant facing Auntie’s displeasure and that was something nobody ever wanted. ‘Her sweet anger is very bitter,’ my mother had said to my father in the morning while asking him to miss everything and spare time for participating in Najma’s birthday. 

The house was full of Auntie. She was everywhere in her house, upstairs, downstairs, in the air. Her beautiful figure could be seen moving through the whole house, instructing her teenaged maid to serve guests even when no serving was needed.

“Cold drinks served to them all?” Auntie asked when she passed her. It was not hot but Auntie wanted everyone to drink her cold drinks. Tea was being made.

“Ji Baji given,” the maid said. 

“Ask them again.”

“Ji Baji, okay,” the maid said. 

The maid offered one to me, but I refused because I had already taken some. She asked my cousin Adnan.  He chose one glass from her mobile red sharbat, cold drink tray. 

“You are taking a second. Are you thirsty?” I asked. 

“No” he said. 

“Then why did you take it?” 

“She offered it to me and I thought someone must accept her offer,” he said, laughing his aping laugh. He was uncle Usman’s son. Okara city born. I was Dev Singhwala born, a naturalist.

“Look down!  It is spilling over your shirt… It is a punishment for wasting her sharbat. Water has taken its revenge, it has a mind, it knows who is thirsty, who is not,” I said with water wisdom. 

“Hold it for a minute, I’m going to wash it,” he said. I held his glass and put it on the sill of the room’s window near the stairs. Adnan was six years old then. I was seven. 

Roaming around with Adnan in Auntie’s house, peeping into all the hidden corners, up and down stairs, I saw that everybody was happy in the house except for Najma’s father; he looked a little sad. He was not at all in a participating mood that day. He had bought her new frocks, shoes, toys and the happy birthday cake but he was not responding to smiles. All the relatives noticed his changed mood. It could be anything or nothing. A headache, sunstroke or his office problems; therefore no one could name the change. 

After we had inspected all the hidden parts of the house, Adnan went to ape around Nani, his grandfather, with whom he had come from Okara and I came to their drawing room to study the level of happiness within the grown-ups. To keep themselves busy, they were playing with the politics of Pakistan. Meanwhile, perhaps to give company to his guests, Najma’s father came into the drawing room, but when he saw them swimming in deep-watered politics, he didn’t give it, his company, to them; instead he sat there like an observer. Uncle Usman was defending conservative, Islamist Zia ulHaq and my father was with ZA Bhutto. The revolutionary. The father of the masses. The masses were my father’s clients.

For giving the illusion of participation, the civil engineer nodded once when uncle Shafqat was saying something and once or twice for my father. His clean-shaven, serious-looking, fair-skinned face looked impressive when he nodded. I felt as if he was just pretending to be present… As if he were playing a host in his dream, half asleep, half awake. No, nobody could read his indecipherable mind.

He sat for a while in the drawing room with his spectator mind listening to their intercourse on the politics of Pakistan and then stood up with a fake smile, “Excuse me… you carry on…. I’m coming. I have to…” he said.

He was the first man I had ever seen escaping from his own drawing room. From his ‘I am just coming. I have to…’ guests thought he was going to buy some special eatables for them which he had forgotten to bring, but he went straight upstairs to his smoking room and came down only when we were  about to sing happy birthday to Najma.  

Nobody asked him why he was sad on his sweet daughter’s birthday and my father who could ask him lots of things was busy; half of his mind was stuck in the justice and politics of Pakistan and half of it was hovering over me. In Auntie’s drawing room, he was teaching me the ways of the world. I was trying to learn statue-straight-sitting which only the grownups could do, sitting in one posture, at one place, on one sofa or chair, for hours. 

Seeing me ‘dog-walking’ in Auntie’s drawing room, he had said, “Now sit down here… like a good boy… straight.” He pointed to an unoccupied chair and I sat there, obediently, first straight for him, then not-straight for my own comfort. I loved not-straight, free sitting.  Like a naturalist. 

“Ahsen. Son, sit straight,” he reminded me. Then I sat straight again to please him. I was seriously learning to sit like grown-ups. I could easily sit like a seven year old boy, but my father perhaps wanted me to sit like a ten year old. I wondered perhaps if he thought I was not seven. Maybe he thought I was ten. I didn’t know why he’d do that to me. He’d often say to me, ‘sit here and don’t run around all the time like an animal’.   I didn’t want him to say such a thing to me in Auntie’s house. It was Lahore, a city of learning that had taught him how to sit straight at city gatherings.

I looked for ways to escape from the drawing room; I was trapped in a straight and not-straight situation, but couldn’t escape. My father’s eyes were on me, watching. Then my eyes helped giving me a smart escape. They showed me three horses racing in one of the paintings hanging on the walls of their drawing room. What attracted my attention to the huge painting was how their race was frozen at one point. How they couldn’t get out of the painting, despite a constant high-speed run. They were sweating from their own heat, their muscles stretched in the run.  They were emerging from a jungle. It was a painting. In real life they might have died, I thought. The painting had preserved their race. Their skin colours were different. White. Brown and Black. Their race was the same. They looked at the same time like three friends and three rivals running a race. Whether they were running to beat each other or to reach somewhere, was not clear. They were paint-caught in the middle of their run. No history about them was available.  The painting had no bottom note: When they were born? Where they were bred? Where they lived? When they died? Are they still alive? Or why are they racing? Where were they going? Nothing. The clean-shaven, fair-skinned, serious-looking civil engineer perhaps loved the race horses. Or he loved teaching people how to run at one point. In an eternal run. Like them.  Without end… The room was full of politics.  

“Bhutto was a great leader! Judges killed him only to please Zia-ul-Haq,” my father said, with bitterness appearing on his face. “His hanging is a dirty mark on the face of our history that we can never wash!”

“Yes, he was a good leader but…” uncle Shafqat said, trying to add some negative fact.  But my father didn’t give him time to shed light on his hero’s wrong sides.

The politics helped guests keep their minds busy, in a needful run. The political talk had earlier helped the civil engineer slip away.  He hated politics. Later, when I saw that my father was busy pulling his great leader up, when he was saying something more in praise of ZA Bhutto, I too slipped from the drawing room, studying the loosened, about-to-fall chandelier hanging down from the drawing room ceiling; dangling dangerously. As though it was thinking on whose head to fall. Choosing. Don’t fall on me, please!

‘What is wrong with Auntie?’ I thought when I saw her going upstairs again. Her husband’s mood was upset. She knew. And perhaps she had fused his bulbs, I thought. Not just unhappy, he was angry. He was. And that’s why, now compelled by her need and the demands of the happy occasion, she was running up and down the stairs to negotiate peace with him. He knew her need. He was not a small boy, he was a civil engineer. He was playing his cards with her at the right time.

She asked him to come down, sit with the guests and smile a little and at least look happy for Najma, but he turned down her request.  It made Auntie angry, really angry, though she said nothing to him. She left him in his smoking room’s privacy and came down to her bedroom where my mother, Nani and other women were taking turns to love Najma.  In her brand new pink frock, Najma looked all pink due to the matching baby makeup on her healthy baby cheeks. Auntie looked like a high class beggar that evening, asking everybody to smile a little for her sweet daughter. Her own husband had refused to give her alms of smiles she needed for her daughter. 

“Any problem?” my mother asked, probing her.  

“No, I was just looking at the arrangements,” Auntie said, trying to avoid my mother’s gaze. Perhaps to conceal her ‘about to weep’ facial expressions, Auntie engaged herself with me, treating me suddenly like a toy. She held me in a half hug and bending over me planted on my cheek an unnecessary kiss.  It was her second kiss. I felt as if I had just arrived and she was welcoming me at her gate, to her daughter’s birthday party.  

“Auntie you have kissed me already,” I said. 

“I know I have kissed you already,” Auntie said, laughing out her surprise… “How sharp he is. He is counting whom I am kissing and how many times,” she said, addressing my mother and the other women. All laughed with Auntie and the room air filled with irrepressible laughter and smiles. Their female breasts jerking, jolting as they tried to control their overpowering after-quake jolts.

“Can’t I kiss you again? Tell me,” she asked, smiling, pulling my ear.   I didn’t know what to say to her. I was feeling very embarrassed. I couldn’t say yes or no.  Then to assert her authority, she kissed me again. Publicly.  Both sisters were smiling. Nani, their mother, was pumping air into the balloon of their happiness.

“You can’t count my kisses… I am kissing you from day one, from the day when you were born.  I had kissed you even before your mother did,” Auntie said. I looked towards my mother for her claim’s confirmation. The smile on my mother’s face was saying, ‘yes she is right’. My face asked again. ‘Not you, mother? I thought it was you. Was I wrong? It was Auntie?’ The room air said yes. It was she. That day I learned that sometimes you can’t count how many mothers you have. Every woman or young girl that ever kissed you in your early baby years could claim to be your mother.  It mostly happens before you start counting their kisses or their mother-ships. Later they assert their right on you, saying, ‘I’m also your mother’. Auntie was doing the same thing. She could kiss me or pull my cheeks in any way she liked. I was the jointly owned property of the sisters. 

The civil engineer was still in his smoking room like a naughty boy. He was about thirty-two years old then. Auntie was about twenty-five.  However, Najma’s grandmother, the civil engineer’s mother, and her two married sisters and their children were also in the room. With us. With Auntie.  With Najma.  Nobody was with him. He was alone.  

Later, thinking I don’t know what, he came down to the small celebration hall in the centre of their house when we were gathering around the birthday cake, preparing to sing together ‘happy birthday to you…’ However, even then his participation was like that of a spectator, not like a host. Not like the man of the house. Then came the happy cake-cutting moment. Auntie put a knife in Najma’s small hand and held it in her own and both mother and daughter cut the smile-bringing cake. Everybody was saying happy birthday to Najma. Auntie put a little piece of cake in Najma’s mouth and ate a little herself too. We clapped for Auntie’s little princess and for the mother, singing in chorus as they ate the sweetness. The pink-frocked princess was not counting who had wished her happy birthday and who hadn’t. Her father hadn’t. He might have said it under his breath, which was quite possible because after all he was her father, but things said under the breath never count on birthdays when it is time to wish ‘happy birthdays’ to people.  You have to say it loudly, sending your voice to their voice-expecting ears and he had not said it aloud.  Anyway, Najma was still happy because many had wished her, saying happy birthday to her, her uncles, Aunties, cousins and two grandmothers. 

After eating Najma’s cake, uncle Usman said, “Now I would leave.”  

“Wait just five minutes.” She wanted him to eat her chicken, mutton, ice cream and fruits.   “It is just about ready, five minutes more,” Auntie said, soliciting. Persuading.

“Next time, Salma!  Now, I would leave. That too is important, you know.” He was talking about his party meeting. “After that we’re going to Islamabad. For showing strength tomorrow. It’s the party’s call.”  It was settled that he was not eating her dinner.  

However, before parting, as if on a second thought, he said, “Anything that I can do, any order for me? Anything?” The air said she needed a good sister award. The civil engineer who now appeared to be in a pleasant mood, watched his wife and her brother talk about unknown items. 

The brother was giving a blank cheque, an open offer to his sister, and shaking her head, she was giving him a happy, no need signal.

“No, nothing,” Auntie said, smiling, returning the invisible blank cheque to him. Having been satisfied by her gesture, he put his political hand over her thick-haired head and gave her the good sister award she deserved. It was a very heavy award so heavy that her tall and slim figure almost bent under its weight, or it was the customary way of receiving it. Both things were true. It was very heavy and there was custom too. Bow your head to take it. Those with unbowed heads are never given such awards. So she bowed her head. I bow.

Then he turned his face to my mother and me. She too needed a good sister award. He gave one to her too. He had many. Both sisters looked overjoyed after receiving invisible awards. To me he gave the potato baby award.

“He’s growing fast like potatoes do. He is older than Adnan?” He confirmed this. “Yes,” he said, speaking pleasantly to my mother and me at the same time, his eyes going from me to my mother and then coming back to me again. “When are you moving to Model Town?” he asked my mother. He knew we were trying to move.  

“Ahsen’s Dadaji and Dadi are not allowing that yet,” she said.  

“Why,” he asked. 

“They say they will become lonely, but I hope they will allow it soon. He’s trying. To convince them,” she said, referring to my father. 

Uncle Usman was the elder, but by marriage age my mother was the elder. Senior. More experienced. He had married after her. Senior in politics, junior in marriage.

For the important things, for his party, he went without eating her dinner. However, we ate it to her satisfaction. When she was content, my mother and Nani too stood up, seeking permission to leave.  

“Appi, why not stay here tonight, you can leave early in the morning?” Auntie asked, requesting that my mother remain. Why did she want us to stay? For us? Or for herself? Both perhaps.

It was getting dark outside. 

“No, Arfan is waiting,” my mother said. “He won’t allow us to stay for the night. He’s waiting. Let’s go now. It’s a long way,” my mother said. 

“Yes, it is a long way,” Auntie responded, thinking about the distance. 

“Soon, we too will be moving here. Then we will have longer to sit together,” my mother said.  

“I’m waiting for that time,” Auntie replied.  

“Ahsen, go now and call your Baba and ask your uncles to come too,” my mother said. I went running to the drawing room to call my father and uncles. 

“Baba, Ammi is calling, she is ready to leave, come.”  My father left his seat at once and with him uncle Shafqat and uncle Umardraz also came out (without being called).Like Adnan, they had come with Nani, and we were going together, our route and journey were the same, theirs to Okara, ours to Depalpur. When I came out with them my father held my finger, or I held his. I have a little doubt about it. I think first he held mine, and then I held his. Yes that seems right. The change came when his grip loosened.  I held his hand as he left mine. I loved him more than he did. Uncle Usman had gone to join his party men at his party’s gathering. 

Then came hugging and goodbyes and we left.  Everybody was in a good mood because Nauman had, in the interim, talked to us all (uncle Usman, uncle Shafqat and uncle Umardraz, my father and mother) pleasantly as he had recovered himself from his low mood by then. When Auntie was waving goodbye to us at the gate of their house he too was standing with her like a good husband. His face held a nice smile too like a nice husband.  So my parents and uncles saw no big issue between Auntie and him. His seriousness had covered the whole seriousness. We came home happy, talking about Najma and Auntie and their ornamental flowering city life, renewing our plans to move to their city as soon as possible and become ornamental city people like them.  Najma was an ornamental, flowery, poem-singing and cute-faced, shampooed and combed, intelligent, wide and bright eyed, civil engineer designed person.  My parents wanted to make me a poem-singing, shampooed boy like her.  There was no wrong in having desire for such a thing; all parents do plan these things to improve their kids’ life styles. 

The next day we heard that the civil engineer had divorced Auntie. He alleged that she had slapped his clean-shaven face. While Auntie said she had just returned it. His slap. There was a big confusion in the air between Lahore, Okara and Dev Singwhala about who slapped first and who returned it.

Chapter 5

Female’s Slap

How dare you slap me, you bitch!” the civil engineer had said, furious with anger. As though the society’s laws permitted him to slap or do anything to her and she was duty bound to bear everything. He believed the centuries-old family rules allowed him to do what he had done and barred her from retaliating. With the ‘how dare you’ an angry, impulsive divorce rose up from the depth of the civil engineer’s soul and with a foaming face, he threw it on Auntie’s face, more than three times, the required number, to balance his unbalanced ego. The acidic words burnt to ashes the celebrated contract of matrimonial love, which, when it was signed by the elders of society amid a big roar of congratulations, had looked to be perpetual. In a moment, Auntie became a feather in the air. A refugee in the moving time. A feather that was now at the mercy of the air waves. The argument had started in the evening after the cake cutting and concluded in the morning when the civil engineer sought from her final answers to his ‘unanswered’ questions.

Najma was away, in her happy birthday room. It was happening in the drawing room of their house. The paintings hanging on their drawing-room walls watched them break with their artful, ancient eyes.

Auntie had a share in her brothers’ high value commercial and agricultural property in Okara and her husband had asked her to take her share from her brothers. He desired to build a commercial plaza and needed funds for the construction. Claiming her share from them meant losing her brothers and their blessings, so she couldn’t convince herself to do it and had been ignoring his question. In her world, it was considered socially wrong for a woman to ask for a share in inherited property. After the birthday guests left they talked about it and as she was already angry about how he had behaved with her guests, Auntie refused flatly, shattering all his hopes. The heat grew the whole night and in the morning they had had a final argument which ran out of their control and under the slapping, thrashing hits both of them broke down like a vase of flowers.

For his court cases, my father was in his Lahore chamber when he heard about what the civil engineer had done to Auntie and Najma. Nani Amma, my grandmother, had asked my father on the phone to pick up Auntie from Lahore urgently and bring her home. To Okara. ‘Bring her home before there is further damage,’ Nani Amma had said. She didn’t explain to my father what more could happen to Auntie. What could be bigger than that? On the phone Auntie had given to Nani Amma a very moving, sobbing version of what had happened and what else could happen to her. The civil engineer had already torn her being apart. Could he tear her being again? No, I don’t think so. Because a torn thing couldn’t be torn further. There is no logic in doing this. You can’t smash the same kite ten times. You do it only once, and it is done! But this world is not short of illogical men! Nani Amma’s apprehensions could not have been without logic; after all, she was a woman of experience. The civil engineer could burn her alive or she could kill herself or him. Anything was possible. Auntie was not herself; anger had changed her. She could do anything. Nani Amma knew her daughter. Her product. Therefore, on the directions of his mother-in-law, my father, like an obedient, dutiful son-in-law, rushed to pick up her product and the product of her product, Auntie and Najma, from the civil engineer’s house in the Township. When he reached there, the design maker was not at home. He had slipped out of the house after smashing Auntie’s life, leaving her in the horrible shock of his final chess move… The checkmate. 

Red with anger, Auntie picked up her moveable things and sat in the dull white Corolla. She put her liquidated fate in the wrong car, with her little daughter in it, her sorrows in it. Her upset, broken desires in it. Her hurt beauty, and charms in it. She was blind! It was a car of sand. She did not know she was sitting in the wrong car. Her time was taking her from one illusion to another. Beaten by her time, she came to Okara like an officer goes home after dismissal from government service, (marriage is a government job in our world, love a private job, people here prefer government jobs and when they lose their certified jobs, they often break down and live the rest of their lives with scattered, dented faces) with little hope of a good job in the future.  Najma was Auntie’s product so she came with her. The love in him for his civil engineer’s seed had dried, so he rejected the whole scheme, the factory, and its product. The whole tree. The property and her properties. All future products. You know a slap that comes from a wife’s hands often hurts double. It scatters dreams. The same happened with the civil engineer. It hit not only his face; it hit his soul, drying all ‘renewable channels’ of love. On the contrary, a slap coming from the husband’s hand is less lethal, but Auntie did not believe in this chauvinist slap theory. ‘A slap hurts everybody equally!’ she had told my father, justifying her act. Auntie destroyed her married life trying to correct a wrong notion prevailing in our world about male and female slaps. Later she learned that trying to change the world is an offence. A punishable offence.

The dull white Corolla, its air filled with combating male and female theories, flew them out of Lahore; it took its first regular breath in Okara, where in Nani Amma, Auntie’s mother, and my mother’s mother, my father’s mother-in-law, was waiting for them like a railway station waiting for the arrival of a new train.

After dropping Auntie and Najma in Okara, my father came to Dev Singhwala to kill my mother. The news killed her. I saw colours fading on her face. She had no role in the exchange of slaps, but still she put on a sorry face as she heard the details of the unprecedented event. Her mouth opened with surprise, her intelligence challenging the episode, she didn’t want to believe what her sister had done to herself, and to her family. She was defensive because what Auntie had done reflected badly on their family line. She knew people would interpret it in different ways.

The news had hit the softest part of her; her heart, or perhaps her soul. She was pregnant. It had hit her baby; I saw uncertainty and disbelief dancing in the room. I heard the silence singing silent songs, shouting, tearing at my ear drums. That moment of silence designed and shaped my tomorrow; our future.

My father’s eyes were all thoughts; lips closed.

“Salma was a little daring from day one. But I didn’t expect she could go this far,” my mother said, opening one of her secret lids again.

My father nodded, agreeing with my mother, as he too knew Auntie Salma was an activist-natured, qualified wild person. He had seen an activist waking up its ductile arms in her during his long talk session with her in the car between Lahore to Okara. Her fearlessness hinted at new spectrums. He knew how activist people behaved, how they were born, one of a sort lived in him too, under his legal skin.

As silent intermission came in the serious talk which was no louder than a whisper, I mounted the three seat sofa where my father sat facing my mother. She was on the bed towards its head side, locked in the Auntie episode. I mounted on the sofa and rolling two to three times like a monkey rested my head on my father’s knees, stretched my legs on the sofa’s empty space to the east, towards the window. When I encroached his lap, he didn’t protest. He was a man of law; he knew I had got all the legal rights on him. The right to occupy his lap. His life space. Everything. The right to utilize almost all of his property. 

Taking a hesitant pause, my father said, “Najma is a pretty girl, and intelligent too. She’s just five and she can sing English poems. She’s learned several poems by heart. Along the way, she sang the Black Sheep poem. And so innocently! She doesn’t know what has happened to her, or to her mother. She doesn’t exactly know what her father has done to them!”

“Yes. A beautiful oval face. You saw her eyes? Wide and deep! And long eye-lashes on them!” my mother responded, recalling the design and contours of Najma’s eyes. And the thought of those wide, deep eyes almost brought tears to my mother’s eyes.

“He didn’t even think of his daughter either. He broke his own child’s home. What will be her future now?  And he is a civil engineer! He makes new building plans. But instead of building his home, he destroyed it.  Unwise man!” the man of law, my father, gave his judgment. He was a judge of the moment. In his sharp, unhesitant tone my father had raised a question mark on the civil engineer’s rash mind, although he didn’t say that the civil engineer was a foolish man because ‘unwise’ is a more humiliating word than foolish, and he had chosen it rightly, because civil engineers are never foolish, but they are often unwise.

After the supporting verdict of my father, a new wave of sympathy rose up in my mother’s chest for her younger sister and innocent niece, and I saw emotions gathering in her eyes. “I should go see them. It’s their hard time,” a sudden urgency emerged in the pitch of her voice. My father nodded. “Nauman could not handle Salma,” she continued. “She deserved a better man, a caring, loving husband. But she got a greedy and mean person instead!” she said, reviewing Auntie’s life. “No girl in our family ever demanded a property share. How could she do that for him?” She referred to an ancient family rule.

Time was moving on; I saw its face, it was changing colours.  In the mornings, the sun would gleam full in the bedroom of the east-facing house when its front window was opened and it was seldom closed. Nobody ever cared to lock its wooden lips. Like veils, only curtains closed or opened it. But the time in which we were then was not a morning, it was a bright afternoon. The regular moving sun had tilted its face away and with it its rays too had changed their sides. However, its indirect glow was showering in, in abundance. There, out of the window, a black limbed mango tree stood on the lawn towards its boundary wall like a disguised guard at a reasonable distance. The birds that came to perch at the juicy plant could look easily into the bedroom like outsiders and view the life within it; our lives. Lying down there on the swollen sofa with my baby head resting on the pillow of my father’s knees, I spotted a foreign black-brown sparrow concealed in the dark greenness of the mango-tree, secretly peeping into our bedroom. ‘It’s eavesdropping!’ I thought, noticing its intentness and directions of its beak and eyes; its black-brown fluffy head. Its colour and shape showed as if it belonged neither to the sparrow species, nor to the finch species. What was it? It could be some disguised bird serving some purpose in the local universe. It seemed to be more than a bird. Its eyes were not those of a mere bird’s. It had time’s eyes. It had shades of time in them. Does time have eyes? Yes it has, sometimes! That day it had and it was watching us with the bird’s eyes.  The tailed creature’s pondering beak betrayed its secret, snooping mind. It was listening to my parents’ whisperings about Auntie’s fall, and it was deadly curious about my father’s black coat, about my mother’s sea green silk dress, about our lives, about our time and about what was going to happen next, as though it knew the next part of the movie. The movie of our lives. Of all lives. Was it possible? It’s quite possible, everything is…. Flying species (including Angels in the sky) know everything or at least part of it. Because they can fly into our tomorrow, into our next moment. Only we, the blinded children of Adam, don’t know anything about our tomorrow. We come to know it only when we see it, when we reach there or it reaches us like a road accident, or when new leaves sprouted up around us, showing their faces above the soil on the bodies of tiny plants, appearing with fresh, moist faces from the belly of the seed, appearing, tearing the soil’s heart, tearing the layers of darkness…

To neutralize the bird’s naked, illegal activity, I lifted my right leg in the air and brought it in an accurate shooting position like a plastic machine gun. However, when my foot came right between the brown sparrow and my eyes I saw that my own view of the sparrow had been blocked. I moved my leg aside to find it, still keeping my leg in the air. I saw that it was not there. It had flown away during the blocked moment, when my leg was in the air. Puzzled by the event’s swiftness, I dug my gaze into the branches of the dark mango tree, tracing a long lost thing. No, it wasn’t there!

The bird shook the marrow in the bones of my legs and, with an unknown haste, I pulled down my whole leg from the air, with an unconscious jerk. By doing that, I lost my balance and came down rolling onto the floor, from my father’s knees, from the sofa. I got up in no time, unhurt. As if it was a fall in a dream. It wasn’t a dream; it had disrupted the bedroom air. It was real. My mother and my father looked at me with concern. The thoughts which hung in the air like questions between my father and mother got hurt badly. The broken ‘ooh’ sounds slipped out from two pairs of adult lips at one time. A double ‘ooh’ made a hole in the room’s air. Then came anger, like consequences. Like sleeping future thoughts that come later.

My father almost shouted at me, “can’t you even sit properly?” I really didn’t know what he meant by ‘sit properly’. It had not yet come to me. I was a student of Air University by then; I would study the air and soil in the local university. Not knowing what to do, I shrank into myself. Was it a sin to lay on his lap? On my father’s lap? Yes, apparently it was a sin. However they never said that it was; never said that I could only sit on the sofa with him, not mess up (sin up) with his thinking lap.

My father was about to hurl another ‘can’t you even sit properly’ question at me, but my mother pinned him on the sofa in time, before he could throw it at me again.

“Why are you getting harsh with the child? It was a mistaken fall.  And you are scolding him!  He’s just a child yet!” she said, giving him a piece of information that he didn’t have and needed badly. As though he needed to be told that I was just a child and his own child. Her hands came out to take me in and I hid myself in her arms.

“Can’t you see?” he said. “He is unbearably… naughty. He has no manners… and he is under no discipline!” My father passed judgment about my naughtiness, about my in-discipline and ill-manners, with a sudden anger-wave clouding his face. I drew my gaze down. “You, and Abbaji are spoiling him by giving undue support all the time,” my father continued, also bringing my grandfather Chaudhry Hasnat into the blame picture.

“What’s happened to you all of a sudden?” my mother snapped, killing all of his allegations, brushing aside the ‘me’ subject with a female smile.  Her smile worked on him! I don’t know how but it worked on him. The air in the room began to normalize.

Her smile said, ‘Take it easy! I’ll manage him!’  The powerful smile distracted him. Yes, she knew how to distract him.  “Come here on the bed. Sit with me. Did it hurt?” she asked, and gave me an extended kiss on my check.

“No!”  I shook my head vigorously, recovering, smiling. The air on my behalf asked what could hurt me.  You are my goddess, my mother. I am your plant, your fruit, your child. My mother believed that children learn by every fall, and that all children are naughty to some extent. And that they should be naughty! Because once gone, they never get their childhood again to play with it! They should grow up naturally, playing, not before time.

It was a kind, dry kiss that I never forgot. It remains in my memory. I felt that her lips lacked moisture.

Her baby was sucking her waters. Later my father went to Depalpur. He was a busy man. He had lots of engagements. After he left and when my mother was alone in her room, silence began hovering around her like a vulture.

My mother used to take regular naps during the day, or rather a double snooze; for herself, and for her baby.  However, that afternoon she could not sleep even for a minute. I saw her lay on her double bed, changing sides on it, waiting for sleep with closed eyes. But the desired siesta didn’t come and her efforts to gain it generated further unrest in the room.

“Ahsen! Come here,” she whispered in the silence of her room. When I went near her she held my thin arms in hers, as though she had been a school teacher and she planned to inspect my unclean nails, choosing ways to punish me for that or for all the toys I had broken in her room.

“Listen, no talk here about Auntie!” Her eyes had an element of warning, and at the same time some gentleness. Was the repute (and fate) of two sisters linked? Yes, in the family fabric found in the local universe it could be linked. Quite possible. She taught me that certain things can damage the image with which we live; certain secrets, if leaked, could decompose the family fabric. She taught me that they may say, ‘see, the MPA’s family got a divorce for their daughter, but did not give her a share in the property…’

“Do you understand? Don’t talk about her divorce to anybody in the house. That she has come to Okara forever. Do you get me?” she said, in a shrilled whisper. In my life so far, I have heard no whisper louder than that, it entered the subconscious mind. It is still there, it still resounds in me during dark nights.

Chapter 6

Red Lipsticks

The next morning I was playing with a bat and ball on the front yard lawn of our house when my mother said, “come in and get ready. We’re going to the City.” By the word ‘City’, she meant her mother’s house in Okara. I left the bat and ball on the lawn and moved in like some obedient creature. The ‘Come in, get ready, we’re going to the city’, was something that often made me excited and extra obedient to her. As she also knew it, she would sometimes use this ‘feed’ falsely too. I do not know why, perhaps to keep me emotionally linked to her and to her mother’s home… But this time, it was not false. I knew it.

She was picking the right dress to wear for meeting the sadness, Auntie. Which outfit was good for the ceremony? On her face was a careful thought. She peeped into her wardrobe. It contained all colours, happy and sad. Both cotton and silk. The sea green was her favourite. I knew. The shirts, shorts, knickers and trousers for my seven year old, naughty limbs also sat in folds beside her attires in there, in her fabric-laps. In the cupboard. Finally, she picked out a black one, with small, brown autumn leaves on it, for herself. For Okara. For giving a sad, black smile. For the sad hug of two sisters. I knew they hugged a lot, even for no reason, and now they had a motivation to embrace with genuine emotions, with tears in their eyes.

She slipped me into a new blue check T-shirt and a pair of matching trousers. I was her only baby toy. When she the tied the laces of my blue-white-red joggers, I noted haste in her hands.

Then, she stood in front of the dressing table for herself. For dressing her face. She used light face cream. She picked up dazzling red lipstick from the dressing table drawer, opened it up and looked at it for a while, then on second thought put it back. It wasn’t lipstick time; her lips were left waiting for a proper time. She might have thought lips should not be in red lipstick while inspecting other people’s pain coming from their fresh wounds. From her I learned how to deal with other people’s cuts and bruises, whether physical or social. And I learned that unembellished, sad lips help ‘damage examiners’ perform well!

When my mother and I approached the car, passing along Dera’s wall, through the exclusive side-path, I noted that she was killing ants under her strip sandals. It was not her fault. She did not know about the ants; her mind was already at her mother’s city house.

My father was at Dera with Dadaji and his farm people, sitting in their assembly like an observer, waiting only for us to get ready and come out. It was a planned visit, but to Dadaji and Dadi it was shown as a casual one. The car was parked outside Dera and farm people had given it a wash, to remove yesterday’s dust.

“Ahsen you did not go to school today?” Barkat asked me when I went to Dera to call my father.

“Not today. We are going to Nani Amma’s house.” He was our crop manager. Dadaji’s right hand in farm affairs. He always looked after everything. He would keep his nose in school matters as well.

“When you will come back?” he asked, pleasantly.

“Tomorrow,” I replied.

“Not tomorrow. Today, in the evening,” Baba said, clearing it to everybody including Barkat.

She opened the car door and occupied the front seat with my father persuading me to take the backseat. I liked sitting next to my father on the front seat to enjoy the things in front of a speeding car. It gave a feeling of running over the world like floodwater going over lands and cities, gushing over roads or down river bridges. But it seemed she loved it more than I did. How could she love it more than a child? Yes she did! She even asked me for it. For letting her take the front seat next to my father.

“Son… Backseat is better. It gives a long back view to children,” she said, in a requesting voice, which gave me a clear message that she would not spare the front seat for me. With a flood of resentment on my face I opened the backdoor and sat on the back seat, in the middle of a three men space, like an angry creature.

While the car moved along the driveway and picked up speed I turned back to take in the rear view and I saw that our dog, Kali, was running after us along the driveway at his best speed; as if he wanted to say a good bye that had come into his animal mind at the eleventh hour. But then I saw that the dog stopped suddenly as if something had pulled it back by its tail. It stopped because it did not want its tail to break in two pieces by the strong back pull. Then I saw him retuned with his tired dog feet. It was an untainted compliance! It happened when Gora Modi summoned him back with a shouted order, standing at the V-shaped point before Dera. As though Gora Modi were Kali’s real proprietor. He was standing there as if the V-shaped point belonged to him, the whole world, including the dog and the wide trees along the driveway belonged to him. As if the dog needed his consent to run there. To run after us. For us. Gora Modi was the son of our crop manager, Barkat.

That day I realized that other people also had certain ownership rights to certain things at the Hasnat Agricultural Farm and the dog was one of those things which fell into the category of divided ownership. The way the dog froze on the driveway suddenly was a very depressing sight for me and it made me uneasy the whole day thereafter. Perhaps I wished the dog to endlessly run after the car, catch it and compel my father to pull up; kiss our feet and hands and say to us a blessed good bye without using any of the human alphabets. But he didn’t. Gora Modi had stopped him mid-way; he had wrongly established rights over the dog, the rights that my father, mother or I didn’t have at all over the ‘child of nature’. Only because Gora Modi fed him daily. Thick buffalo milk, buttered bread and all that he loved to lick and gobble up… The dog had become Gora Modi’s slave. His royal friend!

There was silence in the car. It shifted my mind to the trees at both sides of the road like a baby who would catch any toy that came within his range after losing the first. The first toy was the dog, which had been snatched away by a schemer. Only the white car was going forward, all else was running back like my thoughts that were stuck in what the dog had done to me on ‘orders’ of a man who wasn’t even his owner. In the blinking moment my real eyes blinked and my mind’s eyes saw the dog and the man laughing at me at the V-point, together. Dogs laugh with their tails. Wagging. Wagging. See! He is asking for a licking service… Who gives me milk? Yes, Gora Modi gives me buffalo milk which is licked up daily by me, a food slave. This is the reason, I conclude. But the stupid dog does not know that all the bulls, buffalos and cows belong to my father and grandfather. The milk source is ours. Gora Modi is a mere servant of the farm. He is only the son of the manager, Barkat. What is a manager? He is also a servant. He isn’t some civil servant who runs the country, who runs Pakistan or Dev Singhwala.

My mother’s eyes were swimming over the ripening paddy fields, looking to her left side out of the car window. However, my father was studying the road in front of him. How it was being run over by a polished white car. Tiny stones getting smashed under its harsh tyres. It was a moment in the car when none of us was talking or willing to initiate a conversation. Thoughts however, were at work, sinking and soaring in the three skins of mother, father and a child.

On the Depalpur-Okara highway my mother broke the silence. “What’ll be her life now?” She was talking about Auntie. “And, what’ll she do of Najma?” She tossed hard and sad questions in the car air, without looking towards my father. As though she intended to say Najma would now be an extra burden around Auntie’s neck after the divorce, as if she wanted to say that Najma was a marriage waste that should have been left back in the ‘Civil Marriage Factory’ after it closed its shutters in anger.

The man of law did not answer the questions. Maybe they were questions that did not need any answer. A hell needs no explanation. He just turned his face towards her, looked at her face and again shifted his attention to the surface of road before the running car. As if the road had a mirror in it, showing him the way, giving him thoughts that he needed to move on, out of a dark muddle.

The mess of his in-laws was becoming one of the bylaws of his life. The car was rushing towards Nani’s house where Auntie and Najma were waiting to be consoled, waiting to be asked what brought ‘the mishap’ that made Najma and Auntie refugees in Okara city, where she would have to celebrate her future unhappy birthdays with unsung happy birthday songs.

What happened later proved that Najma was not a burden on anyone. Instead she helped her mother bear her sorrow with grace. But it happened later. At that time, the later was hidden somewhere in the later part of time, waiting to come out like the morning sun.

***

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From History to Chance: A Girl's Journey

Shattered by life changing incidents, Ahsen and his cousin Najma, children of two beautiful sisters, grow up as siblings, sharing a mother, making their lives livable at their farm in Depalpur, Pakistan. Despite everything, Najma's life is clean and calm, whereas Ahsen is still stuck in the past but he never shares with anyone what haunts him. He loves his cousin and wants to protect her clean and calm world. Their lives are linked so strongly that her happiness gives him happiness and her sadness makes him sad. Now when she has settled in USA with her husband, a blast has exposed what he has been hiding from everyone, and shocked by it, he is gathering the scattered parts of his history. All of its parts are important to him, but his sympathies are with the victims, all the victims, starting from the beginning of time and by the word beginning, he means his own beginning.

  • ISBN: 9781311499851
  • Author: Jamaluddin Jamali
  • Published: 2016-07-02 05:20:58
  • Words: 84852
From History to Chance: A Girl's Journey From History to Chance: A Girl's Journey