It was a cold evening. The only thing that warmed me up was the thought that my father would bring the sweets and other stuff served at the fatiha-khaani for me as usual. He loved his children as every father does. He was strict too.
My brother often narrates a story that once he was even hung upside down by him when he found my brother reluctant to study. However, being the youngest in the family and a toddler, I had a privilege to be free from all sorts of such punishments, to sleep with him and to be the core of his attention no matter what.
I still remember, he would forget his Identity card sometimes at home or elsewhere but he would never forget to keep anti-spasmodic in his pocket for me, as I used to suffer from the occasional abdominal pain. That day too, when people checked his pocket there was a pain killer for me.
He was late today. It was autumn. Mountains became mum. No chirping of birds could be heard. Perhaps they too had migrated to other places as men and women did. Perhaps they too were scared of the gun-shots, the crackdowns and the fear that haunted everyone. Although he used to come a little late, but he never came this late. Everyone was worried. I wasn’t worried at all. And if at all, I was worried, I was worried about his being good to the other children of the village. What if he already has distributed all the sweets to the children who met him on his way last time? I was worried about his generosity which I felt only I was entitled to.
Night fell. My sisters started shouting paapaa, paapaa, paapaa to know, if he is nearby. This was a normal practice in those days as there were no phones. They kept calling him for almost half an hour. Then suddenly his voice echoed from the nearby forest that comes on the way to our home. I was more than happy. No sooner did I hear him shouting back, I went to the kitchen side our house and brought the bowl to collect the sweets and other eatables.
He took another fifteen minutes to reach the nearby house that situated at around hundred terraces down our home. I smiled. To be clearer from my other siblings, I made a distance from them, so that he does not forget to put a large proportion of those eatables he has, in my bowl.
In a few minutes he was just in front of every one of us. I ran mid-way and without saying anything passed my bowl to him. He smiled, as he lifted me up and kissed. He filled that bowl and asked me to give some to my siblings just to listen that I won’t.
My elder sister, then only around sixteen, was mad at him for being so irresponsible and coming so late. She had become a little more mature than her age group. Perhaps this happens to most of the girls living in conflict zones. At an age when their age mates outside, watch cartoons, play, listen to the stories about angels and fairies; they are acquainted with the terms like molestation, rape and the like.
Night spread its wings on the mountains, making them more vulnerable. Nobody dared to go outside after this time, except me and Papa. I would often ask him to accompany me for the loo. There was no toilet inside the house, or outside. So going out was always good as he always would accompany me. He was indeed my best friend. The only friend perhaps he was.
Kids usually are more close to their mothers than their fathers. In our family reverse has been the case. The reason was, despite being too poor; he would keep us too happy. He never complained. He was always happy and less worried. Our mother however, is quite a serious woman who was undergoing the hardships which most ladies don’t undergo usually. May be destiny had planned this way. Had she not been this serious we would have shattered long back.
On asking the reason for being late at the dining –mat, the only explanation he gave was a very similar and familiar to all of us- He was stopped by some villager on the way to pray for his ailing wife. Owing to his nature, he was dear to the most of villagers. Perhaps he never said a “no” to anyone, for any possible thing he could do.
Dinner was served. I ate in his plate, as usual. It was a one-hall house. I kept the bowl with me till the time I went to bed with him. We had a chat, a routine chat. Most of the times, he would ask me to spell names, places, things etc. I don’t remember what exactly did he talk that night, I just uttered umm…umm while he kept on talking. I was more interested in finishing with the sweets in the bowl. I ate them as soon as possible so that nothing is left for anyone else. I laid on his left arm. He always kept me on the left side, so that I don’t fall from the Khat in sleep.
He still was talking about something when I fell asleep. It was midnight, when I woke up, as usual. I asked him to take me out for the loo. He moaned and murmured that he can’t. I was still half-slept. I repeated, “Get up, and take me out for a loo”. He again moaned and said, “I can’t”.
I came to my senses out of unknown and unpredicted fear only to hear him saying “lift my head” bache (Son). It was all pitch-dark inside the house. The only Chimni (kerosene burner) we had was kept on the other side of the house where my sister and brother elder to me were sleeping. I was thrilled this time. I went weak in my knees and back. How can any child see his hero moaning in pain and helpless? Although his voice was not clear, but I could somehow understand that he can’t means he is unable to do it. He is sick. Then he again moaned and asked me to lift his arm- the left arm. I tried to lift his head as well as arm two three times, but I couldn’t. Subsequently, I cried and shouted “Pape ki kuj hoi gha” (something has happened to papa).
The sister woke up and lit the Chimni. Brother an year or two elder than me, started crying too. Sister ran to the neighbourhood to call someone for help all alone.
She came back with neighbours- a few ladies, men and children too. In the meanwhile, I developed the notion that, it all happened because of me. Without letting anyone know, I lived with this guilt for a few years. I thought, it was all because of me. As I used to sleep on his left arm so regularly, so his arm has got the problem. I even wowed to myself and to the God, I feared more than I loved to not to sleep on his arms ever, if he gets well soon. “Falaj hoi ghaas” (He has been paralysed) murmured the man standing beside the Khat.
Everyone waited till morning to bring him to the hospital in Surankote which was at a distance of around 3 to 4 hours from the village. Travelling at night was both difficult and dangerous as there was no electricity in those days and it was unsafe to travel as it were curfew hours.
Dawn was approaching. They carried him on the same Khat, we were sleeping on to the hospital. I and my siblings were left at home, perhaps for two reasons. First, it was difficult for us to travel that far. Second reason perhaps was extra-expenditure.
As soon they left, the night was over. But for me night had just begun. I was crying continuously and was feeling ashamed and guilty as well. I still was immersed in the night that had passed for everyone.
But for me the night has still not passed. It will stay with me till eternity. The century-long day passed. We saw many more people coming towards our home in the evening and reciting Kalima. My sister started yelling when she heard the Kalima. There was everyone there now-the family and the villagers, the relatives and the unknowns. In a while my elder brother tore his shirt into parts, screaming at the top his voice. So did the whole family and the neighbours. My brother while screaming and yelling said “marhya-paapa, marhya paapa” (my papa, my papa). I was stunned. I still didn’t want to believe that their yelling has some meaning. I consoled my brother, who was lying on the ground with his torn shirt and flowing-eyes. I said the words that I myself wanted to listen from someone else-“paapa zinda ya” (Papa is alive).
About the Author: Mujahid Mughal is the author of The Paradise Unseen. He is working as an Assistant Professor at Govt Degree College Poonch.