Memories for Life …

by Tazeem Akhter

Sometimes little incidents leave a strong imprint on our minds. This one happened just a month ago, and I know the sweetness and positivity it infused into my thoughts will stay with me  for the rest of my life.

It was a sweltering June morning. I was at Kalai, waiting endlessly for
a bus to Poonch; papa being out of town, and any other means of commute, thus, being out of the question. The sun was directly overhead, beating down upon our heads in full form and  getting more and more unbearable with each passing second.

Buses came and went, wholly jam-packed, so no driver applied brakes at our stop. Finally, after an irksome wait of about two whole hours, a bus stopped. It too was crammed with people like a matchbox just two matchsticks short of a full load. Mamma and I, thus, managed to squeeze in at the back door.

Riding on the steps, we were offered seats by two kind men, and felt much like damsels in distress being rescued by gallant knights! I had an idea that it was going to be a bumpy ride, but not that the ‘half hour journey’ would become a memory for a lifetime!

On my right sat Mamma. The seat to the left was occupied by a typical Gujjar (rustic) couple: a middle aged man sporting a graceful white beard and a ‘safaa’ on his head, and his wife in a hand-woven round red cap with a beautiful flowery
pattern in bright colors that was partially visible underneath the big
chadar, and a round golden laung (nose stud) with a red bead embedded in its centre.

I found myself gazing at them, fascinated, but had no idea how to strike a conversation. My mom helped me there. She asked them where they were from, how they make their living, etc. As the conversation progressed, it transpired that we had some mutual acquaintances.

I had some delicious plums with me and I offered them some. I asked them about their family. They told us about their only son who recently passed class 12. The couple was on the way to the Government Degree College at Poonch to inquire about admission details for him.

The talk shifted to their son. I asked them why he wasn’t with them, and the father replied that he was away in Srinagar with his maternal uncle for the annual gathering at Laar Sharief. Then he told us a little about his own background, and his life as a poor Gujjar farmer from Marhote (a village in Surankote), the hardships he faced in the militancy affected area, caught between the crossfire as it were, with the militants suspecting him of being an undercover agent for the army and  the army suspecting him of being a militant sympathizer.

It spoke volumes for his courage and determination that in the midst of these circumstances he managed to educate his son well, reiterating proudly that
his son had never failed in any class: ‘Mero nikko kise class maan ryo ni’.

His son’s excellent scores in the board exams–both 10th and 12th standard–were on the tip of his proud tongue, but he acknowleged our congratulations with a modest ‘Uppar ala go karam hai’ (It is the Almighty’s grace), while his wife smiled with quiet pride and content.

The couple had no idea of the subjects their son had studied at the senior secondary level, but their eyes were shining with dreams of their son’s bright future in college. The conversation turned to the subjects their son wanted to study at college. The father reached into the breast pocket of his brown kameez and brought out a dilapidated wallet. A 500 rupee note, a couple of 10 rupee notes and a 5 rupee coin came into view as he scrabbled in it with his fingers. An old photograph of Rani Mukherjee also met my amused glance!

And now his hand emerged with a carefully folded slip of paper–three options of subject combinations that his son had written down for him: Urdu, Persian , Pol Sc; Urdu Persian Geography ; Urdu, Persian, Education. As I read them out aloud to him, he asked curiously, ‘Science haina?’ I shook my head and he pointed towards ‘Political Science’ and asked ‘Baccha! yo science ni?’ (Isn’t that science?)

Before I could answer, his mind veered off to his biggest preoccupation, and he asked me whether the college gives residential facilities to students belonging to far flung areas. As I said ‘yes’, his expression lightened. Their minds obviously relieved of a huge worry, the couple exchanged happy smiles, as the father said with a sigh of relief, ‘Unn koi fikar ni’ (no worries now)!

More relaxed now about this aspect of their son’s future in college, they were able to relish the plums I had offered them, and which they had been holding tightly in their hands so far.

‘Yo chango hai’ (this is great) he said as he spit the pits of the fruit out of the bus window, adding gratefully, ‘Baccha! teh mero dil khush kar choryo … tero Khuda shehar bassawe’ (child, you have gladdened my heart … Allah bless you). Prevented from raising his hands in prayer because of the jam-packed bus, his eyes showered blessings upon me.

Plump (as they are called instead of plum) bada mitha hai … apna hain?’ (these plums are so sweet! are they your own?) I offered him some more and the half-hour journey passed most pleasurably. As the bus reached its destination and started emptying, he kept on saying, ‘Allaha tina salamat rakhe, Allaha tero sheher basawe’ (May God protect you and help you blossom).  As we said salaam to the couple and moved our way, he bellowed politely after us: ‘Aao chaa palawaan tamna’ (let’s have a cup of tea).

And such was the goodwill emanating from him that I wanted to accept his offer, not for the chaai, but for more talk. We felt impelled to decline his invitation, however, and he vanished along the College road, waving his hand and calling out, ‘Allaha ge hawale; zindagi rahi de milaanga dobare’ (Goodbye and God speed; if destiny wills it so, we shall meet again).

All the way back home I kept thinking about that beautiful couple. I realized that I had even forgotten to ask the name of their son–the lucky guy who has such lovely parents. Maybe I can locate him at college sometime and tell him how caring his parents are. Maybe, as they said, if destiny wills it so, we shall meet again …

Tazeem Akhter is a 17 year-old writing enthusiast from J&K. Apart from reading and writing she loves photography as well.

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