Tuesday, May 21

Story: Memory of the Ruin / By Maryam Jilani

Maryam Jilani

The darkness had enveloped everything and the convulsing grip of land was pulling her down. Somehow, she still wished it all to be her imagination: the throbbing mud-covered feet, the bleeding wound on her arm, and the drenching sweat sticking the green choli tightly to her body. Despite all, the wishful thinking was still there. The grey net dupatta got stuck in the thorns of the widespread branches of the tree as she walked past it. With the dizziness engulfing her, she tugged her dupatta hard as it tore down asymmetrically. “We need to keep running, Bilqees’ ‘ the hoarse voice echoed in her ears as she felt the eruption of wetness between her legs and watched her dilated stomach. No!, This was not how it was supposed to be; this was not the right time. In no time the fluid streamed down her swollen tired legs as she helplessly shouted “Shahnawaz” which came out as a wail instead, and he stopped in his path turning back, his face graced with horror. “You can do it. Push Bilqees! push yes! you can do it ”Shahnawaz pleaded as Bilqees carried on pushing continuously, taking deep breaths.“ Shahnawaz ” she uttered barely as he lifted his face to hear her out “Leave me and go….I don’t think we can make it….you should go…please!” Was it a request, an order, or simply just a formality Shahnawaz could not make out of it nonetheless he knew that’s not happening “Bilqees just don’t give up. Trust me, in some time our baby will come into this world having your hazel almond eyes and a smile like mine. Hair should be like my Ama’s: black and the baby is not supposed to snore. I already tolerate you “He kept mumbling while caressing the bulged stomach as she smiled with tears in her eyes. Cries of the baby began rippling out as Shahnawaz’s manly large hands covered with blood and fluid tried to handle the squirming baby. “Girl or Boy?” Bilqees questioned. “It’s a boy,” Shahnawaz answered with triumph. “Come on, give him to me”she said while lying down straight on the land. “But the umbilical cord is still intact”. Shahnawaz revealed as panic hovered over them.

It was about 3, as she woke up with a jolt. Oh, it was a dream, a flashback to be precise. Looking around she saw Shahnawaz sleeping calmly. His hair all grey, sunken cheeks and dark circles; does one age so much during one night? She had often felt herself oscillating between the darkest night of 1947 and the present time. More than often she would hear: the noise, the chaos, the chants of the violent mob after them “Kill them. Kill these Muslims”. The ghosts of the past keep chasing her; the shadows creating figure-like structure frightening her to the core. Everything felt abstract except the pain; it’s somewhere inscribed in her bones. It was deep agony to see their home in Amritsar burn as they ran away. A 9 month pregnant girl in her mid twenties, a boy almost 30; hand in hand as they made their way into the pitch dark forest. Brown hair braid fluttering in the air, eyes all alarmed and the skin going paler than before as the boy with his muscular arms carried her for most of the time; wrinkled forehead all wet with sweat and bloodshot eyes trailing way ahead to find a comparatively secure place to rest. The wind howled as Shahnawaz cut the umbilical cord with the talwar which Nandini their kind hearted neighbour has smuggled before they left. Ironic, it might seem the very terrible weapon used for hurting and killing was utilised to deliver a baby: give life to a human being. “Come on, my child, my baby, my Sikandar” Bilqees cried with joy as the boy cuddled in her arms. “Look I told you along with the eyes he would have my nose too; the sharp straight nose.” She boasted as an annoyed Shahnawaz reminded her of the smile the baby inherited from him that too with a dimple and the hair he got from his Dadi. Under the laid out branches near the trunk they sewed new hopes and dreams of: existence, freedom and identity.

The next day they had reached a tiny hut across the woods which was of Jagjit Singh a friend of Shahnawaz. A man with a thick moustache and red turban on his head; referring Bilqees “Bhabhiji”in his squeaky voice diffusing a thick toxicating smell. He was involved in the trading of books across the border and gladly hatched a plan for their safe travel to Pakistan. It was decided that they will take cover in the Tanga by hiding under the chadar showing the pretence of books thereby facilitating a secure journey to Lahore. However the problem was that any motion or sound would raise speculations getting them caught which meant that carrying a baby along them can prove to be an enormous risk. Shahnawaz and Bilqees made it very clear that at no cost will they leave their child behind. If they have learned something from life it was that it is unexpected and brutal. They have left their city, home, veranda, imlee tree, the people they love:familiarity, all of them miles behind them ;they can’t afford to lose their baby too. They have fled the scene trampling on their dreams and hopes; the broken and burnt pieces pierce their souls every moment but they still have the optimism of their child having better future in their homeland. Abandoning him would be deserting the only purpose they fought for resiliently. As destiny had planned Sikandar remained quite all curled up like a ball of cotton in his mother’s lap as they eventually arrived at Lahore however their final destination turned out to be Chiniot where they began their life from a scratch. Although that night in the forest now resides lengthy years ago but all the years in between filled with joy, love and growth seems to evaporate with a blink of eye for Bilqees as every next day the tormenting history comes standing in front of her.

She has not told anybody, not even Shahnawaz he would get worried but the time behaves weirdly with her; it constricts dragging her behind to the ghastly, gloomy night in the woods. She could feel Shahnawaz wiping her tears and sweat with his cream colored kameez. How the dread was more real than the labour she felt delivering her first born and how the cursed talwar astonishingly came for the rescue. She never let anyone grow imlee in the garden; it was strictly forbidden. During the course of time Bilqees had ensured the closure of all the doors to the past and in a way the trick have worked too for sometimes, all of it ceased to exist at least for her. One by one each proof of the past vanished never coming back knocking the door except the talwar it greeted her everyday hanging on the front wall of her room in the frame. Shahnawaz had framed owing it to the only object he carried from the land he was born on and raised; where he married Bilqees and learned he’s going to be a father. It was the memory of the land where his ancestors rest and technically he was also meant to be buried there whatsoever the circumstances, that land would always be his by default. Moreover, its assistance in delivering his son holds a magnificent significance for him symbolising a connection between past and future. It was now 4 in the morning as Bilqees tossed restlessly on the bed .She has to do it she thought getting up from the bed and searching her brown chappal in the light of breaking dawn entering through the window.

Soon   enough with wobbly legs supported by a stick and the glasses covering the drowsy eyes Bilqees rushed down the stairs with the talwar in the vacant hand. An 18 year old Sikandar witnessed his mother drowning a bundle of clothes assuming them to be talwar on the bank of River Chenab. Maybe if only Aba had survived on their way to Lahore then the course of events; his mother and their lives would have been different. He had countless times yearned to reverse the time so that he could be there to protect his father when he was killed cruelly on the tanga and his mother had to walk the rest of the way to Lahore; bare footed carrying him in one arm and the talwar in another for shielding them. Since then his mother had been living with his father’s shadow and the memory of talwar which she had left at Lahore refugee camp many moons ago; however which were capable enough of neatly blurring his own existence in front of her. Does one ever live among ruin without becoming a memory?


Author’s Bio:

 Maryam Jilani is a student of Sociology who passionately believes in gender equality and human rights which is clearly reflective in her writings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Send a message to us on WhatsApp

× Contact