What was his name, your elder brother who shifted to Pakistan?”, I asked. I always keep forgetting his name.

“Hasan Nawab. And the smaller one was Safdar Nawab.”, Sadaf aunty(my grandmother’s friend) said.

I nodded.

She was telling me about her childhood and it was around 3:30 in the afternoon. So sunny outside on a chilly day that the windows just looked on to a scene of gold brightness, it was impossible to see anything beyond. And that, I always felt, lending a feeling of detachment from the current world. Helping us to believe we are wherever we want to be.

So this time I pretended to be in just pre-partition Lucknow as she narrated events of her life from that era.

She was telling me about her little sister of whom she was very fond of, I suppose. “Jalees was always into doing nonsensical things. There was this faqeer that used to pass by us every day wearing these silver bangles up to his elbow and shaking them like this,” and she shook her left arm making her loose skin dance, “and I am pretty sure he was somewhat a Deewana and he’d sing a qawwali or nath I don’t know.”

She then proceeded to tell me the lines:

“Bul bul chahak raha hai riyaaz e Rasool mein … Bano e naik naam ki kheti hari rahey. Sandal se maang bachon se godhi bhari rahey. Hum kya rahenge jab na Rasool-e-Khuda rahe!”

To which Jalees aunty used to add rather “nonsensically”:

“Hum kya marenge jab na Rasool-e-Khuda marre!”

And I burst out laughing.

Then I asked her what she had studied in college. And her face wrinkled.

“I studied till inter. After that, I had my name in a really good college but perhaps naseeb hi nahi tha because I got typhoid soon after. Something about the buses using coal instead of petrol. And when I woke up from that state of delirium that typhoid causes, India and Pakistan had partitioned and everything was too chaotic so I couldn’t continue with my studies.”

Then we talked about Kashmir.

Hammad dada (her husband) was the Librarian In Charge at Maulana Azad Library in Aligarh. But before that, he did about ten years of service in Kashmir. She told me they lived in Jawahar Nagar in Srinagar. And she told me she loved it. The talk, unavoidably, came onto Fatima’s Abba or my Abdul uncle.

She said he was naughty. And that everyone around there loved him a lot. The neighbor, Mrs. Naseem used to sew and knit clothes for him and there must be pictures of them in the old albums around the house.

She told me how she used to wear a saree due to which Kashmiris used to come up to her and ask “Are you Punjabi?” And she’d say no, she’s from Lucknow. Then they’d ask if she was Hindu and she’d laugh and recite the qalma and they’d say no, she must’ve learned it here. And she’d laugh more.

She said she missed the fresh vegetables that their Kashmiri manservant Azeem would grow. And the fruits.

“Kya waqt tha..”

Her eyes clouded and I couldn’t see them even when I could. They were open physically but shut off from the world. It was just a brown circle for a moment and nothing more.

She became so quiet, so still.

So statutory that for the first time in forever I felt she was old. And I feared.

I feared that this woman who had an affiliation for spices and achaar. Who loved to eat sweets and pizza and totally rocked black wayfarers and slyly asked her grandkids to go get cold drinks ‘for themselves’, was actually just that.

An old woman who had lost too much. Too many.

Her brother, her father, her husband, her son, her youth.

What if she was just that?

What if she was no more?

People used to come up to him and ask him too if he was a Punjabi or a Lucknawi and he’d say none. Then they’d ask what was he and he’d reply with “Urdu”.

I laughed the hardest at this.I looked outside and suddenly I didn’t know if outside was the Aligarh of my present or the rusty old Lucknow of her past or maybe it was something I was scared of, Sadaf aunty’s Kashmir. Honestly, it was too bright to tell anything for sure.

I looked outside and suddenly I didn’t know if outside was the Aligarh of my present or the rusty old Lucknow of her past or maybe it was something I was scared of, Sadaf aunty’s Kashmir. Honestly, it was too bright to tell anything for sure.

“Kaise insaan soch leta hai ki sab hamesha ek sa hi rahega? Dekho toh, Kashmir mein toh sardi bhi nahi lagti thi kyun na hi saree pehni ho aur ab yahaan aake, kapde pe kapda ho toh bhi jaan niqalti hai”

What if she was just an old woman, with weak bones, silver hair and too much loss?

What if she was just that and no more?

And I feared.

Priyanshu Bharadwaj

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