Kinship Knows No Boundaries - contd
by Suneet Paul
Back to page 1 of the story
When he spotted his home in the distant, he energetically ran in the empty lane, and banged the door chain with full strength on the wooden door. It produced a loud clang. He waited anxiously. There was no response. Was everybody sleeping? He looked at his watch. The time was three-thirty in the afternoon. Ammi should be getting ready to milk the cow. He stretched his hand to knock again. And again, there was no response. He then pushed the door hard, and to his surprise, found it open.
The courtyard was as he had left it with the old mango tree in the center. A cow- the same cow? No, it was Janaki’s calf, grown up now. Lakhi! He called out to her. Lakhi looked at him with wide sleepy eyes. “Ammi!”- Amir called out to his mother. “Where are you, Ammi? - Asghar!”
Lakhi had fixed her gaze at him. He threw the suitcase on the cow-dung matted floor and rushed inside.
Ammi was lying on the bed, facing the wall. She occupied only a small section of the bed.
“Ammi!” He drew closer to her and spoke to attract his mother’s attention, his voice quivering. “Ammi, it’s me. Ammi-Ammi?”
Ammi slowly turned around mumbling, “Who is it? Asghar?” She was silent for a little while and stared at him. Her hand went to the side of the bed to pick up the spectacles. Amir just stood there, watching her. Life gradually poured into her. “Allah be praised, it’s Amir. Oh, my child!” Her arms opened up for him.
Amir jumped and hugged her. “Ammi!” She said nothing but clutched him harder. “I can’t tell you, Ammi, how happy I am to be back,” Amir went on lovingly.
His mother was silent. A haunted look dwelt on her face. She was trying to stop her tears from rolling down. He took her face in his hands and said protectively, “I am back, Ammi. Aren’t you happy? And where is Asghar?” He glanced towards the adjoining room.
It was unbearable for her now. She gave out a long cry of pain. “Amir, we are ruined, my boy! - ruined!”
Amir was fearfully puzzled, “What has happened, Ammi?”
Ammi was not yet herself. She could hardly speak, “Asghar - Asghar-”
Amir felt flustered. He stood up, “Tell me, Ammi, what about Asghar?”
“Oh Amir, God be with him. Asghar is no longer with us.”
“Why? Has he left the village?”
Ammi’s voice was a sobbing whisper, “No, my child. Allah looks after him now. He’s left this world.” She raised her arms and said a silent prayer.
“You mean- you mean, he’s dead?” Amir stood paralyzed.
Ammi continued, “It all happened four days ago. There was fight in the village. It turned into a communal riot.” She slowly released her breath, “Asghar was at the chowk when it started. He got caught in the stone throwing – and, and got hit hard by one. He was immediately on the ground, and didn’t get up after that.” She became dead silent.
Amir’s voice was slow and heavy, “Allah! But why my brother out of all the people?”
The shock slowly seeped into him and he became part of the surrounding gloom.
Ammi gradually regained her voice. “And do you
know what his last words
were?” -- Forgive them, Allah! He asked forgiveness for his killers, Amir.”
Amir hid his face in the lap of his mother and wept like a child.
Ammi continued pensively, “Things are calm now but tense. I had sent you a message immediately.”
Gathering himself, he clung to her, “I didn’t receive it. My trip here was a last-minute decision. I didn’t inform you as I wanted to surprise you.” He cleared his throat, and spoke gravely, “So that explains why there is nobody on the streets.”
Just then, there was a furor in the lane. He turned his stare towards the door.
Ammi was terrified. “Had they come to know of Amir’s return?” She caught him in a tight hug.
The shouting in the lane increased. Amir pulled away from his mother and ran to the door, with her calling out, “Don’t! Don’t open the door! They won’t spare you!”
He half opened the door. There was a crowd of thirty to forty people passing. Amir caught a glimpse of Kartara, his dear old darling Kartara. Their eyes met and Kartara spontaneously raised his hand in greeting.
Amir had been spotted by someone else also in the meanwhile. The man cried out amidst the noise, “Catch hold of him. Pull him down.”
Kartara, immediately sensing the gravity of the situation, without a thought rushed forward and jumped in-between Amir and the crowd, shouting, “No, no, don’t do it!”
The man nearest to Amir was taken in by surprise by Kartara’s swift movement. The man’s dagger-thrust, meant for Amir, pierced Kartara in the stomach.
Kartara cried out in pain, and fell into the bewildered Amir’s extended arms. A wave of silence swept over the crowd.
Amir slowly lowered Kartara on the ground, with his beloved friend’s head in his arms. He yelled out frantically, “Please, someone call the doctor! Kartara is still alive.”
There was a movement in the crowd. A young boy followed by an elder, broke loose from the crowed and ran towards the main street.
Kartara appeared to be trying to say something but the gush of blood from his mouth choked his words.
They were now surrounded by the crowd which had been overcome by the initial shock of the event. Confused shouts could be heard from all quarters. “Bring some water ---. Tie a cloth on the wound---.”
Amidst the chaos, Amir helped by a couple of hands, slowly lifted Kartara into the house and tenderly made him lie down on the cot in the courtyard.
More blood gushed from his mouth. Amir’s and Kartara’s eyes met for a second, communicating endlessly, oblivious of everybody.
Kartara, now not in control of himself and fighting the pain and spouts of blood, stammered, “Please - don’t - hurt him. He--.” And then a stillness suddenly took over his body. His hand clutching Amir’s arm fell- lifeless.
The stillness passed on to the stunned crowd. In desperation Amir jerked the still body, tears rushing down his cheeks.
“Kartara, I will never forget you, my friend,” he whispered in his ear while the others were busy gathering up Kartara’s lifeless form.
The commotion and the shouts had also brought the policemen into the house, trying to bring in order and asking the crowd to move out.*** Note:
maulavi*= a learned Muslim cleric,
kurta-pajama*= a traditional Indian attire