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A Horrendous Night

 The last ray of setting sun got suddenly oblivious and dusk was gradually taken over by the atmosphere of night. A silent breeze and humid atmosphere together with the rusty colour  of the chinar leaves was indicating that the autumn wa at its peak. Cold had also started setting in and people were moving about wearing long woolen robe named ‘phiran’. But use of ‘kangri’ had not yet started. However, people were busy in purchasing and preparing charcoal. Wherever eyes could see the atmosphere around was full of smoke. In some minutes only the night had fallen and the nearby atmosphere turned silent. Rashid and his wife Salma were busy in their respective chorus in different corners of the room. While Rashid was turning pages of newspaper, Salma was knitting a woolen sweater for her daughter, Safina.

Rashid and Salma loved each other a lot and held one another in high esteem. Both had studied in the same college and got admission in the MBBS course together. They had been appointed Govt. doctors for some years. They had got married while during their studies. Rashid came from a well-to-do family while Salma’s parents were poor.. She was admitted to the MBBS course on the basis of her capabilities but Rashid , a mediocre had become a doctor owing to his father’s wealth. Following their admission in the MBBS course Rashid started evincing interest in Salma from day one. He started efforts at knowing about her needs but Salma would always prevent projection of her needs eventhough she had herself started developing affection for Rashid. Passing time brought them closer day by day and the attitude of Salma did not bring home to Rashid that she belonged to a poor background. Lost in love, Rashid was one day sitting alone in his room when his mother suddenly made an appearance and said to him,” Oh son! Nazima’s father has come. Now what should I tell him?”
“Mom, I have already explained to you everything. Why are you disturbing me over and over  again. I will not marry Nazima. I cannot commit this sin. I love Salma and have since promised to marry her”, Rashid stated rather in an authoritative tone.
Rashid’s mother got stunt and fell unconscious on the floor. She regained consciousness a little while later and straightaway went to her brother, Kh. Manzoor Ahmed, then involved in a discussion with her husband in the lobby. She said,” Oh brother! Rashid cannot be Nazima’s husband. He has lost his brain”.
Rashid’s father also got angry and said,” You throw this useless boy out of the home. I don’t want to see his face”.
Rashid was overhearing all this. He took some clothes and books and left for his college hostel. Next two years he spent with his friends in the hostel. While the fifth and last year of MBBS was still in progress the two got married in a simple function attended by Salma’s parents, near relations, friends besides the friends of Rashid. After he shifted from his home to hostel, Salma had put him to searching questions as to the reasons for the same and counseled him to return to his home and get married to Nazima pleading that it was not wise to shun all comforts for the sake of a poor girl.Salma had also made Rashid conversant with her plight. Upon knowing about that Rashid got lost in his thoughts. He pleaded with himself that if he had known about this truth earlier he could have changed his mind but then it was a matter of his integrity now.
“How can I get back to my home with a shattered face. Whatever God does is always for one’s betterment. And then Salma is wealth in herself. Both of us can together make a nice living?” He also suddenly asked Salma,” That means you cannot let me stay in your home. As you please, I shall spend these remaining two years in college hostel somehow. Later, we shall marry and establish our home together”.
Since then Salma had lost her both parents. Being the only child of her parents, she had inherited some land on which their current bungalow was built. Rashid’s relations with his parents and siblings had got severed completely to an extent as if he never knew them before.His mother had, in her heart of hearts, forgiven him particularly since the day Nazima was married but her husband had not permitted her to maintain any relation with her son. They had come to know of the economic health of Salma’s parents and, therefore, likened Rashid’s action with their insult and disrespect. In the past ten years they avoided any eye to eye contact with one another and always took their respective path.
While turning pages of newspaper, Rashid’s mind suddenly went to his mother and started recollecting days spent with her at home. He was so much lost in his dreams to an extent that he started laughing involuntarily. Salma sitting in another corner of the room gave up knitting and went closer to Rashid exhorting him to reveal the truth behind his sudden laughing spell.
“What! Is smiling also prohibited in this house now?”, Rashid said.
“Do you call it a smile, it was an atomic spell of laughing”, Salma replied.
In fact the atmosphere in the room was so calm that even a sigh appeared to be a loud sound and then it was a long laughing spell. Such an atomic laugh born out of dreams was evidently frightening.
Salma said,” Laughing is symbolic of good health but the atmosphere of the city is itself inimical. Are you aware that it is the era of terrorism wherein not only laughing but heaving sighs is also prohibited?  Oh dear, your home is situated at an isolated place and no one can commit any mistake in pin pointing the house from where laughing emanates. As such, for God’s sake , keep your emotions under control”.
Salma had just completed the sentence and frightening sounds of straffing outside were heard. There was a powerful bomb blast somewhere in the vicinity followed by intense firing.
Both Salma and Rashid got stunned and shocked and sat cuddled in a corner virtually holding their breath also. Meanwhile, Salma got panicked about her children sleeping on the bed in their room. She mustered courage and slowly and noiselessly went to childrens’ room, kissed the foreheads of Safina and Ashraf, set right their bedding and returned to Rashid. While she was yet to sit down sounds of unending straffing were aloud. She cried uncontrollably  and fell unconscious on the floor. Rashid as if lost senses and held her fore arm in his hand checking the pulse rate. The straffing gained added momentum and became more intense. Some bullets pierced through a window of the room creating a hole on the opposite wall. From the childrens’ room , cries of Safina were audible leaving Rashid more worried. He feared lest his daughter tried to rush to their room and, God forbid, get engulfed in the piercing bullets. By that time, one out of every ten bullets would pierce into the room. Rashid himself wanted to go to childrens’ room but was fearful lest he gets injured. He was, therefore, held up at the same place. Safina’s cries awakened Ashraf also and both of them started crying loudly out of fear. Rashid got so tense that he felt that vein carrying blood to his brain was about to burst. Every passing moment his mental state was changing to worse. On the one side his wife was lying down unconscious, as if a dead body, on the other hand his children were crying out of fear due to continued straffing yet he was unable to go to their room.
“ What is the meaning of this life? Isn’t death better than such a living? Despite being so close how far did the children appear to be? Can any father get much worse punishment than the one of being  unable to even encourage the weeping children? Can any husband remain under compulsion to keep on seeing his wife lying unconscious despite being a doctor himself?”, Rashid kept on cursing himself while still remaining engrossed in the above thought provoking questions. His fingers holding the wrist of Salma started trembling since her pulse was running faster and heart beats had also increased. He wanted to give her some drops of coromin to prevent a possible heart attack but the same was kept in the adjacent room and fear of getting engulfed  in piercing bullets was preventing him from taking desired action thus causing more frustration. Despite cold weather of autumn his whole body got drenched due to sweating. Drops of sweat from his forehead started dropping on the mouth of unconscious Salma. Some drops even managed to creep inside the lips to touch her tongue resulting in her miraculously regaining consciousness. She got extremely worried upon seeing the sweating forehead of her husband. While she was yet to ask Rashid about the reasons for the same, she heard the cries of her weeping children. She, at once, proceeded towards the children’ room and fell down outside the door with a long yell. The children also screamed loudly obviously because they felt that their mother had been hit by a bullet. Rashid could not make out anything, ran in a huff towards Salma, took her in his lap and rushed into the children’ room . The children resumed weeping upon witnessing the scene. Rashid’s eyes were also full of tears. Salma was conscious but blood was gushing out of the wound, in her arm and the back. The intensity of firing outside increased in the same proportion as the cries of children. Rashid was still thinking of getting first aid box from his bed room and Salma said,” No, Rashid I will not allow you to move out of the room. You have to remain alive for these two children. Leave me to my fate”.
Rashid was left holding the back of Salma compelled by unsavuory circumstances. He suddenly picked up courage to move out of the room but Salma held him back by pulling his shirt and said,” Rashid stay back, I shall go to bring the first aid box. If I return alive you draw out the bullets from my body otherwise  ‘Good bye’. After murmuring these words she rushed out, went to the bed room and returned with the first aid box. During this venture another bullet had struck her leg. She was profusely bleeding and Rashid was unable to remove bullets from her body. With God’s grace the children’ room had not come under the impact of firing but there was no let up in the fear which was rather increasing with every passing moment. The children were worried owing to the helplessness of their parents, particularly the condition of their mother. Tears dried up from their eyes. At last Rashid picked up courage and removed bullets from Salma’s body and provided her the desired first aid.
The telephone rang and Safina seated nearby picked up the receiver,” Yes, he is here. Ai am giving it to him. Papa your phone”, Safina said while handing over the receiver to Rashid. Holding the receiver uncomfortably, Rashid said,” Who is there?” Suddenly the receiver fell down from his hands. He picked it up again and said,” Dear father, I am very unfortunate I cannot come to see my mothersince my bullet ridden wife is lying before me and children are shedding tears. We donot pick up courage to venture out of the room as outside heavy straffing is taking place. Some bullets are intermittently piercing into the adjacent room and its wall may have by now converted into a pigeon hole”.
The connection snapped.
“Hell with you, terrorists. Life has turned irrelevant. We were having a nice time doing whatever one wished. Now we have all the restrictions. Even breath needs to be controlled at times”, Rashid muttered while placing the receiver on the set.
“ How unfortunate am I. Mother called but I could not not go I donot know how may her condition be now. An opportunity to meet someone from home had come after many years. And then dear father had even made a phone call. It appeared that they have forgiven me and that is why last evening I repeatedly recollected events of the past spent in the company of my mother. Oh God bestow me with wings so that I could go into the lap of my dear mother”, he kept on taxing upon his memory. He wanted to ring up home but failed despite repeated attempts at trying the number. Obviously the phone was not functioning.
Meanwhile there was another ring and he picked the receiver immediately. There was some unknown voice. Rashid replied,” Brother I cannot come I did not go to see my mother also though my father had urged in a call made after a gap of several years. My wife is lying bullet ridden in front of me and I am so helpless that I cannot take her to hospital”. After a pause Rashid again said,” you do whatever you want. Raise my house to dust by a bomb blast. Let all of us  die. After all death is far better than this horrendous night”. The receiver escaped from the hands of Rashid and he fell unconscious on the floor. In a few moments it was dawn and he regained consciousness in full light. The night long straffing had come to an end. Rashid lifted his wife in his lap and advised his children to follow him. He went straight to the garage down below,  placed his wife and children on seats of his car and drove towards his ancestral house. His mother had by then breathed her last. In their heart of hearts his siblings were happy over his visit to home but refrained from any show of happiness for the atmosphere at home had been taken over by gloom owing to the mourning. Rashid went straight to his father, hugged him and wept uncontrollably. He spent some hours there, waiting for the burial of his mother and later left for Jammu. While handing over the keys of his house to his brother he said,” Brother, Kashmir is not now fit for human habitation. The ‘paradise’ of Firdausi has been rendered into a hell by these unscrupulous people and shadows of death encircle the human beings all through. One night for us was horrendous and disastrous than even the death and we cannot bear it any more. I am going and donot know when shall we meet again”.        
Credits - Nancy Bhushan Dhar