Azlan Jahan, post 1947-48 Kashmiri War
Fiction by Zainab Nasim
He turned on the left tap, hoping that today the freezing cold water would thaw in less than a minute, for he was once again late for his morning prayer. As the lukewarm water trickled down his elbows and face he wondered why his bones had become brittle with the onset of the bitter winds blowing from the Himalayas. He folded his prayer mat and ventured towards his writing desk, turning on the lamp he checked his leather bound worn out diary for the people he had to meet, the calls he had to make and the lands he had to go check upon.
Waiting for the mazari (maid) to arrive with the morning tea, he wrapped a burgundy cashmere shawl around his quavering shoulders and retrieved the key from the top left drawer of his teak desk. His fingers travelled over the ridges of the key. To open or to close? Some doors are better left closed when their time has passed. But the heart does pine for the bitter sweet pain that ravishes the body, warming it like red wine flushes blood cheeks.
He imagined his lead like footsteps leading him to the store room on the right side of the room. As he turned the handle, the odor of withering photographs and yellowing letters hit him softly like the words of a mourning lover. Placing the key in the trunk’s keyhole he wondered if he really needed to relinquish himself to the wounds of the past. A click is all it takes for a man to unfold.
The gramophone resounds in the galleries of the haveli, stirring it awake. He turned it on, for a spin and a dance, and as the needle twirled around delicately on the vinyl, he closed his eyes softly settling comfortably into his rocking chair with his stack of letters and a lit cigar. The intensity with which he spoke and hummed, threading through the worn letters, gave away his desire to perish in his sorrows or to dissolve and blow away with the smoke of his cigar.
“It is not like I am not proud to be a martyr’s father, Bittoo
“It is just that I miss him and then my heart caves in my hollow cage, and all I want to do is listen to his favorite qawalis on the gramophone all day long. I just know in my bones that he misses me up in the heavens. When I feel like the world has stopped to honor his death.
“My handsome, handsome son, blown away on the unforgiving mountains of Kashmir. I miss his soft laughter ringing in this room. Sometimes I feel like he is right here in this moment and he will step out of the bathroom with a bottle of warm mustard oil forcing me to get my legs massaged. Right now I can feel his breath on my cheek right before he kisses me leaving for another appointment. His hands are still threading through my silver hair, untangling the knots and trying to make them stand in the way you kids do your hair these days.
“You do know his first word was ‘Agha Jaan’. My sweet, sweet Azlan, my lion cub. Ferocious, he was honest to his name. He had the worst fights in his teenage years, nastier than mine. But a pure heart. The loss of a child cannot be named. You cannot put a label on the sorrow of losing a child to war. It is a pain inexplicable, unfathomable by anyone who has not lost a piece of their soul. For they leave behind a gaping hole, they leave behind a rotting soul. For you cannot wait to die and reconnect with your child up in the heavens.
“Your father was a hero. I see him in your crooked handwriting and slightly upturned nose, your slanted almond eyes and the wringing of your hands. I might not have provided you with the happiness and solace I promised your father but I will entrust you with this stack of letters of your father.”
He had quietly flown to the heavens humming to his beloved’s favorite songs and clutching his letters. A serene death to meet his lost other half with Ustad Nusrat’s words dying on his lips like a parched desert’s secrets:
I cannot find a moments peace, my beloved, without you,
My foolish heart sinks lower and lower, My beloved, without you.
May the lord not even give an enemy the illness of separation,
The world taunts me while this separation eats away my soul.
©Zainab Nasim. Zainab is currently studying English Literature in Lahore, Pakistan. This story draws on experiences Zainab has had with grieving families of soldiers.