Saturday, June 24, 2006

My Mother's 22 Rooms

I cannot sing the old songs, or dream those dreams again - Charlotte Barnard

There it is. Huddled among other dolls and a few shreds of cloth. It is wearing a blue dress. I don’t remember what mine wore, for it has been sixteen years since I saw it. It might not be there anymore, but I would like to believe that it is there, invisible to the new occupants of my house. It is a dancing girl made of earth, decorating a corner of my friend’s drawing room. Touch it a little and it will start dancing, moving her neck gracefully. My dancing girl, mother bought it, when I was a child, from a potter selling his stuff on a pavement in Lal Chowk.

And sixteen years later, as I speak to you, there is no significant noise outside my room. No guttural voice and no sound of my mother’s U-shaped walker making its presence felt through the small corridor of my house. Mother fell down from her bed again this morning.

23 years ago, in Srinagar, a team of health officials was to arrive at our school. Their aim was to administer cholera vaccines to children. But for that we were supposed to take the written permission of our parents. Back home I told my father and as expected he wrote ‘No’ on my home task diary. I found it very insulting. Tomorrow all my classmates would take the vaccine and sing laurels of their bravery. And me, I would be hidden in some corner, red-faced with shame. It was not acceptable to me. So I erased father’s nay and wrote ‘Yes’ on the diary. Next morning as the needle of the syringe pierced my left arm, I did not even flinch once. I became an instant hero. But as it is with most acts of heroism, I had to pay a price for mine as well. By late afternoon, a lump had formed in my arm. By the time I reached home I was feverish and drenched in sweat. As I pulled off my shoes, mother saw me and in one instant she knew what had happened.

It was August and even by Kashmir valley’s standards, it was hot. I flung myself on the bed. Mother came and sat next to me. She gave me a glass of milk and kept her fair arm on my forehead. It felt very soothing and cold; like a spring. I went off to sleep. Next morning as I opened my eyes, the fever was gone.

Mother handled the affairs of the house like a seasoned ascetic would control his senses. She knew what was kept where. Rice, coal powder, woollen socks and gloves, soap – she kept a tab on everything. Her daily routine was more or less defined. She would wake up in the wee hours of the morning, wash clothes in the bathroom, sweep and mop the floor of every room and corridor, put burning coal dust in Kangris in winters and ultimately take stock of the kitchen. She did not believe much in spending time in worship. She was not an atheist but her belief was restricted to occasionally folding hands in front of the Shivalinga. Her God was her home and hearth.

But mother was in awe of nature. She feared its fury. Sometimes, when a storm blew, she would close all doors and windows and sit in one corner. When she no longer could face it, she would ask my father, “Will this storm stop?” Father would usually try to pacify her, but ultimately he also lost his patience. “What do you think? Would this storm last till the doom’s day?” he would snap at her. But the same meek heart turned into brave heart when any family member struggled with adversity.

It was in the mid of 1988 that my father had a mild heart attack. Actually father had a pain in the stomach and an injection prescribed by a gastroenterologist reacted, which led to the attack. Everyone in the family was too shocked to react. But not my mother. She single-handedly took my father to the hospital in an auto rickshaw. At the hospital, mother recalls, a doctor appeared like an angel. He had a black mark on his forehead, a result of praying five times a day. The moment the doctor started examining him, my father vomited. Mother says it was so intense that it went right into the doctor’s shoes. But not once did he raise his brow. He kept on treating my father.

By the end of 1989, men like that doctor somehow became rare in Kashmir. One day mother came back from office and she was crying. In the bus someone had tried to help an old Hindu lady in getting down from the bus. Another woman, who was a Muslim, criticised that man saying that the woman he helped was a Hindu and she should have been kicked out of the bus. Mother didn’t know whether what she heard was true or whether it was a nightmare. But what she had heard and seen with her naked eyes was what seemed like holding a mirror in front of Kashmir in a few months time. The time had come, once again, to leave our homeland. The migration began. Salvaging whatever little we could, essentially a few utensils and educational degrees of my college-going sister, we reached Jammu.

After spending a couple of nights in a hotel, father hired a room in a marriage house. It was situated in the old city, amidst a bristling market of saris and dupattas. Every now and then marriage ceremonies were solemnised in the marriage house. When the crude ovens, laced with mud and gas cylinders arrived at the house, we would understand that a marriage was taking place that evening.

In the ten by ten feet room, ants held a sway. No matter what you put outside, it would be swarmed by ants in a matter of minutes. They appeared in hordes, hundreds of them, attacking every edible item. It was similar to how people would come out on streets in Srinagar, few months before we were forced into exile. Mother obviously could not put up a fight with them, but she always managed to save a bowl of curd from the marauding ants, by keeping it in a basin of water. I always felt that whenever mother took out that bowl of curd, a secret smile would pass her lips. It was like a symbolic victory for her or so I thought.

And one night, that smile was also snatched from my mother’s lips.

I remember that evening. Somebody was getting married in the marriage house. The entire compound was filled with men, women and children, dressed in shimmering clothes. The stereo with huge speakers played popular Bollywood numbers as some of the guests danced on the tunes. And a few metres away, we had closed ourselves in the room.

When the bride was taken away and the noise had eased, there was a knock on our door. Mother opened the door and found a young man standing there. He was holding a plate in his hand. He said that he had been told that there were refugees living here and so he came to offer us some food. Before mother could say something, he handed over the plate and turned back. Mother lifted the cover and I caught a glimpse of the food inside. There was rice, dal and some vegetables. Mother kept on staring at it for some time and then she cried.

After this incident, Mother developed a strange habit. She would tell all, whether they cared to listen or not, “ Our house in Kashmir had 22 rooms”.

For the next few years, we would keep on shuttling from one place to place, becoming victim of the whims and fancies of landlords. We stayed at various places. After the marriage house, we stayed in a window-less room in a dilapidated lodge, where the number of mosquitoes was probably more than the cells constituting our bodies. Then we rented a single room where we ate, studied, slept, cooked and ate our food as well. Then there was another house. The bathroom there had no door and we had to keep on coughing for obvious reasons. Amidst these episodes of Greek tragedy, mother kept her struggle on. Everyday was a battle. From filling water from a leaking tap to bathing under the tap of an adjacent vacant plot, life threw numerous challenges at us.

It was years later that I completed my education somehow and came to Delhi. Few years ago, we bought a 2-bedroom flat in Delhi. But the struggle of Jammu has left a mark on mother. She cannot walk now. Her left leg is paralysed. Sometimes she falls down as she tries to drag her leg. As it happened this morning. She cannot even speak now. Degenerative neurosis, whatever that means. With each passing day, her condition is worsening.

I walk on the road. There is a sea of vehicles moving; endless. Sometimes I feel that there are more vehicles than humans in Delhi. And when I cannot bear the noise any longer, I feel like shouting, “Our house in Kashmir had 22 rooms.”


Gowhar Fazili said...

Read through your post... was moved. Feel terrible about the experience and yet impressed by the lack of bitterness and humanity in you despite the bitterness of being in exile...

Past cannot be recovered but i hope musings such as these help in preventing us from continuing with the path we all seem to be set on... and end up creating something beautiful rather than ugly for those who are yet to come.

Aalok Aima said...

How dare you call this a "blog". It is a beautiful "short story". Tragically, it is perhaps much more fact than any fiction.

PPK said...

These are the kinda of steel bangles that you and I wear around our wrists. And moving about in this madness, trying to figure out the meaning of the life you are living... I think that's what makes you a superman, in my eyes.

hyderabadi guy said...


The grip of the Majlis-e-ittehadul Muslimeen on the community remains strong, With a Member representing Hyderabad in the Lok Sabha, five members in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, 40 corporators in Hyderabad and 95-plus members elected to various municipal bodies in Andhra Pradesh, the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is one of the foremost representatives of the city’s Muslims and the most powerful Muslim party in India and one can see the partys strenghth if it goes to Hyderabad old city and Parts of Muslim Dominated Villages of Andhra Pradesh everywhere u look u can see MIM written on walls ,lightpoles and buildings leaving aside green flags and posters of its Leadership and there small Offices . The Majlis has brought lot of development to the Old part of the city even after it is said it hasnt done anything by its opponents who are mostly Ex Majlis workers.The Majlis was formed in 1927 “for educational and social uplift of Muslims”. But it articulated the position that “the ruler and throne (Nizam) are symbols of the political and cultural rights of the Muslim community… (and) this status must continue forever”.The Majlis pitted itself against the Andhra Mahasabha and the communists who questioned the feudal order that sustained the Nizam’s rule. It also bitterly opposed the Arya Samaj, which gave social and cultural expression to the aspirations of the urban Hindu population in the Hyderabad State of those days.By the mid-1940s, the Majlis had come to represent a remarkably aggressive and violent face of Muslim communal politics as it organised the razakars (volunteers) to defend the “independence” of this “Muslim” State from merger with the Indian Union.According to historians, over 1,50,000 such `volunteers’ were organised by the Majlis for the Nizam State’s defence but they are remembered for unleashing unparalleled violence against Communal Hindus and the communists and all those who opposed the Nizam’s “go it alone” policy. It is estimated that during the height of the razakar `agitation’, over 30,000 people had taken shelter in the Secunderabad cantonment alone to protect themselves from these `volunteers’.But the razakars could do little against the Indian Army and even put up a fight. Kasim Rizvi, the Majlis leader, was imprisoned and the organisation banned in 1948. Rizvi was released in 1957 on the undertaking that he would leave for Pakistan in 48 hours. Before he left though, Rizvi met some of the erstwhile activists of the Majlis and passed on the presidentship to Abdul Wahed Owaisi, a famous lawyer and an Islamic scholar from jamia nizamia who also was jailed for nearly 10 months after he took over the Majlis leadership as the then govt wanted to abolish the Majlis party but Owaisi refused to do so and was seen as a person who had financially supported the party when it was a bankrupt and weak one after the Police Action in Hyderabad State.Owaisi is credited with having “re-written” the Majlis constitution according to the provisions of the Indian Constitution and “the realities of Muslim minority in independent India”, and fought the legal case for winning back darrusslam mim headquarters for years according to a former journalist, Chander Srivastava. For the first decade-and-a-half after this “reinvention”, the Majlis remained, at best, a marginal player in Hyderabad politics and even though every election saw a rise in its vote share, it could not win more than one Assembly seat.The 1970s saw an upswing in Majlis’ political fortunes. In 1969, it won back its party headquarters, Dar-us-Salaam — a sprawling 4.5-acre compound in the heart of the New City. It also won compensation which was used to set up an ITI on the premises and a women’s degree college in Nizamabad town. In 1976, Salahuddin Owaisi took over the presidentship of the Majlis after his father’s demise who also was also Jailed Various times .This started an important phase in the history of the Majlis as it continued expanding its educational institutions,Hospitals,Banks, including the first Muslim minority Engineering College and Medical College. Courses in MBA, MCA ,Nursing, Pharmacy and other professional degrees followed and now a daily newspaper known as Etemaad Daily. The 1970s were also a watershed in Majlis’ history as after a long period of 31 years, Hyderabad witnessed large-scale communal rioting in 1979. The Majlis came to the forefront in “defending” Muslim life and property Majlis workers could be seen at these moments defending the properties of Muslims in the wake of riots and these workers were very hard even for the police to control them even now it is a known fact that there are nearly about 2500 units of strong members who only act if there is a seirous threat to the Owaisi family and these members are under the direct orders of the Owaisi family which leads the Majlis party leaving aside thousands of workers and informers throughout the State and even outside the country far away till America and the Gulf countries.Salahuddin Owaisi, also known as “Salar-e-Millat” (commander of the community), has repeatedly alleged in his speeches that the Indian state has “abandoned” the Muslims to their fate. Therefore, “Muslims should stand on their own feet, rather than look to the State for help'’, he argues.This policy has been an unambiguous success in leveraging the Majlis today to its position of being practically the “sole spokesman” of the Muslims in Hyderabad and its environs.Voting figures show this clearly. From 58,000 votes in the 1962 Lok Sabha elections for the Hyderabad seat, Majlis votes rose to 1,12,000 in 1980. The clear articulation of this “stand on one’s feet” policy in education and `protection’ during riots doubled its vote-share by 1984. Salahuddin Owaisi won the seat for the first time, polling 2.22 lakh votes. This vote-share doubled in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections to over four lakhs.The Majlis has since continued its hold on the Hyderabad seat winning about five-and-a-half lakh votes each time.Despite remarkable economic prosperity and negligible communal violence in the past decade, the hold of the Majlis on the Muslims of Hyderabad remains, despite minor dents. And despite widespread allegations of Majlis leaders having “made money”, most ordinary Muslims continue to support them because, as one bank executive put it “they represent our issues clearly and unambiguously'’. An old Historian Bakhtiyar khan says the Owaisi family was a rich family even before entering Politics and he says he had seen the late Majlis leader Abdul Wahed Owaisi in an American Buick car at a time when rarely cars were seen on Hyderabad Roads and the family had strong relations with the ersthwhile Nizams of Hyderabad and the Paighs even now the family is considered to be one of the richest familes in Hyderabad.A university teacher says that the Majlis helped Muslims live with dignity and security at a time when they were under attack and even took the fear out of them after the Police action and adds that he has seen Majlis leaders in the front at times confronting with the Police and the Govt. Asaduddin Owaisi, the articulate UK educated barrister from Lincolns Inn College son of Salahuddin Owaisi and Former leader of the Majlis’ Legislature party and now an MP himself who has travelled across the globe meeting world leaders and organizatons and even in war zones compares the Majlis to the Black Power movement of America.The Majlis that emerged after 1957 is a completely different entity from its pre-independence edition, he says adding that comparisons with that bloody past are “misleading and mischievous”. “That Majlis was fighting for state power, while we have no such ambitions or illusions”.He stoutly defends the need for “an independent political voice” for the minorities, which is willing to defend them and project their issues “firmly”.“How can an independent articulation of minority interests and aspirations be termed communal,” he asks and contests any definition of democracy which questions the loyalty of minorities if they assert their independent political identity. “We are a threat not only to the BJP and Hindu communalism, but also to Muslim extremism,” Asaduddin claims. “By providing a legitimate political vent for Muslims to voice their aspirations and fears, we are preventing the rise of political extremism and religious obscurantism when the community is under unprecedented attack from Hindu communalists and the state'’. He can be seen in his speeches speaking against terrorism in the Country and says if the time arises Majlis will stand side by side in defending the Nation and Recently Majlis ittehadul Muslimeen MP Asaduddin Owaisi has Visited Lebanon after the war with israel and met the leaders of the resistance group Hezbollah and he has even visited Bombay and Malegaon Muslims and raised there issues in Parliament and has even represented the police torture victims to the Prime Minister and has given aid From Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen Party Fund.

Anonymous said...

...I want to shout it out too

you speak for more than speak for all who have lost and suffered...but you have seen the worst Rahul & you have seen the best in your mothers strength in your dads acceptance & that is what has kept you sane...when those rooms and attitudes were choking you...your parents standing tall kept fresh air flowing and the sun give them a hearty hug from should be proud very proud..

Kakshi said...

It brought tears to my eyes..
We Indians are indeed blessed.. our parents always shield us, they are really strong pillars on which we can lean..
Mera nmskar aapke parents ke liye!

a take of life....zoomin said...

Rahul, we all go through struggle in on way or the other, like u even i have....a different kind though!

I normally don't read all blogs with such lenght but this one cudnt waver me inspite of some intermittent phone calls..i read it all, n felt that pain, i had images in my mind of what u wrote n what i read.

Just a little wish for your mom...for her recovery...hope to see her in her house with 22 rooms...InshAllah!

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