Stretching himself as much as possible, in spite of the pain he was in, he struggled to align his spine as perfectly possible against the hard charpoi in tiny aangan of his old house. Inside, he heard his wife squirm as she turned to lie on her other side, the pain she was in more that she could suffer. Chaacha, as everyone in their locality called him, tried to be as quiet as possible, taking extra care not to make one single noise, else his wife would get up and come to him, enquiring after him, rubbing his back and trying to make him comfortable. As for Chaacha, he wanted nothing but his wife’s comfort. She would never utter a single word, no matter how much pain she was in.
At times, when he got home early, he would sit with his wife in the little courtyard where the sunlight would fall in patches from the broken tiles of the roof. He would look at her for the longest time possible, trying to find some sign if she was in pain or if she was better; for some reason, her face always reminded him of the Dal lake he had seen once in his childhood. Peaceful, serene, expressionless yet content. He would then ask her if she was in pain. She, his beautiful begum would then leave all that she was doing and would look at him, a gentle smile on her face, but the light in her eyes would always tell him what she adeptly tried to hide. These days the light was dimming, he desperately wanted to bring it back. This woman, his begum, was his happiness, his reason to live, the reason he still went out and pulled carts all day long. She was the sun of his universe and he could not afford to let her light dim.
Once while he was pulling his cart into the school as usual, one chirpy little young boy came to him.
“Chaacha, why are you sad?”
“Beta, I am not sad. Why do you ask so?”
“Because your eyes are all droopy. Like our puppy at home when we leave him alone the whole day, his eyes looks just like yours look now.”
“Begum… my begum… she is sick beta. I don’t even know what to with her…. That’s why I am sad.” Ali, trying to smile and be brave, told the young boy and immediately regretting having told a young child things that were way above him.
“Chaacha, don’t worry. My pitaji is a doctor. He can heal chaachi and then you won’t ever have to be sad.” Ali smiled, at the little boy’s innocence and charm, nodded to him, just to make him feel that he had been helpful. He had taken her to the village hakim, but he too could do nothing about her pain. There was something eating away in her insides that nobody could fix. Pulling his cart for a living, he never made enough money to take her to the big hospital in the city.
Over the next week, several times the boy came over to him and asked why he hadn’t come to meet his father yet. Ali finally grew tired of the excuses and decided to go meet him.
That evening, after a hard day’s labour, Ali and his begum reached the doctor’s clinic. The little boy Ganesh, was thrilled beyond words to see them and called to his father, “Pitajiiiiii…. Look who’s here. They came, at laaaastt they came. Come out and see them pitaji. Fix chaachi pitaji. She is soooo sick. I want chaacha to smile againnn!!”, the excitement oozing from the boy’s words as he squealed out more words than he could in a single breath.
The doctor first touched their feet and took the blessings of the elders. Ali watched as the doctor examined his begum thoroughly. The frown lines on his face deepened as the doctor came and sat on a chair near to Ali and not on his own high backed chair. The doctor took Ali’s hands into his own, looked deeply into his eyes and told him that there was nothing to worry, that he could heal his begum properly as long as he promised to ensure that she took the medicines regularly.
Ali could not hide his emotions as relief swept over him; he did not try to stop the tears that flowed freely. He thanked the doctor profusely and told him that he hadn’t saved just one life, but two; for he could never even imagine living in a world where his begum wasn’t there. “I will work more, pull the cart more and make more money to make sure my begum never runs out of money for her medicines. There’s nothing more I want than her good health.”
“Chaacha, you don’t remember me do you? It is who is thankful to you for everything. You gave me life and yet, you don’t remember me..” the doctor’s eyes too welled up as he spoke the words.
“Do you remember those riots, almost 20 years ago. The muslims were ransacking our area, killing people, looting homes. And you, in spite of being a muslim took in an entire Hindu family and sheltered us like your own family until the riots died down and there was peace… we did not stay in Kashmir for much longer. We left for Dilli.” Ali’s face looked like he could finally pick up the threads of memory and weave them together.
“In Dilli, my father gave me a good education and helped me become a doctor. But the pull of this land is strange Chaacha, it made me leave everything I had there and come here with my son. It was like finally coming home. I want my son too to see and live and grow up in the place where his forefathers have, much before him. I am that thirteen year old boy whose family you sheltered that night Chaacha…”
Ali had no words, he merely hugged the doctor and his little boy who had been listening intently to all this.
charpoi : a light bed, usually made with ropes woven onto a frame aangan : courtyard chaacha : uncle (often used as a respectful form of address to a man) chaachi : aunty (often used as a respectful form of address to a woman) beta : son hakim : a physician using traditional remedies begum : the title of a married Muslim woman, equivalent to Mrs.
My friend Leo and I are writing on the same theme for the AtoZ2015. The word for the alphabet C that we've chosen is Cart. Thanks for stopping by and do let me know what you thought about my story before you hop away :)