“Don’t worry kid. You are going to be just fine, okay?” That's what my mom always did. She was always there to comfort me whenever I was nervous.
“Are you sure mom? Because I don’t think I am.”
“Of course I am sure son. You have always been good at this talking thing. You will rock the stage today too, I am sure.”
Even though she was sure, I was not. I knew how well I could speak and everything; but today… well, it was something different from what I usually spoke about. I was a speaker right from my childhood. I loved giving speeches and took part in debates and all sorts of competitions where I got a chance to speak. But today I had to speak about mothers. And it’s quite difficult than what you might think. I had my speech ready but I didn’t want it to be the same cliché ‘Mother is God’ kind of thoughts. That’s the reason I was unsure about whether I wanted to say what was written on that paper; right till the moment, my name was announced.
So finally I took my decision. My mom passed me the speech. I slightly pushed her hand away. She was totally confused by this action of mine, but she tried to hide it through her expressions. What I had to do is take the paper from her, go up on the stage, give my speech in my regular style and come back listening to the claps that the hall will be filled with. But what I actually did was rejecting the paper. I touched my mom’s feet and went up on the stage.
“A big round of applause for our very own student Mann Shah!” The host said with a tone which made him sound like he had expectations.
I stood still on the stage. I was afraid, not because I had stage fear. But because I was definitely taking a risk. My teachers, my parents, nobody knew what change I had had at the last moment in my own mind. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, which I think it was loud enough that the audience could hear it. By breaking the silence in the auditorium, I started my speech.
“My very dear friends, parents, teachers and all the members of the dais. A very good morning to one and all who is present over here. I don’t think you know what I just did. Today, I am not going to speak anything that was meant to be spoken by me. I don’t want to talk about those repetitive proverbs about our moms. But instead, I want to tell all of you a story.
Shanti Maidan, 2003. My friends and me were flipping for our teams for the cricket league we were going to have that summer. Shanti Maidan was our very own little territory. We were like the official rulers since no one else except us came to play there. Mostly because some parents didn’t allow their children to go nearby that garden. I didn’t know what was the reason back then? It was like the perfect place that any child would want to play in. But still, due to their parents’ disapproval, not more children could come and enjoy the enriching experience of Shanti Maidan. You know why children weren’t allowed to go near that garden? Because it was in a Muslim colony.”
I was actually expecting the reactions that some people already had on their face. Just before sometime a girl had said in her speech, “May it be any religion, mothers are the same everywhere. So why to discriminate between religions on such a day when we are celebrating one of the supreme most religion ourselves? The religion of motherhood.” I guess these people didn’t hear her speech and that’s why we're doing the exact same thing that they were not supposed to. I had decided though that I won’t let all of these social responses affect me. So I continued my speech.
“The best part was that the children never even asked the question why. I am so glad they didn’t. Because if they would have, what would the parents have answered, right? Anyways, coming back to Shanti Maidan, it is a part of my childhood that I cannot separate from myself. That garden is not just a garden for me. It is like a warehouse for all of the beautiful childhood memories I have. Memories. A part of us that keeps us connected with the past. They never fade away and always stay with us, till our end day…”
I took a pause here. I remembered what I was here for. I didn’t want to get carried away. I wanted to come back to my story that I wanted all of these people to know.
‘’So every day we used to go to the garden and play cricket. I was really small back then and didn’t even know how to catch a ball. I think my buddies knew this and just for the sake of troubling me, they used to send me for fielding near the boundary. I was never able to catch the ball so I always had to travel a long distance in order to find the ball.
From one week or so, I was observing a woman looking at us while we were playing. I returned home one day and told my parents about this. They said, “Maybe she has a keen interest in cricket.” Although I was sure that wasn’t it. Every time I caught her glance I could see some emotions in her eyes. She had some sort of affection; for whom… I didn’t figure out. I thought maybe my parents were right. She must have affection for the sports cricket.
One day I missed the ball just like all the other days and had to run really fast in order to catch up with the speed of the ball. The ball rolled down a slope and stopped in front of a door of a house. I bent over to pick up the ball. When I looked up, it was the same woman. She was wearing a full black colour dress. I thought it was quite weird because it was killing hot outside and she was wearing this full sleeves black dress. She was looking at me with the same looks she always had. I wasn’t playing cricket right now. So why was she looking at me like that? She gave me a broad smile. I think I knew somewhere in the corner of my mind that it wasn’t a harmful smile. She surely was a nice person. But as I said, I was too young to understand the emotions behind faces of people. As a matter of fact, I still don’t. The ball fell from my hand. The woman bends to pick it up, but as she did – I don’t remember what stroke me at that time – I started to run. I guess I was scared.
I returned home and told about this incident to my parents. I think even they knew there was nothing to worry about. Still, they said, “It is totally your wish. If you wish to go back to that garden, you can. Or otherwise, vice-versa.” I said that the next day was my final match. After that, I would never go there again.
The next day was really important for me. It was the final of our league of this vacation. On that day, I was fully prepared to say goodbye to this vacation and to Shanti Maidan. It all happened when a friend of mine hit a long six high up in the air.
Bang! There was firing. All of my friends started running around like crazy. But I couldn’t move. The chaos was too much for me as a child because I was totally blank. I didn’t even understand what was going around. There was just that one fire and after a pause for about 1 minute, there were rapid gunshots one after the other. I saw 2 or 3 men with masks on their faces and pistols in their hands.
Just when I saw them I started screaming. One of them took notice of me and pointed his gun towards me and fired. I didn’t understand what happened at that time but I saw someone fallen in front of me, blood coming out from that person’s chest. I flipped the person over with a sound of some sort of siren falling on my ears. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Same eyes, same person. Even now, when she was in the mouth of death, she had the same kind of affection in her eyes while she was looking at me. I was too dumb to call for help.
The only thing I remembered after that was that I was at home with my parents, sleeping in my bed peacefully. When I got up, I remembered the last thing I saw was that woman with blood all around her. I insisted on going and meeting that woman. I wanted to know whether she was okay or not.
We went to her home that afternoon. I saw two small boys about my age sitting in a corner. They were both hugging each other and crying their eyes off. I didn’t understand why were they crying. Not many people were present in that room except these two boys, an old man, a middle-aged man and two other ladies. I couldn’t see where the woman was though. I wanted to go and ask those boys why were they crying. But before I could reach them, my dad held my hand as a signal to stop me from doing what I was going to do. I wasn’t going to harm them or anything. I was just going to ask them if they were okay. I wanted to know what had happened. I wanted to see those affectionate eyes again.
After we came back home, my dad and mom told me that the woman was not alive anymore. That she was dead. I didn’t know how to react. I was so confused whether if I should cry or ask more questions. They told me that she was the one to save my life and that I should be thankful to her. That incident did end over this last sentence of my parents, but its memory is still fresh in my mind.
Something that my parents didn’t know was when she was lying beside me, I wanted to see her face. But it was all covered with that black cloth. So I took off that cloth and saw what beautiful, innocent face she had. I took that cloth with me to keep that memory of her with me, forever.
A question did arise in my mind when I became mature enough to understand all of this – Isn’t she my mother? Our mother gives us life and does whatever she can to protect it. She did not bring me on this planet, sure, but isn’t it because of her that I am still alive, speaking in front of you all? From the very day I really comprehended all of this, I decided she will always be my ammi. Whether if she belongs to my religion or not, whether she is my biological mother or not, whether she was some stranger or my family, nothing really mattered for me. She was and would always be my ammi.
So on this Mothers Day, I want all of us to take an oath. For once in our lifetime, let's be someone’s mother. According to me, motherhood isn’t restricted to any gender, caste, religion, language; anything. It could be any one of us. It’s not about who or what we are. It’s just about making someone's life happier.
So I would like to thank all the mothers of this world for being a part of it because seriously, you are the reason for our being.
As my speech ended I turned around as I couldn’t show people the tears I had in my eyes. Behind me was a huge, magnificent roar of applause. I put my hand on my heart and said, “This is for you, ammi.” The burkha sitting in my inner chest pocket smiled, the way ammi did.