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Syed Ibrahim Rizvi

Drama Romance Tragedy


Syed Ibrahim Rizvi

Drama Romance Tragedy

A Tale of Two Generations

A Tale of Two Generations

18 mins 857 18 mins 857

The events of this evening continued to haunt Javed. He wanted to sleep but his mind was perplexed, the doctor's observations were indeed depressing. Engrossed in his thoughts, Javed looked at the clock which pronounced that it was 10 minutes past midnight. Silently he turned towards the left, Romana was fast asleep. With the AC set at 24°C Romana had the blanket up to her neck. For a few seconds, Javed looked at his wife, eight months pregnant she looked beautiful. Javed realized that Romana had gained weight during her pregnancy which gave her a chubby look. He wanted to kiss her but the fear of disturbing her in sleep bore heavily and he curbed his instinct. His right hand slid below the blanket and found Romana's belly bump, he allowed his hand to rest there for a few moments. He felt a movement inside. Javed's mind started conjuring images of the child which was still inside his wife's womb. Romana mumbled something in sleep, Javed retracted his hand and let his wife sleep.

Last evening during the routine checkup, the doctor had told Javed that Romana had high blood pressure which was a cause of worry. In medical terms, she was suffering from a condition which was known as Pre-Eclampsia. Prescribing a few medicines, the doctor had cautioned Romana to be careful and advised her to visit the clinic next week.

Javed closed his eyes and tried to sleep. He felt drowsy but his mind felt heavy with the information he had gobbled up from Google about the medical condition categorized as Pre-Eclampsia. In a state of mind somewhere between sleep and conscious thought, Javed's mind took him to the time around six years back when Romana had joined his research lab as a Ph.D. student. He recollected that Romana was a shy girl giving him a lot of respect. She was no different from other students and would always give the impression of doing hard work. Javed's mind was now free from the drowsiness, thinking of Romana when she was his student brought a faint smile to his face. He glanced towards his wife again, the trademark innocence was still there, and he realized she was now prettier. Her lips, he observed, had become fuller with time, or was it the effect of lipstick that lingered from last evening? He didn't want to tax his mind to find an answer.

Javed opened his eyes and saw the wall clock; both the hands of the clock were superimposed. He sensed it was five minutes past one. Javed tried to sleep but his mind drifted to another pleasant memory somewhere four years before. The Neurochemistry Congress in New Delhi was a prestigious event. Javed had an invited talk and had come to New Delhi with three research students. The assembly elections in Delhi had been announced and the four guests alighting from Prayagraj express found it difficult to get a hotel to stay in. After searching for an extended time, they had found a hotel but there were only two rooms available. Javed's mind still had that complex moment frozen in memory. He recollected that it was Romana who had broken the impasse and volunteered that she was willing to share a room with Javed Sir.

Javed's memory took him to the awkward moments when he and Romana had entered the hotel room. Romana had behaved in a far more confident manner than him. Although he had left the door slightly open, it was Romana who had bolted the door from inside. This was the first time that Javed was observing Romana so closely. Javed's memories got fixed on the moment when his eyes had met the gaze of Romana while she combed her hair. Even after four years, Javed felt a rush of adrenaline, he recollected that that was the first time he had observed how beautiful Romana looked.

Despite his drill to fall asleep, Javed found himself wide awake when the clock showed thirty minutes past three. The memories of the last few years had refreshed his mind. He wanted to recollect more memories but his mind drifted to what the doctor had told him yesterday. A strange sense of abstract fear engulfed him. He didn't realize but sometime later his closed eyes went into sleep mode.

Romana felt a heaviness that was accompanied by palpitation. She glanced towards Javed but found him deep in sleep. She ignored her uneasiness and forced her mind to pleasant thoughts. The palpitation grew stronger, she also felt a bout of nausea. Romana prodded Javed.

It was within half an hour that Romana was wheeled into the operation theatre. A teary-eyed Javed sat on a steel bench praying to the Almighty. The flurry of activity and the urgency of movement in the corridor made Javed more apprehensive. A couple of hours later, Javed saw a grim-faced doctor emerge from the Operation Theatre. Javed took a few steps toward the doctor and his heart sank as he read the look on his face. The doctor told Javed that Romana experienced a massive cardiac arrest while she was being operated on for caesarian delivery. Although she could not be saved, the doctors could save the child, a baby boy.

Romana's death changed the course of Javed's fairytale married life. The initial months were extremely challenging. Although Javed's mother and sister took care of the newborn who was given the name Amir, Javed found the going tough without Romana. All the ebullience was replaced with desperation. Javed's smile was now only reserved for moments when Amir played in his lap. At times, while playing with Amir, Javed's eyes would get filled with memories of Romana. Time flew, and Amir was admitted to a preparatory school.

Javed would invariably come home early to catch the evening playing time with Amir. He bought a small cricket bat and taught Amir the basics of batting and bowling. At times when Amir was in a playful mood, Javed would get a glimpse of Romana in his countenance.

A good three months had passed while Amir had been attending his school. It was Saturday and the school had given notice of a parent-teacher meeting. Javed made it a point to attend the meeting. To his joy, Javed found that the teacher was full of praise for his son. In the evening Javed took Amir to a park and then had dinner in a restaurant.

Sunday morning was lazy. With no pressing engagements, Javed slept late. Amir had got up early and was fidgeting with his plastic blocks making building models. It was sometime later at around nine that Amir slipped alongside Javed on the bed and curled himself with hands around his father. Javed was lazily enjoying this show of affection. With his mouth near his father's ears, Amir spoke in a loving voice "papa where is my mummy, all my classmates have mothers but I don't have one". Amir was fortunate that he did not see his father's eyes. Javed felt a lump in his throat, his eyes became wet and he felt that time stood still. Without speaking a word, he turned around and hugged Amir. He continued to hold Amir in embrace till his tear-laden eyes had found their natural glint. Amir didn't understand what this gesture conveyed but a basic instinct told him that his father was not comfortable with this question.

Amir was now studying in class five. He mimicked his father in academic pursuits. Both spent long hours at night engrossed in studies. At times, Javed would coax Amir to play chess with him. Javed had very efficiently found a way to play the roles of mother and father to Amir. It was morning, just before going to school when Amir complained of stomach ache. Javed told Amir to skip the bus and instead decided to take Amir to school himself. As Amir walked inside the school gate, Javed sensed that something was wrong. In hurried steps, he walked towards Amir. Before he could reach Amir at the gate, Amir puked. The vomit was all over his shirt and had also soiled the steps leading to the classroom. Javed had just a small handkerchief. Without a moment lost he cleaned Amir and also knelt down to clean the mess on the stairs. For the next three days, Javed took leave from the university to look after Amir at home.

Life continued to go in the forward direction without any pause for the father-son duo. Both had found ways to complement each other. A few years passed and Amir was looking forward to his first board examinations. Javed had taken leave from the university to be with Amir during the examinations. Amir passed his examination with flying colours. The next two years seemed to pass in a blink. Amir was getting independent and prepared wholeheartedly for his next board examinations. At times Javed watched his son with a nostalgic look wondering what it would have been if Romana was alive.

Finally, the day had arrived when Amir was outbound to Mumbai for taking admission to the prestigious IIT. The extended family had converged to see off Amir. For several days Javed had been contemplating the contours of his life without Amir. He realized these were the most difficult times ever since he had lost Romana. All through these years, he had almost forgotten his own joys and sorrows while he found innovative ways to nurture Amir. He realized, off late, that he was finding it difficult to climb the stairs to the first floor. In an unexplained gesture, he felt an urge which was irresistible, he opened the drawer of the adjoining table and took out the manila envelope. He took out the photograph of Romana. His moisture-filled eyes refracted the light and he found himself looking not at the photograph but the image of Romana that his mind displayed for him. The smiling face in the photograph belied the twenty years that had passed while this photo had found a place in the manila envelope.

Javed found himself lonely in the house after Amir had gone to Mumbai. His only moment of joy was when Amir would make a video call every evening. Javed realized Amir looked happy and contented. In the last few weeks, Javed had been experiencing intermittent heaviness in his chest. Today he decided to visit a doctor. A series of tests confirmed that Javed had an ailing heart. The doctor advised Javed to be happy and free of worries. In the evening when Amir called, Javed did not disclose any of his ailments.  

Joy returned to the household when Amir came back for fifteen days during the end of semester break. For days Javed had made elaborate preparations for Amir. With twenty-one summers behind him, Amir had grown into a handsome young man. Despite some reluctance on the part of Amir, Javed insisted that they both sleep on the same double bed. It was on the fifth night that Amir gingerly told his father that he planned to visit Nainital for a few days with his friends. Javed felt a bit sad, he wanted to spend as much time with Amir but lest his son feels bad, he nodded in consent.

Time continued to flow for Javed who spent hours thinking about Amir. Evening episodes when he would just sit on his armchair and reminisce how he used to play with Amir became more frequent. More often than not, these episodes would always bring a few tears. With time Javed found a way to bide time.

Five years had passed since Amir had left his home for Mumbai. He had informed his father that a multinational company had shortlisted him during the campus placement. Amir had also informed that before he took up the new assignment, he would visit his hometown for a few days. Javed yearned for the moment when Amir would come calling. He realized it was over eighteen months since Amir had come home.

Amir informed his father that he would be coming home for five days and he would be accompanied by a friend. The joy to see Amir after eighteen months was too pleasant for Javed, he didn't pay heed to the visit of a friend. Javed prepped the home with all his resources, he ensured the kitchen had an ample supply of Maggi, realizing that Amir loved it. His heart ached for the moment when Amir would come home. Invariably the lingering thought brought tears to his eyes.

Amir reached home to the tight embrace of his father. Javed could not contain his tears. Once released from the loving hug, Amir introduced Samina to his father. As if on cue Samina adjusted her headscarf and bowed her head in the old fashion style of greeting. Javed's mind was too preoccupied with Amir and thus did not register the gestures of Amir's friend.

It was dinner time and Javed did get time to ponder over the relationship between Amir and Samina. His cultural upbringing did not approve that a girl would accompany a boy to another city for a sojourn. Javed realized that Amir and Samina looked like close friends, and the bonhomie was clearly visible. His cultural instincts, however, failed to understand why Amir was so loud in his show of affection to Samina. Javed's mind thought that he was growing old and was not in sync with the new generation. His mind did not think beyond the angle of an innocent friendship between Amir and Samina.

Life moved on for Javed. His health was fast deteriorating. Accompanying his long-time heart problem, he was having pain in joints, especially the knees. He started living in the past, his only companions being the memories of Romana and Amir's childhood. It was Sunday morning and for a change, Javed felt less pain in his knees. He decided to open the big trunk to take out some winter clothing. Digging into the contents he found several things which ignited past memories. There were Romana's dresses and Amir's school uniforms. Javed recognized the first school uniform which Amir had worn when he was admitted to the school. Picking up the dress, a kaleidoscope of memories went past his wet eyes. He decided to keep that dress.

Over the years, the phone calls from Amir to his father had become erratic. The everyday evening video rendezvous call was no more the norm. Since last night Javed was pensive, Amir had informed him that he had decided to marry Samina and that the marriage was fixed for November ten, approximately two weeks from now. Javed was too perplexed to seek any more details. On numerous occasions, when he sat in his armchair, in vacant moods, he had conjured the occasion when he would organize the marriage of Amir. The phone call last night was in fact the last thing he expected.

Given his failing health, Javed did not want to create an unsavory situation lest Amir's happiness is compromised. He felt that his only means of happiness was Amir. Javed booked the air ticket to Pune for a date two days before the marriage and informed Amir that he was coming for the marriage function.

Amir received Javed at the airport, he hugged his father. The overdose of oxytocin that Javed's brain produced when Amir hugged him melted his heart. He forgot all those questions pertaining to Samina and the marriage which he had thought about during the flight. Javed's mind thought of Romana. Nostalgia overtook his thoughts, he reminisced how Amir would embrace him during school days when he would return home.

Javed observed that the marriage function was only a reception. The traditional rituals involving a groom and bride were nowhere to be seen. Both Amir and Samina were welcoming guests hand-in-hand. To Javed's perception, in that violet midriff-baring ensemble, Samina looked embarrassingly exposed. Javed sat in a corner; nobody paid any heed to the old man sitting at the far end of the hall. Javed silently observed the changing face of the new generation, he realized that he was totally out of place in those disco lights, liquor-gulping crowd, and exotic menu. Nobody took notice when after a couple of hours, the old man took a cab and returned home.

According to Javed's booking, he had to take the return flight a couple of days post marriage ceremony. However, disaster struck the next day after the reception. It was already eleven in the morning but no one had cared to serve Javed a cup of tea. Javed decided to help himself by trying to make tea in the kitchen. Although he had made tea every day in his home he found the new gadgets difficult to handle. Making an extra effort not to make a noise, he spilled the hot water onto his hands. An involuntary shriek filled the small flat. Amir came running and found his father in intense pain. A couple of hours later, with a heavily bandaged left hand, Javed lay on his bed cursing why he decided to make tea himself.

With the flight ticket canceled, Javed was left with no choice but to stay with Amir. The small flat, at times, provided little privacy. On numerous occasions, Javed felt awkward when Samina would pass his sight in those skimpy dresses. On several occasions Javed had to interact with Samina, he observed that of late her gait was different. It was after a series of observations that Javed's mind understood what was wrong with Samina. He realized that Samina was pregnant. Javed felt too embarrassed to confirm this observation with Amir.

Time passed. Javed had no option but to remain confined in his room. With diverse ailments already in his kitty, the wound on his left hand made him almost an invalid. Samina was now heavily pregnant, it was Amir who tended to the exigencies of both Samina and his father.

It was late Friday night when Javed heard some loud conversation from the adjoining bedroom. He could make out the shrill feminine voice of Samina. Some of the words were audible. Despite being short of hearing, Javed could make out the essence of the harsh communication. He understood that the conversation wobbled around his continued presence in the house.

The night was difficult to pass, Javed felt heavy at heart not only on his plight but also on what Amir must be undergoing. He waited for the morning. When Amir came to his room at nine with a cup of tea, Javed asked him to spend a few moments with him. Amir was in a hurry and asked him to tell him the reason. In a choking voice, Javed told Amir that he had decided to move to an old age home in Pune. No words were spoken. Amir left the room.

Javed again heard the same set of conversations between Amir and Samina this afternoon. He could make out that this time also it was to do something with his stay in the house. It was at around four in the evening that Javed called a taxi. Amir fleetingly protested to his father not to leave them but it was apparent that he too was under tremendous mental strain.

The next day, Amir visited his father at the Old Age Home. He has ushered in a dim-lit room that had four occupants. On the far side, Javed was lying on a cot, there was just a single chair in the room, probably this place had few visitors. Amir spent some time with his father giving him the apples which he had purchased while coming.

Amir returned home with mixed emotions. He felt let down by the fact Samina did not show any remorse at the sad decision of his father opting to stay at the Old Age home. The weekend passed without any further discord. Amir prepared dinner and did the chores. Samina's lazy demeanor blatantly portrayed that she was almost full-time. The next few weeks passed slowly. Amir and Samina looked expectantly forward to each passing day.

It started just after midnight on Friday night. Samina started experiencing contractions and the doctor admitted her. The previous ultrasound revealed that there was some problem with the placenta and that her delivery may be complicated. While Samina was taken to the ICU, Amir waited outside praying to the Almighty. A couple of hours passed without any word from inside. It was after a painstaking three hours that the doctor asked Amir to meet her in the chamber. The look on the face of the doctor was tense. She informed Amir that the pregnancy was very difficult and in the process of C-section, Samina delivered a stillborn baby. However, the good news was that they could save his wife.

Amir was distraught. He met Samina in the ICU. The pain of losing her child was oozing from her countenance. As per religious customs, Amir prepared the body of the baby and silently carried him to the graveyard in his lap.

The Noorani Masjid Cemetry had evolved a mechanism to keep track of graves for times to come. Upon a request for a funeral, the office would take the required grave digging fee and allot a number. The relatives carrying the dead would then have to visit the cemetery where the grave would be ready and marked with the identification number. Amir was allotted number 265 for the grave of his son.

When Amir arrived at the cemetery, he found the spot where grave number 265 was ready but had to wait as some people were still in the process of burying their dead in the adjoining grave which bore the number 264. It took another twenty minutes for Amir to complete the formalities and return to the hospital to take care of Samina.

A week had passed since Samina lost the child. Life was limping back with Amir. It was Friday morning and he realized that he had not visited his father for the last ten days. Samina's condition had been critical for the last one week and he had not got time to visit the Old Age home.

Amir reached the Old Age home and on rote entered the office where he expected to find the old lady who would take him inside. The lady was there but she gave Amir a puzzling look. Sensing that Amir missed her stare, she told Amir that it's been a week since Javed, his father, had died. Glancing through the register she continued that he died last Friday and as per his wishes his last rites were performed at the Noorani Masjid Cemetry where his grave number was 264. The lady informed Amir that Javed had categorically mentioned in writing that upon his death if it happened within this month, his son should not be informed.

Amir felt lost. He realized that even in death Papa did not want to burden him. Till Amir remained lost in his thoughts, the lady at the counter handed him a bundle which she said were the remains his father had left. Teary-eyed, with a thousand thoughts of his late father brewing in his mind, Amir opened the bundle. On the top was a neatly folded school dress. Amir remembered the day when as a toddler his father had taken him to school and he had followed him catching hold of his forefinger.

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