The Last Wish
The Last Wish
The muezzin called the azan inviting the faithful to the mosque. This ritual has been going on every day in the small mosque situated at the end of the narrow lane. The lane had a blind end finishing off in front of the dilapidated house which was home to five families. Seven decades back, Khaliq had moved into this house with his family of five sons and two daughters. Khaliq owned a tonga and earned a decent living. Time passed and it became difficult to maintain the horse. Cheaper modes of transport made tonga an unviable alternative, the wheels of tonga finally stopped. Khaliq passed away in 1965.
The house was now inherited by the five sons, two of them who were already married. The five equal divisions resulted in the construction of walls that demarcated single rooms for each family. Ahmad the eldest son worked as a rickshaw mechanic, toiling hard he somehow managed to feed his family of three sons and three daughters. As time passed, the single room inherited space became too small for the growing family and Ahmad moved out of the room into the outside lane finding a space just sufficient for a small cot in front of the mosque. The lane in front of the mosque now became even narrower.
Poverty comes with several additional burdens. After the marriage of the three daughters, Ahmad and wife Sakina felt an immediate void in their life. The three sons were too hard-pressed with their own travails to take care of their old parents. The new technology had given rise to the battery-operated rickshaw and suddenly the cycle rickshaw becomes history. In the backdrop of new technology, Ahmad lost his means of earning.
The narrow lane now became Ahmad and Sakina’s permanent living place. Thanks to the protruding balcony of the adjoining houses, the cot had partial protection from the rain. The faithful coming to the mosque provided the only means of earning to Ahmad. Strange are the manifestations of faith among the faithful. It gives satisfaction to the faithful to give alms to people who throng the places of worship. Ahmad and Sakina became regular beneficiaries for many of the faithful who came to the mosque.
Paradoxically while time seems to fly for the affluent, it crawls for the poor. Ahmad’s life was so mired in hardships that regular problems hardly affected his life. In today’s materialistic world while many vouch and practice intermittent fasting to keep fit, Ahmad and Sakina had long made eating once a day their normal practice.
Seasons came and went however nothing changed for Ahmad. Suddenly something happened which made life even worse for the couple. Somebody told that a new disease was affecting people and that the government had imposed a lockdown for three weeks. Disease and death now evoked no fear for Ahmad and Sakina, for them life had become a ritual which was a burden to be endured.
The muezzin called the azan. Today a few policemen had visited the mosque and posted a notice that the mosque cannot hold a prayer for more than five people. For fear of police not even five people turned up at the mosque that morning. While the faithful stayed away, Ahmad and Sakina lost their only livelihood. After a few days, they had almost nothing to eat. Survival henceforth depended on the generosity of the neighborhood.
With the imposition of the lockdown, constant hunger became a new normal. While Sakina could visit a few adjoining houses and be fortunate to get some food, Ahmad was too weak to get up. His ulcer was now giving him sleepless nights. The pain was becoming almost unbearable. His face had become a constant grimace that camouflaged the continuous pain. It was after a week into a lockdown that Ahmad breathed his last while gazing at the sky lying on the five feet cot at the door of the mosque.
Despite the loss of moral values in the present times, death is still an event that unites. The neighborhood opened its heart and provided Sakina with food and money for the next few days. Poverty is a phenomenon that changes the definition of most human emotions. Losing life partner meant the availability of more space for Sakina to position her cot at the front of the mosque’s entrance. Life moved on.
Rumors started doing rounds that a new law had been enacted which made mandatory for all citizens to carry an identity card. Those not possessing an identity card would be arrested and put into detention centers. The neighborhood was abuzz with activity. People were digging into their long lost documents to find proof of their domicile. The area corporation had opened his office and was charging Rs 500 for assisting identity card aspirants.
Sakina also heard the news of the impending new law and the possibility of being deported to the detention centers. After the death of Ahmad, she had been able to save Rs 500 from the money which people had given her to tide over the crisis. It was a sunny day and Sakina walked to the nearest market. She found the shop that sold small tin boxes. She bought one painted tin box with a provision for the lock on the latch.
The underneath of the cot was the only place where Sakina could keep her belongings and she placed the locked box under the cot. That afternoon she slept peacefully.
The old and the young, healthy and infirm, and the rich and the poor, everyone made efforts to get the identity card. Old land records, long-forgotten school certificates, voter slips, and sundry receipts, all contributed to affirming the requirements of the identity card. Despite being advised, coaxed, and encouraged, Sakina did not go to the municipal corporation office for filling the application for the identity card.
Information was rife that police had raided the adjoining locality and checked the identity cards of the residents. A few who could not produce the required document were arrested and taken away. There was a strong possibility of the raid being conducted near the mosque the next day. Sakina woke up early that Friday morning. She checked the tin box under the cot. The box and the lock were intact. A faint smile crossed her face. She looked contended.
That day Sakina took a bath using the common municipal facility. Taking a bath had long become a luxury. She dressed in the green cotton suit, the dress which someone had given her this Eid perhaps fulfilling the requirement of the mandatory Zakat. It had been almost two months since she had kept her hair. Today she bought a sachet of hair oil and applied it to her silver hair. From under the pillow, she took out a broken mirror and looked at herself.
Mirrors never lie. However, today the mirror which was reflecting the face of Sakina had a different story to tell. Sakina found herself looking at a girl of seventeen years in a loud makeup with exciting dreams writ large on the beaming face. She was the bride looking at herself just before the nikah was to be solemnized. Sakina’s memory wandered to the next milestone of life when Jawed, her first son, was born. The muezzin started the azan and the blaring of the out of tune loudspeaker jolted Sakina. She realized that in the mirror she was looking at a wrinkled face that had several tragic stories within its fold.
Sakina waited for the police party to arrive and check the identity cards. The day passed but nothing happened. She overheard that due to a law and order problem the raids did not happen today. Most probably the police party would make a checking drive near the mosque tomorrow. For someone whose life was but a daily routine of day and night, one day did not make any difference.
A couple of days back someone had died in the locality. There was some sort of religious ceremony after the Friday prayers. Sakina too had received an invitation. The biryani was served after the religious discourse. The host wanted to feed the poor in the hope to bless the departed. Sakina took two helpings of the biryani. She had not eaten such a stomach full for months. She felt nice and happy.
Thinking of tomorrow Sakina curled herself on the five feet cot that evening. It was a rare occasion when she was not battling hunger pangs. Today she contended. Due to power breakdown, night descended early in the locality. Even at 8 pm, the lane was empty. Most families had partaken the meal served as part of religious ceremony for the dead, and hence there were no cries of children finding it hard to sleep on an empty stomach.
Sakina slept peacefully that night. She did not know the time but suddenly she woke up with a lump in her stomach. There was a feeling of nausea that gripped her. She thought it was a result of binge eating the previous afternoon. She again dozed off.
Sakina felt another bout of nausea. She again felt a lump somewhere up in the chest. She wanted to cry but could not find her voice. Her hands felt unduly heavy. Her mind wandered. She was sitting with Ahmad in an alien land. The grass was green and the trees were tall. At a distance, there was a wired boundary, but it was far away. She was eating lunch served by some unknown people. She was happy and contended.
Sakina felt an unknown sensation. She was choking. Her body was getting limp. She tried to understand what was happening. She was finding bliss, she was like a sparrow flying from the cot to the minaret of the mosque. There was a mirage. A huge kaleidoscope of lights engulfed her. She was wafting in the sky.
The muezzin was calling the morning azan. The sun was still some distance below the horizon. The few faithful who arrived for the prayers and walked past the cot in front of the mosque entrance were oblivious of the fact that Sakina was no more. Her face did not reflect the pain of death which she had experienced a couple of hours back.
The morning brought life back in the lane. Half naked children started playing. Someone carried tea in the plastic bag. The vegetable vendor was selling his merchandise. It was late in the morning that somebody noticed that flies had begun to gather on the face of Sakina. News spread fast. Again the death in the locality made everyone come together. The space for a cot had fallen vacant in front of the mosque.
Sakina’s elder son found the key tied to her mother’s headscarf. The tin box was opened. Packed neatly inside were two sets of clothes, bathing soap and a washing bar for the clothes. Beneath the clothes, safely put in a plastic cover, was a black and white wedding photograph of a seventeen-year-old bride with a young Ahmad.
Unfortunately, Sakina could not realize her dream of being deported into a detention center. At least, in detention, she would not have to worry about the next meal.