The Sacrificial Lamb
The Sacrificial Lamb
Sitting amidst the crowded slum district in eastern Karachi, Ahaad was lost in his train of thought, a rolled-up cigarette balanced between two fingers in his right hand. His left hand invariably started stroking the muddy fur on the back of a stray dog sitting next to him. His thoughts ran back to when he had first seen Rosa, how her dazzling smile had left him breathless, with the wind brushing against her rosy cheeks, causing her hair to sway as she ran through the open sunflower fields. Ahaad had decided there and then, if he ever wanted to spend his life with somebody, it would be Rosa. During his week in a small village in Punjab, where he had come for some work as a trader, he got to know Rosa quite well.
On his first day when he was accompanying his local counterpart, Mahim to the handicraft emporium, they had bumped into her. Mahim, a friend of Rosa, had introduced the two. For Ahaad, that had been love at first sight; he was taken away by her innocent joviality, and amiability. The two had become good friends, had spent most of the week together, with Rosa showing him around the local sites, and introducing him to her favorite spots in the area.
On the last day of his trip, she had taken him around to her house in the hope of introducing him to her parents. Though she hadn’t told Ahaad, Rosa had begun liking him. Her thoughts kept going towards him when he wasn’t around, and she found herself eagerly waiting to him next. Her father, Sartaj Singh, was the village chief, and posed a dominating figure, complete with a long moustache that seemed to be a universal part of this job’s requirements. He was as tall as Ahaad, wore a thick orange turban, and had an incredibly long beard down to his chest. He was pleased to finally meet Ahaad.
During their conversation Rosa’s father, while gently caressing his beard with his left hand, had asked Ahaad, “Son, where are you from?”, to which Ahaad had replied “Karachi”. Everything seemed to have gone downhill from that point on. Sartaj Singh had instantly gotten up, thrown aside his chair with impressive force and bellowed, “Get out! After ruining our country, how dare you people keep coming back to cause more troubles. Killing most of my family wasn’t enough for you pieces of trash, now you’re here to kill me and my daughter as well? Get out!”
Shocked on seeing this drama unfold, Rosa, immediately reduced to tears, ran next to her father to prevent him from hurting Ahaad. Ahaad froze, thoroughly perplexed as to what had unfolded. He had never seen anyone still so obsessed with what had happened over a few decades ago. Though he was a proud Pakistani and would never have listened to something like this, he did not want to do something he would regret for the rest of his life. At that point, all he could think about was Rosa. With one glance at her, and a respectful salaam1 to her father, he turned around and left, leaving the chief fuming and Rosa in a fit of tears.
That same evening, as the sun began its descent into the beautiful corn fields, the time for Ahaad’s train approached. He packed up his belongings, fondly remembering how Rosa had carefully picked out each of the souvenirs for his ammi2.
It had been a week since he had received Rosa’s letter explaining how her dad had forbidden her to ever see Ahaad again, and that they should just forget that they had ever met. For a week Ahaad had tried his best to forget her, but today, after being unsuccessful, he had reached the conclusion that he could never forget Rosa, and that he would not accept this verdict of fate.
As he drifted back into the present, his mind began to come up with a plan on how he could reunite with Rosa, and also gain the chief’s approval for the union. Deep in thought, he gazed around the beautiful night, his gaze caught by the magnificence of the full Moon.
Enchanted by the gleaming light in the night sky, Rosa sat in her balcony, her eyes moist with days of weeping. While she terribly wanted to be with Ahaad, she would never defy her father and go against his will.
She quickly dried off her eyes, and got up from her chair on the balcony. She made her way across her room, down the stairs and into her father’s room next to the veranda, where the three of them had sat that day.
Her father was sitting in his rocking chair, a cup of tea in his right hand, and a look of deep thought on his wrinkled face. Over the last few days, Rosa had observed that her father had suddenly aged, with his face seeming tired. She figured that the whole incident that had occurred had been tough on him as well. “Yes papa?” she politely said.
“Beti 4, your chacha 5 called today. There has been a proposal for you. The boy is an engineer and runs his own manufacturing unit, and is from a respectable family. They live in the neighboring village, and I have asked them to come over tomorrow so that you can meet them and decide what you think of them. If you like him, we’ll take the matter forward, otherwise, I won’t do anything you wouldn’t want.”
“Ji6 papa, whatever you decide is fine. I will meet them tomorrow”, she said, trying to keep her voice as steady as possible.
As she left the room, Sartaj Singh could make out a tear on his daughter’s cheek. Throughout her life, he had always made sure that she was happy and got everything she had wanted, but, today he felt so helpless. He knew that his Rosa liked Ahaad, but at the same time, he could not forget how he, a boy of 22 at that time, had to cremate his two brothers who had been brutally killed at the hands of Pakistanis. He could not express the pain that he had been feeling for the last forty years of his life, the rage that had formed inside him. As a father, however, it was also unbearable for him to watch his daughter be unhappy. His daughter, whom he had treated as a princess since the day she was born, meant the world to him and the very thought of her being unhappy for the rest of her life filled up the eyes of the usually strong village chief. With a huge debate in his mind, he simply decided to put off coming to a final decision until after meeting the prospective groom the next day.
Rosa could feel the tears streaming down her cheek. She ran up to her room and threw herself on the bed, weeping uncontrollably. She began missing her mother, who had passed away due to cancer when Rosa was eight years old. She desperately needed someone she could talk to, she felt everything happening in her life was unfair. After a while, when she started to calm down, she opened up an old family album and started looking at old pictures of her mother. She was reminded of how graceful her mother had been, and how they had been such a perfect family. As she flipped through, she came upon pictures of her father when he was young with his brothers and parents. She gazed at how happy they seemed, and remembered the story her mother had told her of how her father became an only child for the family. She thought about the grief her father must have faced, and understood the rage inside him. Her father, who had always been there for her, always ensured that Rosa had no troubles or worries in life. Her only family in the whole world, and all her father had was her as well. Then her thoughts went back to Ahaad, how she loved him so very much. Thoroughly confused, she started remembering all the happy moments spent with her dad. As her face glistened with tears, she fell asleep into the peaceful night, her mind overcome by a big dilemma.
“So what did you think?” Sartaj Singh asked Rosa. The boy and his family had just left. Sartaj Singh was impressed with the boy’s culture and mannerisms. He knew that the boy would try his best to keep Rosa happy. The family had seemed really eager for the wedding to happen, and had requested him that it be held as soon as possible if he accepted.
Since the previous night, Rosa had thought long and hard about what she would do that day. She decided that she could never be happy if her father was not truly happy, and she now also knew about his deep-seated rage for Pakistan. Her father had ensured that she had a marvelous childhood, never denied her anything, and now, it was her turn to honor and keep his wishes, despite the fact that she remembered Ahaad and the time she had spent with him day and night. The boy had actually seemed great, and like Sartaj Singh, she could also tell that he had become fond of her and would keep her happy. “I liked him. It’s a yes from my side”, she said, trying to make her voice sound happy.
Within that week, the two were married. Due to the request of the groom’s family, no elaborate preparations could be made in such a short time frame. A small, intimate ceremony, with all the relatives of both the bride and the groom present, was held in the sunflower fields that Sartaj Singh owned. These were the fields where Ahaad had seen Rosa for the first time. On a bright sunny day, Rosa and Preet were pronounced man and wife. As she was reading her wedding vows, Rosa looked at her father, who was smiling and looking right back at her with the warm and kind eyes with which he always had. She had tried convincing herself many times that day that she could go through with this to keep that smile in place, for her father, who had done everything she had ever asked. Little did she know that had she once told her father that she wanted to only be with Ahaad, he would’ve swallowed his rage for her happiness.
As he stepped off the bus a week later, Ahaad wondered whether he should go straight to Rosa’s house or wait and see if her father was around. He had not talked or written to Rosa since he had received her letter a couple of weeks back. He was terribly excited to see her after such a long time. He had figured out that if he respectfully asked her father to not judge every Pakistani by what a few of them did to his family, and try to convince her that he loved Rosa and would forever keep her happy, her father might change his mind. He sat down at a tea stall opposite Rosa’s house and ordered some tea.
“I think I have seen you here before.”
Ahaad smiled at the vendor and said “Yes, I was here about a month back and came to you a couple of times.”
“Now I remember: you and Rosa beta used to come here. Why didn’t you come for the wedding? ”, asked the vendor.
“What wedding?”, asked Ahaad, confused.
Ahaad dropped the glass of tea he had been holding. “Rosa’s we-wed-weddi-wedding?”
“Yes, got married just three days back. She left yesterday for her husband’s house in the neighboring village.”
Ahaad couldn’t believe what he was hearing. His heart started pounding rapidly. He couldn’t imagine that Rosa would’ve decided to marry someone else. Rosa - the girl for whom he had come across the border to take back with him.
As he approached the gates of the house for which he had been given the address by the vendor, he could hear the sound of clicking cups. Inside the iron gates, he could see a bungalow in the middle of the lawn, with a small porch on the front. There on the porch, in a white salwar kameez7 sat Rosa with a cup of tea in her hand. Next to her was a man, who seemed to be about the same age as Ahaad, with a turban on his head. The man was talking, and Rosa was listening attentively, smiling. She seemed happy. Had she forgotten all about Ahaad, about all the time that they had spent together, the special laughs they had shared? Perplexed, Ahaad turned around and left.
“What happened? ”, asked Preet. Rosa had suddenly turned around and was looking down the drive towards the iron gates.
“I thought I saw”, Rosa began, but then thoroughly perplexed, added “never mind”. It had been a month since she had sent that letter to Ahaad, but she had never received a reply. She thought Ahaad had just accepted her father’s wishes and moved on with his life. Deep inside, she had hoped that he would come and fight for her, like she had seen in countless movies, but here she was, married to Preet, with no sign or communication from Ahaad. She thought about her father smiling during her marriage ceremony, and shut out the thoughts of Ahaad. If her being with Preet was what made her father happy, she would choose that option over anything else. For all she knew, Ahaad was probably over her anyway.
1 A respectful salute
4 My child
5 Uncle; father’s younger brother
7 Indian dress