Akshar

Akshar

19 mins 19.4K 19 mins 19.4K

Noor, a girl, 18 years of age, writing a letter for the first time, in fact, writing a full paragraph for the first time. Holding a pen in her own unique way and spreading it over the white paper, which looks offwhite because of flickering light coming from an oil lamp hanging at the far end of the wall in an empty dark room. She has just learned reading and writing; so happy to write something on her own, create something of her own. Weaving words by words, making sentences one by one, each seems as a string of pearls to her; pearls handpicked from the sea of thoughts, which she is crossing from last 9 months of marriage, with great care, for her beloved husband. She is ready to express her love, her gratitude towards him for respecting her feelings and taking such good care of her. She wants to worship him for the human being he is with the soul of God himself. She has only this night to complete the letter and let him know about what she feels for him, as he will leave in morning for work for 1 week. Moreover, containing these feelings for another week she cannot afford.

While writing she was going through countless emotions and thoughts, some carefree and some fearful. She cannot figure out what she is happier about - she has learned writing and reading or she is finally expressing her love for him. Well, she has no time to think about all this right now. She has a whole paper to fill and make it perfect, as it has the potential of becoming their first 'love letter'. She has to make this letter a cheerful memory otherwise what will her grandkids say 40 years from now if they see how bad Grand Maa was in expressing and writing love letters. And even what will Zayed think if she gives something horrible him to read, she has to be flawless in expressing, she can't afford his wry face while he reads this.

***9 Months earlier***

Zayed Mirza, in his early 20's, second son of middle-class Mirza family was just 15 hours married to this beautiful, innocent, modest and virtuous girl who is almost 6 years younger to him, he was still not fully satisfied with the thought of getting married to someone whom he barely knows. Something was continuously bothering him about the whole arrangements; he was pondering over the thoughts like 'was Noor asked about her decision of marrying him?', 'Will they adjust together?' and many more. However, his thoughts were being ceaselessly obstructed by the noise from the outside world, noises which one would expect in a house filled with the plethora of guests, relatives and an unabashedly squealing group of kids. Everyone wanted to see the new couple, especially the new bride about whom the whole colony is talking about, the Picasso perfect daughter-in-law, which Mirza family has chosen for their lovable son.

Zayed and other men were sitting in a room and all women in another. Coming out of the tumult in his head at irregular intervals, he was trying to have and participate in conversations that were going on at that moment in the room. Being the groom, he was the center of almost all the conversations they were having, some asked him about his job at the private law firm, the biggest law firm in Kanpur headed by former Supreme Court Advocate K.L Mishra. Some were interested in the salary he is fetching from there, some asked him why he is still in Kanpur and has not moved to Delhi for better work opportunities. Zayed thought a lot about every question he was asked but gave casual response for each, which only he knew are not honest ones to the core.

In the other room, there were many middle-aged women, sitting in different groups, sparsely separated, and whispering about some random topics. Noor, sitting in one corner of the same room, was timid, shy and in a state of mind same as that of a little girl who is lost in the woods after dark. Nevertheless, she was being well comforted by Zayed's cousins and elder daughter-in-law Aamina of Mirza family. Some of the women in the room talked about Noor, some discussed Aamina. And some were way ahead and typical in being the colony aunty, who went on discussing undauntedly the names of kids Noor and Zayed will have.

The entire house was filled with people, some people were leaving and at the same time, an equal number of them were entering. The small kitchen galley across the second room was even densely populated due to multiple kitchen stoves running at same time. 2 ladies were busy providing tea; a couple of them were busy preparing the dinner, chopping vegetables for 40-50 people and some were just sitting there for society allied tittle-tattle. Uninterrupted chaos and babble in the whole place seemed to explode like a bomb. Nevertheless, the unrest inside Noor and Zayed was even severe, which doesn't seem to calm even after day passes.

It was already dinnertime; some people were already done and other were still munching. This was the first time Noor and Zayed were sitting that close; in fact, they met on their wedding day for the first time. It was late 70's and couples meeting before marriage was still a taboo. They hardly talked or made an eye contact while they had dinner; they kept on eating silently and gently smiling to every question asked or statement made towards them. Some of Zayed's cousins tried and almost forced them to share a bite together, to which Zayed said no with mildly fiery eyes and a sore face.

It was almost time for everyone to go to bed, some people settled themselves in the available room and some pulled cots and made their bed in garden cum garage verandah. It was late summers and electricity was a big problem even in Kanpur at that time. People always preferred sleeping on a terrace or outside in the courtyard.

Zayed and Noor were given a separate room, recently restored out of a storeroom; it was segregated from the rest of the cottage, and had a separate gate and small window. The window was made at a certain height and angle, which would light up in a full moon night, lustre every corner of the room. Except this room, whole house was the last mend almost 20 years back, its walls were made of big solid rock slab, not of bricks and mortar. Its gates were carved out of at least 6-inch old teak wood, which takes an effort to open and close. At this time they both were alone in their room, and sitting at the two extreme corners of the bed, the awkward and undying silence was making both of them very uncomfortable. Zayed tried to break the ice with some small talk about the day and environment,

Electricity is big problem here in Kanpur, your city Lucknow gets enough in a day right?” he asked, to which she replied very softly “Hmmm....”

I am sorry for my conduct at the dinner when Saba forced us to share a bite, I thought it would be uncomfortable for you,” he said with regret

You don't have to be sorry and apologize for that” she replied without lifting her head up and without making an eye contact (uninterruptedly staring to the left side of the bed)

After a long pause, he amassed some courage and asked with great concern “Are you happy with us being together? Is there anything you have to say?

For a moment she didn't reply anything as if she thought a lot about it and wanted to say things which were inside since long but her answer came meekly “I have never thought in that way and from now I feel my happiness lies only with you..

Zayed was little bit discomforted by the answer as if he wanted to listen something else, he was expecting something more from her, some questions maybe. It seemed like his eyes were saying that he has an explanation about the things, about their relationship about some secrets, which only he knew.

But all he could ask or say “You should take some rest it was a long day today and it will be longer tomorrow...” to which she said “yes..” And went on for drowsing in the minimum marginal space where she was sitting and ensured she didn't cover the much area of the bed.

Zayed too laid back and went on thinking about the day, about the previous notions, which were crossing his mind in the late evening. His mind crossed the thought about the recent conversation too, which he had with Noor, he asked himself “did she really mean what she said concerning her happiness?”, “Is she really happy with this marriage?”. He even stumbled upon the thought, are these questions he wants to ask himself “Is he happy with marriage?”. Somehow, he tried to calm himself with the thoughts of Noor, how innocent she is, how childlike her face is, in fact, she is a child, she is just 16 years old. She has hardly seen the world; she has hardly met anyone outside her family, which is the potential reason for her kindness. She reminds him of his 10-year-old nephew, Junaid, whom he has not seen the whole day, where he has been, has he met his new aunt? With all these disparate emotions, he dozed off.

A month has passed since their marriage, things went normally, and Noor has started settling in to the place. Everyone in Zayed's family was very fond of her; they considered her their own daughter. She would help her mother-in-law and Amina di in all the household work and even take care of them. Interestingly she developed a great bond with Junaid, they would play all sorts of games and she would wait for him to comeback from school and have lunch together. He was equally fond her, he would not ask his Mom for the stuff but would rather call his aunt, be it getting ready in morning, be it eating breakfast or for some prank he has to play on anyone. Their friendship has brought a new energy and happiness in the house, which no one would mind.

Even the distance between Zayed and Noor seem to subside, they would share more conversations, more smiles, more eye contacts. Although Zayed was very busy with his work, he made sure to talk to Noor regularly, ask her about her day and let her know how he has been. He would tell her about his work, about the people he meets in the office, his boss K.L Mishra and their family, how they treat him as their equal and how much forward they are with their living and in thinking. They would not differentiate based on caste and class. He told Noor, his boss works with his Daughter Gayatri and wants her to take over the firm after him. Sometimes he would discuss his friends from college and he also would tell many of his college friends works in the same firm and the fact, Gayatri was his college junior, he knows her since college days. And all these were his reasons to not shift to a new city even if it offers a better opportunity.

Noor always had very few things to say to Zayed, maybe it was her hesitation to open up or maybe she has actually nothing to share with him. Zayed had tried a lot to bridge the gap between them and always made her feel secure and warm with the things he would choose to say to her. Noor also respected Zayed and in fact adored him for the way he was; she had never been so close to any man. In fact, the only brother she had among her siblings, died when she was just 4 years old and her brother was 2 years elder to her. She never knew a man could also be sensitive and caring towards other human beings. Noor had a very different lookout towards men before knowing Zayed, but she has never expressed this openly to him.

It was a day before 15th Aug, Junaid came running back from school and directly went to her mother who was sitting with Noor and his grandmother,

He gasped with excitement “Please help me preparing an Independence Day speech Maa!! Please!! Please!! They have chosen me from my class... I will address the whole school... whoooo whoooo

Aamina exclaimed with extreme joy “That's great!! That's great son.. You will do very well, we will help you, me, Noor, Dadi … we all will help you in preparing it

Junaid was in seventh heaven, he was going crazy, he cartwheeled twice there in joy, and he hugged and kissed his Dadi and Noor to show his happiness and rushed to his Dad's room to bring a paper and pen.

Meanwhile, Noor seemed bit sad and lost to which Aamina could not resist asking her “What happened Noor, aren't you happy about this?”

Noor replied with deep remorse, “I am very happy for Junaid, but I won't be able to help him with his essay, I hardly know anything about India's Independence or India. Moreover, I cannot even read and write properly.

Aamina was a bit surprised by Noor's revelation, she felt sad for her and asked with undertone “Have you not been to school Noor??

Noor knew the answer to this question would bring back sad memories of her childhood, she replied pulling herself together “I started going to school as every normal child does but one year later discontinued it because One day that school came under the fury of secular riots and was heavily attacked.

After a long awkward pause, she took a deep breath and went on telling the whole story that how same riots were responsible for his brother's death, the school was assaulted due to some rumor and attackers charged teachers and students as well. They did not want teacher and students of other religion to attend to the same school. Many teachers and students were killed that day mercilessly, she was saved because her brother helped her run away however failed in saving himself. From that day, her parents were not very positive and certain about schools so they discontinued it for her and for her two sisters.

Aamina hugged and apologized Noor for making her go through the bitter recalls of her life, she told Noor to be brave and let the past be there, as it cannot be changed. Even Noor's Mother-in-law consoled her through her disclosure.

Junaid listened to their conversation, out of the sight of his Mother and his aunt, standing near to the gate with paper and pen in his hand. He felt bad for his best friend, who happens to be his aunt and he wanted to cheer her up, he cannot see her face without a twinkle in her eyes.

He moved towards his mom and asked if they can teach Noor to read and to write as they taught his grandmother last year. Aamina was actually proud of Junaid for his thought and she added, “That's a great idea Junaid, we should, after all, it is not that tough. Just a practice of one hour in the morning and one hour in evening will make Noor a fluent orator and writer in 4 months.

Junaid was happy with Aamina's agreement; also, it brought a little hope and smile on Noor's face. To lighten up the spirits more, Junaid took a jibe at his Dadi and cracked “Mom, Dadi took 4 months to learn, Noor Aunty will be a better student as she doesn't forget when she took her last meal.” Everyone shared a light laugh together and Junaid got a mild slap from his grandmother who was sitting there through the whole conversation, for being mildly offensive.

Same night Noor told Zayed about everything happened that day and asked him if learning to read and write seems a good idea to him or not or if he has some other thoughts about it. Zayed was all support as he has been ever since, in fact, he told her he would help too if she needs some extra lessons from him.

Noor has always wanted to learn to write as she always not so vocal and expressive in her thoughts; she thought it would be a great medium to say things with correct emotion and feelings to whomsoever she wants. She also thought in that way she would be able to connect with her parents back in Lucknow, her sisters and everyone she wanted to talk. Moreover, she thought it could help in expressing herself to Zayed, to let him know about her feelings he may not be aware about.

It was late August, days went normal, Noor’s daily lessons had started, and she was trying a lot to learn as much as possible. On the other hand, Zayed was getting busier; he would come very late from office regularly and at times would eat dinner with his Boss's family and sometimes with other colleagues. Noor used to wait for Zayed, she would not go to sleep until he arrives, and she preferred practicing her reading lessons while waiting for him. Sometimes Junaid and Aamina would also accompany her while waiting for Zayed but most of the time she was alone. Noor used to revise her lessons in the night which Aamina and Junaid had taught her that day. Aamina would correct her bluntly if Noor goes wrong somewhere. They taught her to translate each sentence she thinks or says into Urdu, Hindi, and English. They would insist Noor to write every new word she learns with its meaning into her notebook. They also advised Noor to think of other words with same meaning, if she can and use while making any new sentence. Noor would also ask Zayed about her improvements or any suggestion, whenever they would sit and talk. However, most of the times it used to get late, Zayed would prefer to rest after office.

***Present Day***

Noor's face was beaming, she was overjoyed, she had this everlasting content in her eyes; today she has finally learned to read and to write, the lessons which Aamina was giving her for daily practice, she has been doing great in them from a whole week. Today she was feeling confident about the results; this was her dream, which has consummated now. She wanted to tell this to everyone, to her parents, her sisters and most importantly to Zayed to whom she hasn't spoken properly for a while.

Suddenly she recalled that he is leaving next morning to Delhi for one week due to some work, and she recalled again, she hasn't packed his bag for Delhi, which she wants to do before he comes home. She doesn't want to skip tonight, in talking about some stupid bag packing. Today she wishes to confess her love for him, her gratitude to Zayed for being such a wonderful person, accepting her with all heart and with all her imperfections. While enfolding and stacking Zayed's clothes in a case, Noor sel fcomprehended that will it be right to say suddenly so many things to him, is it the right time, he may not be in good mood after a tiring day, should she wait for 1 week and let him come home. Last thought of waiting 1 week, she could not bear, she looked at the wall clock and realized she has enough time until Zayed comes home to write a letter and express what she has to say to him through that letter. It seemed a special idea and without thinking twice, she grabbed a pen-paper and went on writing her fate.

Noor woke and stood up from chair where she almost fell asleep after finishing the letter and waiting for Zayed. She heard some noise outside the room near the main gate, its being opened and closed. She figured it out from the sound of walking, as it was approaching towards her room, that it was Zayed, she looked time it was almost 10.30 PM, it was the first time when he was so late. She took the letter in hurry, kept it under one of Zayed’s clothes in the suitcase, and closed it. He entered the room and appeared very tired; he was at some unease and discontent. He said normal meeting courtesies to Noor but didn't make any eye contact, Noor tried to make few conversations but got little shrugs of despair in reply. She asked for dinner, but he already had he said. He stated again about his train the early next morning and said to return next Sunday. He asked Noor to take care of herself and family in his absence, he has said this multiple time in past, but this time he said it in a way that he really wants her to take care of everything as if something unfortunate is going to happen. She asked if he is all right, is there anything, which is bothering him. She asked him to take proper rest and not to think about family and her; they will take care of each other. Zayed took Noor's hand, held it tightly, said after a pause “You are great human being and very special person Noor, I wish you all the happiness in the world”, and hugged her. Noor didn't reply to it, she knew deep down something is wrong with all this, but she didn't have the courage to ask upfront to Zayed. They both laid back, on to the bed with the same distance between them as they had it on their first night when they were in this room.

It was next morning, Noor woke up, she looked for Zayed and he was not there, probably he was gone. Her head was banging, she was not feeling good, she thought the last night conversation between her and Zayed was some nightmare, and maybe Zayed isn't home yet from office. She checked for his bag and It wasn't there, but a paper was still lying on the near by table; where she wrote her letter, for a moment she thought she forgot to give it to Zayed, but when she took a closer look she realized it's letter for her from Zayed. She was shocked at co-incidence and was puzzled why Zayed would write a letter to her. She was anxious to read it but afraid of the content in it, she composed herself, assembled some courage and started reading.

***Zayed's Letter***

Noor, I have not been faithful to you, I have been keeping secrets to you since the start of marriage. Gayatri and I love each other from college and have always dreamed of being together. But we never had the courage of accepting our love socially or to our families. We tried to attenuate our feelings a lot but couldn't continue if for long. Even today we are not enough audacious to go and voice out this to them, we know they will never understand this thing, but I know you will. Being in love we feel like sinners, keeping secrets have made us weak and now we don't have the fortitude to live like this hence we have decided to go away from all this and everyone.

I know I am being selfish here and just leaving someone, the way I am leaving is such an awful misdeed but living with you and loving someone else is an equally shameful offense. I don't deserve your forgiveness now but I certainly know you will understand my situation, someday you will comprehend this and forgive me. I am shattered right now because I am going away from the friend I will never have in my life. I hope we will meet some day again and will talk the way we used to talk every night under that moonlight coming from the window.


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