by Kritika Mishra
“Badi Ammi! Badi Ammi! Abbu is asking for you” shouted Zainab.
No response came back.
“Abbu, she must be busy with some of her ghazals, I will have to go to her room to call her. How about I call you back in five to ten minutes?” said Zainab to her father.
A wall hanging, woven out of wool, hung at the door of Badi Ammi’s room. It was a childhood gift from someone close; she took it with her after her marriage from her parents’ house. The wall opposite to the door was in lemon yellow collaged with photos of family and friends. Zainab, her granddaughter, did not know everyone in those photographs. A few faces were not even known to her father. But Badi Ammi knew everyone.
The wall opposite to this photographic panorama, the one with the door, had shelves stacked with records of ghazals. Each corner of the room had vases which were typical of the Indo-Persian designs. The room hardly had any furniture; the only wooden items in the room were musical instruments. The windows were cloaked by the lilac silk curtains along with the strings threaded with limestone shells and stones and metallic pieces of variety. And when the wind blew, these strings sung. In fact everything in the room was music. Some could be heard and some only felt.
“Aaj jaane ki zid na karo, yun hi pehlu mein baithe raho” sang Badi Ammi with her eyes closed, hands on harmonium and soul somewhere in heaven. “Badi Ammi, Abbu called up.” said Zainab. She looked at her frowning in question. “Your visa has been approved” replied Zainab.
“Zainab jaan, get some sweets, it is celebration time. Call your Abbu again, I want to talk to him” said Badi Ammi embracing Zainab in her arms. So Zainab called her father. “Hello Rehaan, long live my son. What you have done for me today my darling, Allah will bless you for it” said Badi Ammi.
“Ammi, I can already hear the roads of New Delhi singing welcome song for you” replied Rehaan.
And it was true, not only were the roads of New Delhi singing, music floated on the streets of Lahore as well because Badi Ammi was happy. For the past sixty six years, not a single moment had passed when the streets of Lahore had not sung. They sung in melancholy, they sung in ecstasy, they sung the songs of love, songs of pain, songs of joy, songs of Id, songs of Diwali, songs in Sufi, songs in qawwali, songs of bollywood ; all the songs that Badi Ammi ever hummed. It was not because the streets of Lahore loved her, more than love they respected her as not even for once those streets had felt lesser love and acceptance than the streets of Delhi from where she really was.
So today the streets of Lahore, in fact her streets of Lahore were more than happy to hear that she was going to visit Delhi.
After a long time, the two cities, Delhi and Lahore, sang together and symphony soared beyond the barbed wired boundaries separating them. It was only the clouds and the sky except the streets of the two cities who knew it, for all humans were too busy protecting those wired boundaries.
With each step that she took through the corridors of the Indira Gandhi International Airport, her heart thumped a little louder, a little more intense but she was bereft of any emotions. The smell, the sound and the faces, she could not sense any of it. All she could smell was her own body, hear were her own heartbeat and feel her blood gushing through her veins.
A mirage of memories clouded Badi Ammi’s vision. First, there was family, friends, neighbours, warmth, compassion and then tensions, conspiracies, riots, blood and finally the partition.
Memories are like numerical variables, each of it inherited in the equation of life with its own unique operator; operator of happiness or sorrow, of guilt or pride, of defeat or triumph, of love or hatred and of death or birth. The value of this equation, at any particular time in life, is what defines our real being, who we pretend to be and what actually we are. But the subject of life has a different rule of calculation. The rule of re-assignment. It says that it is up to us what value we assign to the variable inherited and hence the final outcome of the equation, which actually tends to define us, lies in our hands.
Badi Ammi’s name was Zufisha Sharif when she left India in 1947. Though she was a child of nine, she still remembered a great deal about those days.
Chandni Chowk was where she was born, where she had spent her childhood. The vistas of the haveli, the bagh, the streets, the market, the Red Fort, the temples, the mosques, the rallies and then the Tricolour flickered before her eyes. She could feel the taste of jalbees from the corner bhaiyaji’s shop, the mangoes from Maleehabad, the parathas and the sohan papdi on her tongue. She also remembered how her father, her uncle and her eldest cousin brother were slaughtered in the riots and in how much insecurity and fear they left Delhi.
But she chose not to remember those sour days instead she re-assigned that variable of memory which had the operator of happiness, love, safety and homeliness, the highest value. This was why the streets of Delhi welcomed her with such great compassion which only she could feel.
Her younger son, Rehaan Ishrat was the ambassador to India from Pakistan and this is how she got an opportunity of lifetime to visit India.
It was not the same Delhi that she had left sixty six years ago. In fact there was hardly any resemblance to the city then and the city now. But she could still relate to it so well as if every moment in the bazaars, the roads, the monuments and everywhere that she visited was déjà vu. The spices smelled the same, the water tasted the same, the colours appeared the same, the sun had the same warmth and the moon same coldness even the people had the same skin, same dialect, same warmth, same cunningness and the same compassion as the people of Lahore. For so long she was in Delhi being in Lahore and presently in Lahore being in Delhi.
Soon her sojourn at Delhi reached its end.
‘On both the sides, when Ammi meant the same, when love felt the same and when hatred engraved the same scars, why was it that a visa was required to visit one?’ she thought sitting on the plane on her way back to Lahore.
She was leaving the city she was born in to go to the one she lived in but only death would decide where she would belong to. And only her heart and the two cities knew that she either belonged to both or to none.
“This is Flight 206 from New Delhi to Lahore, there is an emergency situation for immediate landing, a passenger has had a heart attack” said the senior captain of Flight 206 to the nearest landing base.
For all what she had given to life, life owed a favour to her. She knew that it was the right time to ask for it. And hence she asked life to give away itself to death. A death far above the wired boundaries, in the air where there were no political strategies, no hatred and no belongingness.
The streets on the two sides swayed in to the sombre shadows of bereavement, wailing together and the only one who could hear those cries was no longer there.