THE OTHER HALF

He would get early in morning for prayers, only force behind his energy for now. He had seen this struggle from his childhood, much before his birth he thought. Born out of home too had been conspiracy of fate. Often thought himself most oppressed one. He would recline himself to his home, isolated, neither joyous nor happy.
Spring was slowly showing its face and he started going outside frequently, playing with his neighbours and siblings. This is where he started feeling he was treated differently. When everybody would be called home by the home mates including his siblings, he would hear no familiar voices calling him. He yearned and yearned for a familiar voice only to be disappointed every time. Being old one among his siblings, he would often be scolded for the mistakes of all of them.
“Can’t you teach them anything?
He often would be scolded for miniscule things. With his age this behaviour was getting bad to worst. Everyone got admitted in private schools. He was admitted to a govt. school. He neither protested nor got jealous of his siblings. He often would hear his mother saying, “Your father works alone for us, income generated is meagre; so you were admitted there.
Years passed, he cleared his 8th class and he got enrolled in the local high school. Attending school from ten to four, and working with his mother in the kitchen garden from four to dusk, that became a routine. Going outside was a dream, time had shackled his freedom and he slowly learned to stop the temptations of rebellion in his heart. He feared of the worst and his parents feared talks of neighbours instead of caring for the joy of their son. He grew listening to the fake promises of his parents. With his age he started noticing different behaviours of his mother. Fearing his father he would never say anything back. If ever he refused to do anything, his mother always would warn him, “Once your father is in, I will show you.”
His heart would be in the playing field, while he physically would be present in the kitchen garden. He would listen to the noise from the field. Occasionally he would think about his fate, his mother, living or dead. He never had told his father about his mother, fearing worst. He would offer prayers, flirt with pages of his books and sleep. Time passed by, thinking about his life in the darkness of nights and in the hustle and bustle of days. Every word of his step-mother he would remember, weighing them, looking for the ambiguity under, double-meaning.
With each passing day his sensitivity increased. He would see scolding even in the normal words. When he started working in the fields of others, how time had elapsed he hardly knew anything about it. Autumn hues were out; his visits to the school were rare. He would go for apple picking, the job he loved most, listening to the radio and joking with others. He felt happy at the progression of things. Suddenly he felt his mother’s behaviour acceptable.
“How could a day change a person like this” he felt at the sleeping time.
“Come, I have prepared chai for you, let’s sip together,” these were the words he had listened for the first time in his life, while removing his shoes on the porch. These were the words he felt reverberating under his quilt for the nights that followed. He felt normal for the days he worked, assumed normalcy in his life that was short lived as the season of autumn.
“Son don’t appear in examination this time, it would be hard for you,” his father asked him one day and he accepted it without saying anything back. He hardly bothered to know if his siblings were asked the same or guess the reasons behind this. They picked their apples as well, work was finished. But not the nothingness in his life, that returned patch by patch as the winter approached. For winter he had no plans, he had no one in thought for he was happy with his work then. He accepted life as it came to him, not planning anything but still he thought he should have something in his mind. He hardly thought of his parents’ plans, he knew he has nothing to do in the snow except having to put KANGRI in his lap. But one evening he was surprised by his father,
“You are going to Delhi with your uncle.”
He felt relieved for the proceeding moment assuming that his father is fulfilling his promise of sending him outside for studies, but that was too short to be happy. He thought why his uncle is accompanying him when he is illiterate, why not his father?
He got his answer by the following words.
“You will work there in mandi with him.”
He hardly reacted, he never had rebelled before his father but this time he felt a tide inside to say something back to him, remind him of his promises, consoles and his age. But things continued as they were before. He felt silenced in his own home. He thought of his father as husband of his step-mother rather than his own father.
That evening ended with the worst ever moments he had ever lived and the words he had listened. He forced himself to eat his dinner where his siblings were noisy. He got upstairs, put up the quilt over his head and started sobbing. Sealed by the quilt he felt muffled in his own world, much like his heart whose screams only his heart acknowledged.
When he pulled the quilt down, the morning rays were already striking his face through the window frame. He glanced at the clock and started exercising his arms. In between someone started knocking on the door. He could not recount the last time she had knocked the door. This was the first time in years, he thought, “Why is she in my room?”
The answer was obvious; he had to leave with his uncle he hardly had known before. This was also for the first time in years that she had put her feet inside his room and talked to him.
“Your uncle is waiting, be quick.”
This sacred conversation ended with him not uttering a word. He washed his face and entered the kitchen where he saw his uncle; long beard, long nose and deep orbitals. In the darkness of that corner of the kitchen where he was sitting, he could not decipher the texture of his uncle’s face.
This was for the first time that he had seen this man; situation demanded to call him uncle. Nevertheless their journey started through the meandering roads through the yellow world. Gentle breeze of the morning forcing leaves to scatter and fall on the ground where they were destined to be crushed. He started placing his life parallel to that morning and its breeze, to the leaves and their destination.
“I am made to scatter by that wild ghost, from my childhood and ultimately she would crush me.”
When last time he had used the sacred word of ‘mother’ for her, he hardly cared and remembered. Perhaps he hadn’t heard the word ‘son’ from her for a long time. Throughout the journey he imagined things to come, that would be presented to him by time. He opened his eyes to the hustle and bustle of Jammu, he was unexposed to.
Next morning they were in Delhi’s Azadpur mandi, searching where to work. The climate was humid and no vegetation in sight. It took some time to adapt to the new environment. Days started before sun was out from its horizon and ended when silence pervaded around.
He became friendly with other fellows and thoughts of his home were rare now. He became friendly with his uncle as well. One night after returning from work, his uncle asked him,
“Why you call me uncle?”
He felt embarrassed at the question, nothing coming into his mind to reply. Sighing, my father told me to. That night Pandora’s Box was opened. Unintentionally, home started creeping into their conversations. Unending they were as the nights of Delhi, where everything looked leaping ahead.
“I am your mother’s brother. Your father had asked me to take you back. Fearing the talks of neighbours he forced me to take you to Delhi.”
Only his part of the world looked static that night, refusing to move. Opposite to any change from there on he wanted his world to cease, stop breathing for that moment and inhale that air that would fill his impoverished soul.
“I am fed up of my life; you should have come earlier,” quivering, on these words.
What to say back to the newly found connection, he embraced him in desperation and his eyes brimming with tears, rolling down his cheeks onto his uncle’s back. Were these tears of joy or tears of sorrow, his uncle was confused. May be they were more of that newly found relation he was in search of from his childhood. His father had stopped acknowledging him as his son.
“How a father can turn into a stranger in few days,” he thought and felt relieved of his burden, for not going back to the same house where he was an “outsider”.
They rested and visited some places before heading back home; the places he had read about in his school textbooks, Red Fort, Jamia Masjid, Lotus Temple and places he had first time listened of.
Few days and they were home, his new one. Two storey building, light yellow coloured, stoned porch and rooms dimly lit. This was his new home in the adjacent village that would be his from now on, where he can claim he belongs to.
He expected his mother to welcome him to his new home, embrace him, and kiss him on his forehead as he had thought but she wasn’t there. She was dead long ago, barely a year or so after his birth. First day and the disturbing images of his mother’s funeral reflected in his mind.
“Things have been written before my birth, I can do nothing,” sighing.
With days passing he started making friends in his new surroundings with that extinct freedom of childhood reappearing. He had his grandmother and cousins to talk and play with. No worries and no responsibilities, though he was fairly old now.
“May be these are initial days here, that is why I am treated like this.”
He had never experienced such things in his other home; little joys in eating together, talking to his grandmother, irritating his cousins and things he had never thought to do in his life. He felt born anew.
While days passed, they were same as they were during initial days. He hardly cared to go back to his earlier home. He would be angry if his home mates asked him anything about that home. He wanted his past to be buried, memories of that time scratched from his memory and leaving no debris to cry and lament on.
Nevertheless he wanted to know about his mother, what happened to her. He thought her grandmother was the suitable one to talk to in his home. Tears rolled down her eyes when he mentioned his mother to her. “Son, they could not get along each other for long and at last your father divorced her. While coming back to home, she died of a heart attack. She left me, you, your sister and the eternal grief in my heart.”
He was dumbfound, tears rolling down his cheeks and his thoughts going to the younger sibling back in his old home. He hadn’t talked much to her when he was there. But now he regretted and the guilt took over him.
That night he thought about his sister, their behaviour towards her and started sobbing under his quilt. He planned to take her into his home when she would be returning from school.
He got up to the chirping of birds which he was used to now. The room reverberated with the hissing of the gentle breeze that came through the window. The sun looked mellow on its horizon. He was restless while sipping the yellow tea, moving to and fro in the room in desperation. He wanted to see her. He told her grandmother that he is going with his friends to play for the day. He screamed from the porch to his grandmother,
“There would be a guest with me.”
He walked quickly through the grove connecting two villages, taking quick breathes. He rested on the path leading to the school, glancing at every face that walked from there. He saw her entering the school premises in the red and green uniform, innocent looking, weak with bony cheeks, cracked lips, hair curls locked behind ears and a dark mole near his right eye. She was same as he had seen her before. Nothing had changed for her too like him. He waited and waited, these moments were getting longer and longer.
The bell ringer stroked the bell and there was the noise coming from all over. The day was over. He sat on the same spot, glancing at the faces, exhausted. She was walking on the adjacent side. He waved at her and she ran towards him,
“Umar baya, where you have been all this long”?
She jumped into his lap and held on tightly. He felt exalted, pleading her to come with him for a night to see where he lived. She refused but gave away.
“They will scold me tomorrow”.
They started moving, ascending the mountain, talking about the school, siblings and his “forced” parents.
They started with the grove where they met his uncle. He embraced her and put her over her shoulders. Walking through the green tunnel jovially, they moved aside from their path through a hedge towards what looked like a mould of soil from there. Silence pervaded around except the crackling voice of their feet. Step by step that abstract shape got clearer. That was a grave with wild grasses and three white flowers lowered in three directions; grave of their mother and grave of his sister. It was his uncle in whose eyes tears surfaced first, then her eyes brimmed with the sacred water and then it was Umar.
She knew of the settlement the two families had reached before him, but she had not dared to tell him. She had waited for that proper moment to come when she would tell him about the settlement. That moment never came till he was forced to leave the home.
She screamed. They lowered their heads, closed their eyes and prayed in unison to God for his blessings to the inhabitant of the lone grave. Distance between the grave and them was closer than their father.
While returning they knew they were divided between the two families. They were supposed to live like strangers to each other. He was to live with his uncle and she had to with her father. He refused to let her go back to her step-mother’s home and took her hand and started towards their new home. He had gone against his uncle, the settlement and the custom in vogue. He dared to unite his blood, his other half, his sister with him, no matter if their parents were divorced.
While outside his home, he screamed,
“Mother you have got a guest today”.
End
KANGRI: Traditional Kashmiri firepot.

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