Weaving Water

By Ajeet Cour

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Cases of arson and rioting now started in Lahore too. All the things that we had heard from those evicted, homeless people, those tales of terror, which were just talk to us till then, and could only be imagined, all those horrible things had started happening in Lahore as well. Similar incidents were beginning to become a reality right in front of our eyes, and step by step were coming closer to us.

The whole night all of us, all the people from all the houses of Lahore, would either stand guard on the roads, in small groups, or would climb onto rooftops and try to guess which locality the blaze visible in the distasnce, was soaring fromon this side, and from which on the other side.

“Shahji, that is Shahalmi from where the blaze is rising.”

“Sardar Saab, a phone call has just come from Ravi Road that looting and pillaging is going on within the Bhaati Darwaza. People are also being murdered.”

Just then a surge of slogans would come from the direction of Gawal Mandi, ‘Nara-e-Takbeer….Allah-hu-Akbar!’

Everyone quaked with fear. We children would cower like wet chickens.

Then all of a sudden supportive slogans could be heard from the Gandhi Lane behind our house, answering calls from all directions, ‘Jo Bole so Nihal, Sat Sri Akaal’…’Har Har Mahadev.’
And throughout the night , this flood of exhortations rising like a whirlwind from all sides would continue.

Daarji-Beeji would keep telling Jasbir and me to go downstairs and sleep. But on nights such as those, where does sleep just disappear, I don’t know.

All night long there were blazing infernos all around. Sometimes from here, sometimes from there, suddenly flames would arise, leap towards the sky, as if they were in a conspiracy to burn the very firmament.

The sky would get burnt, all the stars would burn up like fireflies, and their charred remains would be wafted by the wind onto our roofs. This is what I imagined at that time. Then that night came, the night we saw from our rooftop, a man running frenziedly on the road, screaming, followed by a bloodthirsty crowd, ready to pounce on him and finish him off. And then, the sudden gleam of a knife in that darkness. A devastating scream. And the man fell down on the ground. We could hear his shrieks of pain for some time. Then everything was quiet.
A quietness worse than a nightmarish silence.

Everyone watching from their rooftops seemed to have turned into statues of ice.

Then Daarji spoke in a tone I had never heard before, “We will leave in the morning.”

“Leave? Where to?” That was the question that hung in the silence around us.

***

Morning had to come. It came.

We saw a heap of intestines lying next to the dead man on the road, before the body was removed.

Beeji was making stuffed paranthas and placing them in a hotbox.

Daarji said, “We’ll take only one trunk, just pack a couple of sets of clothes for us all. Take off your bangles and give them to Bayji. We will take only enough for the journey, these paranthas, one trunk, one earthen pot of water. And nothing else. We have to take the children out of here, that’s all. People are being killed on the way for their belongings. So that’s why nothing is to be taken with us. We just have to reach Shimla somehow.”

My aunt, my mother’s sister, was in Shimla. She had already been informed on the phone.

So that’s how we left Lahore and went to Shimla.

Everyone was desperately trying to console themselves, “This is madness. It’s like a wind of insanity. And will stop within a few days. And then we will come back. Back to our homes.”

***

In those days I was madly in love with Baldev, but he regarded me only as an immature child.

Baldev was our English professor. He gave me a lot of books to read from his personal collection. He even gifted me a book. The plays of Ibsen. I treasure it to this day.
Baldev’s love added a new dimension to my life. It seemed as if the moon and the stars, the clouds and the wind, the rising and the setting sun, the waxing and waning moon, the Milky Way flowing across the sky, the chirping birds on the trees, the grass growing on cliffs, all had a new meaning, which had just been created especially for me.

My heart would start beating loudly the moment I saw Baldev. So loudly that I felt scared that someone would hear it beating. A mysterious Jal-tarang seemed to be forever echoing within me . Playing softly, humming musically.

My days melted into one another, every moment full of emotion, as if there was a waterfall within my very being.

The nights were exceedingly cold yet tender. Bathed in the radiance of the moon and the sheen of the stars. Nothing seemed better than watching the movement of the stars and weaving a bouquet of fantasies. Not even sleep. I felt that this charming cavalcade would disappear over the horizon if I slept.

And, indeed, where did sleep come to me!

And the first story that I wrote, was also to make Baldev aware that even if I was much younger than him, the intensity of my feelings was at par with those of his age.

I read that story at some inter-college function. Professor Ram Singhji, the editor of the magazine, Naviyan Keemtan, was present at the function, and asked me to give him the story. Soon after, he published it in his magazine.

Imagine, if I had not written that story and Professor Ram Singh had not published it, then today I would have been making chapattis in a clay oven. And I can’t say for sure even today if writing stories is better than making chapattis!

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