Aman Ki Aisha

Illustration by: Nidhi Chanani

1

1 April, 1998

“Stop! Stop! Stop!,” shouted Mani, at the top of her voice, before turning her gaze, upon the TV screen.

Aman obeyed the instruction, and stood at the edge of the veranda (on his bare feet), holding the bamboo stick (with a TV antenna clamped to it), in his bare hands.

“Fix that – and come here, you fool,” came another shout, a bit louder this time. It did not feel right to Aman. Sister could have been nice to him, he thought, as he slowly roped the bamboo stick on to the pillar, and looked around. Surrounded by the mighty Himalayas (India), he wondered how the world beyond those mountains – where the TV signal was coming from – looked like?

“Fool, fool, April fool,” Mani’s words arrived at his ears, and made him mumble “dumbo,” – and immediately, he felt good, reciting the recently learnt word. “Dumbo, dumbo. Mani, dumbo,” chanted

Aman, gambolling into the TV room.

“Shut up, and rotate that stupid thing again,” said Mani.

Aman twitched his lips, in confusion. He stared at the TV screen – the picture quality was good, the sound even better – why on earth did he need to repeat the whole process?

“Why?” he finally muttered. On most days, he spent his words miserly.

“It is something else.”

“What is it?”

“Umm. Something is written here. P-T- V? It’s PTV.”

“What is PTV?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let’s watch it then,” said Aman and pulled the tightly braided hair of his sister. Little did they know that P stood for Pakistan, because if they did, they would have rotated the antenna straight away.

***

At the Quaid-e- Azam township of Lahore (Pakistan) – no one seemed to mind a conversation with India, as long as it happened through the TV signal. Today, one family (like most other families of the area) was waiting for Chitrahaar to start on Doordarshan, the national channel of India. One of the many benefits of residing in Lahore, was that you always found good quality TV signal from across the border. Chitrahaar, a song program, gave its viewers, something to look forward to, on dull Wednesday evenings. Since, it was preceded, as well as proceeded by the unbearably-painful news – the half an hour window of Bollywood songs, was like a breath of fresh air.

“Amir Khan,” exclaimed little Aisha, as soon as the first song was played. “I will marry Amir Khan,” she declared to Ammi and Abbu. Aisha, who was a bright kid otherwise, often surrendered her intelligence, when it came to Bollywood. And every time, the parents told her to stop dreaming too much, somehow, it did not feel right.

“But, Amir is married and–,” objected Ammi, out of habit.

“He can marry again.”

“But then, Shahrukh will be angry.”

“No, he loves Kajol.”

“But, what about Salman?”

“He is not marriage material…”

 

2

7 July, 1999

“Oh my god!” cried Mani, “Vikram Batra, our hero, is dead.”

In the last two months, conflict along the border of India-Pakistan, had heightened, so much that people were un-hesitantly using the term ‘war’. The dark times were back, it appeared. Even the remote villages, located at the foothills of Himalayas – though unaffected – were aware about the situation.

Aman did not know how to react, when Mani announced the bad news and began to weep. Who was Vikram Batra? He tried to remember, and failed. Since, it was being played on TV, he thought, it must have been some famous person and not a close relative.

Aman: Who? Who told you?

Mani: It’s on TV, you fool. They are killing our people, our heroes.

Aman: Aren’t we… doing the same to them?

Mani: What? Don’t you love your country? Just get lost and watch that stupid Shahid Afridi on – that PTV. Thank god, the antenna does not catch the signal anymore.

Glaring at his sister’s face, Aman sat on his little wooden chair, in silence, looking for the right word to respond with. Eventually, he settled with the idea of silence.

Mani: I am telling you. Our enemies are going to lose – the same way they lost in 1965 and 1971.

Aman: Did they?

Mani never minded the ignorance of her younger brother. My petrified brother is never going to become a soldier – she feared, and so did their parents.

***

At Aisha’s house, there was no Chitrahaar this week. It had only been PTV, the whole month; in fact, it had only been news. Once again, it did not feel right to Aisha. She had been told that Indians do not send their TV signals during the war times. Why? – she had asked repeatedly, and got the same response, every time: because, they are enemy.

Abbu: Ya Allah! Give some wisdom to these Indians.

Aisha: Ya Allah! Give some wisdom to these Indians.

Abbu: Kashmir they already took, what else they want?

Aisha: Kashmir they… What?

Abbu: Don’t copy.

Aisha: Don’t copy.

Ammi’s unexpected laughter put an end to the copying game.

Ammi: Do not worry. We will defeat them, like we did in 65.

Abbu: And?

Ammi: 71.

Abbu: Don’t forget 47.

Aisha: Did we?

Ammi and Abbu stared at her, in dismay. May Allah bless her with some sense and silence! – they prayed.

 

3

13 March, 2004

When fresh flowers blossomed in the spring of 2004, India-Pakistan relations suddenly seemed to get back on track. Cricket was given the job, what the politics had failed to do – bringing the two nations closer. Indian team was on Pakistan visit, after a span of many years. Each side desired to win and see the other one suffering a humiliating defeat, therefore, what started as a part of peace process, was now looking more like a war. And this was only first of the five matches.

Mani: Don’t move. It’s last over. They are not going with Ashish Nehra, are they? Damn!

Aman: Nehra? Now, we will lose, for sure.

Mani: You want us to lose, don’t you?

Aman: What?

Mani: I have seen you enjoying Afridi’s batting.

Aman: Aren’t we… umm, supposed to? Sshhh, last ball, six required.

The last ball took some time. The camera showed the faces of men and women praying for the victory. Perhaps, it was up to the gods to take a side and decide the victory. It was then Aman first noticed how beautiful Pakistani girls were, and he secretly hoped to see them smile. Which, did not happen.

Mani: Yay! We won.

Aman: Damn!

Mani: Told you!

***

Ammi: Please, don’t break the TV this time.

Abbu: I did not break it last time either.

Ammi: Yes, and I never stole anything from your wallet.

Abbu: What?

Ammi: Now eat something.

Abbu: Aisha dear, come here. Let’s have dinner.

Ammi: Stupid Indians. What happened to you Aisha dear? Why are you not eating anything?

Aisha: Damn! I hate India. They are enemy.

Abbu smirked, and Ammi brought more food for the growing kid.

 

4

10 November, 2015

Are you kidding me? These Facebook things – are they meant to be taken seriously? I thought you’ve grown up, but.. Anyway, your joining date is near, so focus on your first job.

Mani, who now lived in New York, sent the above message to Aman, on Facebook. Earlier, he had sent her a message informing that he might be going to Pakistan, as a part of Facebook Peace Campaign.

Aman kept staring at his laptop screen and wondered whether it was actually such a big deal. After thinking for a few hours, he concluded that it was not. Which meant, it was time to see the world beyond those mountains.

***

Aisha: Ammi, I will get married, whenever I will want to. Stop nagging.

Ammi: You are a silly girl. Grow up and get married. Rather, I would say, get married – that might help you grow up.

Aisha did not say a word. Instead, she went to her room and dialled a number. It was Zarin on the other side.

Zarin: I was about to call you.

Aisha: For what? What happened?

Zarin: Relax. I was hoping you could accompany me to an event.

Aisha: Sure. What event? Is it some Christian event, your boyfriend has invited you to?

Zarin: Mmm. Well, you got me there. So… you are coming, as you just promised.

Aisha: Damn!

 

5

27 March, 2016

Right before the commencements of Easter celebrations at Lahore’s Gulshan-e- Iqbal Park, a group of Indians had reached there to meet a group of like-minded Pakistanis. These people (mostly but not all young) did not believe in the boundaries of countries, nor in the idea of nation – for them, humanity came first. People from each side had reasonable curiosity about the ones from the other and hence, their interaction involved a number of questions and answers.

For most part of the conversation, Aman remained a quiet spectator. Finally, when he spoke, he asked when they were going to meet next. Everyone thought it was a good joke. Except Aman.

On the other side of the park, at the Easter celebrations, Aisha was not too pleased. When she saw Zarin getting busy with her Christian boyfriend, she decided to take a walk. It was then she walked past Aman. Neither noticed.

And the next minute… there was a blast!

Bodies flew all over the place. Screams resonated in the air, blood spilled on the ground. The terrorists had struck.

Both Aman and Aisha had dashed out of the park – as soon as the first blow was heard – and sat on the road, in utter fear. No one from the rescues operations was there to be seen. It was them, just the two of them.

For some reason – even Aisha could not understand – when she ran out of the park, she had grabbed Aman’s hand. Now, the two sat with clasped hands, taking heavy breaths. And then, contrary to all beliefs (or disbelief), in such a tragic moment, sitting next to a stranger, an enemy – somehow, it did feel right.

“Who are you?”

It was the first of the many questions they were going to ask each other.

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