Darkness at Noon

  • Dr. Abid Ahmad
  • Publish Date: Jun 22 2016 6:51PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Jun 22 2016 6:51PM
Darkness at Noon

 

 
Pami was sweating profusely. She greeted Poshikuj while entering the room. Poshikuj responded, “God bless you. May you prosper million times. How did you come in so heavy a snowfall?” Pami was startled but Arundhati winked to her. She got the message and sat down.
 
Poshikuj was 75 years old. Her hair was as white as snow and her whole face was full of wrinkles. She looked like a lady who had come down from the jungle. She was wearing just the inner linen of pheran. Her hair was disheveled around her head like a net. Poshikuj, the tiger lady, was in her last throes and was confined to the four-walls of a single room. Arundhati got a glass of water and handed it over to Pami.
 
“Good God! What is this? You are giving her cold water to drink. She may catch cold...Something is wrong with these times. God knows what else do we have to see...Hey, just stand up and prepare a Samovar of Mughal tea (Kehwa). There is deeply pounded maize flour on the shelf in the store room. Get it to Arundhati and she will prepare bread of the maize flour... Hey, what are you staring at like that on my face? The fire in my Kangri has gone out. Arundhati, you please go upstairs. On the gable there lies the apple wood coal.
 
They flare up with a tiny spark. Go and get it and give warm Kangri to all. I am shivering with cold. Give me a hot Kangri to warm up, please… Hey, may I perish for you. Why do you look so low for? Why don't you talk? You have got lost in this big three-storey house. Go and sit upstairs. Warm felt is laid there and paper is pasted on window panes. Warm yourselves up there. Kick this sloth out.”
 
Poshikuj had pulled up the courage after the death of her husband. She got a single-storey house constructed on the banks of a canal. Her only son was appointed as a teacher. As she could not make do with just the salary of her son, she also took a piece of land on rent and grew rice on it. She also maintained a fruit orchard over the ridge. She would do everything on her own – checking the supply of water in the tilled land, spreading the manure over it, etc. Somnath would return home from his school and find his mother waiting for him in the courtyard. He had to foot a long distance of six miles. However, their lot had improved much now. She would do the chores like a lioness. 
One corner of the room had been converted into kitchen – store, buckets, bowels and the jars for spices – these were the markers of the portion devoted to kitchen. The burning stove would add to the simmering heat and the resultant unease of all. The table fan would spread only hot air and make even breathing difficult. Poshikuj woke up again: “Hey, I have not washed my face yet. God knows why I woke up late today.” 
 
Normally, she would wake up very early in the morning, wash her face at the small fountain in her lawn and sincerely pray for the whole world: “God, bless all – both Hindus and Muslims alike. Also bless my own progeny. My benevolent God, only You exist and only You will exist."
 
“Arundhati! Did you get the Kangri? Sule Kak's hearth might be still burning? Go and get a fire full of Kangri from there…See, icicles are hanging from the rooftop. This frozen water will not break even with a stone…Why are you all so silent, I am not used to it. I am again feeling cold… Hey Arundhati, get my long apron from my wooden trunk upstairs. But don't mess up things. My bridal dress is also there and my muslin apron is also there. But get my long apron only… My God, may I die for you. You must be feeling frozen after husking the rice. What's wrong with these times?...What is this noise coming from outside?”
 
“These are buses and matadors plying.”
 
"You idiot. We live on a foothill. The road is far away from here. The noise of buses cannot reach here. See, you could not understand. It must be the wind blowing. Behram Gali is opened again. It may snow again. I am afraid the rooftops may break-off. The snowfall has wreaked havoc with the plants on the ridge. The plants we had grown in this spring have broken off. Branches of apple trees have fallen on ground. God, be kind to all... Arundhati, did you feed the cattle?" 
 
“Granny, we don't have any cattle now. We let them all go.”
 
“Have you gone nuts. See, they are wailing in the shed. Stand up and set off on the job. Mix husk and oil-cake…First put the manger before them and then feed them the fresh grass from the large orchard. Then see how much milk they give… What should I say! I feel as if I am burning from within. Give me a glass of lassi. I may be relieved of the cold outside and the heat inside.”
Somnath entered the room panting and fell off. The landlord had pestered him a lot. This senile man keeps harping day and night to quit the room. He had checked many areas. He could find residential quarters but he was unable to manage so much of money. In fact, he would get confused while listening to the questions of the landlords: “How many members are there in your family? Do you have a lot of luggage? Are you having any sick person with you?” He could answer all questions except the last one on which he would stammer.
“You must be tired… Snow is stuck to you all over. Go and shake this off in the washroom… Arundhati will get tea for you…Honey, someone is calling from backside. I think it's Azeez Bhat, the fish-seller. May God help him marry off all his four daughters. He first visits our courtyard with his fish;
 
“Poshikuj, I have got a big catch for you today; whole two kilograms... go and get a big willow tray. Cook it with red radish grown on the ridge-side... I swear your mouth will sweeten after eating the fish.” … Stand up, honey. We are sick of taking Dal continuously. Go and give the big willow basket to him… Arundhati, you go and get the fish washed from the fountain. I'll myself cook the fish today. I'll enter the kitchen after long. Dry wood is hanging from the gable. May I die for you, go and pull it down carefully.”
 
She was reminded of her old house's gable. The previous night she had entered the house of her husband. The spring breeze was blowing in the courtyard. Her husband was looking at her from the opening in the gable. She felt shy and straightaway rushed towards the riverside. 
 
Somnath was brought up by his mother like a cup of milk. He was fond of his mother. He thought if he could manage a good room on rent, she might live longer for a year or so. He would wake up in the morning and pour a few buckets of water over himself. His income was also not much. How could he manage everything with his salary. Rent of the room, study of the children, expenditure on home and other family expenses – he had to manage all this with his meager salary. However, he would always think of getting a decent accommodation for his mother. Suddenly, Poshikuj screamed out: “My Kangri has got upturned!” She started picking live embers with her palms but could find nothing. All of a sudden, she tried to stand up but collapsed.
 
Pami, who was lost in watching her, instantly came forward to hold her. Somnath and Arundhati lifted Poshikuj up and laid her on bed. They fed her a spoonful of water. She became conscious: “Hey, night has set in… Light the candle. Throw the snow off the rooftop tonight only.” 
 
Somnath was holding back his tears with difficulty. Arundhati felt like crying loud but she knew that this was not their own house. They will be thrown out in the dead of the night only. She was dumbstruck. 
 
Suddenly, there was lightning and then total darkness. Everything was covered in the pitch dark of the night. The breath of Poshikuj was ebbing and the hearts of her children were pounding with writhing pain.

(Translated from the Kashmiri by Dr Abid Ahmad who has compiled and edited a special number of Sheeraza (JK Cultural Academy’s official journal) on him in Kashmiri)