At the waiting lounge of Mumbai Airport, Karuna carefully looks at the business program that was being telecast by one of the popular English channels. The news reader looks familiar to her. A face she could not forget in years to come. Karuna waited for the name to get flashed on the screen. And yes as she had rightly thought, it was Shazia. Friends from a time when both of them were little girls. And today Shazia was the top management face of an investment bank.
It was a chilling winter night when Ali, Shazia’s father along with Huma and her little brother Feroze were standing and looking helplessly at Mrs Kumar. Mr Kumar had recently got transferred to Kashmir. This was their first winter experience since before this destination they had never been to a cold place ever. As expected Mrs Kumar was not prepared for the harsh winters of Kashmir.
Ali was a domestic help given to the Kumars . And on that day Mrs Kumar was struggling to warm up the living area by lighting up the “bukhari”. But in her endeavor she dropped some cinders on the woolen carpet. In a flick of a second the carpet caught fire and before it could spread further Ali with his bare hands saved the household from burning down.
Well this was not the only episode. On another day Mrs Kumar had stepped out for some work and left Karuna and Karthik at home. Excited that their mother was away, the sibling rushed up to the attic for some fun. Unmindful as they both rushed up the stairs Karthik erroneously stepped on a rusted piece of iron and injured and infected himself. Ali heard Karthik’s shrieking cry for help and rushed up. As a gnood Samaritan he lifted Karthik up and sprinted to the nearest hospital for first aid.
Ali never introduced his kids to Karthik and Karuna. Ali thought that how would he allow his kids the children of the servant to play with the masters children.
But for how long could he keep the kids away. They would sooner or later become friends and play together.
Ali was oblivion to the fact that the kids had already found a connect and would meet every day in the morning hours at a secret hideout. They assembled at the tick of the clock and would feel liberated from their parents. They played to their hearts out and there was no one to scold and rebuff them.
Friends in the making
Shazia and Huma had introduced Karthik and Karuna to many popular indoor games. Karuna and Karthik had never heard of these games in the plains. Games they played the most were dark room, aakus baakus (an indigenous version of akkad bakkad) and haar (a game of small molluskan seashell), carom board, chess and other games of pretension. After the morning chores of breakfast and studies Karuna and Karthnik would tip toe quietly and sneak into the secret hideout. Shazia and Huma would first lend their hands to their mother for the domestic chores and then quietly step out. While Feroze was the youngest he would lug along with one of his sisters and reach the destination for fun.
The secret hideout of the kids was an outhouse, well within the range of the Kumar’s. According to Ali, the house where the Kumar’s lived was owned by a carpet dealer who had moved out of Kashmir for business opportunities. The house was some fifty years old. The outhouse was a store house for the carpet dealer and parked the oldest belongings of the carper dealer. Ali was also the housekeeper for the carpet dealer’s property.
The outhouse was two storied but the ground floor would always remain locked. The room on the top was unlocked. The children would unapologetically barge into the first floor room and get started. The room was dimly lit. It had two rectangular windows to the world outside. The wooden window frame was done up with stained glass panes. They blocked most of the natural light from entering into the room. The room was a haven of all thing old, tattered, ancient. The walls were last distempered when the carpenter must have been born. The walls were used and abused by the pegs and the iron nails on it. Leaning on to the wall were old, ragged carpets, namda’s, floorings, etc. On the other side of the wall was an old rusted cycle, a wooden table, broken kerosene lamp, pile of books, old cricket bat and ball, worn out paper machie stuff, old copper utensils, broken household items and much more. Besides all of this there were other unused, unimportant, unwanted belongings.
Kids had a complete calendar planned out for the activities and the games played by them in the outhouse. Since the winter days in Kashmir are very short they would always prefer the morning slot. The calendar had each day allotted for chess, carom, quiz, drawing, pretending games and a lot of other things. The schedule for all the activities was designed and managed by Shazia and Karuna since they were the eldest. They both would boss around and be the mother hen to all the little ones. On most of the days they would park their board games in their secret hideout. But for many other activities like drawing, they would secretly get their colors and books into the room. Once they wound up they would secretly take the things back home with them.
For the kids the most captivating time in the room would be discovering the room itself. The many untold things that had been left unattended for so many years had a story to say. Both Shazia and Karuna along with Feroze would be the ones always excited to embark upon this journey of “Room Discovery”. Shazia would pretend to hold a fake camera and shoot Karuna and Feroze discovering the abandoned articles in the room. And Karuna would act as if she was some discoverer or a historian and would give her commentaries on the articles while pretending to be recorded by Shazia’s fake camera. Life was completely fun and enjoyment.
While all this was happening right under the nose of the parents, Ali and Mrs Kumar always thought that the kids would be doing what they were supposed to do: Little Feroze would helping his uncle at the farms with the cattle, Huma helping her mother in cleaning the utensils, Shazia sweeping and mopping the house, Karuna and Karthik completing their winter homework.
The final fallout
On one of their escapades at the outhouse, Shazia thought of surprising her friends. She thought of treating her friends with some Kashmiri snacks. Her mother cooked some Kashmiri snacks. She saved some of the snacks for her friends and hid them under her “pheran”. No sooner did she step out that she realized that they would get cold by the time her friends arrived. Prudently she carried a “kangri” along. The hot “kangri” would help to keep the snack warm. Careful that her little siblings would burn themselves, she held the hot “kangri” and handed over the snacks to Huma. All three of them cat walked to the outhouse. They went up the stairs trying to balance the hot “kangri” and the snacks under the woolen “pheran”.
As soon as they reached the room, Shanzia quickly kept the hot “kangri” over the table and the snacks next to it”. Soon they heard the cracking of the wooden staircase and saw Karuna and Karthik coming. Frisky they closed the door and all were seated comfortably inside the dusty, cozy room. In their excitement to surprise their friends from the plains Shazia, Huma and Feroze all got up and ran to the table to fetch the snack and the “kangri “. And in their display of enthusiasm, they all banged into each other and fell down. Shazia stood up and apologized and went back to her place. She announced that we will unravel a surprise to the friends in a little while. Till then they could all play a game of carom. Everyone nodded since no one could defy the eldest sister.
For a long time they were busy playing. And never noticed that in their burst of excitement the hot ”kangri” and fallen down on the table. And the burning hot embers had been all around. The embers had stared to burn the stinky old bolsters. Some of it had fallen on to the books on the table and and put the books on fire. And some of the hot burning coal was on the old, faded, rolled curtains. Soon that corner of the room was in fire. The fire was significant enough for the kids to notice. The children stared to panic and looked blank at each other’s face. They were perspiring with heat and fear. They thought it was good to step out of the room and look for water to extinguish the fire. But before they could do anything Mrs Kumar and Ali had heard the commotion and had rushed to the venue. Of course they were baffled to see all the children there. But their immediate objective was to extinguish the fire. Mrs Kumar and Ali both ran to fetch water from the bathrooms in bucket and tried their best to stop the fire. Ali arranged to get a big bucket and was able to control the damage faster. In all this kids were meekly standing at one corner and sobbing.
Ali was very cross with his kids. He was most upset with Shazia, whom he thought was the most sensible. He was unmindful of everyone around and whacked his kids. He plucked a nettle weed and hit the three with it. He continued to abuse Shazia for her irresponsible behavior. Shazia, Huma and Feroze could not stop crying and continued to apologize for their behavior. Ali’s wife stepped ahead to sheath her daughter.
Mrs Kumar also was very cross with the children. She barred them from watching TV. They were not to get any story books and gifts for as long as a week. But what was more upsetting for Mrs Kumar was the way Ali was treating and dealing with his daughters. There was a lot of bitterness which was visible to an outsider Mrs Kumar. Upon enquiry from Ali’s wife Mrs Kumar acquired that Ali did not like his girls stepping out of the house. He just wanted them to be involved and busy with the household chores. They were not even sent to a school since he thought that it was a waste of time and money. The girls were not permitted to step out of the house, they could never make friends. Ali’s wife did not agree with her husband’s ideology but she could not oppose him or raise her voice. Mrs Kumar understood the scenario. She felt sorry for the girls. She wanted to help Shazia and Huma. Mrs Kumar had a plan.
Everyday evening she would call Shazia and Huma over to her place for two hours. She would dedicate those hours teaching them Maths, English and Science. Girls loved it. They looked forward to the session. This practice continued for all three months of holidays. Once the holidays were over Mrs Kumar enrolled them to a school close to the house. But this happened after much cajoling and coaxing by Mr Kumar and Mrs Kumar. The best gift that Mrs Kumar could ever give to Shazia and Huma was education.
Avanti Sopory © nostalgia 2013