5th Oct. 2008.
We shifted to Colaba, to a 4BHK apartment. Now each of us can have a room. Mom and Dad, Uncle, Grandma and me. Whenever Revati comes she can have my room and I will share Grandma’s.
15th Nov. 2008
Grandma insisted on Ganapati Homam and Navagraha Homam (Shanti Homam) to usher in good luck and peace in the household and entire family. “Now that the interior is also done and the house is set, we should perform the pooja without delay.”
Dad called for a pundit and the date was set for 26th November.
20th Nov. 2008
Revati has come with little Akshay. She has checked into my room. My room is full of books, fiction, non-fiction, notebooks for correction, magazines, answer sheets for correction. Journals and newspapers. The Semester exams are just over. I frantically try to arrange the room and put order.
“Raj will join later. Work pressure, you know. They don’t give him leave that easily. It’s like the whole company is on his shoulders. Till he comes we can be here together in your room and re-live our childhood.” Revati, my elder sister, was bubbling with joy.
Akshay is now two but he talks like an old man. So I have named him ‘The Wise Old Kid’ (TWOK)
25th Nov.2008 16.20 pm
Grandma was scouting the kitchen for the next day’s pooja. She was particular about things to be bought and used. She cleansed everything before using and washed her hands if she touched outside things, even when she touched the provision bag brought by the delivery boy. Her belief in cleanliness and purity was age old, steeped in culture.
She came out saying, “Akhila, you have to go to the market and get fresh ghee for the Homam in case we fall short of it, fresh ground coffee powder, at least ten strands of Mogra”….. and the list was long.
I got ready. Twok looked at me and said he wanted to go with me. He too got ready. “Shall I wear this cap and come? Or will I look like a clown with a pretty lady?” he asked and expected a reply from me but I simply made him wear the cap.
I took him along.
It was six in the evening. The market place was crowded and full of life. I bought all the things from particular shops. I wanted to do some window shopping and entertain Twok. The crowd was unmanageable. The hot and humid air was a bit suffocating too. The regular humdrum of the evening was suddenly broken. There was commotion and uproar. People abruptly started running helter-skelter. The shutters came down rapidly with a big thud. The streets were deserted….
Gunshots and more gunshots. Looked like a riot had broken out or else terrorists had struck.
“Terrorists have entered the place…..”
“TERRORISTS………” People screamed, running in utter confusion, over one another. There was stampede. The traffic came to a halt and more chaos followed. Then the enhanced warning sirens of the police vans boomed. I picked up Twok and ran for life. The carry bags and Twok were heavy. I managed to enter a small lane, an opening leading to the backyard of a house. I hid there with Twok in the darkness thrown in by the tall trees, literally shaking with fright.
“It’s Diwali again?” Twok asked.
“Sshhhh….” I placed a finger on his lips.
It was twilight and the gunshots died down. Heavy booted people ran up and down. Police patrolled the area and Section 144 was laid. I was terrified. ‘How will I reach home? All will be worried and be on pins and needles till they get any news about us.’ My thoughts were running riot. All communication lines were jammed. My cell became useless.
A man came to the backyard door from inside the house and switching on the light opened the door. He stood in the flood of light. He was in white pathani dress with a kufi skull cap.
Oh, my God!!
“Who’s there? Come out.” He said.
The light fell on me and Twok. I picked him up and trembled.
He looked at us for a minute or two.
“Come inside, Sister.” He said with a smile.
Then called inside “Ammi, look who is here. Please take of this sister and her child.”
“Oh God! Oh, no…. How will Grandma cleanse me?”
All Indians are my brothers and sisters…..… our daily pledge, more said as a duty, a routine……. but this stranger….this stranger has put it in practice.
An old woman came out with a comforting smile and called us inside.
“ Come in, it’s better to be safe inside the house, beta.” She said. I went inside their house. I placed the carry bags on their dining-cum-writing-cum-whatever table. It had Ghee for the morrow’s Homam God! Grandma will bathe in the Ganges!
“Sit down child,” she told me lovingly. “Don’t get scared. Relax. My daughter Rehanna must be of your age. Her son is also as much as this child. What is your name son? He must be hungry. I’ll see what I can give him.”
I swallowed hard unable to say anything. But Twok seemed to enjoy the affinity. He went to her and the old lady pampered him with badam milk, toast and Sheera.
“Javed, come here. It’s your duty to reach this lady and her son safely at their door step.”
“Maybe after 11.30 I can try. By then some normalcy will be restored. I will see if I can get a taxi. If not I will get my friend’s car.”
“Thank you Aunty, thank you so much.” I said almost choking with emotion.
My Mom and Grandma began to weep as they saw me and Twok. The Rudraksha dropped from Grandma’s hand and she came wobbling to me, “God has heard my prayers. He has sent you both alive to me.”
“Thank God you both are safe.” they all howled.
“We were all anxious, nervously anxious, anticipating the worst, and praying; Mom was crying non-stop; we were thinking of going to the police station…. my angel, how hungry you will be. Nobody has eaten. We are shattered.” cried Revati.
Twok tumbled out of my arms and ran to her. Revati picked him up and smothered him with kisses, crying and laughing together.
“I am not hungry. Ammi gave me milk and toast and Tsheera.” Twok said charmingly.
“Shiva, Shiva…..” Grandma wobbled to the Altar.
“What happened? Tell….. Akhila…… tell.”
I told everything in bits and pieces. Everyone was aghast. Oh God, Oh my God, Oh, dear was all they could say.
‘To have been sheltered and eaten in a Muslim house!’
What will Dad say? Will his great talks on secularism work now? He had always been an upholder of secularism and towed the line of great thinkers like Baruch Spinoza and Denis Diderot even the philosophy of freethinkers like Robert Ingersoll. Or will Uncle’s ‘Blood is religion’ work?
“To be a good human being in itself is a religion.” said Dad. “Such acts of kindness and bits of good deeds when put together will have the capacity to overpower the world…..if only people can understand.”
Uncle who was silent all the while said softly, “Actually there’s good in everyone. All are that way virtuous beings, only thing is that we are on a human journey.”
Grandma wobbled back and said. “Thank God, my children are safe at the end of the day. God bless them who sheltered our children. Tomorrow’s Shanti Homam we will dedicate for National peace.”
A hush fell. There was silence and it signified peace.