A Mother’s Prayer It calmed her turmoil.

“Ayesha, are you at home?” he asked in a tone that conveyed too much of awe. “Yes, what happened?”

“Switch on the television. Some serious blast has ripped some compartments in the Churchgate Virar route. It says it has blasted somewhere in Jogeshwari station.”

Published in Woman’s Era print magazine. Click to subscribe.

It was 11th July 2006. That time of the year when rains are at its zenith in Mumbai. Downpours were always welcome as a respite from the sultry heat of this cosmopolitan city but, when things get torrential, it turns frightful.

It was around 6.30 in the evening. I paced up and down clouded with some sort of unwarranted worry. Mariam had not reached home yet. Something ominous in the air implied that bad news was in store. The rains had diminished for three hours and delay due to water logging could be ruled out. She generally boarded the slow train from Churchgate which was scheduled to reach Mahim by 4.30. A one-kilometre walk and she was usually home by 5pm. However, there was no sign of her today. I assumed that her phone might have run out of battery because it kept saying ‘switched off’. Stupid girl, how many times have I told her to keep her phone fully charged before leaving for college?

“Shabnam’s daughter Rizwana always carries her charger. It seems she charges it whenever she is in the ladies’ common room or library. Why can’t you do the same?” I had many a times chided her.

I walked into her room, having nothing much to do other than getting tense. Mariam’s snap was kept there on the table framed in gold. I looked at it fondly.

Defying all the elders in both the families, Anwar and I had decided that we would have only one child, irrespective of whether our first prodigy was a male or a female. Both of us had gone through too much of adversities in our respective families because they were huge and the income was insufficient to cater to the needs of all the children.

My father would not allow me to study beyond 10th standard. Even if he had wished to he could not have done so, with the serious financial constraints in the house.

I was one among eight children of which five were boys. It was the general opinion in our household that the girl had to anyway be confined to the kitchen, why educate her? Then my granny was of the view that girls lose their head once they become over- educated and start disrespecting elders.

 

Anwar had studied till 12th standard. Not that his family had as serious financial issues as mine, but he had to step into his father’s shoes of looking after his textile business, which was doing quite fine; helping them make ends meet conveniently. Being the eldest son, with five younger siblings, he took it upon himself to relieve his ailing father from this running around.

Our dreams of pursuing graduation and further studies were nurtured by us through our daughter. Mariam was raised like a queen. Needless to say she was the apple of our eye.

I cleaned the dust off her photo frame and looked at my daughter affection­ately. My eyes became blurred at the thought that she was gone from the morning but had not returned home till now.

 

All of a sudden my phone rang. ‘Inshallah, this girl has finally called.’ I picked up the phone only to realise that it was Anwar calling from Pune.

“Ayesha, are you at home?” he asked in a tone that conveyed too much of awe.

“Yes, what happened?”

“Switch on the television. Some serious blast has ripped some compartments in the Churchgate-Virar route. It says it has blasted somewhere in Jogeshwari station.”

My heart missed several beats as I moved towards the television, while my mind got clogged with fear. Anwar still on the line I tried surfing the channel. The remote control refused to comply with my commands because my fingers had become numb. ‘Chruchgate-Virar!’ the route that Mariam travelled every day.

Anwar’s strong voice jolted me, “Mariam is home, right? This morning you said she won’t be attending college for a couple of days due to a viral fever. All things happen for good, elders say. Her indisposed health has kept her pinned to the house. Otherwise she generally takes this route.” I thought Anwar sounded a little selfish, forgetting that if things were happening for the good why were people perishing at the bomb blast site?

That wasn’t the topic of contention now. The problem was I had informed Anwar that Mariam would be home for two days, since she was sick. That is what she had decided initially, but a couple of frenzied phone calls today and she left in the morning, citing some important submission in college.

Today, on a disastrous day like this, she hadn’t returned home. How was I going to tell my husband that in spite of having fever she has gone to her college?

“Yes she is home, sleeping in her room I think,” I repulsively blurted out a blatant lie. That was the only solution I could find right then to handle the situation.

“All right, be careful. Do not venture out for a couple of days more, inform Mariam too not to attend college. There is a high probability that communal riots may break but Miscreants might make this situation conducive for them to create panic. Be very careful. I will somehow try to reach there on Sunday.” Anwar hung up, satisfied that his small family was safe. He was a doting husband and father.

In spite of the cold weather fresh beads of sweat began pouring from my forehead. Please forgive me for uttering a lie right now, properly but I could find no other way to confront this situation. If I inform Anwar that Mariam is not at home he would be panic stricken and also get cross with me for having given her permission to leave home with fever just subsiding.

I wiped my face with the dupatta. An unknown fear gripped me. ’What if Mariam had boarded the ill- fated train?’

The television was blaring. I frantically turned my attention to it and tried to find out if Mariam was amongst the injured or those who the perished. The screen showed that the situation was far more worse than being described as chaotic. It was flashing some helpline numbers, but I genuinely had no clue as to what I should be doing now. Exhausted to the core, I slumped on to the bed and with my face dug into my cupped palms, I cried till I could cry no more. I must have walked to and fro between the room and the balcony nearly a hundred times. The physical exertion had left me with little energy. It was almost 9 pm and no calls from Mariam.

However, I realised to my horror that her phone was ringing now, but my calls and several messages drew a blank response. Advanced technology only provided supplementary fuel to my woes because they enabled me to know that she had been viewing my messages and was deliberately choosing not to reply.

Was it she or someone else who was viewing the message? A fresh fear attacked my mind. When a mother’s mind encroaches upon imagining about some misfortune that must have befallen her child, then no one can clip its wings. The mind would wander weirdly without any reins to stop them, envisaging all the worst things that could happen.

I had never taken any decision in my life without consulting Anwar and like a fool I had myself shut that window, by lying to him. Now what was I supposed to do? How on Earth am I going to find out if at all Mariam was in that ill-fated train and if so was she alive or dead and if not where was she?

It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rain water had puddled under the lamp post. A breeze ruffled the mango tree in the courtyard and a few twigs fell and broke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back….

 

I was elated that Mariam had finally reached home. I opened the door but found no one there. As I turned to close the door assuming that I had been only hallucinating about having heard a knock, a piece of white sheet kept in the bolt caught my attention.

It was a letter in Mariam’s handwriting. Did this mean that Mariam had come and placed it in the door and had left without even meeting me? But why would she do that? The answer to my query was in the letter. I read it over and over again.

“Ammi Jaan,

“Let me first seek your earnest pardon for my act, which I must term as imprudent. Sorry to have kept you in the dark all this while. I know even if I had broached this subject, both you and Abba Jaan would have never agreed to this.

“Raman, a boy in my batch and I have been deeply in love for three years. Given to know the fact that he is a chaste Hindu boy, I know you both would have never agreed to me tying the knot with him.

“Similar situation also prevails in his house. His family members somehow learnt about our affair yesterday. All mayhem broke out. His parents think it is some sort of obsession that has forced their intelligent son to fall in love with a girl whom they could never accept as their daughter-in- law.

‘There comes a time in one’s life when you wonder how these things ever happened to you. Raman and I are so deeply in love that we tended to overlook the flip side of it. We deliberately did not contemplate on those aspects that made us poles apart. The incompatibility of our religion, the vast gap in our financial background, to name a few. He comes from an extremely affluent business family with a yearly turnover running into crores.

“When in love, the most sinful things become sweetest and the most wrongful deeds pleasurable. We have decided to go our way to some other city and get bonded in marital bliss.

“Abba Jaan has been contemplating on getting me married off to his friend’s son Aseem. He is a nice guy, no doubt, but my heart is already with Raman. I just can’t think of a life without him.

“I can only assure you that Raman is an extremely lovable person and will never ditch me. Please bless me for a happy married life. I know it is going to be a nerculean task convincing Abba, but you can definitely handle this. At least for my sake.

“Will contact you once the wedding formalities are done with. Before that, getting in touch would only mean inviting trouble for both of us. Raman too will be doing the same.

“By the way I am sure you must have heard about the bomb blast in the Churchgate-Virar train, I missed that ill-fated train today because Raman and I were planning how to go about with our plan.

“I feel stopping me from boarding that train, Allah has given me his consent to proceed with what I think is right.

“Ammi do not go out alone till Abba returns. There is widespread news that communal riots may be triggered. I would have reached very far before the situation gets chaotic here. You take care.

“Lots of love,

“Mariam.”

I slumped on the sofa with a thud.

I could only see everyone pointing fingers at me. “You could not keep a tab of what your only daughter was doing? Look, we have raised so many children, but not one of them took even the smallest decision of life without consulting us,” Anwar’s mother would leave no stone unturned to hurt me with felonious words.

I expected more trouble from my mother. She had more liberty than my mother-in-law to literally stab me with her stinging words. My sister in laws my co-sisters! Oh goodness. Not a single soul would spare me. Many of them had advised me not to restrict myself with one child. This would be a golden opportunity for them to remind me of their advice in the most insensitive manner possible.

No one among my kith and kin would buy the story that I was ignorant of this affair. Knowing well about the kind of rapport we mother daughter shared, this would seem far from being believable. Even which ever divine name I vouched, they are only going to reprimand me.

Anwar would definitely not agree to my sob story, because I had already made a blunder, lying to him that Mariam was home today.

“Your daughter eloped with a Hindu boy, I heard, hmmmm!” relatives would roll their eyes in mock pity. “Had advised you not to give her so much of liberty and not to put her in a posh South Mumbai college. Now pay for it,” my sister would seize this opportunity to vent her pent up frustration.

Mariam had been doing very well academi­cally compared to her own son Nawaz who was a vagabond and failure in life. She had been jealous to the core when Mariam had secured admission in this college. I was destined to be a mute audience to all this. Falling in love is not a sin, but having left me in the lurch and gone away is deplorable. What was I going to tell Anwar?

Honestly speaking, Mariam had never given me a chance to even have the slightest inkling about her affair. Even today she showed me some journals and earnestly requested that they had to be submitted by evening.

I painfully realised now that she had taken advantage of my lack of knowledge about these things. To me a journal was a divine book that was very important for my daughter’s education. She had used it as a tool to run away from home. Unscrupulous indeed.

A mother’s heart is too soft to nurture vengeance. Even during this harrowing time I silently prayed that my daughter should remain happy and stay blessed with whomever she chose to lead her life.

On an instinct I switched on the television. A mother was frantically seen searching for her child at the site of the bomb blast, as she wailed inconsolably. Yet another one was holding the blood-stained corpse of her daughter whispering sweet nothings into her ears as if things were audible to her. There were limbs and torsos strewn, people madly rushing to find out which limb and torso had been joined before this catastrophe. Only wailings were heard as desperate kith and kin ran helter skelter to locate their dear ones. The rains that had again started pouring, added to their woes.

The very sight of it made my head spin. For a moment I was grateful though I had called Anwar as selfish before a while for the same act. After all, Mariam has only gone in search of a bright future with a person she loves. Some day, I might be able to meet her, but what about these mothers who will carry this sorrow with them to the graves. I was aware that confronting Anwar and others in the family would be a difficult task, but my determination stood fortified. I would face all adversities for my daughter. The whole city was burning with vengeance and, in the name of avenging their kith and kin’s death, people were trying to trigger communal disharmony. These two young souls, belonging to two different religions, had united in love. Let this be an encouraging lesson to all those who were displaying so much of animosity. Let their love spread humanity everywhere.

With a satisfied feeling of tranquility I put my head on the pillow and once again prayed thankfully.

There is strength in a mother’s prayers.

“Raman, a boy in my batch and I have been deeply in love for three years. Given to know the fact that he is a chaste Hindu boy, I know you both would have never agreed to me tying the knot with him.

 By Sudha Viswanath

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