By Kamayani Kumar
I ran back, back to my home. Breaking my hand free from Abbu’s pincer like grip was not easy. The hand was still smarting from pain. I could hear him shout seething with wrath, hurling abuses but they were fading so was the ache of my body which he had hit with abandon, an almost inhuman frenzy.
I knew where that frenzy stemmed from, child though I was. In the last few weeks I had learnt enough of the world and its evil ways to know why my Abbu from a genial man had become a raving animal. His frenzy came from his hurt manhood, his anger… not from his understanding of my Ammi’s grief.
Ammi had been violated; her pristine chaste body had been trespassed upon by men while my father watched in horror. He had been incapable of resisting the mob, largely constituting of my Sikh ‘uncles’ from the neighbourhood. Men who would fling me high into the air until I would scream with joy and who until a few days ago would bow their heads in courtesy to my Ammi now pried open her clothes, ripping them apart as they devoured her. I saw it, witness to an act of which I had little knowledge of but which I would never be able to erase from my psyche – never.
Ammi, my beautiful Ammi, whose fragrant presence was my most cherished memory, was being trampled upon and I stood a mute witness. After they had had their ‘fill’, ‘they’ left ‘us’. Rooted in a death like stupor, I watched my Ammi gather her torn ‘self’. Not a tear came from her eyes, nor a sound from her mangled lips. I looked towards Abbu but he was slumped on the floor with a vacant look in his eyes trying to belie the harrowing vision. Ammi looked towards Abbu and then moved into the other room. The night ended but the darkness did not. Abbu would not speak to Ammi, would not go close to her. I could not understand him, Ammi needed his care but he would shudder at her shadow recoiling with repulsion. Abbu started packing our belongings.
We had a huge house with a verandah that was full of light and air. The swing where Ammi used to tell me countless stories of djinns, farishtaas, and shaitaan now creaked ceaselessly as if complaining of the accusing silence, silence which spoke with a persistent drone. On this swing, I would sit with my head in Ammi’s lap and my small hand kneading her tender tummy. This was my most sacred moment, I used to love touching her soft body and while doing it, I would forget all my worries. Yes, I too had worries, loads of them. Masterji’s cane in school, red ribbon that Balvinder had and I pined for, Kamla’s dimples that I wanted, fretting for the anna’s sugarcane juice, nagging for permission to go till the village fair….oh! I had so many worries. They all would be put to rest amidst Ammi’s caresses.
I would hear the adult’s banter about the nation, about Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim mohallas, about Bapu and Jinnah. It would be of no sense to me. I would just loiter around as Ammi poured endless glass of sweet sherbet to men as they talked, their voices sometimes rising dangerously. Kartar chacha would be there. He was also there that day…Kirpal chacha with his twang (kultarr and I would mimic his voice and break into peals of laughter), Rizwan mamu, sometimes Harinder chachi would also come. They would talk till dusk and gorging on glasses of sherbet and siphoned off pieces of pickled mango I would gradually fall asleep on the swing. Half asleep I would feel the warm embrace of Abbu, as he would carry me into the other room and put me close to Ammi, who would rock me into deep sleep.
But that was of some other time. My friends Kultar (his pitaji had also been in the mob of marauders), Lajjo, Veeran no longer came to play with me. Countless evening hours we had played chupan chupai tirelessly, make believe games…Now also we were playing chupan chupai and make-believe but of a different contour…of a kind which I had never imagined even existed.
Abbu wanted us to leave home. Leave for Pakistan – the land of ‘pure believers’. But how could I go? Ammi was not going. Abbu was leaving her behind. He said she was no longer ‘pak’ – ‘chaste’, she was tainted. When I would ask what is tainted, he would just go quiet. After a while he would say, in Pakistan we would get a new nation, a new home, new friends, and a new ‘Ammi’ a ‘pakzadi’ Ammi…
Once when I was four years old I had been playing with my favourite doll, the one brought by my ‘videsh wale chahchajaan’. It was my most cherished possession. Hours would pass as I would comb its golden tresses, make it sit upright and watch with awe as its beautiful blue eyes opened and then the very next minute I would put it down to see its eyes close. It was for me no less than a miracle. Days would pass in a bliss braiding its hair, lisping songs to it, pestering Ammi to make new shining clothes for it. One day Lajjo came to play with me. I flaunted my doll; she clamoured to ‘play’ with it. I readily agreed. The next few days were great fun as I and Lajjo played with the doll. But one day Lajjo brought some henna with her and applied the paste all over the doll. She said it would make the doll look prettier. I did not think so. Try as I might, I could not remove the orange colour that now smeared the doll. I cried and cried, in anger I threw away the doll and stamped my foot over it. Lajjo ran away after she had witnessed my anger, afraid that I would have hit her. I might as well have, if Ammi had not restrained me.
Ammi saw me crying relentlessly. She too was sad. I thought she would cajole me, soothe me down. But Ammi did not do so; she was upset with me, instead. She picked up the doll, removed the grime from her face, washed it clean and mended its punctured arm. I saw this from the swing and I realized that Ammi was angry because I had desecrated the doll. It was still mine to possess and mine to love. It may not be as pretty as before but it was ‘mine’. I understood.
Abbu didn’t. He discarded my Ammi like a withered plaything. I won’t. I ran and ran with all my might to go back to my abandoned haveli.
Ammi was there sitting on the floor senseless with grief which shed no tears, which had no voice. Even in her acute pain, she looked dignified to the core. I took her hand in my soft grip and lulled her to sleep, a sleep that was haunted by horror. Ammi held on to me with brute force but I did not complain. My Ammi was in pain she needed me.
The night ended. Ammi slowly started piecing together our lives. We left Amritsar. We took nothing of my Abbu’s property, not even his name. Ammi took to teaching and slowly we created our island in the midst of an inhumane world. When I look back I am glad I did not abandon my Ammi. Years have passed; my Ammi is no more. The men who violated her would often revisit her, hound her in her nightmares. They raped her body; my Abbu raped her of her peace. I am still looking for an answer and wondering who her worst offender was.
Dr. Kamayani Kumar obtained her Ph.D. at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, on Partition narratives. She has also worked extensively on the cinema of Ritwik Ghatak. Currently, she is looking at how artists (since 1947 till date) from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are negotiating discourses on Partition through paintings, video art, graphic narratives, cyclorama, embroidery, and advertisements, to name just a few modes of representation. She is co editing a book on child/hood and trauma. Her area of interest includes Partition Studies, Childhood Study, Film Studies, Trauma Studies, Visual narratives of Partition. She is an Assistant Professor, Department of English, Aryabhatta College, University of Delhi, Delhi, India.
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