How to celebrate when you have just got happily divorced; dumping down all photos taken together, throwing gifts and items with mutual ownership into trash and deleting all emails from your inbox which can help you move on, ....leaving no memory of shared moments at all.
While I have been busy doing all that for last couple of hours but my cursor stops at an unread email sent out to me dated 3rd of March 2002 from my then close friend Sameer Shah. We were in relationship through out our college life. I joined this bank which allowed me to come to Vancouver and have a better life or at least promised to. He being a textbook idealist joined an NGO for educating underprivileged children. Last I heard about him was when somebody told me he is running a primary school for Muslim slum kids somewhere in Gujarat.
Anyways I clicked on this old unread email and it was more of dismay over myself than fear or shock:
As you know, things are quite getting out of hands here. People are asking me to leave this place as I am not a Muslim. If you don’t find another email from me…All I want to say I always wanted to make it work and you were the most special in my life and always would be.
I sign in to networking sites and tried to look for him and find no signs of him on search engines as well. Numerous results but none looked like him. It is still day time in India, so I call our common friends from my old diary , most of the numbers are not valid. A few of them did tell that they are married now and have kids. But they did not hear from Sameer in a very long time.
I remained upset for few days and could hardly focus on my work. When my boss suggested to take sometime off saying you need time to recover from your divorce; I agreed and booked the flight to India but for an altogether different reason. I had to know, what happened to Sameer.
When I landed in Mumbai I was told Gujarat is now one of the fastest growing states of India. I booked the next available flight to Ahmadabad and first place I went to was Dariyapur Police Station. Police has a knack for identifying people who don’t belong to their area, first they were skeptical, thinking whether I am a reporter. But when I inquired about a school for Muslim slum kids, they said they have no idea what I am talking about.
I went to local news paper offices but I could hardly get any useful information.
So I decided to go on my own looking for his traces. I ask the autorikshaw driver to take me to nearest Masjid, the driver looked at me in amazement.
When I reach there I find people looking at me as if they have just seen an alien. I ask the nearby pawnshop owner whether he knows about any school run by an NGO. He says there are several but they are Madarssas. Some even smiles when I told them its run by a Hindu teacher called Sameer Shah.
I am just reaching a dead end of this road and so is my search for Sameer. My thoughts are interrupted by somebody pulling the corner of my shawl.
“Hello madam, would you like to have roasted corn", a small boy is requesting me with drooly eyes. I was hungry but having “roasted corn” was not my idea of lunch but I took 2 pieces from him and handed him over a Rs. 100 note as I did not have change. He shows his disappointment at that and says he too does not have change. But he knew that it could be his best sale of the day and did not want to loose the opportunity. “You can keep the change” I tell him but he refuses to and says “My mom would have change” and pauses and asks me to follow him as he thinks that I must be wondering if he would run away with the money. I follow him through a narrow lane and towards a building which is little away from the rest of the houses.
I stay outside ..he runs into the building and comes back with a woman who walks with a limp. She has clear scars on her face but kindness is not gone. She asks me where I am from while handing me over the money and I tell her my part of the story without any hope for breakthrough.
She pauses for a moment and says “this building where you are standing right now used to be his school and he was doing a great work in educating children here but he did not follow the advise of his well wishers and continued to teach here until the day he was killed in front of his students by mob”. I can hardly feel my legs but she holds me and helps me compose myself by offering water. For few minutes I could not say anything. The boy is puzzled at what made me go so out of control.
Out of courtesy I start asking her some questions any grateful guest will ask to her benevolent host.
"So whats your name?". ……"Aasma"…She answers.
"So what do u call him?"…"Makka" (which means corn in hindi)…I manage a smile and Makka smiles back at me.
"Where is his father?"………….."I don’t know"…she says without looking towards me.
"But you should know the whereabouts of your husband"…I ask her. Her answer is low but strong…"He as well as all my children were killed by mob."
I ask with a lump in my throat…."you say your husband and all your children are dead….how did Makka survive then?"
This time while answering I could feel the coldness in her voice. “Dear Madam…..Makka is the result of what mob did to me….and is now my only hope to stay alive.”
Makka could guess his Mom was talking something about him so he hugs her and says “See Ammi I sold 2 makkas to. Am I not your good son?”
“Yes you are", that’s what the mother says to its loving child. I bid them bye and leave the place with the answers I always needed.