“I’m going.” Umar said without looking at anyone. Without looking he could see the tear drops welling in the eyes of his wife and the relatives who had come to his home either that morning or the previous evening.
His wife had been forcing him to take at least one more person along with him. He was going for the first time to such a faraway place. Srinagar was at the other end of the country. It was a long journey from Ernakulam to Jammu Tawi by train and from there by bus to Srinagar. Umar wanted to be alone all the way.
“Allah!” He let out a small prayer as he embarked the Jammu Tawi Express.
Sitting near the window he looked at Faisal who was standing on the platform. Faisal had come with him to the railway station. He wanted to be with him till Srinagar and back.
“Let me bear this pain myself,” Umar had told him.
It was not his pain alone, Umar knew. It was the pain of a family, a community, a society. It was the pain of mankind itself. And the pain was caused by his son, Rahim.
Why did Rahim do it? Umar could not understand that.
Rahim had a diploma in electronics and was fairly well employed in a firm. Umar was planning his marriage when he began to notice certain changes in his son. He was becoming moody and melancholy. He started coming home very late in the nights. He refused to answer his parents’ questions about his delays. Faisal said that Rahim was seen with some strangers on many occasions. But Umar could never find out more.
Umar was a dealer in nutmeg. He would go from house to house in the villages and buy nutmeg from the households. He processed the nutmeg and then sold it to the wholesale dealer to earn his profit.
He bought nutmeg from Hindus, Muslims, Christians and anybody who had nutmeg to sell. Nutmegs have no religion. In all the thirty-five years of his job as a nutmeg dealer no one had ever bothered about his being a Muslim. He was a Muslim just as somebody else was a Hindu or a Christian.
But Rahim had changed all that.
Umar lay on his berth thinking about Rahim, his only son. About broken dreams. Broken hearts. Until he slipped off into sleep.
His sleep was disturbed by nightmares. He saw his son standing with a machine gun. He saw his son firing bullets into the breasts of innocent people. He heard the screams of the victims. He saw human blood flowing like a river. He saw Rahim swimming in that river. Or was he drowning in it?
When he woke up in the morning the train was standing still at a railway station. A newspaper boy came along and Umar bought a Malayalam newspaper. The lead story was about the riots in Bihar carried out by young men who were protesting the attacks by Raj Thackeray’s men on a group candidates who had gone to Mumbai for a railway recruitment test.
Why is everyone fighting against everyone else? Umar wondered. He could not understand it. He was familiar with the gentle sway of nutmeg branches in the soothing breezes that wafted through villages. Was the breeze anyone’s private property? Would people start fighting for the breeze?
The journey from Jammu Tawi to Srinagar was like a pilgrimage.
I am a pilgrim, Umar thought. A pilgrim whose sacrifice will be made.
Umar managed to find out the office in the address that had been given to him by the police officer in his hometown.
“We want you to identify a dead body,” the police officer in the Srinagar office told Umar. “It is the body of a terrorist who was killed in a shoot-out. There is a suspicion that it is your son.”
Umar saw the body.
Why did you, my son? Umar’s heart sobbed.
“Yes, it is my son,” Umar said in the little Hindi and English that he knew.
“You can take the body for the last rituals.”
Umar looked at the officer for a moment.
“No, I’m not taking it.”
Forgive me, son, Umar said in his heart, I cannot pollute the soil with your hatred.
Author’s note: This story was written 3 years ago and was inspired by the following news item that appeared in the Hindu on 26 Oct 2008.
Father Disowns slain youth’s body
The parents of Abdul Raheem, the youth from Chettippadi in Malappuram who was killed in an encounter in Kashmir…, have disowned the body of their son. His father… told the police… that the body should not be brought home.
I’m posting it again on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the most dastardly attack on modern civilisation by savage forces.