Barr-e-Sagheer ki Ammiyan

I wake up by the sound of Arman’s mom complaining, “You think you could have slept in the same room as her, if it was her house?” I turn around to see Arman missing from the bed we both slept in side by side last night, much to his mother’s dismay in the morning. Hiding in the confines of the room, not daring to confront her, I began to reminisce about a similar experience I had in Karachi with my own mother. 

Arman had become really special in a short period of time since we had met last June when he was visiting my city, Karachi. This was around the same time I had come back home to celebrate Eid after a year-long fellowship across the border in Delhi. Fresh out of college, I was ready to change the world. So when a wave of demonstrations happening in several cities across India and the world caught my attention, I wasted no time in organizing one in Karachi too!

Somehow, I had convinced my recently-turned-amateur-activist self that speaking up against hatred and intolerance was more important than spending time with my family, especially my ammi, who was already saddened by the fact that I was going back to Hindustan again within a fortnight. Soon, word spread about my protest in Karachi and reached Arman through a friend.

Intrigued by this bold step taken by a Pakistani to be in solidarity with the Indians protesting on the other side, Arman couldn’t stop himself from extending the metaphorical hand of friendship over Facebook.

Generally I don’t accept friend requests from strangers but something about Arman made me consider at least taking a look at his profile.

“Arman Ali Dehlvi has checked into Hotspot in Karachi, Pakistan” read his most recent status update. What is a twenty-something-year old guy from Delhi doing in Karachi?, was my immediate reaction! Sure, Indians come to Pakistan but I always thought they were mostly diplomats and journalists posted in Islamabad or old people who mostly came to Pakistan to visit their relatives they had separated from during the Partition.

I struggled initially with the thought of sending him a message, asking him to relieve me of my new-found confusion. However, my curiosity soon made me give in. After exchanging a few messages, I came to learn that Arman was born in Karachi to an Indian mother and a Pakistani father. He also told me that his mom was a writer. They had been living in Delhi and visited Pakistan frequently.

Unable to contain my excitement, I went over to his Facebook profile immediately to find out more about his mother. Ah! There she was! Sadia Dehlvi. What a perfect name for an author, I thought to myself! A quick Google search told me that she had already written two books on Sufism and her third one, based on food and memories of Delhi was about to be launched in two weeks. Suddenly, I was filled with questions and I couldn’t wait to shoot them at Arman, who agreed to meet me soon!

The wait until the day of our meeting was excruciatingly long but the day of our union finally arrived.

We met over lunch and instantly connected over our love for each other’s countries. I found him to be a warm-hearted soul with an open mind like mine. Apart from his incredibly attractive beard, he exuded a carefree sort of a vibe which added even more to the appeal. His attire too – lightweight half-sleeves printed shirt paired with wide airy linen trousers – was pretty striking, I remember. But as clichéd as it may sound, I really fell in love with his lopsided smile which he himself was adorably oblivious about.

The same day he welcomed me to his brother’s home where he was staying in Karachi and without a second thought I agreed to go along. I thought, at least the house would be more comfortable than the stiff chairs they had at Neco’s – the cafe we had met at. It ended up being one of the best decisions I have made in life so far.

Arman was the perfect host. Time ceased to exist as interesting conversations happened over menthol cigarettes, adrak wali chai flowed and Arman introduced me to his beautiful world of Hindustani Classical Music. Every second spent in that two-bedroom apartment was a treat and I became a frequent visitor of Clifton, where Arman’s bhaiyya lived. 

My absence from home, however, didn’t go unnoticed by ammi, who soon began to complain I wasn’t giving her enough time. Of course, I already had an excuse to slip out every day on the pretext of doing research for a biography on Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan. I had already told ammi that even though I would be home for two weeks, one would be entirely dedicated to the family and the festivities around Eid while the other would be centered around my research work.

All that while, my mother was probably thinking that I was slaving away in forgotten libraries looking for material on the Begum. In reality, I couldn’t stop myself from paying Arman a visit to melt away all my miseries in his warm embrace. Going to see him every day for that week turned into a way of rewarding myself after a hard day of gleaning through dusty old books. Coming from a somewhat conservative family, I couldn’t exactly tell ammi that going to see this Indian boy I had met over the internet had suddenly become the highlight of my days. But when Arman and I decided to go back to India together through the Wagah Border, not telling my mother about Arman was no longer an option.

As filmy as I am, it had always been my dream to cross the Wagah border on foot ever since I had watched Veer Zaara on cable TV one evening more than a decade ago.

Veer Zaara is an acclaimed Bollywood film centered around a handsome Indian man, Veer and a beautiful Pakistani woman, Zaara who dared to fall in love with each other despite the famed enmity between their two countries. Being the utterly hopeless romantic I am, I too wished for a Veer of my own someday, with whom I would cross over to the other side after a whirlwind forbidden love affair. Little did I know that my childish dreams would actually come true someday!

Even though ammi never allowed me to travel through the border by myself, this time to my surprise, she didn’t say a word when I told her I was going back crossing the India-Pakistan border on foot. I do admit I left out the part where the person accompanying me was someone I had met only a week before or that I had fallen for him. In my defense, I didn’t want her to worry more than the fact that her only daughter was crossing over to India through the world’s second most militarized border!

All was well. My secret rendezvous with Arman were full of bliss. My return to India was going to be the most exciting thing I was crossing off my bucket list. Ammi was happy I had a male friend escorting me safely back to India. But me being me, that wasn’t enough. I wanted more.

It was Thursday afternoon and our friend, Faraz spoiled us by making an unforgettably delicious lunch. Hours passed by like minutes and when the dreaded moment of my departure was coming close, Arman began humming ‘aaj jaane ki zid na karo’, a famous ghazal in his beautiful voice, trying to convince me not to leave. The spontaneity goddess in me rose up to the occasion right away and I agreed to stay over.

If only I could foresee the trouble I was about to get in with ammi!

You see, I had it all planned. It had already worked once before in the past so I was confident that my scheme won’t fail me. I simply had to get late and call up my mother to tell her that I was staying the night at my friend, Manal’s place. So even though sleepovers for girls were generally not a common practice in my family, I did get away with it once. How hard could it be again, I thought! Except this time, when I called up my mom to tell her that I was not coming home, she didn’t exactly hear me.

It was around 2 am when Arman and I were cuddling each other like new lovers do, my phone wouldn’t stop ringing. It was my mother! Oh God, I panicked. What is she calling me up for? Didn’t I tell her I was staying over at Manal’s place tonight? Several thoughts raced through my head as I considered not picking up the call.

Unfortunately though, I succumbed to the pressure and said hello to her. Out came ammi’s frantic voice from the other end, asking me where I was. ‘I told you I am at Manal’s place’, I answered quite irritated. She insisted I hadn’t told her about my plan to stay over whereas I claimed I did. After a few minutes of arguing, she suddenly demanded to speak to Manal, as if to ascertain whether I was really with her or not.

At this point, I lost it but I had to keep my cool in front of my new beau at least. So, I improvised and told ammi that Manal was in the bathroom and once she would be out, I would make them talk to each other. The only problem then was that I was nowhere near Manal or her place and I was almost freaking out. I knew ammi would not let this go so I had to think of something fast!

What about a conference call between the three of you? Arman brainstormed. Yes, yes, yes! That could work. But for that, we needed Manal to be awake. I rang her up the next second while praying with each tring tring for her not to be asleep. Finally, she picked up! Apologizing profusely for calling at that hour, I told her the entire story. Being the angel she is, she agreed to give our plan a shot.

After hearing her voice on the other end of the phone, ammi calmed down a bit. It worked! I, too, breathed a sigh of relief as I thanked Manal and God for finally putting a favorable end to that drama. Next to me, Arman sighed, “Ye Barr-e-Sagheer ki Ammiyan bhi na!”

That would make a great title for a story, no? I thought out loud in agreement.

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