US

Violet vipers

US
By Saniyah Eman
Fri, 02, 20

Yusuf was taken aback by the rage in the older man’s eyes. “Chacha jaan,” he raised a defensive hand. “You can’t hate my father that much, sir. I promise I will keep her safe, I know I can make her happy.”

STORY

Yusuf collected the food and the sole plate and cup they had been using to do justice to it while Jaleelah filled the watering can with water from the tub and turned over the tub to dry.

In ten minutes, both were at the dining table in the kitchen with Chacha jaan glowering at them from across it and Chachi jaan loading food onto his plate to pacify him.

“So,” Chacha jaan cleared his throat. “When are you leaving?”

The longest sentence Chacha jaan had said to him in days. Yusuf smiled wryly. “I was thinking of extending my stay to a week or two more, Chacha,” he said, turning over the white rice with his spoon thoughtfully. Jaleelah snuck a glance at him over a glass of water. “Do you think that is possible?”

“But you are supposed to leave in a week and a half?”

“Ji, I was supposed to, but-”

“But what?” Chacha jaan cut through. “Arey! This is not a hotel.”

His aunt looked like she wanted to intervene, but didn’t.

“Chacha jaan,” Yusuf put the spoon down. “I just need two weeks. Then I’ll leave.”

Chacha jaan’s eyes narrowed. He held up a forkful of rice and pointed it at Yusuf. “I have put up with you and the threat you have brought to this house all this time, Yusuf. You are not extending your stay.”

“I have not brought any threat-” Yusuf began but his uncle banged the fork down on his plate with a loud clink. A few grains of boiled rice and a dollop of vegetable curry landed on the spotless dining table.

Yusuf was taken aback by the rage in the older man’s eyes. “Chacha jaan,” he raised a defensive hand. “You can’t hate my father that much, sir. I promise I will keep her safe, I know I can make her happy.”

“Yes, you are. You’ve been a threat to my family ever since you started writing for her infernal magazine.” He pointed a chubby, sausage-like accusatory finger at his daughter. “I had to do so much to convince Major sahib the magazine was just a useless toy for my spoiled child, and then your writings! And then they started becoming famous.” Chacha jaan looked positively furious. “And then you arrive at my doorstep!”

He picked up the fork and started shoveling food into his mouth, only pausing to murmur two weeks more! He needs two weeks here!

Jaleelah had watched the whole exchange with a stony face; it had become stonier at the mention of Awaz and the pejorative adjective Chacha jaan had ascribed to it. When her father started eating again, she downed a glass of water before carefully piling some fried tomatoes onto her rice, then shifting them to one side of her plate with her fork and then the other.

“Wesey, Abba! (By the way, dad!)” she suddenly said in a loud voice and the two words sounded like they had burst out of her. “Wesey Abba, do you ever feel ashamed of living in the mud?”

“Jaleelah!” Her mother said warningly.

“Nahi, Amma, it’s a genuine question.” She pointed a spoon at her father in a gesture that was an unconscious twin of the one he had made a few moments ago. “Are you ashamed? Because I am. I am so ashamed of being your daughter. The daughter of the major’s pet Kashmiri.”

“Keep quiet.” Chacha jaan said, his pudgy face was white.

She watched him for a few seconds, her lips pressed into a thin line. Then she got up, tossed her plateful of food into the sink and stormed out of the kitchen.

Yusuf and Chachi jaan simultaneously stood up to go after her but Chacha jaan shouted at Yusuf. “You. Sit down.” He looked at Chachi. “Leave us.”

“Chacha,” Yusuf began as soon as the door closed behind Chachi. “I-”

“Dekho, miyan! (Look here, young man!)” Chacha jaan pushed his plate aside and leaned closer to the table. “You need to understand a few things very clearly. Your father left this house and never looked back and he has some nerve sending you here again, but I’m not as good an eraser of insults as he is, so I’m not your chacha.” Chacha jaan thundered. “And, secondly, let me tell you something that you ought to tell your father when you go back. Tell him, I might be a buzdil like he told me I was when he walked out of this house on that bloody night, but he is a bigger buzdil because at the very least, I,” Chacha Jaan jabbed himself in the chest with a short finger. “I stayed in Kashmir.”

“Uncle-” Yusuf tried to begin and Chacha jaan cut in again.

“No. Don’t uncle me. Listen. There are ways to live in Kashmir peacefully, and there are ways to live like an idiot honking for someone to crash into his car. I’m not an idiot. I love my car. What I did that night, I did so nobody would harm my family. Family over watan, larkey. (Family over country, boy!) It is always, always, family over watan. That is the best way to live. You tell your father that and you write a goddamn article about that when you go back home to your Islamabad.”

“Theek hei (Alright).” Yusuf stood up. “Don’t think of yourself as my uncle if you don’t want to, but there are other ways I am part of your family now, Chacha jaan, ways that you can’t ignore. And those new ways force me to make a home for myself in Kashmir and in Makan Taintees whether you like it or not because this house is my father’s as much as it is yours.”

“He left Makan Taintees 10 years ago, and so did you.” Chacha jaan growled through clenched teeth.

“And you sold Kashmir every single day, these 10 years.” Yusuf walked around the table to stand next to his wasted form; he felt nothing but pity for him. “And yet, here we both are.”

“You will never get this house.”

“I don’t want this house.” Yusuf shook his head. “You can keep it. What I want is-”

Chacha jaan shot out of his chair, sending it flying into the wall behind him. “I will never!” he hissed and a spray of saliva left Yusuf’s face damp. “I will never marry my daughter to you!”

Yusuf was taken aback by the rage in the older man’s eyes. “Chacha jaan,” he raised a defensive hand. “You can’t hate my father that much, sir. I promise I will keep her safe, I know I can make her happy.”

“The wives of the disappeared, Yusuf Shaheer Malik, are never safe and never happy.” Chacha jaan raised a shaking fist at him. Had someone taken a photograph of him just then, it could easily have been titled ‘Emotional Kashmiri man raising Azadi slogans in own kitchen’. “And what you’ve written about the Indian army is enough for them to want to make you disappear a thousand times over in a thousand different ways.”

“Chacha!” Yusuf started and the word was left hanging over the dining table as Chacha jaan strode out of the room, his face splotched red and white.

Alone in the kitchen, Yusuf sank down into a seat.

It was the perfect scene for a tragic play. The hero had just been turned down by the heroine’s father. The audience, if there had been one, would have been watching with bated breath just then. What would the hero do? Rush to the heroine? Chase down the father?

It was the perfect scene for a tragic play but Makan Taintees was no stage and the Yusuf Malik who had become Yusuf Kashmiri in less than two weeks, was no actor. He was a real man who, like every other real man, did not know that he had been living what might have been the last peaceful moments of his life.

********

Chacha jaan had left the house and had not returned. When the clock struck midnight, Yusuf, Jaleelah and Chachi, the trail of the latter’s tears still fresh on her cheeks, decided to retire to bed, promising to wake each other for Fajr.

When Yusuf bid Jaleelah good night outside her bedroom door that was next to his, his brain felt hyperactive and he was sure he would be spending a sleepless night.

Oddly enough, however, he slipped into a deep slumber as soon as his head hit the pillow, his dreams full of maraca laughs and burnt white sauce and Anchar Lake in a tub.

To be continued ...