Mushtaque B Barq

‘Gulshan’

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Lapping of a river, hiss of birches, melodious call of sparrows perched on hanging birches tossed by wandering gushes, murmuring of waves hitting the edges of shore, breaking the silence of lonesome Gulshan, sitting on the outer projection of her hut, the only place to wait for her father who would come home with a song on his lips. Seemingly contented and satisfied, though he pretends, but his unrest and veiled woes would never remain concealed before Gulshan. With the roaring water currents, Gulshan’s song too would hit the strings of her loneliness which she has been singing from the time her mother had left her never to return.

The hut was erected above the marshy part of the river bed on bamboos like a scarecrow in the field. On those feeble legs, her hut from the other side of the shore would appear as an island of dreams with that lonely bulb on its top helping most of the boatmen at night to find an anchor.

The long golden rays at dusk would often touch the film of the murky moving river, making it looks like a bride with million attires awaiting at the bay like prolonged wish of Gulshan which often at the arrival of her family boat would die like a dipping sun on the horizon, giving a hope that morning would be delightful with fresh dew drops and novelty around. With every crimson film, Gulshan would gaze at it continuously for she had something essential to narrate which she never disclosed before her father. She would sigh for her mother was already up there in the stars and the crimson romance at the horizon would only bring to life those innocent giggles, narrating a long wish list of unending dreams.

Qadir, the boatman would bring home handful hard earned money, half of which had to go to the chest of Bilal, the medical practitioner.  Gulshan was suffering from arthritis, the disease that had spoiled most of her youth. Between the debris on the river bank and the lonely hut, the disease had never reached to its shore to mitigate the burden of Gulshan. Often she would weep on that ridge in the backyard of her hut from which she used to glare at the grave of her mother buried in the cemetery at the far end of her hut.

“You have left me. I am alone. I can’t say to Baba what was for your ears. He tries to do all that he can, but then how long should I wait for those strips. I need to ease his burden. Tell me mother; how can I”?

The grave was never marked, like millions in the world her grave would represent simplicity, poverty and negligence. Mukhti, died in the same year when Gulshan was admitted in the local school but had to shut the door of light that promises progress and prosperity. Gulshan, many a time in the class would fall down with her limbs almost paralyzed, those little fingers of her hand would never respond even if her teacher twisted it when she had a stroke of ruthless pain.

Gulshan was handed over to Qadir like a sac to be dumped as debris. The ripple of her groaning never reached to the far end of the river. Like a ripple her hope to join the class faded away before reaching its destination.

She had, but a wish like a fairy to slip her toes in the water to observe ripples, but she never dared to do so for it would only bruise her nerves like a horrible monster shattering even the hardest muscle.

On that fatal day, it appeared as if the water angel had pierced her little body with all the bristles of the world. She would often watch the ripple reaching the shore and with every ripple, her hope would touch new horizons, but her bones never imagined even in the farthest dream to satiate her giggle. And like her disease, her ripples of innocence were smothered under the heavy planks of nearby boats.

Gulshan was fond of her ribbons, mirrors and bangles. She would nail her innocent looks at the far end of the river, waiting for that boat propelled by her father, who, as usual, would return with the exhausted look, burying millions of wishes and few unaddressed demands of her daughter. From those fallen cheeks she would read the plight from the wrinkles of her father. Occasionally he would handover strips of that bitter medicine which she used to accept like candies. The luster of the strip would never allow her demand something more though a fresh mirror was the demand of the little heart, every time the boat would touch the fence of her hut, her mirror of hopes would fall into pieces like her sobs amid tears.

The mirror she had was left by her dead mother along with a lidless box full of broken glass bangles and few clips, which like her grave, had lost sheen and shine.  The old mirror was bruised beyond restoration like barking dogs molesting dead of night in the backyard. The rear of her bashed glass had hardly anything left to serve as a mirror. The reflection one would be fond of, to satisfy those latent expressions would go unnoticed.

Gulshan would lift this ravished sheet of glass to fix her plaits, her quiet laughter on those topless mounts of her skinny face. Her fingers would fail to fix her tress and very often the comb that had lost most of the bristles would slip from those twisted fingers.

“Mother, whom I shall call to fix my locks, to inspect this black mass,” she would murmur.  Her muttering would only break her spine, but like her father, she was an ‘industry’ to mend her own fragile unit. She would cook, wash and manage her home. But within her breast, a stretched contour of frission to ease the burden of her father would administrate into her serum a vital verve, but that never materialized as her limbs never obeyed that long chain of imaginations being nursed in her mind. She would sit on the edge of that outer projection and hide her head among her thin arms to ask for the divine mercy. It was her routine to sit on the edge and converse with someone she would feel around, yet her child in her never died.

Everyone nurses a child within and one behaves like an innocent kid before one’s mirror to get that picture in its perfect stance, an obsession one cannot run away. The expression that exposes inner grief before that sheet of reality cannot be overlooked which often brings at fore inner folds of agony, deep- rooted grievances, and sea deep sobs. Gulshan perhaps was willing to open her heart before the mirror to narrate her tale of woes which were heaped on the shelves of time to be lowered only when one is stretched on the plank, that friendless podium which leaves the naked body to be treated by warm water before getting chilled under the thick layer of soil, never to return.

Like her disease, the rough glass sheet was giving exposure to her state of mind. The light would pass through and often she would raise that unattractive piece of glass to peep through birches and would see the grave of her mother. Like this transparent glass, from which everything would look blurred like her school days when she used to while away time with her lonely companion before getting ready for school.

She would go down to see her face, her plaits, her scarf and the agony of her cheeks every morning. Her face like a jellyfish would rotate and move with the current of water, getting distorted at every fresh ripple representing her mysterious face. She would weep for hours together after finding her face broken into pieces. And from every fragment, the distorted face of her mother would encourage her to be loyal to her father who has dumped his grievances down the soil once for all.

Gulshan wiped off her tears, stood up at the edge of the ridge raised her hands high up and closed her sunken eyes and put her arms across her own frame and hugged tightly for a moment. Released her arms, looked around. The river and the vast sky had inspired her.

Qadir, as usual, brought home some strips of medicine that night, Gulshan refused to accept: “I don’t need these pills again,’ she declared.

Qadir was taken aback, the frown was severe: ‘Do you know how hard it is to earn, go and take it; these are not pills, but blood drops from my heart.’

Gulshan lowered her head like a bird hiding its beak under its feathers.

‘What else do you need if not medicines’ asked Qadir

There prevailed dead silence for a moment.

She raised her head, looked deep into the eyes of Qadir and voiced her woes.

‘A dress, few bangles, a mirror and a mother as well’

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