Bismillah“Call me Ilyaas,Khala, I’m no Major over here.” Major Ilyaas said,leaning back against the side of the boat.
“Khayr,here.Have some more chicken.”
“I can’t believe it’s been 8years,since I last came here. It’s so beautiful.I should have came more often.” Zulfikr murmured. And a hush fell over our happy party.His expression quickly changed as he realised his mistake and he scrambled to cover it up by asking my parents questions,which he had already done,an hour ago.How silly!
Major Ilyaas Taahir,was friends with my cousin Zulfikr Shaam,who brought him along on his leave from the military. Independence day was coming up and they were on their way to the border.
“Hey Johara, you know the last time I saw you,you were a small baby?You must be 9 now right?” Zulfikr said with a friendly smile.
I nodded. At ease ,with this stranger who was my mother’s sister’s son.
“Johara,you know,the last time I met you,you were…9?” Major Ilyaas chipped in & we all laughed.
They were an odd match but the closest of friends. My mum knew Ilyaas as well but didn’t tell me how. So much of mystery since the past week.
“Chalo, let me cover your leg with my shawl at least Uncle. It was risky for us to come out here for a picnic,when you’re not yet fully recovered.”
“Seema,you know this boy… even in the LOC ,he would cover me. You need to stop being so selfless&worry about yourself too Zul.” My father said beaming at him and my mother.
“The least I can do for our 47 August hero.” Zulfikr, smiled at my father.
“Do you’ll really need to bring up war talk while on picnic?” My mother asked annoyed.
“Exactly! At least let the holiday,be one Zulfikr meri yaar. You’re giving me indigestion.”
August 1947 was a month,no one would forget. It was the month the British left India&the country Pakistan was born. Pakistan-the land of the pure.Such aspirations.
We were left inbetween both country’s. Not ascribed to either. A clever move by the British to leave us behind us a bone of tension. Kashmir,my homeland,was called the Switzerland of the East. With it’s beautiful lakes&snow capped mountains.
I munched on the sweets that Zulfikr had given me and admired the shikara we were on.
It was a houseboat on the Dal lake&we were surrounded by flower sellers on boats nearby.
As the sun rose higher&more tourists joined us on the lake, we began singing folk songs. In my memory,I’d always recall this happy moment.
“Chalo,I want to read something,may I?Uncle?” Zulfikr asked earnestly.
And he began reading Surah Rahman. It was not melodious or perfect but read with such feeling,that everyone’s eyes brimmed with tears.
“I began learning hifz Khala,plus with Tarjuma…translation… it feels,so nice when you understand what you read.Do you know Allah Himself,will read it to us on the day of Qiyamah?”
“MaashaAllah Zulfikr.” My father shook his hand,I felt a tug of jealousy. I wanted my father to look at me so proudly too.
My mother looked unhappy,as she tugged her chiffon dupatta on her head. “Is everyone around me turning extremist?” She said in a surly tone.
Ilyaas jumped into the heavy silence that followed. “Uncle,aren’t those flowers beautiful? I’m sure you want to buy for Khala. Bhai,come here.” He said motioning for the flower seller.
My father smiled”Still putting me on the spot Ilyaas beta”&picked a few for my mother. But not before I heard him say softly to Zulfikr;
“It’s good you came… before I leave her.”