Zindagi Kis Qadar Mukhtasar Ho Gayi

Sehar Siddiqui

A 55 year old Zulekha sits in her balcony, basking in the winter sun. The wrinkles on her face glisten when the sun rays reach her skin, filtering through the tall tree standing up right next to her house. Her grey hair matches the colour of her now drooping eyes. Her frail body occupies a small portion of the big arm chair she is sitting on, slowly she moves her trembling hands towards the coffee table kept near her chair. In one hand she holds a big mug of black coffee while she reads from the diary she is holding in the other hand. The diary she reads from today came into her possession when her hands didn’t tremble and her eyes didn’t droop.

Today as she sits in the winter sun, warming up her old bones and reading the diary she started to write as a teenager, nostalgia grips her tightly. Mid way through a sentence a crooked smiles spreads across her wrinkled face and sometime she just stops to stare into the nothingness. A different memory crops up in her mind, with each page she turns. Sipping through mug of coffee, she takes a break from reading and turn to look at the sparrow sitting on the branch of the tall tree. Sometimes Zulekha’s mind used to wander around the tree and its inhabitants, how long has it been here for? Why don’t these birds ever leave their nest and fly away to a better place? Is the life inside the cover of this tree peaceful and comforting?

The sparrow now sitting on the branch of the tree turns her head towards Zulekha as though she recognises her and wishes to communicate. This little bird has been Zulekha’s companion now for more than three months. Often people question Zulekha, about her quick ageing; she just gives a big laugh and says “It’s a deep, dark secret!” Zulekha’s bones need the sun more than ever this winter season hence she spends most of her winter afternoons in the balcony. Her reading partners range from her favourite tan coloured diary to old/new newspapers, magazines from her trunk and books she borrows from her neighbour. But her little companion sitting on the branch never misses out on any of the winter afternoon rendezvous.

It was almost 15 years ago when Zulekha moved into this house, she shifted into a new city, a new house and a new identity in order to escape from the label of ‘a divorcee’ the society was waiting to put upon her. Sweet college love turned into a sour and rotten story of betrayal and pain, when her husband walked out of the nuptial bond. With a few memories of love, marriage and romance packed in her suitcases and a legal paper to prove that humans didn’t care for affection and emotions in hand, Zulekha planned to write a new chapter of life.

After moving to Shimla, Zulekha opened a new chapter of her life and started to live a life where she found solace in solitude. Her apartment was located on the outskirts of the city. At the age of 40, Zulekha was settling in with a new identity, new home, new city, new life and a new job. One day while she was unpacking she was reminded of the day when she left her ancestral home and parents at the age of 22, she was dealing with something similar even then. As a young girl when Zulekha broke free from the bonds of family, in search of a new identity which she could call her own, she never knew she would again be looking for an identity at a later stage of life.

Zulekha as a young girl and even as a woman found family and societal pressure never easy to cope up with. At 22 when the redundant and illogical norms of Old Delhi felt like too much of a pressure to handle, Zulekha knew it was time to leave. At 40 when her infertility gave her husband and college love a reason to switch partners, she knew it was time to leave again.

Strong and confident at 20, a successful woman at 30, betrayed at 40, critically ill at 42, lonely yet satisfied at 55, the life of this girl hailing from Delhi-6 had surely been a roller-coaster ride. After she found her new abode in the queen of hills, she joined a school of differently-abled children where she spent time with kids with special needs. Just when her life had started to get back on track, she developed chronic coughing which later on turned into lung cancer. She was diagnosed with lung cancer at 42. The day the doctor diagnosed her illness, she broke into a fit of laughter and said “This definitely had to happen, after all the profit I provided to the cigarette companies!” She laughed and smiled until she reached the door of her apartment, a certain darkness awaited for her inside the door.

As the cancer spread through her lungs, and her chemo sessions turned out to be painful and unrewarding, Zulekha’s body turned pale and weak. She stopped working at the school, and started to use the time left on her hands, to pen down her journey of life, in a memoir titled “Meri Zindagi”. Zulekha had a strong hold over the language of Urdu, all thanks to the Maulvi Sahib who used to the cane quite many times, but made sure that his students had a strong command over the language by the time they were 10 years old.

It was around 4 o’clock when Zulekha moved back into the house, her maid was busy preparing some dishes for the evening party in the kitchen. Zulekha slowly moved into her room, and walked towards her study table, she sealed the enveloped lying on the table and wrote an address on the top of the envelope. Today was Zulekha’s 55th birthday and she was celebrating it with the few friends and colleagues she had made in the years she had spent in Shimla. The evening party was full of fun and frolic, Zulekha was helped into a chair before she cut the cake that read,“18 till I die”.

The days and nights during the winter months have different effect. Sometimes one feels warm and sometimes the cold grips just too tightly. A month later, when the streets of Delhi were celebrating Christmas, an unexpected and sudden knock on the door startled the inhabitants of a house located in one of the dimly lit streets of Old Delhi. An old man with a curved back received an envelope from the courier boy and slowly walked back inside the house which looked old yet strong. The old man handed over the enveloped to the lady lying on the cot with her spectacle case. The old lady strained her eyes a little bit to read the name on the envelope. Her husband, the old man brought a study lamp closer to her bed to make it easier for her to read.

She opened the envelope to find two letters and a sealed brown envelope inside. The two letters were written by two different people, one was her daughter – Zulekha and the other letter was from a man called Gautam. She quickly unfolded Zulekha’s letter and began to read –

Adaab Ammi,

Aaj bhi mere haanth ussi tarah kaanp rahe hai jiss tarah uss waqt kaanp rahe thein jab maine ghar ka darwaza khola tha, uss ghar ko alvida kehne se pehle. Maine kayi baar qalam uthaya aapko khat likhne ke liye par meri ungliyon ne mera saath na diya. Aapka udaas chehra aur Abba ki ghusse se tamtamata hua chehra mujhe rok deta tha. Dadijaan ne toh mera naam bhi khandaani shajre main se nikalwa diya hai. Aur bhaijan ne mujhe zinda hone ke bawajood meri namaaz janaza padhwadi thi. 33 saal pehle jab maine ghar ki dahleez langhi thi, maine kabhi na socha tha ki main kabhi un galiyon main wapas qadam bhi rakhungi.

Par har saal jab Eid ka chand dikhayi diya, jab maine zindagi ka ek saal rote haste guzaar diya aur jab kabhi aapke ittar ki khushboo ne mujhe tang kiya, main un galiyon main aayi, kayi baar aayi. Mujhe laga tha ki rishte un kadiyon ka naam hai jo humein kabhi aagay nahi badhne dete, par mujhe kya pata tha ki rishte us ehsaas ka naam hai us yaad ka naam hai jo zindagi ka maayne humein samjhate hain. Kabhi Abba ki daant, toh kabhi aapki siwayino ki meethi se khushboo aur kabhi humare ghar ke baghal waali masjid ki azaan, koi na koi bahana mil hi jaata tha mujhe un galiyon main wapas aane ka. Par jo dahleez main laangh kar bahar nikal chuki thi ussi dahleez ko phir se paar karna mushkil tha.

Ammi maine jo bhi khwaab bune thay apne ghar ki aangan main charpayi pay lete hue, un sab ko asliyat main bhi mehsus kiya. Main ek kamyaab aurat bani aur jis ehsaas ne mujhse muh mod liya tha us ehsaas ko maine Shimla main mehsoos kiya. Main ek biwi bani, aur ek maa bhi, mere kayi saare bache thay, har saal bachche badalte thay, aur unke saath saath main bhi badalti gayi. Unn bachon ke saath rehkar maine bahut kuch seekha.

Aaj main khush-haal zindagi guzaar rahi hoon, main akeli hoon par mere andar ki har besukooni ne ab sukoon ki shakal le li. Mere dil aur dimag ko kayi maayusiyo ne jakad rakha tha par meri bimari ne mujhe ladna sikhaya. Jab sab kuch dhundhla sa lagne laga maine apne qalam se kaghaz pe kuch yaadein likhne shuru ki aur phir sab kuch khoobsurat sa lagne laga.

Chhoona tha mujhse aasman, par ab waqt aaya hai do gaz zameen ke niche so jaane ka

Aye Zindagi toone mujhe bade hi khatte meethe sabaq sikhaye, kabhi pyaar se to kabhi sakhti se

Tu isse pehle meri rooh bewafai kar jaaye aur meri saansein tham jaayein

Main tera shukriya adaa karna chahungi, us har sabaq ke liye, us har ehsaas ke liye, us har yaad ke liye

Aye meri pyaari zindagi tujhse bada ustaad koi nahi

Apna aur abbu ka khayal rakhiyega Ammi, main aapse milne jald hi aaungi. Aur Abba se kahiyega ki unki beti ne unka naam kabhi bhi mitti mein nahi milaya.

Aapki beti, Zulekha

With tears rolling down her eyes, her mother opened the next letter from Gautam –

Adaab Aunty

Meri aapki mulaqaat kabhi bhi nahi hui hai, par Zulekha ki ammi ko Zulekha se juda har shaks achi tarah se jaanta hai. Aapki kuch tasveerein bhi dekhi hain maine. Zulekha aap dono se milna chahti thi par apne haste muskuruate hue chehre ke saath naa ki apne kamzor aur beemar shaksiyat ke saath. Yeh khat Zulekha ne apni saal girah ke din likha tha jo mujhe uska ghar khaali karte waqt mila.

Zulekha ki likhi hui kitaab hum aglay mahinay aur naye saal main launch kar rahe hai. Us kitaab ki ek copy aapko bhi bhej raha hoon. Mujhe yaqeen hai yeh aapko bhi behad pasand aayegi. Zulekha aap dono ko bahut chahti thi. Main book launch ki tareekh, din aur pata apne aglay khat main bhej dunga, aap aur Abbu zaroor aayega.

With her trembling hands, Zulekha’s mother opened the brown envelope, which contained the copy of her daughter’s book titled “Meri Zindagi”. On the back of the book, Zulekha’s picture with her still twinkling eyes stared back into her mother’s tear filled ones.

Writer is from Allahabad and has been involved in writing for newspapers and magazines.

(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 2 Issue 13, Dated 05 April 2015)

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