It is 5.30 pm.

It is 5.30 pm; the sun has not yet set but you won’t call it bluntly “day”. I have just finished offering the Namaz for Zohr and Asr. Just in the nick of time! Phew! My father used to be very strict about the time of Namaz. I remember; when I was a kid, he used to make me sit in his lap and kindly explain that God likes those kids who offer Namaz just about after the Azaan. Then when I became a teenager, he used to reprimand me for offering Namaz at the eleventh hour. “No need for your hurried Namaz. Allah would not mind letting go of such half-hearted favours!” I used to feel bad, but I was lazy. ‘What could I do about it?’ I used to shrug and wait for the next day’s rebuke. Then when I quit my teens, I realized that he had stopped scolding me. He had realized it that either I was too obstinate to yield or too dumb to obey. So there was no point shouting in front of a deaf ear – he must have thought. Anyways…

It is 5.30 pm; it is ‘almost sunset’, and standing here at the fourth floor balcony of my hostel room, I am reminded of Anand. In deep, depressive cogitation, he asserts that far away somewhere, this slow, intoxicating gulp in which the horizon takes the Sun in and makes room for darkness to engulf it all, makes the walls of his heart lighten up with dreams and not darken up deeper with fear. I’ve been humming this song all day, and with such a setting and a lonely room devoid of my idiot roomies, I began to sing in full flow. Despite a sore throat, despite having dwellers around me, I sang – sang as if Anand’s knowledge of life and its value was mine, as if Anand’s craving for life was mine, as if his apparent liveliness, genuine sad introspection is mine and I momentarily felt like I myself was Anand. But I’m not, I can’t be. Neither do I have all this cheerfulness about my aura, nor a sense of humour. Just poetry might connect us, but I am overestimating myself. I just remember my father in an armchair – with a thick, hard-bound book, each page with amply spaced Urdu or Arabic or Persian verses. Ghalib, Rumi, Firaaq… He could recite their verses impromptu, no need for a reference – ever!

It is 5.30 pm; there’re some strange voices, some troubled motions, some anomaly – in my stomach. But I stand still. I haven’t eaten an ounce of food since morning. The hostel mess has its own timings; and I am, more often than not, too late for breakfast and too occupied with works for lunch. I am hungry, and looking deep into the sunset, I recall my cries, when back home, around this very time of the day, I followed my mother like a young kid who wants a ‘something’ to eat – yes, a ‘something’ that even God couldn’t figure out, a ‘something’ which gets known to us only when a middle-aged woman, walking persuasively approaches a frustrated me with a bowl or plate for me to devour its contents and give that woman a tight hug of thanks, and a tighter one of love, infinite love. I seek that infinity somewhere in the sinking of the Sun. It makes me feel intimidated. Is it bigger than my infinity?

It is 5.30 pm; She’s been sitting on her study-table, well-dressed, sitting on the chair in a perfect posture, chanting some names from that dreadful Biology book. Myself, up from my undecided study spot; have somehow sneaked around to exactly behind her chair while she still chants with all devotion, her eyes closed. The next moment – yes around this very evening time – I carelessly pull out a clip from her much too careful hairdo while she shouts at the top of her already topping voice and instantaneously gets up to teach me a lesson. Standing on this balcony here, I can see us running and being ran after all through this circle that the group of hostel buildings has formed. While she brims with anger, I do the same with the ecstasy. The ultimate ecstasy at how I could trigger this anger which gradually changes to laughter; at how it happens that these much too serious fights on not too serious notes strengthen the serious bonds of love that proudly exist and live. Those roars of anger, those laughs of shamelessness, that clangor of running chappals, and the chanting of rebukes. The house used to be so noisy in these so-frequent trouble-makings! But today as it comes back to my mind, it seems too low in volume; I wish I could increase its volume, like ‘more, little more, yes that’s it!’, but I can’t. It remains low.

It is 5.30 pm; my father’s recital of Arabic verses has somehow amalgamated with and slowly subsided from those compellingly unstoppable sounds of her laughter; a laughter of mirth, of surprise, of ridicule, of warnings, and of incredibility at the abnormally great sense of humor her friends possessed. They spoke and it became a joke. I, sitting ten benches away from her, just listened, just saw. Yes it was nearly around this time, when once after completing an extra class, I saw herself with her group still whiling away time, still talking, still joking, still commenting… And I knew it well that more often than not, I was the subject of their jokes. I still wonder how a man of as serious a countenance as mine could inspire jokes. Those guys must be real comedians… ‘Is it necessary that love be generated from comedy?’, I used to think. Then answering this question with a ‘yes, of course’ to myself, I used to say it aloud, ‘I stand no chance. No way man…’

It is 5.30 pm and I recall those winter evenings when the best idea that we could come out with was to stay in bed – all four of us together, well covered with quilts while snow covered the house. I remember that obviousness in my father’s voice when he negated the Weather Department’s statement on the radio as it said, ‘The Kashmiris may have some respite from the extreme cold conditions in a couple of days.’ All this and much more; but one thing that seems to have been etched on the walls of my heart are those words by my Dad, “You might not be the most comic man of the society, you might also not be the physically strongest in the community, but one thing that not even your farthest acquaintance should be able to defy is that you were and still are a good man…” And I’ve tried to imbibe this in life.

It is 5.30 pm on this seventeenth day of the month of June. The hostel is mostly empty – the ones who are absent have obviously gone to their respective homes, the ones who are present, soon will. But I; where do I go? To the burnt out ruins of what once was my home? To whom do I go? To that ideal father who was the ‘threat to National Security’ – whose chutzpah for good was overpowered by that of the AFSPA for security, both of the nation and of the army? Or to that late loving mother who tried to defend an attempt to her better half’s murder? Or to that little sister who was destined to die because the Army wanted no witnesses?

It is still 5.30 pm, or something more maybe; does it matter?

– Also published in CSI-JMI Student Chapter’s annual magazine – “Fiction-2015”


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