Of Paree and her palace….
“Paree…! Paree! Get up, Your Abu is getting late. It is too cold outside, he needs the blanket, and you know he cannot have his tea without you. Get up now,”shouts Naseem, mother of six year old village girl Parveen.
Parveen… poor yet healthy. Poverty added new magnificence to her looks. Cracked lips spoke volumes like a dried rose kept in a book. Uncombed hair adds to the uniqueness of her face, her cheeks rosy but wrinkled, her hands small but cracked, her dreams colorful unlike her clothes. A pair uniform from her school is her only clothing. Parveen gets up, takes his small doll in her hands washes her face goes to the other corner of house.
House… being a single room hut with four mud walls, partially roofed leaving almost a square feet open through which the family gets instant weather forecast every day. One corner is their bedroom which has two blankets, another reserved for the study of elder son having some books on a wooden shelf. And on the next corner two clay pots containing Dal and Rice, a chuulah, and few utensils- they call it kitchen. In the last corner, a wooden trunk with a copper handle is there with a big lock of brass hanging from it. Nobody knows what Naseem has kept inside it, may be some money or clothes. A lantern hangs in the middle of the ceiling. A small mirror and a picture showing two kids reciting Quran are the only ornaments of four mud walls.
Embraced under the big arm of Saleem khan, her Abu (father), a small question clicks little parveen’s mind, “Abu! Why my doll doesn’t sleep when I sleep?” And see how dirty its clothes are! I want to wash them. How can I take them off?” This question touches his heart but at the same time strengthens him to expose his daughter to the hard realities of life. Staring into the eyes of his daughter, he says, “My Paree! I know I had promised you to buy a doll which can open and close its eyes at your will and whose clothes you can change, but I wasn’t having enough money to buy that, so I chose this cheaper one, there are no eyes and clothes. It is just a small plastic doll over which paint has been applied.”
“My love this world has been beautified by Almighty with two types of people, poor and the rich. We belong to the former category. You, your mother your elder brother Parvez, younger brother parzaan and this one story house is my only possession. It is difficult for a woodcutter but somehow I managed to construct this house for you. We have spent years in open air, sold your mothers jewelry and our only cow. It is our dream house, our Aashiyana…
You are lucky my Paree, says Abu, “Your two brothers are your strength. You will be protected like a pearl. Your brother Parvez will become rich man one day and will put up another storey over this house. It is your palace… you are the princess…”
These words answer all the questions of small but sensible Parveen. Looking around the four walls of her home, she wraps herself around the arm of her father and with a smile of satisfaction gives him a warm send off.
Paree is happy throughout the day. Abu’s words still linger in her ears. She feels as if whole world is beneath her feet, although she hasn’t a single pair of footwear to cover them.
She accompanies her mother to forests for collecting the fire wood, spends half a day besides a Nallah (stream) where her mother has come to wash the utensils just to clean the face of her doll because she was now fully aware that its clothes can’t be taken off.
At the dusk Parveen waits for her Abu outside her home with dreamful eyes. Today it gives her more protection…more security.. She sights her father at a distance “Abu, why have you folded your hands what is within them?”Hands open and she sees a small, white chick with its closed eyes and folded wings. “It is a gift, but this time not for you my Paree. It is for Parzaan. He has nothing to play with,” says her father.
The whole family plays with this small creation till late night under a dim light source. To add further flavor Naseem serves dinner. Of course usual one comprising of rice and cereals but today it seems much tastier. The family takes pleasure till the light source exhausts and then they go to sleep….
Thhhaak thaaak.. Thhaakk thhaak…
Hearing knock at the door,Saleem opens it and sees three stout and well built men. Gazing with their enthusiastic and smiling faces, one of them interrupts him and eagerly asks him to move to some safer place as they are going to start an encounter.
Paree still in her fairyland…Dreamland.. When, Saleem khan bundles her in his arm. Naseem takes Parzaan under her shawl. Parvez takes the two blankets which they have and the family moves to a hut which is more than 200 yards away from their house.
It is very cold in the hut and no light source is there. But, nobody complains. Naseem sits near the window with Parzaan in her lap but she is not able to make him calm as he asks for the small chick which they left in the home. Saleem and Parvez keep standing. Paree wears a gloomy look caring only about her doll.
Silence is suddenly broken down by a big bang of bullets. The couple starts reciting Quranic verses and the whole family compresses with each bang. Family compresses with each bang. Saleem peeps through the small hole in the window and watches the exchange of bullets. All of them spend sleepless night except Parzaan. They see army men being killed and injured. They hear the grenade blasts and bullets coming out of their house..their Aashiyanaa.. Till the dawn. As the dawn approaches, the gun battle stops. The couple heaves a sigh of relief. But to their shock, their home is raised to the ground by the army personnel. They don’t utter a single word but astonishingly look at each other. They are stunned and can’t believe their eyes. Saleem tries to console his family but there is no one to console him. As he has lost his only possession, his children’s future is raised to ground. His Paree’s palace is no more….
With the time the activities become faster. The three dead bodies of the militants are taken out from the debris and laid on the ground. Army ambulances start carrying the dead and injured army personnel. The senior ones are busy with the media reporters, announcing awards to their soldiers. The junior ones are busy in showing the recovered arms and taking photographs with them Ministers come and appreciate the soldiers. Saleem looks at them with hopeful eyes that they will ask officers for the person who has lost everything in the battle. But, even they don’t.
As the media persons leave so does the army. The family comes near the debris of home, everything is reduced to ashes, those remaining half burnt things are still aflame, the wooden box whose key still lies with Naseem is nowhere but she sees the handle of the box in the debris being still locked with the brass lock. The lantern which used to illuminate their evenings has become as dark as their future now. The couple doesn’t talk to each other, even the children remain silent.
But after looking at her destructed house, puzzled and perplexed Naseem asks Saleem in a dim tone..
“Where from shall I start saleem….!!?” Saleem breaks down. The couple weeps and consoles each other. “Don’t cry, don’t you remember those three who gave their lives, they might have been the loved ones of their mothers, but see they hadn’t someone to mourn over their deaths or to give them a decent burial.” Says Naseem. “But why did they burn down our house even if they knew that there was no one alive inside…!!”. She prefers SILENCE.
Parvez being the elder one tries to console his parents but when he sees his half burnt books he breaks down too. Parzaan identifies the place and seems happy to be home. Paree doesn’t understand the tragedy that had befallen on them, but she too cries on seeing her Abu weeping.
Roaming all around the destructed house and seeing blood all along Paree exhausts all her tears when suddenly something comes under her feet, something that makes her to smile again. Yes!!!! It is her doll…!
Today Paree likes it more than ever. Today it no more appears dull to her. Today it is more bright and vibrant, because today it is painted in ‘‘RED’’….
The family mourns all through the day. People see their miseries and sympathize with them. But as the dusk falls,the cruel dark engulfs everything, the family gets lost in the dark like the thousands of families before. I don’t know what happened after that….no one knows… because we never bother to….