Into the Light
A short story
AUGUST 16th, 1947
The storm brought silvery swirls to her black irises. The strength of the planet dwellers mingled with the echoing power from above. They were shrieking loud, grieving the division of the mighty land.
The Shah Haveli that once used to shine under sparkling oil lamps was enveloped by gloom today. The fields that used to hear young women chattering had become deaf.
Little Mehru’s eyes were still on the sky. She could hear men striding towards the Haveli, their spears high in the sky clattering to the pointed swords they were carrying.
‘Mehrunissa!! Over here,’ her mother gestured at the door of the little store room.
As soon as the voice hit Mehru’s ear, she jolted up as if she had been waiting for this call for years.
Mehru hopped over the little boxes, rolled up carpets and suitcases, and clung tightly to her mother’s thigh. The lady was holding an infant close to her heart, wrapped in sheets.
She had dropped her scarf in a rush. Her mother reached for it and wrapped it around her bare head again.
Making their way to the hallway, they crossed the vacant Haveli that had no sign of any living being. The women walked across the corridor, producing little squeaky sounds as they walked over the marbled floor. They soon realized that it was not just their steps.
They could hear footfalls getting closer, which made them stop and hide behind a wide pillar. The horror-stricken mother grabbed an iron rod that must have fallen off the window when a brick struck it. The gait was getting closer and closer. With a shriek leaving her throat, she moved aside to attack.
A tall bearded man ditched the rod.
‘Abba!!’ Mehru cried.
‘Oh Lord, ’ Tears rolled down the mother’s cheeks when she threw her arms into him.
‘Akhtari Begum the passage is clear’ The man spoke, his hands cupping his wife’s face. ‘We cannot wait for the sunrise.The mob is searching every single house for Muslims’.
She nodded while squeezing her eyes, letting a stream of tears leave, ‘But the Haveli!’.
‘Nothing matters now more than lives,’ He spoke with wide-open eyes.
‘Bashar Sahab! Your family should flee right now’ an elderly guy appeared. His brows were thick and white, curtaining his wrinkled eyes. ‘They won’t kill me, and I will tell them that you already have left.’
‘Kumar chacha is right.’
‘This Haveli has given everything to me, son; let me pay it back.’
The family hurried to the courtyard at the back of the house. The infant was seemingly in his deep nap, not bothered by the stones that showered on them. The night was not dark any longer. Flames rising from mashals gave birth to gleam.
The brains of the mob had been short-circuited by an ages-long relentless drip of provocative triggering words tied to messages relating to the religion and region. The ideologies went forth as a prelude to genocide.
A stone hit the forehead of the poor man trying to shelter his family, permitting a long trail of blood to spill off the wound. The mob started to push the wooden rear gate; its rotting oak was not strong enough to resist the hatred these men carried.
‘Leave Hindustan or die!!!’ The slogans rose higher and higher, and in this moment of life and death, a small window went astray from the adjacent building.
‘Akhtari bhabhi! Over here,’ a Sikh woman shouted. A turban covered her head along with a long veil that fell behind her head.
She let out a long pile of bed sheets tied together to make a rope. Bashar kneeled to help his wife to step on and grab the rope. The father lifted Mehru to the seven feet window. Her mother held her hand above, her other hand resting in the hands of her father. The sight of the father and daughter was locked in each other for a second. She saw overflowing helplessness in his eyes. The kind of misery never seen before. Not even when the crops were dry, nor when Congress won over the Muslim League in the district.
It was just pain: emptiness and ramping up fear.
And with a thud, the gate shattered into pieces, and the folks rushed in. Akhtari pulled her daughter up with all her energy. The fastened hands departed, and Mehru saw her father standing below.
‘Abba! Climb up’ her lips trembled.
Bashar reached for the dagger that was wrapped under a belt around his waist and tore the hanging rope.
The attacking men pulled their swords out and went across Bashar with a flash of lightning.
‘O Lord! My family is on You’ were the last words his tongue moved for before a mouthful of blood ascended his gullet.
The Sikh woman immediately closed the window. Akhtari stopped cold and let a loud mourning wail out, grasping Mehru in her arm, the infant in another.
‘To the rooftop’ another woman appeared at the room’s door. She was out of her breath, holding jars in her hands.
The ladies sprinted to the stairs up the roof. The Sikh women moved forwards and peeked downwards at the men breaking into the Shah Haveli.
‘O cowards!!’ they unlid the jars and emptied in on the group, and the red chili powder floated in the air. Panic rose in the men when they ran with burning eyes and bumped into objects.
‘You have to leave for Pakistan. They won’t let you live here,’ a woman spoke ‘the last train to Karachi will leave soon.’
Akhtari shook her head while clenching her teeth and left the neighbour’s house the next minute.
The horse carts were on fire, and the cart men were killed. There were piles of bodies at every corner of the byroad. Their limbs were cut apart, and their internals were pulled out. Standing on the ground surrounded by the bodies of those they loved, unable to comprehend how their own species could do this.
They kept their pace across the fields. The flashing flames hiked the temperature next to the adrenaline rush their brown skins could feel.
On half a mile, their feet swelled and bled. Akhtari made a glance at her baby, who was still stationary. A chain of tears followed each other when she kissed his forehead.
Her long slender fingers begin to bury into the mud. She laid the baby in the indentation and refilled it.
‘Amma!! Abdullah!’ Mehru spoke.
She held Mehru’s hand tightly and kept walking. Her face was utterly damp, and her eyes red. She could remember when she knocked on every doorstep to get some milk, but it was shut on the front. From her womb to an empty gut, the war of green and saffron was just red at the end.
A loud screeching sound rose that astounded the women.
‘The train,’ Akhtari’s thoughts accelerated.
They started to move faster, but there were other noises behind them than the train’s horn. There was a huge crowd coming their way, their weapons towering in the air. Akhtari realized that they couldn’t over-speed them.
The buzz was getting louder, and so was the terror eating their sanity.
Akhtari, with her young one, reached for a tree and sat underneath. She searched her pockets and pulled a small bottle out.
Dragging Mehru’s hand forward, she emptied half the bottle in her palm while the rest drained down her throat.
‘What is this Amma?’ wrinkles began to appear on Mehru’s forehead.
‘Shh,’ her mother set her headscarf, ensuring no strand of hair was out and gestured to her lap.
‘We can’t let ourselves be captured by them’ Akhtari’s voice was flimsy with her head leaning gently on the bark.
She brushed her fingers across Mehru’s head, caressing her to sleep. Stars light the sky like snowflakes in the night and soon disappeared under the straightening out smoke.
Mehru felt an overpowering sleep subduing her. She was too frightened to sleep but yet she felt worn out.
The light was getting closer. Not the light that spreads when the sun faces the earth, nor the blaze fireflies have in their hearts. It was the light one sees when the doors between worlds open, when it cascades down along with death.
Her eyes fought to keep her awake, but she felt herself getting weaker and weaker. With a yawn, she made and snuggled right into her mother; falling in her arms was her safe place, her cocoon.
Everything was silent suddenly.
No light. No noise. Just peace.
She couldn’t feel her mother’s hand on her anymore. Akhtari’s arm fell to the ground letting the little bottle roll.
It was labeled as ‘rat poison.’
AUGUST 17th, 1947
“With ten million people displaced, the partition of Hindustan happened. About one million people were killed in the great migration.
The leaders say that ‘The Peace Prevails.’
But at what cost?”