by Arif Ayaz Parrey
This piece first appeared in the Honour newsmagazine.
Every night, when she drops the slightly bluish liquid into a glass of water, Nisaare feels pride more than embarrassment, or even disgrace. The liquid is a sedative drug. The glass of water is meant for her husband. She feels reassured that she has dealt with the loss of their son much better than he has.
Nine years have passed since the death of their only child in an ‘encounter’ with the Rashtriya Rifles. He had been a bashful young man; not the kind you would easily associate with militant revolution. He had gone ‘across’ for ‘training’ simply because everybody in his peer group had, and he did not want to be the only one left behind. Any other motives he had are buried with him and will surely be summoned back to life one day. On his return, he was of little help to the group because he would not shoot to kill. He had been barely audible when he had expressed his ideological opposition to ambush. He had stated that he would much rather fight the soldiers openly. The commanders assigned him the role of a donation collector during the day and a patrol at night.
On the 16th of January, 1999, he was sitting on a log beside a road, wrapped in a thick blanket, watching the night as usual, while his comrades slept in a nearby house. The moon was bright and snow shone in the surrounding fields. Suddenly, he heard the groan of trucks in the distance. He calculated that the trucks had stopped about a kilometre away and had let the engines die. He got up and then lay down again, his LMG on its stand and his finger on the trigger. When the metal helmet of the first soldier appeared on the horizon, he could not shoot, reasoning that he had to give the soldier a fair opportunity to defend himself. He aimed at a nearby willow and hit it. The alerted soldiers took positions and returned fire. In the ensuing gunbattle, three soldiers were seriously wounded. The young militant was dead. His comrades, awoken by the gunfire, managed to escape.
The commanders were not very happy with the militant. He had an LMG at his disposal but had not managed to kill even a single soldier. They did visit Nisaare and her husband on the funeral and a couple of times afterwards. But they offered no tales of valour of their son. Soon public opinion declared that the young militant had died a rather cowardly death.
To say that Nisaare and her husband were devastated would be to understate the obvious. Their son had not consulted them before he went to become a militant; if he had they would have advised him against it, not because they did not want to contribute in the freedom struggle, but because they knew, as only parents can, that he was too gentle for that kind of violent work. Still, he had gone to become a militant, and was martyred. They believed that he must have discharged his duties to the best of his capability. Now they had to bear taunts about his tenderness. So when the militant commanders paid them a third visit, Nisaare asked them why her son’s sensitivity was seen as an adverse quality. “Mouji,” one of the commanders replied, “Sensitivity is the best quality any of us can possess. Why do you think we have decided to give up our lives for others? Why do you think injustice angers us more than it does others? Sensitivity is not the issue here; it is the courage not to have pity on an oppressor who has been absolutely corrupted by power.” Nisaare and her husband bowed their heads in silence, partly convinced by the commander’s reply.
But that was just one aspect of their sorrow. Soldiers would barge into their house at will at night, searching for this thing or that, and asking questions to which there were no longer any answers. The same neighbours who consumed and reproduced opinions about their son’s cowardice and complained that the fact that he had not been able to kill a single soldier meant that he had not fought them hard enough, would lament about the death of their own beloved ones by declaring that they were “innocent,” not militants, thereby inadvertently allowing the presumption that militants were guilty. “Of what?” Nisaare wanted to ask them. The colonial government talked about truth and reconciliation. “With what?” was Nisaare’s silent question. “Defeat?”
The loss of the only child and his gossip-tainted martyrdom tore their sanity to shreds. Husband and wife started to have troubled sleep. Both would get nightmarish. They became extremely irritable and would have many fights during the course of a single day on such trifles as the amount of salt in the tea and the possession of the TV remote-control. Their relationship became extremely tense and fractured till it reached a point where they threatened each other with suicide. Only the timely intervention of her husband’s ailing mother managed to restore some peace in the household. The mother advised them to seek psychiatric counselling.
The doctor was an extremely kind and warm person. He reminded them of their son. He told them that they had absolutely nothing to worry about; they just had a bit of a problem with blood-pressure and that was all. He explained that the trouble was that because of their busy schedule and a rather unhealthy life-style, they had not been drinking enough water. His solution to the problem was simple. Just before going to sleep, they needed to drink some water to keep the fluid levels up and the bodily-systems running smoothly. Having cheered husband and wife thus, he took Nisaare inside the clinical laboratory for a routine hormonal check-up and told her husband to wait for him.
Once inside, he sat Nisaare down and informed her that he had lied a little about her husband. Her husband, he told her, had developed a mental condition, not a very serious one, but requiring medical intervention nonetheless to bring him back on the boat. He gave her a bottle containing the slightly bluish liquid and instructed her to put a small table-spoon worth of the liquid into a glass of water each night, and to ensure that her husband drank it. On a query, he told her that the effect of a single dose of the drug lasted twenty-four hours. Before he handed her over to the nurse and the technician and went back to attend her husband, he let her know that he would be proud to be the son of such a brave lady, who had decided to overcome the grief of the loss of her only child so that she could provide support to her depressed husband. Nisaare kissed him on his forehead.
The conversation at the doctor’s turned out to be a life-changing one for Nisaare. In the following weeks and months, she felt much stronger and calmer. Her husband, her mother-in-law and the neighbours could not help but notice the new lightness in her foot and the liveliness of her face. The task of curing her husband became the new mission of her life. In the beginning, just before they went to sleep, she would pour water into two tumblers in the kitchen and add a drop of the slightly bluish liquid to one of them. Then she would carry the two full tumblers and the jug into their bedroom and keep the drugged tumbler on her husband’s side of the bed. However, many a time, her husband preferred not to drink the water immediately and would wake up in the middle of the night, sweating from nightmares, and sometimes even be caught sneaking around, probably sleepwalking. She solved this problem by keeping the glasses and jug in the bedroom before she washed the dishes, so that by the time she returned, she could admonish her husband, who had retired by this time, for not drinking the water in case he had not gulped it down by then.
So it gradually came to pass that Nisaare slipped into a cocoon of smugness for not only managing to sail through an overwhelming tragedy but also playing a central role in the rescue of her husband. If she had any misgivings about secretly administering the sedative, she buried them under utilitarian logic and common sense. Her husband’s well-being was much more important than his trust, particularly under the circumstances in which they were living. When neighbours and relatives started to commend her for the visible positive changes they had started to notice in her husband, it only confirmed the righteousness of her actions.
Her days having thus improved considerably, every night, just before going to sleep, she ensures that her husband drinks his glass of water, not forgetting to take some water herself from the glass to which her husband has added a drop of the slightly bluish liquid.
Note from HD: Zaa Doh Chue Mubarak, Arif!