The half in Dark

A year after Parliament attack convict Azfal Guru was hanged inside Tihar, his widow Tabassum is living a hushed life. Devoting most of her time to take care of their son, she believes a time will come when his mortal remains would be brought back by people of Kashmir. In a freewheeling conversation with Bilal Handoo, she recalls the ordeal that started with Guru’s arrest

cover-illustration-afzal-tabasum-galib

I was in Class 11 when I got married to Afzal sahab. He was 10 years elder to me. He filled my life with love and care. And just when everything seemed blissful, I got the shock of my lifetime – he was arrested! And with that, an unending period of struggle and suffering started.

He was arrested two and a half years after my marriage. I was in a total fix over the sudden twist in my life. It took me a while to realise that his arrest had completely devastated me. But then, I recollected myself and prepared for an unending fight. It was he, who had taught me a fighting spirit. Before his arrest he would often tell me that we should fight for our own cause.

And thus, I began battling it out by nurturing a hope – that one day, he would walk out of the prison and rejoin the family. But I guess, I was asking for too much. I realised that last year when I lost him in the most inhuman manner. With him, my hope also departed.

Now the very feeling—that he is no longer around, hurts me inside. His absence is troublesome. As a wife, one does crave for the company of one’s husband. Sometimes, I also wish to pour my heart out to him. But then, I find him missing. His departure has left a deep void in my life. Anyways, these things can’t be challenged. These are matters of fate and indeed, beyond the control of humans.

As his better half, I always knew him a lively person—full of life. He would always take me outdoors for recreations. Especially on Sundays, he would take me out. He was so full of life. But ever since the news of his arrest broke out, everything came to a standstill.

Few days before his arrest, I was at my parental home in Baramulla. It was third day of Ramadhan when he came to meet me from Delhi. After spending 2 days with me, he again left for Delhi. And soon, the news of his arrest came. It was unbelievable! I was lactating mother then. And I had no idea how to react.

For one complete year, I couldn’t meet him. And then, I along with our son, Ghalib, my father and my mother-in-law went to meet him. But we had no idea what was about to follow. As we stepped in Delhi, we were put through harsh treatment. For the fear of our lives, we couldn’t eat our meals properly. Most of the time we remained confined to hotel rooms. And whenever we stepped outside, people would always follow and harass us.

And then finally, we met him in a courtroom. His whole body was chained. But when he saw us seated on the front row of attendant bench, he pleaded before Judge that he should be set free from chains for a while, as his son might start crying by seeing him that way. Later, all his chains were removed but he was still handcuffed. As we moved closer to him, he greeted us like a normal person. And set gaze on his son’s eyes and kissed him. But the meeting was soon cut short.

However, a cycle of harassment continued throughout our stay in Delhi. Shiv Sena workers would frisk our belongings. They would even lay their hands in our clothes. Both my father and mother-in-law were hypertension patients. These harassments would leave them even more troubled. And most of times we would always run for our lives. It was only upon reaching Banihal that we would take a sigh of relief and also eat something.

After that whenever we had to meet him, we would stay in Muslim locality around Delhi’s Jamia Masjid. The place was much safer for us than rest of the Delhi. We would only step out when we were to meet him. During those 20 minutes meetings inside Tihar, he would stand on other side of glass partition and would talk to us through a microphone. And each time, his body language was supreme. He would always walk into the meeting room with smile on his face. His gestures would uplift our morale and confidence. He would enquire about everyone—his son, his family, relatives and many others.

He wasn’t done and out. During all these meetings, he never talked about the ordeal he faced. He never ever made a small mention of the torture he had to endure. Perhaps, he had made up his mind to live that odious life inside Tihar without crumbling his own spirits.

And then in August 2012, I was on another visit to Tihar. But I had no idea that I was meeting him one last time! He was smiling that day. He told me: “Look, Ghalib is weak in grammar, take care of him. I was best in grammar, why should my son stay weak.” He also raised his concern over Ghalib’s two frontal teeth that have grown inwards. “Heal them up,” he said.

In September that year, I lost my mother-in-law. And few months after, son joined his mother…

A day before he was hanged, my health condition deteriorated. It was evening time, when my colleagues at Sopore Nursing Home noticed me talking without sense and substance. I didn’t notice my own spoken words. After sometime, one colleague inquired: “Are you alright, Pyari?” Everybody calls me Pyari, even Afzal sahab would call me with the same.

“Perhaps, I have a high blood pressure,” I replied. A resident doctor checked my blood pressure, but found it normal. After sometime, an ECG was done. And again, everything appeared fine. Then my colleagues advised me to take rest to overcome some unknown and undetected stress.

Afzal’ family in Delhi
Afzal’ family in Delhi

With the same state, I fell asleep. I was later told that throughout that night I was awake and sobbing. But I don’t remember anything.

And then in the early morning of Feb 09, 2013, my cell phone buzzed. I kept staring at its screen for a long time before attending the call. In almost unconscious state of mind, I heard the huffing voice on the other side of phone calling my name, “Pyari, Pyari…” The caller was SAR Geelani. He broke that shocking news to me: “Afzal sahab has been martyred!”

I rebuked him and called him unwise. After a brief pause, he enquired whether I had received any letter about Afzal sahab. I said, “No, I didn’t.” Then he dropped the call by saying: “Then I might be wrong. Let me confirm the facts.”

Deep inside, I was growing restless. And in the same state of mind, I went outside my resting room. Perhaps, the news had already reached the hospital as everybody around seemed sullen and saddened. But nobody spoke a single word to me. Only looks of remorse reflected from their faces. And then, as I stepped outside the main gate, I was told to stay inside as curfew had been imposed in the Sopore town.

The paralytic life outside left me numb, and for the first time, my heart grew heavy. “Something is seriously wrong,” I thought. And then, my cell phone buzzed once again. It was 8 AM. The caller was the same, SAR Geelani. Now, he was certain: “Yes, it is true. They have martyred him!” And soon, I switched off my cell phone and for next 40 days, I lost touch with the world.

Later when I swung back to senses, an awful feeling gripped me: how could they deny me a last chance to meet my husband? At least, they should have informed the family. What was so urgency? What sort of message they wanted to send by hanging him in the most scandalous manner? I mean, that man was already in their jail for 12 long years, wasn’t he? Then why this haste, that too in a covert manner…

Afzal Guru and others arrested by Delhi Police in 2001.
Afzal Guru and others arrested by Delhi Police in 2001.

After denying last meeting, they repeated the most inhuman act—we were denied his mortal remains. Do you know what my son keep telling me? He says: “Mama, had my father been buried here, I too would have visited at his grave to recite prayers for his departed soul.”

Tell me, how am I supposed to reply him? Shall I tell him: “Look son, learn to control your longing for your father. He won’t show up, never. And understand something: justice system of India now dreads his mortal remains as well. So, stop wishing anything!”

He is just 14-year-old who studies in Class 9. He thinks New Delhi devoured his father. And he has already made up his mind that he would never step again in Delhi. “They killed my father,” he says.

Sometimes, I ask him: “What if tomorrow you would have to visit Delhi for studies?” He loathes the very idea. At least, he deserved one last chance to meet his father. But no, they never thought it necessary.

And how shall I explain, what his departure did to me. He was my hope. Shall I say, I lost my hope. Hope to go and meet him in Tihar for those 20 minutes. And hope to receive his letters, wherein he would boost my confidence to stand firm. But now, his departure…

When I look back at last 12 years of my life, stacks of memories rush to trouble me. All these years, I lived with my parents. And during that period, there were lot of talks and suggestions that I should restart my life. In fact, when I visited him in 2005, Afzal Sahab told me: “You should remarry!” He said so because he knew his chances of stepping out of jail were bleak.

“No, this is not possible,” I replied to him, “What if you were in my place?” He knew that I would never think of leaving him alone. After that, he didn’t mention anything about it.

Tabbasum hackled by right wing activists during her Delhi visit.
Tabbasum hackled by right wing activists during her Delhi visit.

I miss him whenever I remember how he would call me ‘special’. He would say: “Pyari, you are not common woman. You are a special one.” Soon after his arrest I realised, that yes, I am really a special one.

Once he had read my interview published in some journal. Later when I went to meet him, he told me: “Be fearless while addressing media. You have nothing to hide.” Such was his frame of mind.

All these memories trouble me a lot. And it felt even bad that I was denied one last chance to meet him. I am sure he had certain things to talk about, but he couldn’t because of the manner he was treated by the Indian law.

His absence troubles Ghalib quite often. You know, kids today are more attached to their fathers. He too wants to share certain things with his father who is not there for him. He doesn’t exhibit his emotions whenever the longing for father touches threshold in him. And instead, he gives me his warm company if he finds me disturbed. We, the mother-son duo, often share each other’s pain in silence.

But people continue to shower their love and warmth ever since he was martyred. Recently, a small girl of about 6-year-old came to meet me. She had insisted her parents to arrange a meeting with me. Also, some small girls from Kupwara came to meet me and treated me with high regard and reverence. All these instances remind me his words: “Pyari, you are a special one.”

Indian government would hang my husband was never at the back of my mind. I would always tell him during our meetings in jail: “They wouldn’t set you free, so easily. They might release you on Ghalib’s marriage. And then you would come home to meet your daughter-in-law.”

The Afzal, I know, was somebody who had a great love for Kashmir cause. He was keenly observing the state of affairs in the valley and most of the things would sadden him to the core. He would often say: “If we can’t do anything about it, then tomorrow Kashmiri people will face a great ordeal.”

Afzal Guru’s home in Doabgah Sopore.
Afzal Guru’s home in Doabgah Sopore.

Now in his absence, I am toiling hard to raise his last possession, Ghalib. He is my sole reason to survive now. But yes, till I am alive, I would continue my struggle to secure my husband’s mortal remains. I don’t understand what stops India to hand over his mortal remains. India should learn from Pakistan who returned Sarabjeet Singh’s body with honour.

At the moment, I am too sceptical that India would return his mortal remains. If they could deprive a dying man one last call to his family, then they can do anything!

But I believe that time will come when people of Kashmir will themselves bring back what has been left inside Tihar.

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