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I can't tell Shazia her son died in a blast, can you?

Wednesday March 13, 2013 03:29:09 PM, Anwar Iqbal

She goes to bed with her son’s teddy bear. During the day, she locks the bear in a cupboard. In the evening, she takes it out; cleans it, combs it and then says to the bear: “Come, let’s go. It is time to go to bed.”

This has been her routine ever since her son died, killed in a bomb blast. He was only six.

Did they have names, the mother and son? Yes, they did. Shazia and Zeeshan.

Shazia was home, preparing lunch for her son when the tragedy occurred. The bomb exploded near a market which was between Zeeshan’s school and their house. He was walking home with his father when a piece of metal hit him. He was rushed to a hospital where he died later in the evening.

The father was injured too, but not seriously.

Two years ago a father, Ehtesham, was killed in the same Karachi neighbourhood, hit by a stray bullet. He was returning home after dropping his two daughters at their school.

We read about these incidents every day, in Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore and the tribal areas. Thousands have already been killed in all sorts of attacks in the last 10 years.

Violent deaths make everybody sad but knowing the victim makes it worse. We at the Virginia Tavern knew Shazia, Zeeshan and Ehtesham. So we gathered at the tavern this evening to mourn them and to condemn the perpetrators, as we always do after such incidents.

But Shazia Naqvi is not interested in our tears or our condemnation. She is too busy with the teddy bear to care about anything.

“Now listen, I told you the story of the lion that was trapped in a cage and of the tortoise who outran a rabbit and you are still wide awake,” she says to the bear.

“This is the last story of the evening. Absolutely the last one. No more stories for tonight,” she says and then starts a story that always put Zeeshan to sleep:

‘There was an old woman who had half a dozen grandchildren. Once, during summer vacation, they all came to stay with her. She was absolutely delighted and so were the kids because this Nani Amma was very loving.

And she was popular too, not just among her grandchildren but also among her neighbours. So whenever her grandchildren came, the neighbours would also send their children to her house to play with them.

One night, when it was very hot and stuffy inside, Nani Amma took the kids to the roof and told them that they would be sleeping on the roof with her.

In the summer, people in our city often sleep on the roof with their kids. But her grandchildren lived in a neighbourhood where they did not have traditional roofs with high walls so they could not sleep on roofs.

The children were so excited that they started hopping around and Nani Amma had to call their parents to subdue them. The kids were forced into their beds but they were not sleepy.

The sky was full of stars and the moon was there too, peeping at them from behind a tree. So the children started urging Nani Amma to tell them stories, lots of stories.

Nani Amma also loved telling stories, so she was pleased to oblige. She started with a fairy tale. Then she told them about a faithful horse who saved his master and also about an old potter in her village who could make magic toys.

The children loved those stories but every time Nani Amma would finish a story and ask them to go to sleep, they would shout: “One more, one more.”

After the sixth or seventh story, Nani Amma said: “Here is a story about sleep. You will have to sleep after this because I am not going to share another story with you tonight.”

And here is the story she told them:

There is a bird called chakore that comes out at night and flies towards the moon. When he gets closer to the moon, they talk to each other. Tell each other stories and the chakore also sings for the moon.

Finally, the moon says to the chakore: “It is late. Let’s go to sleep. And covers its face with a thick cloud.

When the chakore realises that the moon is indeed asleep, he flies back to his nest, humming a tune, the dream tune: “So ja, so ja, sleep, sleep, it is time to sleep. We will meet again.”

Then he gets into his nest, dreaming of his next meeting with the moon.

Meanwhile, the dream tune starts a chain reaction.

The clouds say to each other, “it is time to go to bed” and slide away to a distant palace where they sleep.

The stars, who have been quietly watching the moon and the chakore, also say to each other: “Let’s sleep. It is already late.” And they start closing their eyes.

The wind too changes its pace. Blowing slowly, it gets into a mode that makes everybody drowsy.

“It is time to sleep,” the trees whisper to each other.

“Yes, we too need to sleep,” say the mountains. The river slows its flow as well.

“And by the time Nani Amma finishes her story, everybody is asleep,” says Shazia to the teddy bear. “Even her naughty grandchildren who did not want to sleep.”

Then she takes the bear to the cupboard and says: “Sleep tight. I will wake you up early for school.”

Before she closes the door, Shazia says to the teddy bear: “You are my moon. I am your chakore. Good night.” And she too goes to sleep.

Her physician says that Shazia must be told that the teddy bear is not Zeeshan. Zeeshan is dead.

I cannot tell her. If you have the courage to tell her, do. I will not.

The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.




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