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