By Durdana Bhat
Three days before the Indian state would “satisfy its collective conscience” by hanging Mohammad Afzal Guru inside Tihar Jail, his wife gets a call from an unknown number. It was early dawn and Tabassum Guru was still feeling sleepy. But the moment she answered the call, her sleep ended. “Hello, Pyaari?” The voice gave her goosebumps. It was Afzal.
He was calling her from his cell on a smuggled cell phone. “We had a thirty-minute conversation in which he asked me about my well being, talked to Ghalib and, mostly talked about Ghalib,” Pyaari aka Tabassum fondly recalls her conversation inside her Baramulla home.
Next day, on 7 February 2013, the call came again. He had called right after the fajr namaz. But this time, she could hear a concern. “He inquired whether I have received any news,” Tabassum recalls. “It was a more specific inquiry from his end. He spoke about the possible hanging of his co-inmate Bullar.”
In that call, Guru wanted Tabassum to share her 12-year-long ordeal: How she managed without him all these years? What happened when he was not around her? How did she spend her Eids, her festivities without him? How much Ghalib missed his father whenever he would spot kids of his age holding fingers of their Dads, Papas, Abus? He wanted to know everything?
“In case, you would not tell me anything,” he told her, “then wait for my last call, on Saturday.” Then he dropped the call. She waited for Saturday—then, as now.
“I’m still waiting for it,” she flashes a smile of a sage lost in a trance. “Sometimes, even in my dreams.” Recently, she saw him in her dream, still filling her heart with joy, after a long time.
Tabassum was traveling in a car with her husband and their son Ghalib in that dream. Her eyes shine spotting herself young, like a bride, without a grey or wrinkle. She sees Guru a young man — the same poetic aficionado whom she once knew for his poetic phrases: Achi surat ko savarne ki zarurat kya hai/saadgi mein bhi to qayamat ki ada hoti hai.
“On the Day of Judgment,” a guest breaks in, as she concludes her dream inside her home, “that’s how we’ll stand in front of our Lord: Young and upright.” She smiles over the remark, and apparently, over the possibility of the reunion with her departed other half.
Even if she would not tell it, Tabassum’s is the story of struggle, toil, loyalty, bravery, sacrifice.
Back in the time when she came as an 18-year-old bride to Sopore’s Doabgah from Baramulla, she dreamed about the perfect life: the loving husband, the caring in-laws, the small joys in life, but…
How shall a new bride react when her husband suddenly donates her wedding suits without informing her to his needy salesman? And what is she supposed to do when he insists her to give away her wedding jewelry to underprivileged girls?
He groomed her to be a different. She made peace with her husband’s Samaritan nature — at times coming at the cost of her own happiness. But she had no hunch that one day she would be fighting the bigger battles in Indian courts for her incarcerated husband. When she did, she was reminded of his remark: ‘Pyaari, you’re a fighter!’
Now whenever she thinks about it, she smiles and lives another day. Inside her home, unlike some wild notions around, she sits no wretched on earth, rather a strong-opinioned woman.
She speaks of the day when she married him on 1 November 1998, as a Class 11 student. They could only stay together for two and a half year. “If only he could’ve stayed a bit longer,” she wishes, but turns realistic quite often with a huge smile on her face.
Being 10 years elder to Tabassum, also his cousin, Guru wanted her to continue her studies. But her domestic work hardly left time for it. She was happy for his reading devotion, though. “It was almost as if books were his parallel universe,” she says with glimmer in her eyes. She goes on sharing an intriguing episode related to her husband’s reading devotion.
After the birth of their son Ghalib and usual distractions that follow from having a toddler around, Guru used to playfully complain, “Waai Pyaari mein mileha kanh goaph,” (Pyaari, I wish I could find a cave to read).
Later Tabassum would tell her chained husband in a Delhi courtroom, a year after the Parliament attack and his subsequent arrest: “So, you finally found your cave?!”
She would brim with tears saying this—and he, the strong-willed prisoner, could only offer his consolations to her in that crowded courtroom.
From that ‘cave’, she finally received five bag-loads of books, a month before his execution. He had finished reading them in Tihar. Part of souvenir now, those books now rest on a clean wooden rack inside her home.
Before that Tihar token, she had already braved the storm. In New Delhi, Sangh goons and Shiv Sena members had long hounded her, confining her along with her toddler in a hotel room. “And when Ghalib’s hunger would be too much to bear,” she recalls the moment’s anguish, “I would satisfy it with junk food.” But she never complained while continuing that unending fight.
And once she would manage to get a mulakat—meeting—with smiling Afzal, she would stand on the other side of the glass partition and converse with him through a microphone for only twenty minutes. So close, yet so far.
He wanted to know her pains, her troubles. She could never explain. He could only ask her for sabr, the patience, to brave the ugly realities in Kashmir in their last meeting in August 2012.
Meanwhile at Sopore, on 9 February 2013, Tabassum waited for the Saturday’s call, which Guru had promised to her. She was getting ready to tell him only a part of the story, lest she would trouble her imprisoned spouse with her share of agony. She did not want to tell him how at times Ghalib badly wanted his father’s company. And how she skipped festivities only to pray for his release, day and night. She was fighting hard to control her tears when her phone rang up.
The voice—“Hello, Pyaari?”—did not sound the same this time. It was not Afzal. It was Delhi University teacher SAR Geelani, acquitted in the Parliament attack case, breaking the most shocking news to her: “Afzal has been hanged!”
—Durdana Bhat is doing her Master’s in Peace and Conflict Studies from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
The piece appeared in February issue of Kashmir Narrator. For subscribing to print edition, contact KashmirNarrator@gmail.com