The writer today shares a short story of a young beautiful girl’s love, who languished in prison for years for committing no sin.
On more than one occasion, I have told that in these lockdown days, I am setting my old papers. While I opened an untied file, some loosened papers dropped. I sorted them out. There were some short stories, poems, and notes. Again, I organized them. But I thought how long, I have to keep them away from readers. An old anecdote came into my mind – ‘publish or perish.’ So, decided to publish it. It is a short story, set in Karachi, and depicts a decade of 1990s. The lead protagonists belong to two families – one lived in Pakistan and other in India. In its essence, the story is of human nature, love, betrayal, and forgiveness. The story starts with a title ‘Harvest of Betrayal and Loss.’
HARVEST OF BETRAYAL AND LOSS (Short Story)
With the sun-rays penetrating through the drawn curtains warning me that it was nearing 8 am, the thought of getting up on this Sunday morning was not too bad as I had a most refreshing sleep. I felt elated and ready for a cup of tea. But prior to it, the newspaper had to be picked up, as how can one enjoy a cup of tea without it.
After reading through the horoscope I moved on to the city page, where the subtitle to a photograph “Zeenat has been released by the anti-terrorism court”, caught my attention. With it, my memory took me back to those days, when I was doctor at the Women’s Prison in Karachi. I vividly remember her, as she was brought to me several times and all she could utter initially was “brother” and “cousin” in the same breath. Her jail-mates used to taunt her with these words.
I looked at the patient again. Was she dangerous or somehow her silence seemed to communicate it? However, if a man – young or old – would have looked her at this moment, he would immediately fall in love with her seductive looks despite the calm sadness on her face. I put the file back and addressed her by the name given in the file.
“Zeenat Bibi, what is the problem?”
She only looked at me and I coldly repeated the question. She remained silent, saying nothing but ‘brother’ and ‘cousin’ and then she collapsed.
I jumped up to save her to avoid any injury and called Majeed, the male nurse, for help. We placed her on a stretcher and moved her to the emergency room, and instructed a nurse to inject her with multivitamins and relaxants. After barely ten minutes she opened her eyes. I smiled at her to quicken her recovery and she responded by touching the back of my left hand with her right palm. With this move, my heart opened to her and instructed the nurse to take care of her while I am at the office. Re-read the file, wherein doctors had diagnosed her as suffering from depression and fatigue.
Intravenously injected relaxant helped her to find out what the problem was. Initially, she kept quiet, but suddenly she burst out into a never-ending flow of tears. My keeping quiet seemed to encourage her further and assumed that it was a psychological rather than a pathological illness.
I called the waiting sentries and with a strained face and tedious tone explained to them that the patient was in a critical condition and they need to bring her again the next day. Both moved their heads in acceptance of the order.
The next day I placed some old magazines and recreational material for Zeenat into the doctors’ chamber, adjacent to my office. In time, the same awkward pair of sentries brought her and while taking Zeenat into the prepared room. I told them to wait outside, while I was required to suddenly attend a case in the OPD. On my return found her looking at the magazines and sipping tea that a peon had brought for her. This helped establish a relaxed atmosphere. She smiled at me and said “Shukria, Baji”. On asking her where she was from she told me that they lived in Gulistan-e-Johar and that her father’s name was Maqbul Ahmad Khan and she was known as Zeenat Maqbul.
She paused for some time and with her lips trembling she said: “Baji main be qasoor hoon” – Sister, I am innocent.
I kept quiet but attentive. We both remained silent – a patient and doctor passing through the same feelings. Suddenly we heard shouting and on rushing to the door came to know that two factions of prisoners were fighting. I called the sentries and instructed them to bring the patient again tomorrow after lunch, to ensure that through the change of timing, avoid suspense among the staff. I rushed to treat the wounded prisoners.
On her arrival on the third day I ushered her into the chamber again, telling the sentries to wait outside. While entering the room, she keenly observed me and that look alone would have melted any man, who in the end would have claimed: “I adore her”. After seating, I put on a professional face to show my seriousness and asked why she was in prison.
Softly she whispered: “I will tell you, but you too perhaps, like the others will not believe me.”
I held her hand in mine softly caressing to encourage her — a special human touch that removes tensions and relaxes the mind. No words were required from me and she started on her own.
“My Father was office superintendent at Sindh Technical Board. After his premature retirement, we shifted from Liaqatabad to Gulistan-e-Johar. There were four of us in the family – papa, mama, my younger brother, and myself. My father was from a Pathan family of Dehli and Mama from Hyderabad, Deccan. Her only relative was her younger sister, who still lived there.”
“Mama’s dream was to unite her family, which could only be achieved through marriage – marriage of Zeeshan and me. He was the only son of my maternal aunt. Perhaps three to four years back we had visited them and on meeting Zeeshan there, I immediately liked him.”
She became silent, cleared her throat, and continued.
Last year Zeeshan came to Pakistan, his required visa documents were arranged by us. I know he was coming for me. He lived with us and it was the happiest time of my life. I was so eager to be close to him and at the slightest sign of him I would have dropped into his lap like a ripened mango. But I restrained myself as he always whispered: “Wait soon the time will come and we will be together.” Ah, but how I had to control myself.
Again she halted for a while and then continued.
Zeeshan was flying back to India on Saturday. So on Friday evening, we decided to remain together. My brother arranged for a DVD player and we all watched a movie after dinner. After the first interval, my parents decided to retire and my brother soon left too. We were alone and I anticipated some advances from him. But neither did the darkness of the night, nor the encouragement from my side allowed him to take advantage.
He was an unbelievable decent person. At dawn he kissed the back of my hand and repeated that we will soon have plenty of time together, just wait.
“He asked me for a photograph and I promised to give him a recent passport-sized one in the morning and we parted.”
I halted Zeenat and ordered more tea for both of us.
“Mama woke up to offer her prayers and knocked on Zeeshan’s door too. I joined her in the kitchen and soon Zeeshan came out of his room, followed by my Father and Brother. Zeeshan with the help of sign language indicated that the purse was on the table. I rushed to get my photo and unnoticed by the rest and placed it in his purse.”
Zeenat halted, cried, and then sobbed again. She wiped her tears with the back of her hand then continued.
“Papa and my brother accompanied Zeeshan to the taxi stand. Soon after they left, I found that Zeeshan had forgotten his purse.”
Suddenly, without a courteous knock, Majeed entered to inform me, that a special meeting has been called. I told Zeenat that we would meet again tomorrow, completely forgetting that I had requested for leave the next day, as the following two days were public holidays and wanted to avail the three-day off.
On my return after the holidays, I was informed that Zeenat had been shifted to Larkana and felt deeply disturbed by it.
A year later I got married and my in-laws’ condition was that I should quit my job, to which I agreed, as was expected of me.
Today, after three years, Zeenat had resurfaced. She was acquitted, but the police arrested her in another case and she was sent again back to the women’s prison at Karachi. As I continued to remain in contact with my former colleagues, I was sure that one could arrange a meeting with her. I requested a journalist friend, who had been following her story to join me, to which she willingly agreed.
When I met Zeenat, she immediately recognized me. After sharing some pleasantries, I requested her to continue her story from where she had left.
She tried to recall. I helped her with: “Remember, Zeenat, you saw that he left the purse behind…”
‘Ah, yes I saw it’ and she went on “when Papa and my brother returned after seeing Zeeshan off, I gave the purse to my Brother and asked him to take his bike and catch Zeeshan. He willingly obliged and left, but never returned. After switching on the TV we learned about a blast at Shahrah-e-Faisal. The news update went on that the law enforcement agencies have found the bomber’s bike and some foreign documents. We took it lightly as usual. But in the evening our house was raided. We were all arrested. They covered us with dark cloth from head to toe and a press conference was immediately held, in which we were all accused as collaborators and terrorists before the media”.
I interrupted asking about her ‘brother and cousin’ phrases.
“Doctor Sahiba, I am coming to that part,” and went on:
“When brought before the interrogation team, the officials showed me a photo of a burnt motorbike, and one shoe. I identified my brother’s shoe. While showing photos, the officer pointed at the photo of the bike and asked who owned it. I said, ‘my brother.’ And then he picked one paper from the table which was the admission slip of Zeeshan with affixed photo. He pointed towards the photo and again I replied ‘my cousin.’ After that, I don’t know how much torture I have gone through. But to be awakened by standing is unbearable and usually, I collapsed. But they kept me awake through forced kisses and other acts and kicks. My only response in all situations and queries was ‘brother and cousin.’ You, Doctor Sahiba, bumped into my life at that stage.”
‘But what about your brother and cousin’, I asked thoughtlessly.
Instantly I regretted my mistake. My journalist friend too whispered in a dead tone that on that fateful day as her brother crossed the bus, a blast occurred; human flesh spread in all directions.
Zeenat took quick breaths, and in a sad tone went on:
‘’Within months or so I would be released, but for what – to harvest the betrayal and loss? Neither the city nor I am the same anymore.” (END)
I hope you must have liked it. I am glad, it reached to you. Thank you, Sindh Couriers.
(Zaffar Junejo is Ph.D. Scholar at Department of History, University of Malaya Kuala Lumpur – The areas of interest: Peasants’ Studies, Social History, Cultural History, Colonial and Post-Colonial Periods)
For author’s previous blog click on Sindh Courier