You know, I always believed Morgan Freeman’s supposedly iconic dialogue from ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, “Hope is a dangerous thing,” was utterly stupid. I mean what an Oscar-winning multi- millionaire knows about the emotion of hope and the countless aspirations that a human heart attaches to it. Nothing.
Seven months and 27 days later, I began to live by it. It all started that fateful morning, when Daddy was reading out the newspaper to me, while I played hide and seek with my Winnie the Pooh in bed.
Any TedEx speaker or some monk of the highest grade could not have consoled my bleeding heart; such was the intensity of the ‘news’. And for a split second, I could feel my soul escaping my now feeble body. All by myself, I cried back to sleep.
Hussain, knowing how melodramatic I could get, jumped in for some damage control. At 12:45, right after his Abbu left for their footwear shop, he woke me up with his repeated calls. Even with the glazing ‘poor connection’ notification adoring his screen, he could see me weep. His eyes suggested he could sense my despair that found an outlet in the form of tear beads that ran through my arms and settled on my lap, soiling my cushions. I was like an adamant toddler, crying for a candy that was too hard for her barely-there teeth.
“Do you…you…know…” I asked.
“I know…listen…I do know…calm down first”
“Skype is banned…,” I replied.
“In Pakistan…from 31st March…Yes I know but you need to calm down first, Jiniya. How do you plan on chalking out an alternative if you continue sobbing.” Hussain is my logical Pakistani and I am his emotional ‘cry machine Hindustani’.
“We won’t see…we won’t see each other again…Oh God! Please tell me this is a hoax…Why would they shut down? You and I talk over it daily. Skype is doing so well,” I ranted.
Honestly, it wasn’t. With hardly half a million accounts and far lesser advertisements, this announcement comes as no shock to Hussain Al Masseri. It was me who was in complete denial.
Before hanging up, Hussain commanded in his husky voice, “Just run through our loveliest conversation tonight and go off to sleep.”
“What about alternate plan?” I quizzed.
“One thing at a time, Jiniya,” Hussain signed off.
Right after the Liberation War, when Skype was still in fashion and a big rage among third world countries, Hussain ‘accidentally’ added me on Skype. A story I find hard to digest. It was my display picture, I am telling you!
In his whimsical voice, I found, like me, a true patron of Art. He had me on our very first call, just by reciting:
Out beyond the idea
Of wrong doing and right doing;
There is a field,
I will meet you there
He loved Rumi and preferred Jayanta Mahapatra and Kamala Das over Manto. That was what set him apart from mere mortals; his ability to look beyond the obvious and hold his ground against all odds. Talk about the never-ending tension between our respective nations, he would snap, “An art lover never dreads the distance or loathes the boundaries, they go where words, music…their craft takes them.”
Hibiscuses growing in my mother’s garden caught his fancy for two reasons- he loved vibrancy and Karachi did not have it in abundance. On Sundays, it was our ritual to show each other hibiscuses of our lands. He would often wonder, “Just like us humans, even the flowers look alike. I don’t understand why this bloodshed.”
Hussain was born to a staunch Islamic father and a liberal mother. His Abbuji is the reason why we could not connect on Orkut, for he apparently knew about it all too well and learning about befriending a Hindustani would automatically make Hussain a kaafir. Hussain was queer and cryptic, he would never hang out with his mates from college and always branded them as ‘other people’ and called himself ‘not for this world’.
Despite the 12 o’clock curfew, we would stay up till wee hours of the night chatting away. About the magnificent Taj Mahal, the parallelly-running rivers right outside his home that would never meet, my broken bicycle, his blue eyes set on a chocolate brown chiseled face, his desire to study liberal arts, my love for Ashton Kutcher; our lives together.
The day after the terrible news struck, felt better. And Hussain made it all the more wonderful.
“Here is the plan. We both wanted to flee our countries since forever. Let us apply to University of Iowa, their acceptancy rate is 88%.”
“Daddy will never say yes to it.”
“He would…score 115 in TOEFL, both Iowa and Daddy will accept.”
“On a scale of 10, how sure are you about the results?”
“Let us give this a shot,” I gave in.
“Good girl! Now comes the hard part. TOEFL, SoPs, transcripts are serious business and require immense attention. Therefore, we will talk on 31st March itself”
“Listen, desperate times call for desperate measures. Give it your best and we will pose together near the Statue of Liberty.”
“Okay,” I agreed.
“Is there some other girl and you are doing this only to shoo me away?”
“Whattttt???…(laughs) Girls here think I need help.”
Help? He is way too smart for all of them.
Hussain and I are like two stark opposite characteristic traits of Bella from ‘Twilight’ saga; I was the one irrevocably in love and he preferred to suffer in silence.
With a little help from Mumma, I managed to buy two earthen piggy banks and labelled them: ‘application fee for Iowa’ and ‘visa process’.
I studied relentlessly, losing track of days and nights. All this because I had faith in Freeman’s conviction.
We will pose together near the Statue of Liberty.
The urge to end up in the same city was so strong that I no longer paid attention to Daddy’s rant on communalism or even helped Mumma with household chores. How could I risk TOEFL?
Even though laser wired fences and Benazir Bhutto and Atal Bihari Bajpayee posed hurdles on both sides of the disturbed nations, I somehow found myself wondering off to the forbidden territory. My mind was asking a thousand question per second? Has Hussain taken the test already? Has he cleared the visa process? I hated Hussain for the self-imposed ultimatum and even more for being able to stick to it.
Hibiscus seeds packed, woollen garments stacked up, and with a heavy heart, I hosted the farewell party for my friends and folks. “The excitement will kill me. Why can’t I call a day prior?…I hate diktats”
After pacing up and down the veranda, the ‘call of the century’ had finally come. Singh uncle from across the street could hear my heartbeats but who was complaining. I pulled off an extremely desperate stint; received the call after first ring.
“Look at you! You have grown so thin, been mugging away?”
My heart was pining for you, hence the weight loss. You idiot!
“You look malnourished,” I observed.
“Been thinking about me?” I teased.
“Hmmm…how are your plants? Nurturing them well.”
“Thanks for dodging. They reminded me of you, every day.”
“Do you want to talk about the time we were apart” I asked.
“Do you want to talk about our plan?”
“Oh, about that…So…I hate to break this to you now but my Abba passed away the month before and being his only son, I have to take care of his business and my mother here.”
“You said you were too unconventional to be domesticated.”
“I can shun the world but not them. I … have withdrawn my application.”
When were you planning on telling me?”
“I better go, Ammi is a little disoriented these days. Good luck”
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