Farzana and Arsh sat glued to the television, watching the news. There had been a blast in Srinagar and all the media channels were streaming the news. Some extremist group had claimed responsibilty for the same. According to the news, three youngsters were the main accused, out of which one of them had been blown away in the blast and the other two were at large. The pictures of the three were being flashed again and again and each time Farzana and Arsh would strain their eyes and neck to look hard and, with a heart filled with fear, try to identify their nineteen year old son Kabir. All the three faces looked similar to them, a beard, big glasses on the eyes, almost covering the face, and a cloth tied over the head. They looked the same age too. The two of them would have lost count of the times they had been trying to do this, and they still were not sure if they would be happy or sad, if they managed to really identify him.
The last one month had been a nightmare for Farzana and Arsh. It still continued to be so. Their only child Kabir, to have been named a terrorist! Their minds would stop working so many times, because it was impossible for them to accept this terrible insinuation against there son, made by the police. It seemed just yesterday, when the door bell rang late one evening. Farzan and Arsh had just sat down for dinner, after returning from work. Who could it be at such late an hour, thought they, as Arsh opened the door. He was completely taken aback when a police official pushed him in and walked into the room. Before Arsh could speak, the chilled voice of the officer rang into their ears,
“ Where is Kabir?”
Kabir? Why were they enquiring about him, they thought, as Farzana muttered out,
“Kabir? What has happened to him? Tell me officer, what has happened to our son? Is he alright?”
“Where is Kabir?” the question boomed again.
“Kabir has gone on a college trip to Ladakh, with his friends,” Arsh somehow managed to say. He was almost shivering. His mind was running wild with thoughts. He could not even look towards Farzana. Somehow he managed to move, and stood near Farzana. Unknowingly Farzana too reached out, to hold his hand tight.
“Look, you both better speak the truth. Where is Kabir hiding?”the officer’s voice sounded menacing now.
“Officer, we are speaking the truth. Kabir has gone for a college trip, around a week back. His whole class has gone, you can check. But can you please tell us why you are asking for Kabir?” pleaded Arsh.
“Both of you quite feign innocence! Never mind, we know how to get the truth out,” came the threatening voice of the officer now.
Arsh gathered himself now and asked if he could make a call to his uncle, who was the Director General of Police, in Gujarat. Now the police officer seemed to relent a bit and let him make the call. Before Arsh could speak, the officer snatched the phone and started talking. In a moment his tone changed, but what he spoke left both Farzana and Arsh shellshocked.
“Jai Hind Sir! Actually Kabir has been accused of being a part of a dreaded terrorist group. We have to make enquries and for that he is needed, but he is not to be found.” the officer stated.
A terrorist! Kabir! Were they hearing right? Arsh and Farzana stared at each other with ashen faces. Arsh was given the phone to speak with his uncle, who assured him of all help, at the same time demanding full co-operation. Needless to say, it was a very serious matter, he reminded him. Arsh could answer only in monosyllables before he put down the phone. Both he and Farzana sat down on the sofa and the police officer stood before them with a barrage of questions.
“ So Ma’am you are a muslim and Sir, you are a Hindu, right?”
“Yes, if you put it like this,”replied Farzana, “because we follow both the religions.”
“Oh ho! So you both follow both the religions? Wow! You so-called modern people are such hypocrites, and it is people like you who create problems. How can anyone practise two religions?”came the condescending reply of the officer. “So, what religion does your son Kabir follow? Both?” sneered he.
“Yes, Kabir too, like us, practises both the religions,” mumbled Farzana. “He visits the temples as well as the mosque.”
“We celebrate all the festivals of both the religions, officer,” Arsh defended Farzana firmly.
“When did Kabir leave for this so-called college trip?”demanded the officer now.
“Exactly two weeks back. He is studying architecture, so, along with his batch mates, he has gone for a month-long trip. They have a project for three weeks where they will restore abandoned sites and try to make a museum showing all those relics and lost art. This is a part of responsible tourism where, by creating livelihoods, they will be giving back to the society,” Arsh proudly explained.
“ Don’t give me all this crap. Giving back to the society my foot! Joining terrorists groups is responsible tourism, is that what you want me to believe?” shouted the officer.
“When did you speak to him last?”he prodded.
“A week back, last Sunday. They are in a remote area where there is no network, so we can’t talk regularly,” stammered Farzana.
“ We have got information from our very reliable sources that your son had joined a terror group some eight months back. He has gone on his first mission and we will track him soon. You both better co-operate with us and don’t you dare to lie or hide anything from us. We will keep coming whenever needed,” bellowed the officer as he stormed out of the house leaving Farzana and Arsh, rooted at their places.
Since that day, two weeks back, Farzana and Arsh lived like the dead. Many a time they would wake up from sleep, if they could sleep, screaming in terror. The police officer came infinte times to keep asking about Kabir. Their relaives too were interrogated and they too had doubt in their eyes whenever they met the couple. Farzan and Arsh had full faith in Kabir but the monster named Fear, had the power to ruthlessly tread upon almost anything, so at times both of them would ask their own selves very fearfully, if Kabir really was what the police and media were making him out to be. And now this blast in Srinagar!
The bell rang. It filled the room. Arsh and Farzan looked at each other. Was this a call from the Police? Some channel? Neither of them could muster the courage to answer any of the questions. The phone rang and rang and stopped. It rang again. The ominous ring sent shivers down the spine of the two. Finally, with trembling hands, Farzana picked the phone and put it to her ears.
“Hello Mom! Hello Dad! Can you hear me? It’s Kabir! Why is no one speaking?”
“Kabir! Kabir! Is it you? Is it really you?” sobbed Farzana.
“Yes Mom, it’s me! But why are you crying? I had told you that we will be in an area with very poor signal, and so I just couldn’t get through to you. Today we have reached Leh and I am calling you,” comforted Kabir.
“ Oh Kabir! Oh my son!” Arsh took the phone and babbled off.
“See you tomorrow Dad! We had such an awesome project, I have so much to tell you. Bye for now, love you both,” there was a click and the phone got disconnected.
Farzana fell over Arsh and both of them howled and howled. They could not believe what they had been through. Their faith was restored; their son, Kabir was safe and was to return the next morning. The door bell rang. Arsh went to open it. A sheepish looking poice officer stood there.
“My apologies Sir! Your phones were tapped so we have heard the conversation with your son, Kabir. We have cross checked from the other end too. It is another Kabir that we are looking for. Some facts got mixed up and hence such trouble to you. We are very sorry. We just hope, you understand. We were just doing our duty,” apologised the officer and went away. Farzana and Arsh did not even know how to react to him The nightmare had shaken them up so much that all that they could do was thank the Almighty for having sorted things out. For sure, there would be so many, who would have suffered due to a mistaken identity. Their minds were in such a turmoil, that all through the remaining day, they had to put in all their might to calm themselves completely.
“Mom! Dad!” were the sweetest words they had ever heard in their lives, the next morning, when they hugged Kabir tightly as if never to let go.