The Dream Home
There was a chilling silence in the room. Aruna was sitting on the sofa, in front of four police officers, standing around her. She kept staring at the photograph of a young girl, looking straight into her eyes. The girl was wearing a hijab, which was not covering her face. Aruna could not even blink till the stern voice of an officer cut through the ice of silence,
“Do you know her?”
“Yes, I do.” The words somehow slipped from her mouth. “She is my daughter Roma.”
“Where is she now?” came the unrelenting query. “Can you please tell us everything in detail, everything?” The questions were sharp, and they came thick and fast.
“Everything? What everything did she have to say?” thought Aruna. A young, teenage Aruna flashed in front of her eyes. A docile, shy Aruna. She could still hear her mother’s soft yet insistent pleas,
“You have to stand on your feet Aruna, and that is that! I don’t want you to grow up and be a replica of myself, who has never had the courage to stand up for herself. I am always obeying others’ instructions, without a word of protest, and I don’t want you to do that. Study hard, do well, and fend for yourself, Aruna.”
She remembered that she was never allowed to play with other children, something as simple as playing, which is every child’s simplest pleasure, on the pretext that not only was this of no use, but also, in addition, this could make her imbibe bad things from the other children. Aruna too was submissive by nature, like her mother, and much as she disliked these restrictions, she never protested. As she grew up she got cocooned into herself, more and more. Growing up in an atmosphere deprived of fun and laughter, she started building castles of a future life with a partner who would understand her feelings, and would fill her life with all that she craved for. The fictional characters from the romantic tales became her paramours, from whom she would have the luxury to pick one for herself. Her dreams too grew in direct proportion to her age, and she found a soothing solace in them. She had no friends, and she had tutored herself that she didn’t really need any. Her mind was her fiercely guarded fort, the walls of which could be breached only by her Prince Charming, the valiant one. She lived the present only in fond aspiration, of being rewarded by a future of her dreams.
Aruna grew up, and fell in love with Piyush, her colleague at work. She found her Prince Charming in him and soon they got married. Aruna’s dream future was now her present. Her heart knew no bounds of joy. She settled down happily into her married life and, within a year, gave birth to Roma. She was overjoyed with all these wonderful changes in her life. Her dream castle was now a reality, and she lived in this castle in love and joy. But who knows where, and when, the old lady named Fate would spin her wheel, and usher in misfortune into one’s life? Roma was only around thirteen years, when Piyush got a big promotion and had to move to an African country, for a period of five years. It was an extremely difficult situation for them. For five years, Aruna did not want to leave her own job and lose her seniority in her office. And also, both Aruna and Piyash did not want Roma’s education to suffer. So finally Piyush went away, with the consolation that he would keep coming as much as possible, and that the five-year-period will pass away soon.
Aruna’s castle had room only for Piyush and Roma, so now with Piyush gone so far away, Aruna became lonely. Roma was growing up fast and like all children of her age, she had her own demands. When Piyush was around, he was the one who would understand Roma’s needs better and he would deal with her accordingly. With Piyush now gone far away, Aruna became very unsettled. So much so that she started finding it difficult to handle her own self, properly. Roma was by default left to herself, while Aruna got busy managing work and, more importantly, managing self. Roma was very close to Piyush. Sharing with him, came naturally to her. But now communication between them, in spite of the available technology, was nowhere as regular or as effective as face-to-face communication. And many a thing remained unsaid, unshared. Aruna had no idea about teenager Roma’s conflicts and struggles. Time never stops for anyone, and five years were about to get over. However, due to some internal problem in the company, Piyush was given an extension for a year. There was no way he could refuse it.
It was the 20th of April, Roma’s 18th birthday. Roma had planned a dinner out with Aruna, at her favourite restaurant. Roma told Aruna that she would meet her directly there. Aruna was waiting at the table, when she saw Roma enter the restaurant. With all smiles and love, Aruna got up to greet Roma as she came near the table.
“Mamma, meet Izaan, my husband. We got married today,” announced Roma. Was she hearing right? thought Aruna. But there they were, in front of her, holding hands. Aruna just managed to sit down. She could not utter a word. She kept looking at Roma, with disbelief, and with many unanswered questions. Gathering herself, she gestured for both of them to sit.
“Roma, my child, my baby, what sort of a joke is this? Tell me, it is a joke, right?Some college drama or something?” She asked with a quivering voice, filled with hope.
“Not at all Mom! We got married today morning. We are now husband and wife! I am Mrs. Amina Bano, begum of Sheikh Izaan,” replied Roma in a firm voice. Did she hear defiance in her voice?
Aruna could not understand anything. Roma has got married! Roma, her own daughter, was now a muslim, Mrs Amina Bano? Piyush and she were pretty much secular in their beliefs, but conversion of one’s religion was a serious matter. Why did Roma have to take such an extreme step? What was the thought process, that led to such a thing? And all this while Aruna, her mother, was completely oblivious to this humongous turmoil that was raging in her life?
Aruna did not know when she had just passed out. When she opened her eyes, she was lying on her bed at home. Roma and Izaan were sitting there and a doctor was checking her pulse. After giving certain instructions, the doctor left. Aruna could only mutter, “Piyush! Piyush! Where are you?” Piyush flew down the next day. Roma, with Izaan, left home and Aruna and Piyush never saw them again. Saying that they were going on a holiday, they never returned. And neither were they traceable. Aruna and Piyush had lodged a missing person complaint. That was three years back. Now the police had come with a picture of Roma, for identification by Aruna and Piyush. Some five youngsters, calling themselves jihaadis, had surrendered to the Afghani forces. Two Indians - Roma and Izaan - were among them.
“Yes, she is our daughter Roma, who we haven’t heard from, and whom we haven’t seen, for the last three years,” came a feeble reply from Aruna as she fainted and fell on the sofa.