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Noah’s Ark

Noah’s Ark
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Picture By: Syed Shahriyar Hussaini

 

That night she had been unusually restless. Trying her best to sleep, she kept tossing and turning in bed. Rolling from one end of the bed to the other, covering her eyes with her arms in a desperate attempt to block even the faintest ray of light from reaching her eyes, she finally gave up, frustrated. Sleep was elusive tonight.

Just hours ago she had walked hurriedly, soaked in the rain to her grandparents’ house, a few blocks away. It had been raining incessantly for the past few days. Rained like never before. As if the skies had suddenly been torn asunder, ripped right in the centre by some formidable, mighty sword. And all hell had broken loose. The noise was so deafening as if a million clarions had been sounded all at once. And the torrential rains that poured down were the ominous beginning of a war cry. She had been instructed to convince her grandparents’, that lived on their own in a scarily huge mansion for two, to come over and stay the night with them. It was only after she had raised her voice a couple of decibels higher than usual and after a massive display of histrionics on either side, that she finally managed to emotionally blackmail the aging couple into agreeing to her proposal. They relented after dilly dallying and an arrangement was made to take them away to safety (or so they all thought). As doors were shut tightly, checked and rechecked a dozen times to make sure all the locks were in place, she kept tapping her feet in impatience. A huge bunch of keys, to God knows how many cupboards of how many rooms, was shuffled from one hand to the other. The whole process was so laborious, so painfully elaborate that it could have tested anyone’s patience, but she knew the drill too well by now. She had seen this obsessive compulsive behavior ever since she was a child and had imperceptibly, unknowingly imbibed shades of it in varied forms herself. Atavistic, she thought to herself. The madness runs in the family. And surprisingly enough, it had not skipped a single generation. Exceptionally efficient penetration these genes had! As a symbol of victory, she clicked a picture of her grandfather locking the main door to their house, steadying his trembling hands, (while her grandmother scurried about, high strung as always, shouting orders right, left and center), and sent it to her mother with the words “rescue operation in progress” written underneath. Little did she know the latent meaning behind those words written frivolously.

How does one describe the terror upon seeing an entire river flowing maddeningly into one’s house? Of everything that was once held dear floating away? Hopes and dreams? The tinkle of laughter and those vapors of memories? Of a safe haven transforming into a potential graveyard?

As she was driving her grandparents to her home, she was suddenly gripped by an inexplicable urge to take a detour. ‘Let’s see what Jhelum has to say.’ The beauty of what the skies had put out on display could not be possibly put to words. Breathtakingly spectacular yet eerily unsettling and intimidating at the same time. There was an uneasy calm and stillness in the air, while the skies were smeared with varying hues of orange, crimson, crisp gold and a strange mix of grey and black. As if the clouds had parted only partly, half halfheartedly, yet allowing a barrage of myriad shades to appear, somehow sneaking out, creating a rich, surreal painting. The skies looked magnificent, menacing and dreadful all at once. Another moment captured. Both in the lens of her eyes and in the camera. A swift email sent to a material figure. Another flippant postscript added as an afterthought: “Jhelum roars today like never before. The raging tongues leap out feverishly, angrily. Who knows what is shifting inside her belly, what monster churns and contorts.” The water level had risen so fast, almost touching the very top of an old dilapidated wooden bridge, with the planks beautifully laid out, criss crossed to make a delicate net. The “Zero bridge”. The name had never struck her as odd. It was such a permanent fixture in their life that it had never managed to arouse her inquisitiveness. To question it is tantamount to looking at her own limbs incredulously. That Zero had encompassed everything after all. It had borne witness to the changing seasons, both on the outside and within. That Zero was now admitting through its meshes those disquieting waves, embracing and withholding the fury of an otherwise placid, somnolent river. And today it seemed to have awoken from its slumber and how! The river had carried too much in its depths and with all the silt having settled in its base, swallowing its insides, it had reached its brim. To overflow then, was an undeniable inevitability. And the skies were covertly alluding to the turbulence hidden in the heart of the river. Burning, ablaze, aflame. The hot molten lava had already been splashed onto the skies. Would that be all? Would the river be calmed as the skies had sat up and acknowledged its anguish? Was there a possibility of containment?

That night she had been unusually restless. Stories had begun reaching her ears. Of swollen, bloated carcasses of cows floating in the water. Of the embankments being strengthened by modest bags of sand. How hopelessly naive can humans be to delude themselves into thinking that tiny grains of sand could limit huge cascades? Perhaps, such is the nature of human existence. Reason is the first thing to go when faced with the enormity of the power of Nature. To lay those bags of sand, then, was an act of blind faith. Of Hope. The hope for Kindness. The Hope for Mercy. We all needed to believe in miracles at some level. Even the most skeptical of us.

She had probably dozed off out of sheer exhaustion in the wee hours of the morning for what seemed no more than an hour before the mostly ignored, forgotten landline began ringing. It was four in the morning. Her eyes darted open. She jumped out of the bed, rushed down the stairs, heart racing already, she knew something sinister was in the offing. The air had smelled heavy. And their dog had howled, wailed almost. Something he had never done before. She had a premonition. Something was about to happen. It made her queasy.

The banks had given way. They could withstand the wrath of the river no more. Like a protracted wound that had finally descended. Memory is a strange thing. It is selective beyond one’s control. Memory is autonomous. A being unto itself. What she remembers thus, are brief snapshots. A kaleidoscope. Brief flashes, spurts, in fact, mostly incoherent, bits and pieces falling out from the top of her head.

Her father putting on hold all decisions of whether to evacuate the house or not until he prayed, perhaps hoping He would make all decisions. As He did. As He always does.

A car trapped in the sudden gush of water as the river unleashed its fury on those familiar, seemingly safe roads. As they cast the beam of light emanating from a torch onto the lane ahead, piercing the menacing darkness, they froze in shock. The frantic blinking of the headlights of the car was abruptly devoured by the raging water. And then nothing. Pitch black darkness.

How does one describe the terror upon seeing an entire river flowing maddeningly into one’s house? Of everything that was once held dear floating away? Hopes and dreams? The tinkle of laughter and those vapors of memories? Of a safe haven transforming into a potential graveyard?

Can words do justice in describing the pain of losing ‘home’? Can words do justice now in expressing the anguish one feels at being deprived of the comforting idea of a home? Can the mighty Chinar, once uprooted, grow again, in foreign, alien lands? As it had in its own soil? Is there even such a thing as one’s own soil?

Who heard those desperate pleas for help

Shouted with the utmost despair?

Who saw the blood drain from pale faces

Making them even paler, more sallow

Faces, mute and impassive

Faces, screaming and wailing too

Songs of lamentations searing the skies

God’s Word clung at

Clung tightly with dirty hands

And an even dirtier heart

Shrieks rending the black skies into two

Hands reaching upwards, groping the air

Terrified eyes holding the night’s vigil

Panic stricken, stick in hand to measure the depth

Measure the depth of what?

The sea that had broken into our homes?

Or the darkness that had crept into our hearts?

The river had broken all barriers then

Anulled the annulus constricting hearts

And eased out sphincters elsewhere too

Hearts were inundated then

Awash and flooded, soaked and drenched

Holding onto any twig floating by

The ‘home’ transformed into a large vessel

Likened then, to the Noah’s ark

That vessel, the receptacle receptive of the other

Embraced all life with open arms

An embrace such as this, was only possible

When life stared death squarely in its eyes

As men shed tears, wailed and howled

Engulfed by water on all sides

Seeking forgiveness in each sigh

Those prayers must have reached the skies

For, in answer to those tearful eyes

A Helping Hand came by…

Was it the end of the deluge?

The end of all tormenting torrents?

How many more were yet to come?

Those fierce storms in our little teacups?

We stand, we wait, we bear with patience

Whatever is written by the Might of that Pen

For if that deluge was only the beginning

He will alleviate any further allusion

That awaits us here or in the hereafter…

Yet we must cushion our hearts and souls

Barricade them with tiny sandbags

In the hope that those little grains of sand

Will someday, help us plant our feet

Plant our feet firmly on land…..

And those grains shall, then, absorb

Whatever rivers might gush out yet again….

 

Dr Saba Shafi Makhdoomi is a doctor by profession currently working in the Delhi State Cancer Institute as a pathologist. She is also author of recently released book “Leaves from Kashmir” and can be reached at sabashafi87@gmail.com.

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