Sakina — The story of a Pakistani village girl

Along the Grand Trunk road, in South Punjab, lies a small village called wasti Nawabpur. A small road branches off from the main highway, runs straight for about half a mile before turning left and then meanders along cotton fields till it reaches a large palatial structure. This is the house of the nawab (literally the Chief), an impressive white building with a large water cistern sitting boldly on the roof, as if inviting the small mud houses located at a distance to witness its majesty. The mud houses belong to landless laborers who live and toil on the nawab’s agricultural estate.

Adjacent to Nawab’s home, known as wada ghar (large house) in the village, is a mosque. It boasts traditional Persian style blue tiles and a small dome that makes no attempt to compete with the water cistern referred to earlier. Upon entering the mosque, one finds written in beautiful calligraphic text the words “Built by Nawab Bahadur 1904”. Further inquiry would reveal that Nawab Bahadur was the grandfather of the existing Nawab of wasti Nawabpur. The text perhaps serves as a reminder to the sinful souls coming to this house of worship of who the real temporal authority is — that is to say, lest they forget.

It was here in Nawabpur, in the courtyard of one of those small mud houses, that Sakina’s mother Nasreen lay coughing. She worked as a domestic servant in the Wada Ghar, but due to her worsening condition, had not been able to go to work for the last many days. She lay on a manji (a traditional type of bed found in the rural areas), and next to her sat her brother, Khadim, who had come over to see her. A cool autumn evening had crept upon them, as they sat and discussed plans for the next day. It was decided, in light of Nasreen’s relentless coughing, that a visit must be made to the local saint’s shrine to pray for her health.

“Sakina”, said Nasreen loudly, almost choking herself due to the chest congestion, “come here and serve your uncle a glass of milk before he leaves.”

Sakina stood in the doorway of their only room looking up at the sky; behind her was the darkness of the room that seemed to pull her towards itself, while outside, a starry light was beginning to descend upon the courtyard. Sakina was not necessarily beautiful — of course this may not make any sense to those who argue that beauty is a completely subjective concept; however, there was an innocence on her face that afforded it an irresistible charm, such as would have been hard to capture in a lifeless portrait. She was in her late teens or early twenties, the exact age always hard to pin down among rural people in this part of the world.

The next day, a little before noon, Sakina, Nasreen and Khadim set out on foot towards the shrine. The shrine was about a mile from Sakina’s home, and was located close to the village graveyard. It was the shrine of a Sufi Saint who lived in the seventeenth century, and people from local villages often flocked to this site to seek the hope that they had often been otherwise denied by those around them. Here by the saint’s grave, they untied their hearts, let their eyes flow and beseeched the Saint’s soul to intervene on their behalf and ask the Higher Being for their everyday humble needs.

The shrine was a simple graceful structure consisting of a green-domed room, in which was located the grave of the saint, with a small bricked courtyard on the outside. As the trio approached the shrine, they noticed that the nawab’s jeeps were parked outside. It had so happened that chota nawab (young nawab), Nawab Akbar, son of the nawab of wasti nawabpur, Nawab Daulat, had also come to the shrine that day. Nawab Daulat, ever since his wife’s death four years ago, and apparently due to ease of access to doctors and hospitals, had permanently moved to his house in the nearby city of Multan. So, Nawab Akbar had now assumed full responsibility for managing lands and the affairs of the village, while simultaneously working on developing his political career as a potential member of the national parliament.

“I think we would wait outside the shrine”, said Nasreen in a low voice, “till chota nawab comes out.”

Everyone readily agreed, and the three pilgrims decided to wait outside the boundaries of the holy tomb. In a short while, the young handsome face of the chota nawab emerged from shrine followed by a group of servants. As the nawab stepped out, he caught glimpse of Nasreen standing meekly under the shade of a tree, supporting herself against the tree trunk; almost immediately, he looked at Sakina. The nawab seemed to be genuinely surprised, for he had never seen Sakina before. He knew that Nasreen had a daughter, since Nasreen worked in his home as a domestic maid, but he had just never gotten to meet Sakina.

The Nawab said something to one of his servants in a low voice, and the servant came running towards the three of them.

“Nasreen”, said the servant excitedly, “chota Nawab wants to see you, Khadim and your daughter.”

A strange shudder came over Nasreen as she almost went pale at those words. A week’s coughing had done her less harm than this decree of the nawab. Clutching Khadim’s arm in her right hand and Sakina’s in her left, she started to move towards the Nawab, who now stood just outside the courtyard of the shrine.

“Sain (your highness)”, spoke Nasreen softly upon approaching the nawab.

Khadim almost immediately repeated these words behind her, while Sakina gently lowered her gaze and pulled her chaadar (a large piece of cloth that women wrap around themselves and use to cover their heads when they go out) a little with her hand to partially veil her face.

“Nasreen”, spoke the Nawab in a gentle voice, “my wife told me that you were not coming for the past many days because of ill health.”

“Yes Sain, I have been feeling terrible for the last week, but I will try to come back to work soon.”

“Is this young girl your daughter?”

“Yes Sain.”

“What is her name?”

“Sakina.”

“It is your time to rest now anyways”, said the Nawab, his voice assuming a commanding tone, “send Sakina to work from tomorrow.”

With these words the Nawab left, giving Sakina one last glance as he walked by. Nasreen was as if petrified from head to toe. Her worst fear had come true; the chota nawab had a reputation for his libertine lifestyle, and it was rumored that at any one point in time, he usually kept around eight mistresses. Nasreen, started to shiver, perhaps as she struggled to solidify her determination to protect Sakina from all filthy hands.

“Ama (mother)”, said Sakina, confused at her mother’s condition, and completely oblivious of Nawab’s reputation, “why do you look so nervous? Chota Nawab said exactly what I have been trying to tell you for a long time. It is my age to work now, you should rest.” Sakina took a deep breath and then continued, “I have done five years of school, there is nowhere to go for more education, and I have been pretty much confined to our home for the last so many years. I think I should start work now.”

Nasreen had been very protective in raising Sakina. After completing primary education from a school in the adjacent village, Sakina had to give up further studies because the nearest middle school was in a small town almost six miles from the village. Ever since then, Sakina had stayed at home, making herself busy with household chores during the day, and learning and memorizing Quran from a female Hafiza (a female who has memorized the Quran by heart) in the village during the evenings. Her only trips outside home were either when she went to the graveyard once a week to sit by her father’s grave, or when she went out with other women from the village to a nearby canal to wash clothes.

“No, Sakina”, spoke Khadim, “you do not understand.”He paused, as if wanting to let his words make an impression on the young girl before continuing, “That is not possible.”

Nasreen tightened her grip around Sakina’s arm in a gesture to reassert Khadim’s words.

The three of them then spent many hours sitting at the shrine, each engaged in a silent prayer. As they got up to leave, Sakina asked her mother permission to go to her father’s grave in the graveyard behind the shrine. As already mentioned, Sakina used to come to her father’s grave once every week. She had never seen her father, because he had died before her birth, but she was deeply attached to the imaginary father figure that lived in her heart. It was therefore that every week she would sit by her father’s grave and enter into a long monologue with him, sharing with him all of her concerns and worries, and then putting her palms on his grave to seek reassurance that all their problems would eventually be taken care of.

Knowing well that Sakina came to the graveyard every week, and that her stay by her father’s grave was always a long one, Nasreen and Khadim agreed to let her stay behind, while they decided to walk back to the village.

There is something truly astonishing about a young face sitting by a grave in a silent graveyard, for there is such an inherent contradiction between the life, hope and energy as symbolized by the youth and death as represented by the grave, that their juxtaposition presents to the human eye one of the most intriguing images that it can ever witness; it seems as if the beginning and the end have been put together.

Sakina gently sat down besides her father’s grave and closed her eyes. She started to imagine what her father must have looked like. Although she knew that were he now alive, he would have been quite old, she would always, in her imagination, because of a subconscious desire to feel protected, think of him as a strong young man. She started to talk to him in a low voice, feeling certain that his soul in the Heavens was listening to her every word.

“Aba (father)”, she started, trying to hold back the tears that this very word brought to her eyes, “I am so lonely.” She then stopped, because all she really wanted to say had effectively been said in that sentence, but then resumed her monologue, “Ama has been very sick for the past week, and I am very worried about her. She does not agree to let me work, whereas now it is her time to relax.” She stopped to look around and make sure no one else was listening to this private conversation. “Aba, I know that even though you are physically not with me, you would somehow protect me and ama. I know that you are always with me. Aba, aba I know.” She sat there for a long time, lovingly touching the grave and repeating the word “Aba” every now and then.

Sun was starting to set, and Sakina, realized that her mother might be getting worried. She decided to head back and kissed the grave one final time before leaving. Sakina closed her eyes as she kissed, and then with tears still hanging like pearls from her eyelashes, left the graveyard.

Next day, a little before sunset, as Sakina was kneading dough for dinner and Nasreen lay quietly on the manji, there was a loud knock on the door. Sakina, startled by the urgency in the knock, ran towards the door, and Nasreen, also somewhat puzzled, looked inquisitively at her. It was Jinda, another women from the village, who also worked as a domestic servant at the Nawab’s house. Jinda entered their courtyard with haste, and after a throwing a casual look around, walked straight to where Nasreen lay.

“Jinda, you look upset? Is everything okay?” asked Nasreen, with clear signs of worry on her face.

“Nasreen”, said Jinda, sitting by her side on the manji, “you know what happened today?”

Nasreen, without saying anything, shook her head.

“Nasreen, Mian Akbar told me to ask you as to why you did not send Sakina to work today,” said Jinda with anxiety in her voice, “his intentions do not seem good. Please do something about it else he might come in person to take Sakina.”

A momentary silence fell upon the three of them. Sakina, who was now standing close to the manji, stared stoically at Jinda. Nasreen had told Sakina about the Nawab Akbar’s reputation the night before, and Sakina had given up the thought of working at the Nawab’s house. However, she thought that the story had ended there. It was only now that her heart started to beat against her chest like a hammer.

“What should I do Jinda”, asked Nasreen in a determined but low voice.

“I say send Sakina to Multan. It is a big city, and she can find employment anywhere as a domestic servant in a house. This way she would get a place to stay and work. Once she settles there in a few days, and hopefully you would have recovered by then, you can also go to her.”

“Chota Nawab would kill me when he finds out that I have sent Sakina away.”

“Look you are not in a condition to travel to the city, and plus, if you go with Sakina, she would have a hard time finding a job because people are generally hesitant to employ someone who is sick and not in a condition to work.” Jinda took a deep sigh, “Why don’t you hide in my house for a few days until we hear from Sakina that she has found a place, and by then, your condition would have become better, so you can also join her and start work.”

“That is a good idea. It seems to be the only way,” said Nasreen. “But, how would we hear from Sakina, as in, how would she contact me?”

“My son has a cell phone. I will give Sakina his number. She can call him from Multan and talk to you.”

“That sounds like the only way then?” Nasreen asked hesitantly, before falling into an exhausting fit of coughing.

“We don’t have much time,” said Jinda, after Nasreen’s coughing stopped, “I will go and get my son’s cell number.”

“Wait”, said Nasreen, “Could you also ask Khadim to come over?”

“I will”, said Jinda and left.

“Ama”, shouted Sakina in a muted voice, who had till now silently stood by the two women as they talked, “what is going on? Where am I going? How can I leave you in this condition?”

“What is the alternative?” said Nasreen, breaking into tears, “I cannot let nawab Akbar get close to you. I cannot let that happen.” She continued “Sakina, come here and sit by me,” her hands had started to tremble as she lifted them to touch Sakina, “we are stuck between sure destruction and possible escape. I will send Khadim with you, and until you find a job, he will stay with you. When you find a house to work in and stay, he will come back.”

“What about you ama?” asked Sakina with a tone of resignation in her voice.

“Bachi (daughter), I am not in a condition to travel, and luckily Jinda’s son has a cell phone, so that you have a way to get in touch with me.”

“But how long would you continue to hide in Jinda’s house?”

“I am already feeling better, and hopefully in a week or so, I should be in a position to come to you. Wherever you find a place to work, just tell them that your mother would join you at work in a few days so that we are sure that I will be able to stay with you and work.”

“Ama, what about Aba’s grave? I will be away from it”.

Nasreen lowered her eyes and did not answer. There was again a knock on the door, and Khadim and Jinda stepped into the courtyard, since the door had not been locked after Jinda had left.

By night, all the preparations for Sakina and Khadim to leave early in the morning for Multan, and for Nasreen to hide in Jinda’s house, had been made. Khadim promised to come back early next morning.

Sakina lay on her mother’s arm, by her side, her cheek resting against Nasreen’s chest. The time interval that comes immediately before the moment of parting of two lovers is indeed special, for it’s a time in which the human heart is simultaneously invaded with dread and comforted by hope. Each lay quietly, justifying to herself why their parting was only brief and that certainly they will soon meet; yet, both of them were shivering in their innermost beings with fear that they might never see each other again.

“Sakina”, whispered her mother, “I want to give you something. Let me bring it.”

“What is it, ama?”

Nasreen got up with some difficulty and went inside the room, which was lit by a small kerosene lamp. After a while, she called Sakina inside, and handed to her a piece of stitched cloth which seemed to contain a paper in it.

“Sakina”, she said, her face looking even paler in the light of the lamp, “do you swear by me that you would do exactly as I tell you to?”

“Of-course, ama,” said Sakina, in a puzzled voice.

“This contains a letter, and since you can read, I am giving it to you.” Nasreen paused, and after looking blankly at the lamp for some while, continued “We would meet in a few days, as soon as I recover, but if it so happens that we never meet again in life,” a mob of tears poured out of her eyes and started to roll down her gaunt cheeks, “only then will you read this letter. Otherwise, you will give it back to me, when I come to Multan.”

“What are you saying? How will we never meet again in life? We are definitely going to meet, so you do not need to give me the letter,” said Sakina, as she threw her arms around Nasreen’s neck and hugged her.

“Sakina, you swore by me. Just do as I say, and may I die if you do otherwise.”

Khadim came to their house early next morning. Sakina and Nasreen had not slept the entire night. Like two autumn leaves that fall from the same branch, and yet do not know how far apart they might fall, neither knew what lay ahead for them. As soon as Khadim came, they knew it was time to go. Sakina cast a final look at her courtyard, not knowing if she would ever come back to the house she had known since childhood. She felt that even after she had left, a part of her would continue to wonder here.

They first went to Jinda’s house, where Jinda and her family were waiting for them. Nasreen was to stay here till she recovered. Sakina hugged her mother and started to cry on her shoulder. Khadim and Jinda stepped forward to console her.

“Sakina”, said Jinda “why are you crying? Your mother will come to you as soon as she is a little better and you have found a place in Multan.”

With the usual sighs and sobs that are so typical of such moments, Sakina and Khadim left for Multan. The sun was stealthily starting to rise from behind the horizon. Sakina walked with some difficulty, her eyes glued to the ground as if her future lay written there in some cryptic text. Her father’s grave, her mother, her childhood, her house, her memories, all pulled her back while the vague hope of a better future for her and her mother lured her on.

They took a bus from the main highway. Since it was early morning, the bus was not crowded. They found two seats together in the back of the bus. Sakina, not having a slept the night before, was feeling exhausted. She put her head on her uncle’s shoulder and gave herself away to sleep.

Multan is a major city in South Punjab, a city traditionally known for its hot temperature during summers and the many Sufi saints that are buried in its vicinity from old times. Sakina had never been to a major city before. She looked with awe at the traffic jammed roads, with tongas, rickshaws, cars and pedestrians all struggling to find their way.

“This is Multan”, Khadim whispered to Sakina. “I think we will get off at the first stop, since I do not know the city too well.”

Visibly overwhelmed by their crowded surroundings, they stayed for quite some time at the bus stop. Finally, Khadim pointed towards a street at some distance that seemed to be leading to a residential area.

“Sakina, let us try our luck. We will take that street and start checking at each house as to whether they need a house maid.” As they reached the desired street, they realized that they had come to an affluent residential area, as all the houses on either side looked impressive.

“Mama (maternal uncle)”, said Sakina, “it seems like the right place, as these rich people would be more willing to pay good money and keep an additional house maid, even if they do not need one.”

Khadim smiled and looked back with hope into her eyes. The first house on the right attracted Sakina’s attention. “Mama, would you go and ask them if they need a female servant”, she said pointing to the house.

Khadim walked with Sakina to the house and rang the bell. It was a fairly large house, with a towering wrought iron gate and beautiful bricked walls, decorated with clay flower pots that hung elegantly from them.

An old woman soon opened the door and stepped out. “How may I help you, baba (old man)”, she said in a frustrated voice.

“I have a question to ask,” replied Khadim in pleading tone. “I have come from outside the city, and we are looking for work. This is my daughter, Sakina. She is very hardworking…”

The woman interrupted him, “Don’t start to list her qualities now. I am myself a servant here. I will go inside and ask sahib (Sir — referring to owner of the house).” She closed the door and went inside.

Khadim and Sakina stood quietly outside. Sakina started to think of her father and began talking to him in her heart, “Aba, are you witnessing all this? Please help me Aba. Please pray for me, wherever you are in the Heavens.”

The door abruptly opened and the same woman came out again. “Look girl”, she said in an authoritative and hoarse voice, “I will be quitting from work here in another day for some family reasons. You would have a lot of work to do inside the house. Are you ready for this?”

“Yes, Baji (respectful way of addressing elderly women)”, replied Sakina. “My mother would also be joining me in a few days, so we will be able to do all the work together.”

“That is good. The work is definitely not for one person alone. It was I who was able to handle all of this on my own.”

“Sakina”, said Khadim , “you should go inside then”. Sakina put down her small bundle of clothes and drew close to her uncle. Khadim gently put his arms around her, “Sakina, you know this is for your good? Your mother will soon join you, so be happy and look forward to this new life. Didn’t you use to say yourself”, he lowered his voice so that only Sakina could hear him, “that you wanted to start working?”

Sakina softly nodded, and then suddenly grabbing her bundle from the ground, went inside the house, as if afraid that the longer she takes the more painful the entire process would become. The old woman gave Khadim a probing look and then closed the door.

Khadim diligently wrote down the name of the street, the house number, the color of the gate and all other minor details that he could think of to ensure he remembers the house. He then started to walk back slowly to the bus stop, his each step heavier than the former. Khadim had no children of his own, and he had raised Sakina with much affection, giving her all the love that he could. It was now, in actually having parted from her, that he felt the fullness of his attachment to her. He felt like returning to the house and taking Sakina with him back to the village, but then he thought of his own helplessness in the face of Chota Nawab’s might and half-heartedly continued.

The old woman, Karmo, introduced Sakina to the three other male servants at the house. One of them worked as a chauffeur, the oldest of them worked inside as a cook, and Aslam, who was about Sakina’s age, did all the cleaning in the house. She felt intimidated in their company, as she had never been around unfamiliar faces. The silent dialogue with her imaginary father continued inside her. She asked him for her safety, and he talked back to her in a voice that only Sakina’s imagination could hear.

At dinner Karmo asked Sakina to serve dinner to Sahib (Sir). The owner of the house was an old man, who lived by himself, and all the servants referred to him as Sahib. As Sakina was told, Sahib always had dinner in his bedroom. Sakina, with a tray in her hand carrying dinner, gently knocked on Sahib’s bedroom door that Karmo pointed towards.

“Come inside”, answered a strong voice.

Sakina pushed the door open, and keeping her eyes lowered, greeted the Sahib in a soft voice.

“Are you the new girl?” asked Sahib.

Sakina looked up and nodded. Sahib had a peculiarly expressionless face, a face that mercy and compassion never seemed to have visited; his white hair were neatly combed back, and a white thick moustache boldly underlined his pointed nose. “What is your name?” Sahib asked.

“Sakina, Sahib Jee (said to show extreme respect).”

“Sakina”, Sahib said, a strange expression suddenly taking over his face, “all other servants are men here. Karmo would be leaving in a few days, so you should not sleep in servant quarters. You can keep your clothes and everything else in the servant quarters but sleep in the small room next to the kitchen.”

Sakina sensed a strong feeling of happiness gush inside her, because she had thought about this issue throughout the day. Her father seemed to have heard her concerns. She also felt greatly relieved because Sahib had been so kind to her in their first interaction and had shown concern for her.

“Thank you, Sahib Jee”, replied Sakina, and then putting the tray, that she was still holding in her hands, on the bed close to Sahib, she left the room.

Sakina made herself busy in the daily routine of helping the cook in the kitchen and serving the Sahib. Aslam, the young servant in the house, started to show interest in Sakina, finding opportunities whenever he could to talk to her. Sakina reciprocated with kindness while keeping her safe distance. Her kind response was partially owing to the fact that Aslam had a cell phone that Sakina thought she might be able to use to contact her mother.

She finally decided to do so, after a few days, and asked Aslam about using his cell phone. Aslam readily agreed and since Sakina did not know how to operate the phone, Aslam dialed the number for her. She tightly held the phone to her ear, never having used one before in her life and listened to the tone.

“There is a tone?” she said innocently, looking questioningly towards Aslam.

Aslam smiled and remained silent.

“Jinda”, said Sakina, as soon as she heard a voice at the other end.

“Who is it”, replied a masculine voice, “I am Jinda’s son.”

“This is Sakina, daughter of Nasreen. My mother is staying at your place. Can I talk to her”, Sakina spoke quickly in the same breath.

A feminine voice spoke from the other end now, “Sakina, my daughter. I am Jinda”, and she abruptly stopped.

“Chachi (aunt)”, said Sakina, “where is my ama?”

There was an uncomfortably long pause, during which Sakina repeatedly said “Chachi” a few times. “Sakina, my daughter,” Jinda said in a moaning voice, “your mother died yesterday evening.”

The phone slipped down her palms, as she slowly started to sit down. Aslam, sensing that something had gone wrong stepped towards her, but before he could get any closer, she fainted and fell to the ground.

Sakina opened her eyes in the small room next to the kitchen, where she slept each night. Sahib and the old cook were standing by her side.

“Sakina”, said the cook, “we were all so worried. What happened?”

Sakina looked back lazily, still in a somewhat drowsy state. The Sahib, after finding out that Sakina had recovered, went to his bedroom. The cook stayed with her for some while and brought her water to drink.

Sakina had been shattered by the news. For the next many days, the Sahib excused her from work, and she would lie for hours in her small room, refusing to eat or drink anything. During this time, the Sahib often came in person to Sakina’s room to ask her to eat. These small gestures of kindness by the Sahib left a strong imprint on Sakina’s mind, given that she was already in an emotionally vulnerable condition.

“Is there anything that I can do to help you Sakina?” asked Sahib, almost a week after she had heard of her mother’s death.

“Sahib Jee, I am just very scared”, replied Sakina in a trembling voice.

“Why is that?” he replied, “why don’t you sleep for a few days in my room. You can sleep on the floor in that corner”, he said pointing towards the corner farthest from his bed. “Would you feel safer here?”

Sakina had already been very pleased with the kindness that Sahib had shown. His face truly seemed to belie the softness of his character. She readily agreed, because she had indeed felt lonely and scared by herself in the room next to the kitchen.

That night Sakina slept in Sahib’s bedroom, in the corner that he had pointed out to her. Little did she know, and how could she, that the next morning would witness a Sakina who would have been shamefully dishonored by her Sahib, the very man she had sought protection in. This same man also threatened her to keep quiet and not tell anyone of what had happened, for if she did, he said, he would kill her.

Sakina, with every inch of flesh on her body trembling, went to the servant quarters early in the morning, as soon as Sahib gave her permission to go. She was in one of those states, where overcome by shock and grief, people completely stop speaking. She silently went to the room where she had put her bundle of clothes and started to weep. Her weeping was endless, and Aslam, who soon came to the room, completely unaware of what she had gone through the night before, sat down to console her for her mother’s loss.

It was still relatively early in the morning, when a jeep came to the house. The servant quarters were built on the second floor such that servants could see outside the house.

“Where has this idiot come from, so early in the morning?” said Aslam, looking at the jeep. “I will be back in a minute. Let me go and open the gate.”

Sakina looked casually towards the jeep from the servants’ room, as it drove in, but then as if struck by lightning, jumped to her feet. It was unmistakably Chota Nawab, sitting in the front seat of the vehicle. Even though it was impossible for Chota Nawab to see Sakina, given where she sat in the room, she still lurched towards the door and closed it. Her tears almost immediately stopped as tides of different random thoughts ran through her mind. “What was Chota Nawab doing here? How did he find out that I was here? Perhaps he had forced my uncle to tell him…”

Aslam soon knocked on the door. “Open the door, it is me, Aslam.”

Sakina opened the door and looked worryingly at Aslam. “Who was the person sitting in the front seat of the jeep?” she asked.

“His servants, who come with him, call him Chota Nawab. He is the son of Sahib.”

“What!” yelled Sakina, almost stifled by her loss of breath.

“Why do you look shocked? He comes here once every fifteen days or so for a few hours and then goes back to his village.”

“Nothing, it is just that I didn’t know that Sahib had a son.”

Sakina and Aslam sat there quietly for a while until the cook came upstairs. “Aslam”, he said, “Sahib wants you to come downstairs and make tea for Chota Sahib.”

“He didn’t call his favorite Sakina,” said Aslam jokingly, implicitly referring to the extraordinary kindness that Sahib had shown towards her after hearing about her mother’s death.

“He called you boy, so do as told.”

As Aslam went downstairs, Sakina locked the door and sat down to think about what had happened to her. “How did I land up in the Nawab’s house?” Something far worse than what she could have possibly imagined had happened to her. “Where are you, Aba?” she thought to herself. “Where are you?” she again asked, this time with far greater frustration, to that imaginary father figure that she had so conscientiously created and preserved in her heart. It suddenly occurred to her that her mother had given her a sealed letter that she could now read since her mother had passed away. She stood up and searched her bundle of clothes. She carefully tore the stitched piece of cloth in which the letter was hidden and began to read.

“Sakina my daughter, my precious jewel”, began the letter, “if you are reading this letter, it must mean that I am not in this world anymore.” Tears began to fill up Sakina’s eyes, “But before you read on, I will ask you to forgive your dead mother for having hidden this from you during my life. This is a secret that only your mother, your uncle Khadim and Jinda knew about. I dictated this letter to your uncle who wrote it for me. I kept it secret from you because I did not have the courage to tell it to you in my life; my precious jewel, I could not have faced you. When I was a young girl about twenty years old, my father, who died a year after your birth, fell seriously ill. My mother had already died a few years earlier. Your uncle Khadim, who was still a young boy, did not do any work and I desperately needed some quick money to support my ailing father and my young brother. The Wada (big) Nawab, Nawab Daulat, showed some interest in me one day, and I ended up becoming his mistress. He gave me good money in return, but soon lost interest in me and moved onto other women. I had already become pregnant, but I did not tell this to Nawab Daulat because I knew he would have forced me to have an abortion. After leaving me, he also married me to one of his servants who never had any relations with me and who died a month after our marriage in an accident.

Jinda has been my long time friend and she knows the whole story. May God have mercy on her, she helped me deliver my baby, my jewel, my Sakina. Nobody, other than Jinda and Khadim, knows that you are Nawab Daulat’s daughter. The grave that I showed you as a young child as being your father’s is that of the Nawab’s servant who I was married to for a month.”

Sakina felt a strong knot in her stomach and then a wave of pain ran through her neck and shoulders. She tried hard to hold on to the letter, and read on as her eyes started to blur, “Sakina, I hope you would forgive me, for I did this to save your life, and to keep up my honor. I have prayed to God all my life to forgive me for the sin that I committed by being Nawab’s mistress, but I really had no other way to quickly raise the money that I needed for my ailing father. Does it still remain a sin? I will leave that for you to judge. I would not defend myself any further. May God be your protector. Your mother, Nasreen.”

The reality of the father figure that she had ardently worshiped had been so vulgarly denuded before her. This was certainly the final blow that she could have absorbed for it shattered her hopes. It robbed her of the inner security that her imaginary father used to give her. It was like she had been deprived of the inner voice that she had so innocently relied upon, taking it to be that of her father who resided in the Heavens.

Nawab Daulat died that same night. It was only later discovered that he had been poisoned. The very hand that had lovingly touched what it had thought to be its father’s grave, put the actual father to a permanent sleep. On the third day, after this incident, a girl’s body was found in a small canal in the suburbs of the city. It was inferred that the girl had committed suicide. She was laid to rest in a nearby graveyard.

A few years later, a local newspaper published a detailed report on an unidentified grave in the very same graveyard that had recently become a site for pilgrims, as it was said that people who went there with broken hearts were given the gift of hope.

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