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I had quite forgotten about Rahamat. While spending the days in routine chores in the comfort of our home, it never occurred to us how a free-spirited mountain dweller was spending his days in confinement.
And I must admit that fickle-hearted Mini's behaviour was absolutely shameful. She completely forgot her old friend and began making new friends. She was now not to be seen even in her father's room. In a way, I had ended my friendship with her.
Many years have flown by and another autumn has arrived. My Mini's marriage has been arranged and the wedding is to be held during the "Puja" holidays. She would plunge her father's happy home in darkness and leave for her husband's home.
The morning was very beautiful. After the rains, the autumnal sunshine painted everything in its golden hues. The sound of "shehnai (wind instrument)" reverberated through my house - it was as if the music was wrenched out of my ribs in sobs. Today was my Mini's wedding.
There was chaos in the house with an unending stream of guests, people shouting, and hundred other sounds that are characteristic on such occasions. I was sitting in my room and going over the expenses. It was then that Rahamat appeared, saluted, and stood before me.
At first, I did not recognise him. He was not carrying his usual bundle. His long hair was cut short, he seemed sapped of energy. It is only after he smiled that I recognised him.
"What Rahamat, when did you arrive?" I asked him.
"I was released from jail last evening," he told me.
The words were jarring to the ears. I had never before spoken with a murderer; my heart cringed when I looked at Rahamat. I began to wish that this man would go away on this auspicious day.
"Today there is some work in our house, and I am busy. You had better go today," I told him.
Rahamat made to leave immediately, but upon reaching the door he hesitated and asked, "Can't I meet Khoki just once?"
It was as if he believed that Mini was the same little Mini and she would come running to him exclaiming, "Kabuliwallah, oh Kabuliwalla". It was in this belief that he had brought along with him a box of grapes and some nuts and raisins wrapped in paper after obtaining them from a countryman - he wasn't carrying his own sack.
"Today there is much work in the house, and it would not be possible to meet anyone," I said.
Rahamat looked a bit crest-fallen. He stood for a while; looked at me straight in the face; and then bidding me goodbye, went out.
It pained me to see him go, and I wanted to call him back. But I saw that he was returning on his own. Coming up to me he said, "I had brought these grapes, nuts and raisins for Khoki. Please give them to her."
I took them from him and wanted to pay, but he suddenly grasped my hand and said, "You have been kind to me and I will forever remember your kindness - do not give me money."
"Babu, just like you have a daughter, I too have a daughter in my country. I think of her, and I bring some dry fruits for your Khoki. I don't come here to trade."
He put his hand into the deep recesses of his loose robe and withdrew a piece of dirty paper. He unfolded the paper very lovingly and spread it over my table.
I saw the imprint of a small palm on the paper. It was not a photograph. It was not a painted picture. It was an impression of the palm obtained by smearing it with ash! With this little memorabilia of his daughter close to his heart, Rahamat went about the streets of Kolkata selling his wares - as if the touch of that soft small hand supplied zeal to his broad chest.
My eyes welled in tears. At that moment I forgot that he was a poor dry-fruit seller from Kabul and I was from a good family. It dawned upon me then that he is but what I am - he is a father, and so am I. The imprint of the palm reminded me of my own Mini. I, at once, summoned Mini from inside despite the objections of the women. Mini, in her bridal attire, came and stood by me.
Kabuliwallah was astonished to see Mini. Their old conversation could not take place. At last, Rahamat broke the silence and laughing aloud asked, "Khoki are you going to your in-law's house?"
Mini now understands the meaning of the word "in-laws". She could not retort back as she used to do as a child. Hearing Rahamat's question she turned her face away bashfully. I remembered Mini's first meeting with Kabuliwallah; and I felt sad.
Mini went back and Rahamat, letting out a deep sigh, sat on the floor. It suddenly dawned upon him that his daughter too had grown big and he will have to renew his friendship with her - he will not find her the same as he had left her. Who knows what had happened to her in these eight years. The shehnai players began to play again and Rahmat sat picturing beautiful images of his beloved Afghanistan.
I took out a currency note and handed it over to him. "Rahamat, return back to your daughter in your own country. Your reunion with your daughter will augur well for my Mini," I told him.
I had to curtail a few marriage expenses after gifting the money - I could not arrange for grand illumination or the music as I had planned, and this was resented by the women. But my festivities were brightened up by a radiant glow of benevolence.
Some useful links for
- Union Public Service Commission - www.upsc.gov.in
- IIT-Kharagpur - www.iitkgp.ac.in
- Indian Statistical Institute - www.isical.ac.in
- Indian Institute of Technology Madras - www.iitm.ac.in
- Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad - www.iimahd.ernet.in
- Indian Institute of Mass Commission - www.iimc.nic.in
- IIT Bombay - www.iitb.ac.in
- Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad - www.ismdhanbad.ac.in
- Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi - www.bitmesra.ac.in
- Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training - www.cifnet.nic.in
- Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad (Deemed University) - www.iiita.ac.in
- Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi - www.cmfri.com
- Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai - www.tiss.edu