The worn-out book was designated as a historical artifact by the political department of DU and needed translation from its native language. No post-grad in the whole university knew briji boli except him. So the task of translation naturally fell into the hands of Ajmal. The spines of the double line notebook were corroding, just like the memories of the insides of the book were catching cobwebs of amnesia in people’s minds.
The letters were neatly written with a black ball pen with a thick nib that you find in grocery shops for five rupees. Though meticulously written, the curves of the letters escaped the blue lines of the copier. No doubt it was written by a mother of an elementary school child in a left-out two-line copier. The frequency of the diary entries is inconsistent, and contents are mundane to the best. She grooms her child regularly, cooks clean spreads the prayer mat five times a day to the northeast, and prays.
Occasionally fights with mother-in-law erupts and entries get vaguely interesting. But never the less, translation was dull work and interested Ajmal not in a small bit. There were no deadlines set and hence lethargy got the best of him.
Ajmal was broad-shouldered, yet had cadaverous limbs that gave him the grave reputation of chicken legs during pg. He fashioned his full-grown beard in a shape of a neat amorous canyon. Till recently, he ceremoniously trimmed the bristles to its roots in the fear of looking eccentric. His uppa had a long imperial beard young Ajmal loved to probe and provide in leisure siestas of love and merriment. Age has given him the candor and maturity to grow his beard out.
Ajmal translated around five entries a day. The velocity of work went up to fifteen on days live of the narrator escaped the ordinary and things spiced up with an argument with neighbors or her mother in law. But the diary entries were fast approaching December. Ajmal felt a vivacious knot form in his throat, his gait, defeated with every passing day. He imagined this is how God felt watching her spread her prayer mat every day, vanquished, impotent.
The splinters of fear appeared in the diary entries for the first time in September when she mentioned Advani. The narrator seemed to slide from domestic chores to domestic chores while the extraneous world ran around her; both the world around her and her oblivious of the existence of each other. But ebbs of the talk to the politician and his henchmen reached her ears soon enough. Wind from the Arabian sea carried the words and walls of Ayodhya echoed ‘mandir wahin banayenge’.
A cold shock of disbelief jumped at Ajmal in the diary entries. The narrator seemed sure that it’s all a sham. Surely he is bluffing! These politicians and their weightless words! Ajmal shut the book down abruptly. A tinge of culpability traveled through his shoulder blade and left a cold trail.
Ajmal left uni early that day. His mind was wandering around listlessly. He felt clogs forming in his arteries in every bend and break. He turned on the news in hope of an escape. Reporters were screaming at the top of their lungs of news that had just come in.
News of a Muslim elderly being made to eat cow shit for carrying beef with him was spreading like wildfire in the prime time news channels. Same low-quality clips of the dung-smeared face of the victim flash through each news channel.
Pixels were distorted and carried no coherence whatsoever which made Ajmal guess it’s taken in a low-quality mobile phone camera, probably by a bystander who witnessed the show without interrupting and captured the face of the pray in celluloid out of amusement.
Ajmal thought he saw a tiny drop of tears in the victim’s cheeks in the smudged clipping. But he couldn’t be certain of it. Ajmal sensed the cold trail reappear in his torso now.
This could possibly not be happening!
Ajmal had lived his whole existence tangled in academics. He had a better comprehension of war of roses than that of the ticking of the world around him till now. He felt something awakening within him. But alas, he couldn’t sense what it was.
Days sprinted to dust around Ajmal every day. Attention to the diary entries drained him with every passing day. Though he moved relatively faster earlier, he found him struggling to leave a word behind and search for the next now. Entries were filled with fear coated with anger and were becoming more frequent.
Diary entry of October 28 mentions the arrest of Advani. Ajmal guessed it took time for the news to reach her. Entries seemed optimistic for the first time in months. She gave praise to god for the shimmer of light he had bestowed upon her. She felt certain, after all, God gives you suffering only as much as you can suffer. Ajmal sensed the weight of righteousness in each word scribbled in the entry.
That was the same day, the news of a girl child raped inside the temple broke into the mainstream media. He scrolled through his phone while the rickshaw that he took to get to the protest in Jantar Mantar. Angry emoji accumulated on the foot of the posts on the Kathua rape case with every fleeting second. Ajmal found the news of protest through a Facebook group. He had started to follow political pages on Facebook recently in hope of finding people like him.
The conviction that the existence of these pages and accounts in Facebook entails the existence of resistance in the real world reassured him. The world would surely not be sitting silently while such barbarity danced around him.
Jantar Mantar was filled with human bodies in the heat of May. Protesters were college students and academics just like him. They rubbed each other and the heat of burning anger dissipated from them. Ajmal sensed the existence of a collective consciousness that would not let the brutes get away with it. His heart brimmed with an alert optimism towards the world.
Entries we’re getting harder to navigate now. News of rath yatra resumed and scores of violence within Uttar Pradesh trickled down the allies of Ayodhya. Entries reeked of hatred. She no longer prayed to god for rescue. She lost interest in house chores. The narrator no longer fought with her co-inhibitors.
Mentions of people surrounding her carried news of accord among themselves on loathing towards the world. They were breathing together as a single beast, wounded and angry. Ajmal could sense that the opaque air of abhorrence lingered in the air of Ayodhya.
Reading of the diary entries was interrupted by the chiming of Ajmal’s mobile phone. WhatsApp notification led him to a video of a corpse being stamped at by a reporter while policemen watched around him. Ajmal sensed tissues in his body get caught on fire in the instance. He got up from his chair with a jerk.
The inner side of his ears was heating up and getting red. He felt yellow bile rush through his veins. He retweeted and shared the posts about the incident with great vigor.
He hashtagged a post with #countrybelongstoustoo. He strolled around his tiny room in exasperation. Notifications of likes and comments of support flooded his cellphone. With each chime, his anger filled him a bit more.
December 6 was around the corner and the narrator was slowly losing hope. Ajmal sensed ounces of hope escape from the narrator’s body with each line she wrote. She vaguely updated the status of the rath yatra in each entry. But in December, she had given up mentioning it altogether.
Ajmal sensed inhabitants of Ayodhya had stopped mentioning the nearing of the impending doom all together even though their heart never gave rest to the thought. Maybe the narrator in vain believed that she could stop the movement of the procession by stopping the mentioning of its existence in the diary entries.
She mentioned the rise in the cost and scarcity of goods and vegetables. She mentioned how local vendors and fishmongers stopped stepping into the village without a mention of why. She mentioned how people around her stopped going for day jobs and are huddled in their charpoy. She mentioned how muadhin forgot to call adhan in the mosque.
But she made no mention of the progress of the procession. How Ajmal wished it worked out the way she intended it to. The entry stopped on December third abruptly.
Ajmal finished the book sitting on the local train. Ajmal felt no surprise or pain at the abrupt end of the diary. He took a deep breath and looked around. To his dismay, he noticed a couple of men in saffron cloths eyeing him at the end of the coup. Their eyes traveled from his eyes to his beard. They were stout and staunch. He was cadaverous and small.
Ajmal swallowed the saliva accumulating in the back of his tongue. He watched as the men glide through the coup towards him. People around him turned around and focused their attention on the fields around the track and shut their consciousness down in hope of not getting in trouble. Ajmal sensed that he is in danger. But he showed no sign of fear or alarm.
Ajmal watched apathetically as the distance between him and the saffron-clad men became five meters, three meters, two meters, and one!
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