I miss my father
How long shall I suffer this pain of separation
Jul 31 2018
For the last one year, I have seen my father mostly through a small window, guarded by iron grills, as if mere words, bereft of any emotions should pass through. The dirt-smeared glass pane further blurs the vision to the other side. All that I can pass to him is a voice longing for him through a microphone and he returns the same through the same crackling machine. This meeting with my father, that lasts merely half an hour, in India’s largest prison Tihar Jail, recurs every Friday.
For this brief and segregated rendezvous, I have to wait for nearly three hours every time before I get to see my father. The time I spend in the waiting hall is mostly filled with anxiety, curiosity to see him and uncertainty of whether I will be able to say everything I have decided beforehand.
Fridays make me despondent. It is the day when I leave home, mustering all my courage to tell my father whatever happened the preceding days, to console him that I have been good. In deep silence on my way to Tihar, I take note of the things I have to tell Abu. But these meetings are never satisfying.
I never get to tell him everything I decide beforehand. Most of the times, when we are deeply engrossed in conversations which mostly revolve around politics, we loose track of the brief time that is allotted to us. A sudden beep breaks down the conversation, lights are turned off and the darkness separates us, leaving us apart without a chance of saying goodbyes.
Our conversations in the confines of Tihar have been the most intimate ones. We talk about things that we have never spoken about before. I have known him so much more during these meetings. There is nothing we have not talked about, be that politics or the intricate turns that our lives have taken. We confide into each other our worst fears and strengths.
During this one year, I have grown into a different person altogether. When I first came to Delhi, I would call Abu every moment whenever I was in confusion or dilemma. When I first travelled in a metro in Delhi, I called him several times to check where I had to get down. But since he was arrested by the NIA and lodged in Tihar, I have faced different hardships, encountered different people and explored the numb side of myself that only knows to keep the heart strong.
From thorough checking at Tihar to the unkind behavior of the security guards, from hooliganism to the grim silence in the waiting room, all this has made me stronger only. But there are times when my heart denies to bear it all yet I force a smile on face. But Abu reads through this pretense and told me once, “I wish you did not have to go through all this. But when you come here, I feel strong.” To make him fell strong, I bear whatever Fridays have to offer.
The first I saw him outside the jail was two months after he was arrested. In Patiala House Court, he was behind the dust-coated iron bars. He had aged during those months and looked weak and frail. He had tears in his eyes and he had to shout through the commotion in the jail room to console me that he was fine. Seeing my father few feet away behind the bars, helpless, I could not hold back my tears. I have never before felt so helpless in my life. I craved for his hug, to hold his hands.
It was after six months that I finally met him in the courtroom without any iron bars separating us. For a brief period, he held my hands firmly and none of us wished to loosen the grip. But moments later, the security guards dragged him away.
You do not realize the extent one can go to hear a word from someone you love and who in return loves you with the most selflessness. When I went first went to Tihar to meet Abu, I was directed into a small concrete room before I had submitted my phone and other things at the entrance.
Inside, I had to take off my scarf so that they could check if I was carrying anything dangerous along. Apart from my courage, that could break anytime, there was nothing else that I carried. The security guards checked every inch of my clothes and then put a stamp and mark on my hands. I had to pass through metal detectors to reach the waiting hall where already several distraught families were present to meet their family members. I was frightened with this experience. It was further aggravated when someone in the room said that his son’s face was slashed with a blade inside the prison cell – the same cell where my Abu was placed. It frightened me to the core and I could not shake away the dreadful thoughts. Few hours after waiting, when I finally saw the Abu through the small window, I was comforted to see him fine, though he had grown weak.
More than the separation, it is the disconnect that upsets my Abu. Without a clue about what happens in the family in his absence and learning about it after a week through our brief conversations or letters, Abu tells me he feels alone. When his grandson, Idris, was born, he had no idea about it for many days. Then I managed to show him his photographs during our meeting a week later. For months, he comforted himself by picturing his grandson, craving to hold him in his laps and holding his little fingers.
When my mother came to meet him for the first, after six months of his arrest, she was left so heartbroken that she could not gather courage to meet him again in the jail. She only met him later during a court hearing. It was only during that meeting when Abu saw then six-month-old Idris for the first time in person. But even then, he was not allowed to hold him. He just kept looking at him from a distance, craving to hold him once.
Ever since my weekly visits to the Tihar, I have had recurring nightmares. I see Abu often in my dreams and his hands slipping off my hands. And every time I wake up frightened, panting and gasping for breath. During past one year, I have seen Abu transform into a different person. He has been jailed before. But this time, he has grown old and clings to forged hope, perhaps to console me and the family. He has become more resilient, willful and faithful person, who does not fear anyone but Allah. Every time we meet, he recites versus of the Quran and talk of hope.
But there are moments when he is overwhelmed with seclusion. Once he told me: “I do not feel alone when you come here. I keep waiting for you to come back and the moment our meeting ends, my wait resumes and I start counting the moments to see you, hear from you about my family.”
My father has grown weak, his health is deteriorating and has grown paranoid given the risks of being among other prisoners who look at him with suspicion. But he never manifests it when we meet. I remember him telling me once: “Allah only puts us through hard times because he knows we have the strength to bear and overcome it.” I do not remember the last time Abu hugged me, held my hand like he used to when he would help me cross the roads when I had recently shifted to Delhi. But I cling to a hope that he has instilled in me when he told me during our very first meeting: “This period, where the dark clouds have overshadowed our happiness, will not last forever. There will be a day when these clouds will fade away and the sun will shine bright.”
I am awaiting that sunshine.
Ruwa Shah is the daughter of separatist leader Altaf Shah