Dec 08, 2023
Dec 08, 2023
The Sentimental Terrorist - 10
Mohsin, TV Hill
In the darkness of my tiny room in Kabul, I look back on those days in Kandahar and know my life will never be the same again. Two weeks after Mumtaz left, a disaster of far greater proportions struck.
I was in the masjid for morning prayers when I heard the whisperings about what had happened in Muntozai the previous night.
And then they all came and stood around me in commiseration, assuming that I already knew what was public information. But, in fact, I had slept early the previous night, having had a long tiring day touring villages with Jacques, the new director, Pierre’s replacement. In the morning, after breakfast, I’d gone straight to the mosque to say my prayers and then head for the office.
‘We are sorry for what happened,’ said Shamsuddin, his face grave.
I recognised Suleiman from our village standing there red-eyed and absorbed in grief, his hands and waist bandaged, as if he had just stepped out of a hospital ward. A few people gathered round him
‘What happened?’ I felt the colour drain from my face.
‘It was raining bombs, Mohsin.’ He sobbed into the folds of the shawl wrapped around him. ‘Billowing black smoke everywhere. And when it cleared all you could see were bits of flesh strewn everywhere as if man-eating tigers had been on a rampage. Smouldering bits of flesh. A big hole in the ground. An earthen oven, a tandoor, was prepared for them.’ His sobs became louder.
‘What are you talking about, Salim?’ I cried hoarsely. ‘Did our village get bombed?’ I was incredulous.
‘Not the village,’ he said, ‘but you know the playground just outside where we sometimes have a Buzkashi tournament?’
I nodded. It was an open space reserved for functions and performances. Our village was a bit crowded so it was also a place where children play. Some days I allowed Amir, my eight-year-old nephew, to insist with me, and drag me there to play Bujal Bazi, a traditional Afghan children’s game like marbles. I had bought the coloured balls for him from a toy store in Kandahar; in my own childhood we played it with sheep or goat knuckle-bones.
‘That’s where the marquee had been set up for the wedding celebrations. We had spread carpets and rugs on the ground. Food was laid out on the table.’
‘Who?’ I shouted. ‘Who did this? Why?’
‘Amrikan, who else?
‘How is my sister? My nephew? Zubeida, my niece?’
‘Only your sister’s full body remains. For the others, they are just scraps of flesh, Mohsin. A foot here, an arm there. Don’t ask. These are devils.’
‘Evil fucking bastards,’ I muttered, as unbearable pain lashed me.
‘No one,’ said Salim, ‘they have spared no one. The entire place is a morgue. There were only two wounded in the wedding party. The bride and Meena. And that’s because Meena had taken her to the main village to do her hair.’
‘So is Meena . . .’ Hope surged.
‘Died on the way to the main hospital in Kandahar, Meena and the bride. But their bodies are intact. For the rest . . .’ And Salim sank to the floor and began to howl.
‘And you? How . . .?’ I sat next to him, put my arm around him, willing him to sober up and tell me more.
Quietening down, in between sobs, he explained: ‘We didn’t have enough of the traditional sweetmeats so I was bringing more of them, carrying a huge tray. All three of us got caught in the outer ring of the blast. My children! All dead!’ He began sobbing afresh. ‘The groom’s family and relatives were driving down from the nearby village in lorries and jeeps. All of them were targeted as well. Dead. All dead.
‘My uncle, my nieces, nephew . . . Did no one survive? Why did they do this?’ The last words came out in a scream.
Shamsuddin said, ‘Just bits of flesh strewn all over, Mohsin – just like Suleiman said.’
‘Meena,’ I said brokenly. ‘Zubeida. Farhana. Amir, my nephew. My uncle. Jamshed trah.’
Blood spattered the walls of my mind. My feet gave way. I fell on the floor with a thud. And for me too the tears then came and would not stop. Meena! Oh, Meena. My beloved sister, a mother to me. My two nieces, my nephew, and my uncle who had raised me like his own son. Bit by bit, I discovered what had happened.
Wedding celebrations were on for the marriage of Shabana, our neighbour’s daughter, the girl whom Meena wished me to marry. My sister was not wrong that there were many suitors on the lookout for an obedient girl from a rich family. Once it became clear that I wasn’t interested – my sister would have conveyed this in the subtlest possible way – they turned to other proposals. Finally they accepted an offer from a trader in the neighbouring village, even though he was fifteen years older than Shabana.
It was to be a big event and my sister was keen for me to attend. But the marriage celebrations were fixed on a Wednesday evening more on less in the middle of the working week, and it wasn’t convenient for me to go all the way to the village.
It is a tradition in some of our Pashtun communities to fire off a few shots in the air when the groom’s family approaches the place where the bride’s family has arranged the festivities. In the cavalcade of cars that drove there from the neighbouring village, there were some men with guns who fired a few celebratory shots in the air.
The pilot of a helicopter hovering around somewhere in the region somehow imagined that these men were Taliban and had tried to hit his machine, so the story went. He in turn sent word on the radio to an officer in the US military, who had the power to authorise an attack. And within a matter of minutes military aircraft were headed for the place where so-called Taliban had been spotted.
In the midst of all the festivity – there would have been men dancing, including landmine victims on crutches; children savouring the delicacies; and women gossiping in a separate section – the American aircraft rained bombs on them. No one survived. Every single person – man, woman and child – was a bloody, mangled mess by the time the airborne butchers had left. For the first time I understood Shamsuddin’s anger and hatred.
Shamsuddin said, ‘And do you know – the Amrikans were there in less than two hours cleaning up the place, removing blood and shrapnel.’
I listened, dumbfounded. Nothing made sense.
‘To remove all evidence of their involvement,’ said the mullah.
How could this have happened? Had it really happened? Surely it was a nightmare. I stared into space, willing it all to be a dream, but Shamsuddin’s grim bearded face did not shatter. This was no dream.
‘Ya, Allah.’ I sank to the floor again, and began to pummel the floor with my fists.
‘These are beasts.’ He pulled me to my feet and embraced me, his eyes filled with loathing. ‘You cannot reason with them. There is only one thing to do. Jihad. Jihad is the answer.’
A cold rage descended on me then. There would be blood to pay for this. I would destroy everything. There would be no limit to my vengeance.
I didn’t go to the office that day. Or the next. Or ever after. They sent a few messages, but the director was new and I didn’t have much of an emotional connection with him. They didn’t try too hard either. There wasn’t a shortage of job applicants who would have coveted my job and the salary that went with it. But as far as I was concerned I was finished with them. The foreigners. Firangis. Go away from my land, firangis.
The next day I travelled to Muntozai for the funeral. The headman and other senior residents of the nearest village had all arrived to take charge of the burials. All around there lay dead bodies – or rather the assemblage of body parts as if they were fragments of a jigsaw – wrapped in white sheets.
I returned to my apartment in Kandahar the same evening. The image of my sister’s dead body came to my mind again and again. I kept seeing my niece Zubeida’s severed arm with the telltale name tattooed across. Ya, Allah. I sobbed and sobbed until my tears were transformed into moans of pain and anger every time I thought of what had happened. I couldn’t believe that just a few hours ago I had buried them with my own hands. And then I knew one thing: the men who were responsible for this must not be allowed to live.
‘I will do anything to avenge this attack,’ I muttered to myself again and again throughout the night. ‘Anything.’
I didn’t sleep a wink that whole night, and the next day I arrived at the masjid at three in the morning, shivering in the cold, waiting for Shamsuddin.
He came before four, the time for azaan, the call to prayer.
He didn’t look at all surprised to see me.
‘Bachi.’ He hugged me. ‘Now you understand what I told you earlier, don’t you?’
More by : Rajesh Talwar