Dec 08, 2023
Dec 08, 2023
The Sentimental Terrorist - 11
Mohsin, TV Hill, Kabul, 2 a.m.
In a few hours it will be time for me to take my revenge. But at this moment I’m remembering the morning after the funeral when I went to the masjid to say my prayers. My eyes were red from weeping the night before. I had buried my beloved sister and nephew with my own hands. What should have been a moment of joy – the celebration of a wedding – had turned into a bloody tragedy.
‘Come for dinner at my house,’ said Shamsuddin, putting his arm around me
‘Thank you, Mullah agah,’ I said, ‘but no thank you. Your home will remind me of my sister and her family.’
‘Let’s have a meal,’ he persisted. ‘If you don’t want to come home we can eat something at the Chai Khana. There’s something I wish to talk to you about.’
‘Do you or do you not want to take revenge for what happened?’
This question was paramount in my mind. After a sleepless night spent grieving and reliving the tragedy in the morning the feeling of rage had grown to become almost unbearable. I wanted to hit out. At something. At someone. But not at random. I wanted to hurt the person who had caused me such pain.
‘I do,’ I said simply.
‘We need to talk,’ the mullah said.
The following evening I met him outside the Chai Khana near the main vegetable market.
He ordered bolani, fried leek with potatoes, for both of us. I tried to avoid eating but he insisted. In fact I didn’t feel hungry, but when I started to eat I found I did after all have an appetite. I even felt guilty for enjoying the snack as much as I did.
‘Chai?’ Shamsuddin said.
‘Special,’ Shamsuddin instructed the tea boy.
‘What is special?’ I asked.
‘They put in cardamom, but even more special than the tea will be the vessel in which it will be served.’
‘You will.’ And, so saying, Shamsuddin unwrapped a paper parcel, which he had kept inside a cloth bag. He removed the packing and took out a mug. On the surface of the enamel I saw the snow-covered peaks of the rocky Hindu Kush mountain range against a backdrop of white clouds and a blue sky.
‘I thought you would like it, but you need to wait a bit more. Once you drink your tea from this mug, you will know the difference.’
‘Tea tastes different in a cup, different in a glass, and still different in a mug,’ I agreed.
‘That’s not what I mean.’
When the pot of tea arrived, instead of using the cup that the tea-shop had provided, after waiting for a few minutes for the tea to gain colour and flavour, upon Shamsuddin’s request I poured it into the mug he had provided.
‘Wonderful.’ I pretended to enjoy the tea even more than I actually did. ‘Excellent.’
‘And what of the mug now?’
The brown mountains had disappeared, as had the blue sky. The image had been replaced. But not by any of the young Indian actresses, or any of the Tajik ladies who come to sing in Kabul that decorate the outside of coffee-cups sold in markets. Instead there was Osama bin Laden smiling benevolently at me.
I laughed. It was the first day I laughed since Mumtaz left.
Shamsuddin’s mobile rang, and, slapping me on the shoulder, he went outside the Chai Khana to take the call.
A peculiar smile was playing on his face when he re-entered.
‘We have some good news,’ he said.
‘In the main town square just a minute ago a Canadian army vehicle has been blown apart. One of my soldiers carried out the deed.’
‘Who?’ I was shocked momentarily, not knowing what to say. After what had happened to my sister and her family, I wasn’t outraged in the same way I would have been a few weeks earlier.
I remembered Javed quite well. A regular at the masjid, he looked permanently sick and shrunken; a large coin-sized mole on his chin was his distinctive feature.
‘Blew himself up,’ Shamsuddin said. ‘We provided him with the proper vest and a trigger to pull at the right moment. He didn’t hesitate.’
I knew Javed had two wives and six children. There were many mouths to feed.
‘We will provide for them,’ said the mullah, seeing the unspoken question in my eyes. ‘They will have money sent to them by the evening. We promised Javed. And we always keep our promises.’
‘Was someone in his family killed by the Canadians, or the Americans? Is that why he agreed?’
‘Every family has a victim, bachiya. Do not think that you are the only one.’
I wasn’t convinced. Shamsuddin must have understood that, for he slurped his tea noisily and said: ‘There was another reason in Javed’s case.’
‘Javed was suffering,’ Shamsuddin said. ‘Cancer had eaten up his lungs. Even the specialist in Islamabad gave him only six months to live.’
‘But now he is in Jannat.’
‘We should have tried to help him and his family anyway.’
‘We should,’ he agreed, ‘but our fight is long and our resources are limited. If we spend all our money taking care of the poor and the needy there would be nothing left to purchase weapons to fight, to arm our men to fight the war against these invaders.’
There was a cruel logic in what he said. I didn’t say anything.
‘Would you like to have a chance, Mohsin jan?’ The mullah nibbled at the last bit of his bolani.
‘To be like Javed, I mean. We need young soldiers like you.’
I’m not an automaton. Hatred for the Americans who killed my family burned inside me, but I understood too that an individual soldier may not be responsible. I’d been working for a charity until a few days ago. I didn’t honestly think that anyone who directly or indirectly supported a western government deserved to be blown up. I suspected that Shamsuddin didn’t share my views.
‘No, I don’t think so,’ I said slowly.
‘Don’t you want to avenge the deaths of your family?’ The mullah leant back in his chair and fixed his watery eyes on me. ‘Aren’t you a red-blooded Pashtun? Will you take the action of the Amrikans lying down?’
‘I want to take action,’ I said, ‘but not against a random soldier. I want to punish the man who ordered the massacre.’
‘Ah,’ he said, leaning back against the chair. ‘I understand. You may have to wait a while in that case.’
‘As long as it takes, Mullah sahib. As long as it takes.’
And on this note our meeting concluded.
The following week, when I went to the masjid to say my prayers, he beckoned me aside into a private room away from the praying multitudes.
‘After our discussion the previous week I asked someone with a lot more resources than I have to find out where that mouse, that infidel, is hiding,’ he said.
‘He is holed up inside a building in Kabul.’
‘In Kabul?’ I repeated, my surprise evident.
‘Yes, of course,’ he said, almost dismissively. ‘What do you think? That the killers are somewhere nearby. Here in Kandahar? Those are the small fry, the minions who do the bidding of the masters. The orders are always issued in Kabul. Those are the people who are responsible.’
I nodded. What he said made perfect sense to me. We must go after the real leaders.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but don’t they stay at the military base?’
Everybody knows about the military base at Bagram. I hear they have a jail inside where they torture prisoners, just as they’ve done in Guantánamo Bay. Some of the prisoners are related to people I know.
‘Most of them stay there, yes,’ Shamsuddin admitted, ‘but others, the VIPs, stay inside guesthouses in Kabul. They want to enjoy the pleasures of Kabul, not be in some camp eating husked rice with the soldiers.’
More by : Rajesh Talwar