Saturday 20 February 2016

Prose 500 2016 First Prize Kasturi Patra

Razia’s Happy Place

Razia pulled her headscarf and walked stealthily down the stairs of her half destroyed building in Aleppo. She held a bundle to her chest. Her visits to her favourite place – the only place where she could be happy despite being surrounded by violence - had been cut short since the last wave of bombings five days ago.

Her destination was a stone’s throw away but covering even a few meters was fraught with danger. Despite trying to stop her initially, Ammi had finally given in because deep down even Ammi knew that it wasn’t safe anywhere and she had no right to take away the only thing that made her eight year old daughter happy in these uncertain times. Hence, she asked Razia to come back soon and immersed herself in reciting the Quran for her child’s safety.
Just as Razia was about to cross the road, a teenage soldier blocked her way. Though he was a puny boy whose rifle seemed to weigh more than him, Razia was scared. 

“Where are you going?”
“My aunt is unwell, brother. I am going to pay her a visit.”
“Don’t you know that girls are not allowed to come out alone?”
“She is on her death bed; her husband has gone for the war just like my father. She has no children; I wanted to see her one last time.”
Razia’s voice choked with tears. By now she was petrified. 

Suddenly, there was a commotion behind Razia which caught the boy’s attention. A group of teenagers were calling out to him. Razia turned and saw they had jewellery in their clutches. The loot from some poor family. His eyes glistened at the sight of those valuables. He looked down at Razia.
“Ok you may visit your aunt but make it quick.”
Razia thanked the boy and rushed to her destination.
Amzad opened the door just after one knock.
“Oh Amzad! I was spotted by one of the soldiers and need to get back fast.” 

Amzad took her hand and led her to the basement. Razia’s eyes lit up like the teenage soldier’s did a while back. Because in the basement was her favourite place – the secret library. Children and adults came there from time to time to borrow books. They all risked their lives. The library would be obliterated in no time if the soldiers got to know of it. But when humanity is always made to live in fear, there comes a point of saturation for that fear, too. The books helped these people understand the world a little better despite the violence that shrouded them. The books enlightened them and offered them an escape from reality. When the moral police started burning all the books many of these people risked their lives to save a few. And those books were kept in the library. They didn’t have much to live for, but these books offered them hope that there’s perhaps light after darkness.

1 comment:

  1. What a poignant yet powerful statement of hope! So topical and relevant now in the light of the situation in Afghanistan.