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“Because you are ready to put your past behind you,” he said softly. “How do you know that?” she asked. “If you want to know, meet me for dinner,” he said.
Yara sat in the green room of the studio waiting for someone to come in and prep her for the interview. The interview was scheduled by her publisher as part of her book release.
She caught her reflection in the mirrored wall of the green room- at 46, she was strikingly beautiful. But it had taken her years to realise and revel in her beauty. She did not give into any artificial intervention to maintain her looks- except the colour of her hair. A few years ago, she changed it to an auburn that shimmered under the sunlight. The colour made her look like a red-head.
As she waited, a voice from the past said, “Yara Khan, is that you?’’ It had almost been twenty years since she had heard the voice and yet it lived with her in solitude. It was a voice that gave her hope, happiness and love. She felt emotions grip at her heart. The emotions she believed were stored in the dust-laden memory cupboard years ago.
She stole a quick glance at the mirrored wall before standing up to turn and face Daniyal Ali.
“It’s good to see you,” he said. “You look as beautiful as ever.”
Yara’s words echoed in her own ears as she responded, “You don’t work here.”
“Yes, I don’t,” he said. “I came to meet you.”
“How did you know I’d be here? And how did you get into the green room?”
Many a night when sleep eluded her, she’d imagined meeting him and yet this conversation was nothing like she rehearsed in her mind.
“To answer your second question first, the producer of the show is Sara Ahmed. Do you remember her?” Daniyal continued. “And for the first one, your daughter came to see me yesterday to give me this.”
He was holding a manuscript of her book, the one that had gone missing from her room.
“How did she find you?” she asked.
“On Twitter,” was his reply, “The moment I saw her profile I knew she was your daughter and…’’
She didn’t speak as his voice trailed off.
“Why now Daniyal?” Yara broke the silence, and the pain in her voice made him cringe.
“Because you are ready to put your past behind you,” he said softly.
“How do you know that?” she asked.
“I am staying at a hotel near the café where we last met. If you want to know, meet me for dinner,” Daniyal said.
Before Yara could even respond, the door opened, and in walked a young man, dressed in jeans that hung on to his waist as if by a miracle and a white T-shirt that said “Not a morning person.” Headphones on his head, a clipboard in his hand and the weight of the entire organisation on his shoulders, he didn’t even notice Daniyal, “Yara, can we start?” he asked.
Yara looked at Daniyal, who gave a smile that warmed her heart. And with an exaggerated whisper said, “I hope to see you tonight.”
Yara tried to push back the memories that flooded her mind and concentrate on what the young man was saying. He was saying something about the camera angles, cues, the introduction by the host.
The interview went smoothly and after Yara headed home. Her house was quite a drive from the TV Studio in Noida and she was glad that she chose to be chauffeured rather than driving herself.
She closed her eyes, rested her head against the window as a myriad of memories waltzed into her mind. The year was 1991, and eighteen-year-old Yara stood just outside the big family room of the sprawling bungalow she lived in. She lived with her parents, extended family and her paternal grandmother.
The bungalow was passed to her grandmother from her father. Yara’s father, Aabid and his two brothers had moved into this house along with their widowed mother when Yara’s father was only 12 years.
Aabid had seen the abuse that his mother had faced at the hands of his paternal grandmother when his father had passed away at the age of 42 and his heart had never been able to overcome the pain that he felt for his mother, widowed at the age of 30.
Yara had heard this tale many times during her childhood and she always thought that this should have made her grandmother a more sensitive, caring woman but instead it had turned her into the hardened woman that she was.
Today, Yara’s future was being decided. She had heard her father tell her grandmother that Yara was an exceptionally bright girl. He told her that Yara deserved to pursue her education at the university of her choice. But her grandmother was adamant that education up to grade 12th was more than enough. That combined with Yara’s looks, it was enough to get her married off.
Yara knew her father loved her deeply. He had named her ‘Yara’ which meant ‘small butterfly’ and would call her ‘my little butterfly.’ One day, out of curiosity, she’d asked him why he named her Yara given how they have such a small life span. It really upset him and since then, she never brought up the topic again.
Yara was not sure whether his love for her would give him enough strength to stand up against his mother. Not wanting to wait for the final verdict, she went outside to sit on the swing hanging from a tree in the backyard. It was one of her favourite spots in the house and sitting on the swing at night was a small act of defiance. Her grandmother had often told Yara not to sit under the tree at night.
That night, as she got ready for bed, her father came into her room and told her that she could continue her studies at the university. Yara wondered if it were her mother or her father’s younger brother who had convinced the grandmother. But she didn’t as for the fear of her hurting her father. Also the thought that she would be able to go to the university made everything irrelevant in comparison.
The next month passed in a flurry of activity in preparation for the university. And when the day that she had been waiting for finally arrived, Yara did not know that she would meet two people who would change her life forever. She didn’t know Sara Ahmed and Daniyal Ali and a birthday invitation will do that.
Like many other girls her age, Yara too carried, on her shoulders, the burden of family honour. A yoke her grandmother put on her young shoulders. However, her cousin Afzal, two years her senior, studying in the same, university was free of it.
Yara’s first encounter with Sara Ahmed was in an English Literature class. Sara giving her views on Hamlet- her voice energetic and lively, almost boisterous and a complete contrast to Yara. If Sara chose to be someone’s friend, then the other person did not have much of a choice. And she had identified Yara as potential best mate on her first day. Yara (with her skin as white as milk, eyes as deep as the ocean, voice as bright as sunshine, as Sara described her) needed, according to Sara, a mentor, a guide and a friend who could teach her to live and experience life beyond books.
Then there was Daniyal. When Sara introduced Daniyal to her, she said you will love him, and despite all her self-restraint that is exactly what happened. Daniyal was a handsome young man but it was not that caught Yara’s attention. It was his passion, his desire to make a difference, never shy of putting his viewpoint forward, something that didn’t come naturally to Yara or perhaps it was what she imbibed from her father. Daniyal was the university iconoclast, part of the university debate team and university student union.
A gentle knock on the car window broke Yara’s reverie, as she stepped out of the car. Asmara came rushing out of the house, “Did he come? Will you go to dinner tonight?” Yara was surprised by Asmara’s enthusiasm, “You know about the dinner invite as well?” She asked.
“Why did you contact him?” was Yara’s next question.
“I read the manuscript. It’s based on your life experience mamma, I know that. I have been witnessed to that part of your life that gave you only pain. But it’s clear from the book that he was part of the most joyous phase of your life, however brief.”
“How did you know that the man in book was Daniyal?” Yara asked softly. Asmara ran to her room and brought out a small collection of photos from Yara’s past. She pulled out a photograph that had been taken in her first year at college after a debate contest, “Look, while everyone is looking at the camera, your eyes are focused on the him.”
Daniyal was standing next to her. On the back of the photo Yara had written his name along with Sara’s.
The first year at the university was like a whiff of fresh air. It brought friendship, happiness and love into Yara’s life, but it was a whiff and it quickly passed away.
The date was 14th November 1992 and it was Daniyal’s birthday. And was the day Sara decided to do something special for her two best friends, Daniyal and Yara. She went to Yara’s house a day before and pled with Yara’s father to let her attend Sara’s birthday. She said that they would be celebrating at the café next to the university.
Sara told Daniyal that she would like to treat him on his birthday at the café but didn’t turn up leaving Daniyal and Yara alone. Yara’s first instinct was to go back but her heart stopped her.
She did not know her grandmother’s heart was also causing trouble at about the same time. As her grandmother was rushed to the hospital, her father came looking for her and found her alone with Daniyal at the café.
The day her grandmother came out of the hospital she was married off to Afzal. What followed was a life in hell. They stopped her studies, and began mental and physical abuse. Daniyal’s name was thrown in every conversation by Afzal.
Sara tried to stay in touch. She was aware of Yara’s state. Eventually that friendship ended as Yara, unable to change the course of her life, blamed Sara and the birthday invite for all of it.
When Asmara was 4 years, a parcel arrived for Yara, from Daniyal, his first contact after years. It was a collection of poems titled ‘Ariel’ by Sylvia Plath and a handwritten note by Daniyal summarising the poetess’ life.
As she read tears flowed down her cheeks. Her daughter was almost the same age as Sylvia’s son when she killed herself. There were times when Yara had thought about it. That day Yara decided this chapter of her life needed to end. The next day she moved out and with the help of her uncle joined university and went on to teach there.
Though Yara reached the café on time, he was already sitting at a corner table. As she sat, she asked him how he knew she was ready.
“You dedicated your book to the ‘man who gave you a copy of Ariel’ and to the lines ‘Out of the ash I rise with my red hair And I eat men like air.’ Is that the reason for the hair colour? he asked.
Yara smiled and softly said, “If you read the book, you would know that it doesn’t end with them getting together.”
“Perhaps not,” he said but it doesn’t say anything about not trying and he reached out to hold Yara’s hand gently.
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Fitoor
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