“Ma, the baby wants to tell me something but before it could, my dream ends.” Jahandad was not a baby anymore but his dreams were as disturbing as ever.
“This is somehow related to your stature, Beta. Your wisdom and spirituality create the most eloquent language I had ever heard. It is as if a supreme power is communicating through you.”
“Ma, I want it to stop controlling me.”
“Do not be ungrateful, my child. It is a rare gift.” The answer had never been able to satisfy him and it did no good this time either.
On Jahandad’s 25th birthday, Baba Jan requested Zulaikhan to shift from her humble abode to his Haveli — the place where she had spent her childhood. Jahandad’s two maternal grandmothers — Sufi Sahab had married twice — were to ensure that their stay was lavish and comfortable — a task they kept failing at but not because of lack of trying. It was only that Jahandad remained restless throughout his visit as he had a feeling of being haunted at the Haveli.
The two women from the Haveli were entirely different from each other. While Nano — Zulaikhan’s real mother was an ordinary looking woman with simple tastes, Bebe — the stepmother was a different story altogether. She possessed otherworldly beauty and was a woman of wit. Yet, the villagers claimed that she had lost it when her son was murdered at the tender age of 14.
For Jahandad, his uncle was just a character from Baba Jan’s narrative of the incident. It had happened before he was born and he had not even seen any picture of his uncle. Bebe had burnt every single photograph for some reason. Moreover, his mother could not tell him anything about his uncle either because she did not remember him at all. She was only 13 when the incident had happened. Jahandad had found it curious but there was nothing he could do about it since he was never provided with a straightforward answer on this topic.
Each night that he spent at the Haveli only brought greater discomfort to him. Then one night, the matter was resolved.
“Ma, Ma”, Jahandad woke up in the middle of the night. He was sweating profusely. Zulaikhan was confused. She could sense that the situation was graver than usual.
“Ma, the baby…” his voice was incoherent. “Ma, the baby was innocent… It was not his mistake, Ma.”
“Bete, what are you even blabbering about. There is no baby.” It only made her son more vehement in his claims that the poor baby was not at fault.
She knew she must take her son to Baba Jan but the west wing was too far away from where they were staying. She looked helplessly at his son who seemed to be possessed by a passionate frenzy that had made him raving mad. In her desperation, she remembered the shortcut…
“Come on, son”, she was dragging Jahandad now, “I know the secret pathway.”
Suddenly Jahandad was very still and then he asked her, his voice merely a ghost’s whisper, “Ma, who had told you about the secret pathway?”
“Why? Your uncle!” came the reply.
“So now you remember him?”
She looked stunned. Finally, she remembered… him… and everything else.
“Ma, the baby was innocent!”
Zulaikhan could see her world collapse right in front of her eyes as one session after another with Baba Jan played in her memory.
“You are being married to — ” Zulaikhan could see herself sitting across his father, clad in a bridal dress but there was no groom. Why was her belly so swollen, she was only 13…
Another scene came…
“Your husband is dead”, Baba Jan was telling her but the husband in question had never existed.
“Why is Bebe always worshipping Ahura Mazda? Who is he, Baba? Is he scary?”7-year-old Zulaikhan emerged in her memory.
“I will kill you, you rascal”, it was Baba Jan’s voice but different. It was scary and profane — the two things he never was! This time it was not his room and there were no sessions in progress but it was the secret passage way-her stepbrother had discovered for his secret activities.
Zulaikhan turned towards his son. There were no more memories left. Jahandad smiled at his mother. He knew that he was even worse than a bastard — the creation of incest!