Writing & Photo Contest 2017 Runner-Up — Non-Fiction

Eight roses

Summer’s sultry sun glistens over Ludhiana, a metropolitan city in the heart of Punjab, India. The mid-July afternoon is sticky and hot. Tall eucalyptus trees droop down from the heat wave. The mynas, blabbers, pigeons, doves, and parrots, whose melodies are a treat to listen to during late spring, mid monsoon season, are quiet. None of them cloud the silence of our grief with their songs.

My family; Mama, Papa, grandma, Mukhi aunty, Mehar, Veer, and I are at a local Gurudwara in the village Bhanoharh. The drive from our home to Bhanoharh was long, long and sad, long, sad and eerily quiet. Nobody talked for four hours. Not even Papa, who always asks me random things about school or my friends. And not even Mama, who always asks me whether I brushed my teeth properly, or how was my holiday’s homework going, or whether I was hungry or thirsty. Even their spontaneity grieves.

Sutlej River flows behind the Gurudwara, providing the soil with enough water to sprout soft grass, lush wildflowers which becomes a breeding place for several pond birds, Egrets and Red-Wattled Lapwings. Dark skinned, frail and old shopkeepers sit inside their tin roof shops lining the path to the Gurudwara’s entrance, selling hair ties and nail paints, scarves and chains, small plastic tractors and trucks, rosaries and Gutkas, a notebook containing some hymns from the holy Guru Granth.

The white marble Gurudwara stands in humble balance with the soft blue sky. Its marble is carved with semi-precious stones in intricate floral designs, like the ones on Taj Mahal. The sun, glowing behind the Gurudwara, forms a halo over the dome.

We take off our slippers inside the car and step out. The hot air breezes past us, slowly heating our bodies. Mama, grandma, Mukhi aunty, Mehar, Veer and I cover our heads with the white cotton dupatta. Papa wears his pale grey turban, some shades lighter than grandpa’s eyes. We all wear white clothes, Mama, grandma, Mukhi aunty, and Mehar drape traditional Punjabi white suits, I drees up my white summer dress, Veer and Papa fashion the traditional white Punjabi kurta pajama.

Papa carries a brown canvas bag containing grandpa’s ashes and Mama carries a jute sack filled with grandpa’s clothes, shoes, slippers, watches, diaries, Urdu, Punjabi and English novels, and his medicines. I carry eight white roses, signifying his death year.

We walk towards the Gurudwara on the marble steps to its main wooden door carved with floral designs. The hot marble burns our feet.

The Gurudwara has one large hall, the ceiling is covered in clear glass and I glance up at our reflections and stumble into Veer. I stumble into Veer three times.

“I will glue you to the ceiling Avleen!” Veer sneers at me with knitted brows and pouted lips.

I roll my eyes and look around.

The white walls are spotless, and covered with paintings of the ten Sikh Gurus. A red narrow carpet covers the marble path from the main door to the end of the hall where the Guru Granth is draped in pink Rumalla, silk cloth, kept on Manji Sahib, a small marble stage covered with golden cotton sheets. A granthi, Sikh worker in Gurudwara, reads the hymns, sitting behind the holy book on a low stool. The stage is covered with Palki Sahib, a canopy like palanquin, made of metal and polished with gold.

We walk to the Palki Sahib, pray for a minute. We walk back to the sitting area and sit cross legged. Another granthi gives us handful of Karah Parshad, a sweet, semolina halva.

Papa gets up, picks the canvas bag and strides out. Mama, grandma, aunty, veer, Mehar and I walk after him. We cross the Gurudwara and walk close to the Sutlej River. There is a cemented platform extending halfway into the river, three feet above the water. Mama and Papa clutch the sacks and stare at the river with broken faith.

We stand in silence, broken by the chatter of the egrets and lapwings. I look at Mama and her teary eyes and her furrowed forehead and her quivering lips. I sigh and glance at Papa and his blank, expressionless face, and dry, red eyes.

“Drop everything now.” Grandma sobs.

Mukhi aunty embraces her. “Stop it maa…he’s gone now! Stop crying maa!”

Mama and Papa inch closer to the rusty railing of the platform and empty the contents of the bag and the sack into the river. The river’s muddy water gulp grandpa’s belongings in seconds while the ashes float on the water, flowing with the stream, moving away from us.

I lean closer to the edge of the platform, but Veer pulls me back.

“Leave me!” I retort.

Papa look at me and pull me closer. He keeps his left hand on my head while his eyes remain focused on grandpa’s ashes.

Mama, grandma and Mukhi aunty walk ahead of us, using all their strength to walk away from the ashes of that one man who never walked away from any one of them. Papa and Mehar walk together in another group. Mehar clutch Papa’s arm and cries silently. Papa’s white kurta is stained with her tears. None of them have the courage or, maybe the faith to talk.

“Come on. Let’s go back now.” Veer puts his arm around me. His 6.5 feet frame towers over me.

“Yes…” I whisper and swallow my tears, pain and anguish, throw the eight white roses into the overflowing Sutlej River which mark the northern boundary of Ludhiana district, the part of Ludhiana closest to Pakistan.

This was an entry in the 2017 Writing & Photo Contest.

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