He had never expected that she would say ‘this’. Not even in his dreams. Neither did she ever imagine that she would speak like this with anyone. With him! But such words are not planned and articulated. They just spill out. Like emotions. Like tears. Like an overwhelming surge of a deeply felt pain. The way she didn’t think even for a moment before she ran towards him to ensure that he w...
Manasvi had been reading the article, about beggars in Mumbai, to be sent in the print with the next issue of The Insight. She had sorted some fifteen photographs that had moved her deeply. Most of them were of children pushed into beggary through human trafficking. Along with the Insight, she had shared the details with the local police but of no avail. The police personnel she had met refused to entertain this issue as he had ‘more important’ works in hand. So, she decided to meet the senior officials and with that, she gave the pictures for reporting. This time, Mr. Mehta was so impressed that he asked Manasvi to do the reporting as well and asked her to write the article too. He wanted the article to be as passionate and deeply felt as Manasvi had narrated to him, along with the pictures. He was not sure if other writers would be able to do justice to what Manasvi was trying to convey.
Manasvi had heard a lot about child trafficking in India, she had read about it while doing her graduation and post-graduation in Journalism, but to read and hear is totally different from having a first-hand account of victims. Most of the teenagers and kids abducted from poorer sections of the society didn’t even remember their parents. Thrown into beggary at a young age, boys became criminals as they grew up and girls were pushed into prostitution.
Manasvi shuddered at the thought. She had tears in her eyes and goosebumps all through her body. It became difficult to gulp down her saliva as her mouth went dry and fingers trembled.
She thanked God for how privileged she had been. And she always did this at every waking moment of her life. God had been kind to her.
She had faced difficulties but it could have been worse. She was saved from what could have been a living hell. She and her mother found the Shekhawat family at the right time. She had been living a respectable life, thanks to Shekhawats and thanks to Anshuman.
That reminded her that Anshuman hadn’t replied to her email. It had been 5 weeks. But she didn’t forget to check her mailbox for Anshuman’s mail, at least 3-4 times a day. That was all she had in her life, right now. Going to office in the morning and working hard to prove her worth until she could work no more, until she was so tired that she had to crash to bed, and waiting for Anshuman’s email.
She was getting worried about him, now!
Preksha had said that Anshuman left the same night as she had left for Mumbai. His conversation on phone suggested that he was on some dangerous mission. He was talking about being rescued from Syria and then he was about to go to Israel. Thinking about the political situation of these countries made her heart sink.
Was he fine? Did something happen to him?
No, no! He is a good man. Good things happen to good people. He has been my savior. God will save him!
She buried her face in her palms and rested her elbows on her desk to ward off the sinking feeling in her heart. Her attention was distracted when the door of her room opened with a jerk, “Hey!”
She removed her hands from her face and tried to fake a smile, “Hello, Krish!”
“What happened? You look so off!”
Krish entered inside and took a seat facing her. His calm and relaxed attitude was something that Manasvi had always appreciated. He would always settle in his space and gave the other person so much space that they were immediately comfortable with him. He asked questions and then waited. He never pestered. He never probed or asked inappropriate questions. He was not someone to indulge in petty talks. Manasvi had never had any friends before, neither in school nor in college. But after meeting Krish, she had felt that she could finally talk to someone who resonated with her in thought and action. Someone who was as calm as her and relaxed in the execution of his plans. Someone who empathized with the suffering sections of the society and believed in constructive journalism and not the destructive journalism that most journalists and news media resorted to, these days. He read a lot of books like her but unlike her, his taste was towards literature and Urdu poetry. She was more into politics, international relations and cross-cultural exchanges.
Apart from professional things, they talked about common topics of interest when they were in the field or sitting together in the office. She told him about books that she read and he told her about the books that he read. But not even once their friendly talks about books, photography or society, in general, crossed any lines of decency, grew into flirting or teasing, or encroach into each other’s personal space. Not even once!!
Krish respected her a lot. He was aware that she was married. His attitude made her respect him. Finally, there was someone she could talk to and there were chances that they became friends in the future. Though this was too early to say something like that with surety. They had been working together for only 5 weeks.
She simply nodded and smiled. Right now, she couldn’t tell him that she was worried about Anshuman.
At the same time…
PBB facility, Gaza Border
The sun was right at the center of the sky. Just above the makeshift hospital of PBB volunteers. The officials, paramedical staff and the doctors were drenched in their sweat with the temperature soaring high but they were worried about freely flowing blood in the region, dripping faster than the sweat. The dust storm competing with the temperature left every object in its path to be smeared with a copious layer of sand. Equally difficult in this situation was to deal with the injured waiting to be operated for gunshot wounds.
Anshuman had finished a few surgeries since morning and had just reached his small makeshift cabin when Amanda finally cornered him.
“Anshuman, I am so fed up with your friend, Dr. Alex, that I feel like strangling him.” Amanda banged her stethoscope on Anshuman’s desk. Anshuman was standing beside the table, facing a kid on the examination bed. He folded the kid’s knee asking him if he felt the pain and then he folded his leg to touch his abdomen.
“Why? What happened?” Anshuman stayed focused on the shape and movement of the kid’s leg and asked Amanda without turning towards her.
“His silly questions nag me. All the time! He speaks non-stop. Sometimes, I wonder, whether all those questions are genuine or he is simply trying to flirt with me… or something.” Amanda shrugged, carefully trying to gauge Anshuman’s response to someone trying to flirt with her. She was disappointed as Anshuman didn’t turn, didn’t appear to be bothered or showed any sign of jealousy.
He was relaxed. Focused on the kid before him. In fact, he chuckled slightly, and consoled her, “Don’t be so impatient. He is not trying to flirt with you. I know him. He is like that. He was always like that when it came to asking questions about patients. He can’t rest if he is not able to get his doubts cleared.”
“But so many questions? Every day?” She didn’t appear to be giving up. Neither forgiving Alex nor pestering Anshuman to react. It happened every time. She tried her best to shake Anshuman’s stable mind, make him talk to her, share about his deepest thoughts, his worries, his doubts, his pain, his bliss, things he liked, things he didn’t …
Anshuman was a tough nut to crack. He didn’t allow anyone a luxury to peer into his soul. No one knew more about him.
He was an enigma and he remained so! Mysterious. Secretive. Silent.
As if a simmering volcano about to erupt at any moment. He didn’t lose his patience easily unless he was provoked. But when he did, it was a nightmare for everyone.
Anshuman didn’t have temper tantrums. He was generally calm. But whenever he was riled up, he blasted everyone left, right and center.
The problem was – that no one knew how and when he will be riled up! So they maintained a distance from him. Otherwise, he was silent. He didn’t speak much. There was no reason, anyone would want to be friends with him. Someone who didn’t talk much, didn’t share anything about his personal life, had no common likes with others, and who could be incensed to shake up the earth was better avoided – this was the general perception about him. People stayed at a distance from him.
Except for Amanda!
She tried everything in her capacity to get him under her skin. Only that, Anshuman wasn’t so easy to deal with. She still tried. And kept trying hard. And today, she tried the ‘J’ factor – jealousy!
“Ignore him. He’ll just back off if you don’t answer properly. He’ll find someone else.”
“Anyway,” Her tone softened, “How is your work going on?”
He shrugged and spoke in a dry voice. “Same as yours. Busy. Hectic.”
“You’ve been working since early morning!” She spoke in a considerate voice.
He replied plainly, “I like to work. And anyway, what else would one do, in a remote jungle, without internet, without a signal!”
“It has been 5 weeks. I hope this work ends soon. I’m dying to talk to my family!”
“Hmm!” He simply pressed his lips inside his mouth, thinking about Preksha, mom, and dad. It felt weird to him that this time, his thoughts went a bit far and included Manasvi too.
“Even, you were at your sister’s engagement, right? When you got the call?”
Amanda waited for him to say something but he didn’t. He had been like that since they were in college together, studying to become doctors. He was with her since the first year of college. It had been a long time and yet, no one could say that they were friends. Sure, Anshuman talked to her more than he talked with others just because they knew each other for long. But that was it! Their talks revolved around studies previously. Now, about work and some basic small talks. Amanda didn’t know much about him as he had always kept her at a distance.
Still, she never stopped trying. She was sure that one day Anshuman would melt at her dedication and perseverance of years, and would allow her to take a place in his life, that was given to more than friends.
When he appeared to be lost in his work, she shrugged, “Okay, I’ll go! It’s going to be a hectic day today. Three more surgeries are lined up, plus an emergency C-section at seven months in an elderly primi.”
“Tough day for you.”
“Yep! Wish me luck.”
“All the best.” His words were simple but his tone carried all the good wishes he had for her. That’s all.
Amanda turned around and left in a jiffy. She was getting late for the surgery. Anshuman didn’t speak anything else. Though he had always admired how dedicated she was for her profession and patients, he had never felt anything else for her to be able to talk more.
Anshuman rotated the clinical hammer in his hand for a second and turned to his phone kept at the table, which was no more than other dead lifeless instruments on his desk. With no internet and no signals, he didn’t know how to reach his family. They will get worried if they tried to contact him at his New York numbers and he wasn’t available. He hoped that there was no emergency at his home.
He was worried about Manasvi too. He knew that Manasvi must have mailed him, but he couldn’t read it. He didn’t know how she fared at the interview but hoped that she had bagged a decent job and also that she had applied for the citizenship of India.
“My application for citizenship of India has been rejected!” Manasvi sighed.
Krish stayed quiet for a moment and then spoke in a comforting tone, “That I know… and to be honest, I’m shocked. I mean, you have been staying here for the past 7 years, you are married to an Indian citizen, then what is the issue? Did they reply??”
“Yes! I received a mail last night. Actually, it’s not their fault. The issue is with my passport. We need to submit our original Afghan passport to the Ministry of Home Affairs when we apply for permanent citizenship. When I left Afghanistan, at that time, we used to have hand-written passports. Then, I lived in Pakistan for six years, before I came to India. After that, I never needed that passport as I never traveled abroad. Now, they say that I should have upgraded that passport to a printed one. And even this one would have been valid in special cases like me, but since I was using it as a document of identity proof, someone mishandled it during the transit. Already, it was in a worn-out stage. I had somehow saved it all the while. Now, it’s cover and the first page got separated from the rest of the booklet as the central clip gave away.”
“My goodness!! That’s bad!” Krish was staring at her with his eyes opened widely.
She nodded with a deep sigh, “As bad as you cannot even imagine. I am unable to prove now that the rest of the booklet belongs to the same front cover. I talked to the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and they have asked me to prove that I am a citizen of Afghanistan. They refuse to renew the old passport or issue a new passport if I can’t do that!!”
“But how can they do that? That’s wrong!”
“No, Krish! It’s not their fault. Even the Indian Government asks for identity proofs at every step. And this is big – I’m trying to get a new passport! Why will a country issue a new passport without confirming that the applying person is actually a citizen or not?!”
“And how do you prove your identity? You don’t have any id card of Afghanistan?”
“No! I left Afghanistan with my mother and several other Hindus in the darkest hours of the night and crossed the border while hiding all the while. I had no id card as I was only 12 at that time. But I had a passport as I had come to India once with my parents to visit Vaishno Devi shrine. I don’t have my birth certificate. And now, they are asking me for Tazkira.”
“What is that?”
“It’s National identification card for Afghanistan and it seems everyone must have it… Don’t look at me like that…I don’t have it…”
“But… I guess… they must have a provision to make it for people staying abroad… they must have a lot of people born outside Afghanistan and applying for passport or Tazkira?”
“Yes, they have! But I have no such document to prove that I was born there. I don’t have my birth certificate, the most important document. It is misplaced somewhere. My mom remembered giving it to my mother-in-law when our marriage had to be registered. My mother-in-law remembers giving it to the court of marriage registration and never getting it back. The registrar at the marriage registration and the officials remember returning it. In fact, all documents are there, except for my birth certificate!”
“Also, the embassy wants a close relative’s Tazkira, either parent, siblings, cousins, relatives… or any id proof of my address in Afghanistan… I mean, you tell me, why will they renew my passport and why will they issue me a new one when I can’t prove that I am a citizen of Afghanistan…”
“How did Mehta sir know about it?”
“MHA issues a registration number to check the status of the online application. I shared that with Mehta sir, so he checked himself and told me that there were issues with my Indian passport and citizenship!”
“And so he gave the entire Paris tour to Avnish Dubey as you cannot get a visa to France.”
“Not only France, but I can’t travel to any place in the world, as of now… till I sort this issue!”
The look in Krish’s eyes was of deeply felt commiseration. He cleared his throat, “Manasvi, I’m really feeling bad for you!”
With a toughened look on her clenched face, she nodded. “I don’t need sympathy, Krish! If you want to do something for me, help me get leaves to go to Afghanistan!”
“Don’t worry about the leaves. But no way, I’m going to let you go to Afghanistan alone! It’s not safe to go alone!”
“Relax. I belong to Kabul, capital of Afghanistan. It’s absolutely safe to go there. Moreover, I don’t need a visa to go there. I will just take an entry permit based on my torn passport and a request to visit the Government offices in Kabul. To get a duplicate copy of my birth certificate, school documents and get a Tazkira. After that, I’ll be able to get a new passport and apply for citizenship here!”
“Don’t worry! I was born there. It is still my country of birth. It won’t harm me!”
“What if they ask you what you did between studying in Afghanistan and India?”
“I’ll go to Pakistan and get my school certificates!”
Krish was speechless to hear this. But not only Krish, whoever heard it, was shocked. Including Madhu and Preksha. They had goosebumps when they heard about it.
“No…no…no!!! You are not going to Kabul or Karachi… or whatever! I called to find out what happened to your application and you are giving me this heart attack of a news!!”
“Aunty, I have to go! There is no other way! In the current state of affairs, I can’t say that I belong to any one country. I have to get one proper citizenship!”
“But beta… I can’t let you go alone! Okay…wait! Wait for a few days. I tried to reach Anshuman after you told me about your documents issue. But he was busy, it seems. I couldn’t get in touch with him. Hopefully, if he answers this time, I will tell him to go with you.”
“Nahi… aunty… please don’t trouble him!”
“Trouble?? No! Listen Manasvi, you need to remember that he is your husband. It’s his duty to ensure that you are safe and sound. I know there have been issues and both of you are not in a normal marriage. But in this scenario, he needs to stand up for you! He should go with you, wherever you go!! Even if it is to the end of the world!”
Manasvi pressed her lips hard, almost disheartened. She couldn’t tell Madhu that Anshuman was not in New York. He might not respond to her unanswered calls. And even if he did, she cannot ask him to accompany her to these places where she wanted to go for her valid documents. She didn’t have that right on him and he was not obliged to do it. She didn’t even want him to do it for her. He had already done enough.
When Madhu stopped talking, Manasvi sighed, “This is my battle, aunty. Let me fight it. Our marriage and my education have empowered me enough to stand on my feet and tell the world that I am ready for any hurdle thrown at me!”
“Manasvi, don’t be rigid about it!”
“Please let me go, aunty. These might be new horizons, right now. But if I need Anshuman to be with me, even to go back to my home.. and to places I’ve lived and loved, once… then it will mean failure of my faith in love and humanity. And no, I have not lost my faith. I trust my instincts. I’m not scared…”
“Manasvi…are you sure?”
“Yes! There is nothing to be scared of!”