The Spring that Shall Last Forever- Part 1
15th May, 1948.
Deir Yassin, Palestine.
Six hours before Al Nakba-The Catastrophe.
As the sun steadily gathered its crimson hues, thereby scathing the sky with a reddish texture and the breeze embarked on its westward rendezvous, I anxiously halted near the apricot tree waiting for Baba to return from the orchard. I often wondered how Baba managed to tend to all his familial responsibilities so efficiently with such limited assets at his disposal. Baba called it Bara’kah- blessings. We had an orchard, emblazoned with perhaps the best quality of oranges and apples in the city. Baba would meticulously monitor the development of each new sapling, tending them with utmost care and affection. After he’d return he’d sit along with the elders of the village, entertaining the young and old alike with tales of Jinns and Djinns who can cross the seven seas in an instant, intermittently changing up for stories of giants and ghouls with eyes of ember and teeth of brass. Meanwhile, the aroma of fried sweet onions, sumac, pine nuts and almond indicated that Mama had managed to get her act together in the kitchen.
Baba returned home, unusually perturbed and agitated. He ordered all of us to pack our essentials and to stay on our hunches. Baba could sense it. Something was wrong. If there was one thing Baba could rely on with unwavering certitude, it was his intuition.
Although it was only six o’clock, the night was already dark. The fog, made thicker by its proximity to the Seine, blurred every detail with its ragged veils, punctured at various distances by reddish glow of lanterns. The atmosphere seemed incredibly frightening, as if heralding the portents of an ominous predicament. Mama hastily prepared the evening meal and made sure that I went to bed early. I crouched near Baba, requesting him to sing me a lullaby, to dispel my morbid premonitions. Baba started humming his favorite song:
“Tala al Badru ‘Alayna
Wajaba Shukru Alayna
Ma da’a lillahi da.”
“O the white moon rose over us,
from the valley of Wada.
And we owe it to show gratefulness,
where the call is to Allah.”
At first, I couldn’t quite gauge, what was happening. It was only after a hand grenade had landed a couple of feet outside our door, thereby blowing off the door in an instant, that I realized that we were in danger. The blast was deafening. The eerie stillness of the dawn had been sabotaged by a series of coordinated explosions. Baba grabbed me in his arms and rushed outside. I still cannot fathom how we made it through the relentless firing of Irgun and Levi militiamen. We kept running incessantly, the three of us, through the dense of the forest.
As I turned around to cast a farewell look at my village, I realized that everything was in ruins. I could see my home in flames. Even as a seven year old, the sight of my home in flames had set my heart ablaze. We were being goaded out of our own homes like herds and chattels. I erratically thumped my fists on Baba’s back, imploring him to stop. “The neighbor’s goat would eat our apricots…..I have a backgammon bet with Rashid tomorrow….My horse….My sword,” I kept reiterating my pleas until Baba stopped. The flames had smothered everything to ashes: countless mirthful memories, savored souvenirs, indelible imageries. Just about everything. I screamed hysterically to give vent to the inferno raging in my heart, charring my innocence in the conflagration of savagery and uninhibited violence. “What right does anyone have to force us out of our homeland?” I asked Baba. He stayed quiet.
Back then, I did not realize that such a simple question will repeatedly discomfit the wisdom of the wise and the intellect of the intelligentsia for ages to come, prompting myriad debates and rebuttals.
All said and done, the fact was that we were bound to live as second grade citizens in our own homeland, enforced to survive on the bits and pieces of others. Death would have been a far more honorable proposition, but as Baba says, we must live on and strive assiduously to survive the haggard winters of life, to get through to the spring: The spring that shall last forever.
15 years later.
“The curfew will begin in fifteen minutes. Anyone spotted outside after fifteen minutes will be immediately shot,” boomed the loudspeaker, as it passed through our camp. We’d settled down in a narrow expanse, along with fifty other families. What didn’t help matters was that the numbers kept swelling every day due to the atrocities perpetrated by the Israelis. Our present home is a meager shadow of the opulence we enjoyed preceding the occupation. The only silver lining is that as a family we’ve effectively managed to bypass all obstacles, having weathered countless storms in search for the rainbow. Despite the thorny ridges, rugged pathways and callous circumstances, we’ve managed to keep walking. When words are imprisoned, thoughts silenced and flags shot down, resilience and solidarity flourish in immense proportions. In a society, where the diametric of power yields an assault rifle to one and stone to another, optimism and faith can serve as incredible offensive weapons, deadly enough to topple the hegemony of the unjust and cruel.
“These are difficult times. We’ll have to keep our spirits up. I am sure the world community will pay heed to our miserable plight. I mean, there are organizations such as the United Nations,” I told Ahmed, my childhood friend and neighbor.
“God Damned! Don’t you realize that these Americans and Israelis are deaf people and it is only through a blast that these heedless war mongers will comply by our demands. United Nations? Every year the United Nations General Assembly votes on a resolution entitled ‘Peaceful resolution of the Palestine Conflict’. Every year the vote is the same. The whole world on one side- and on the other side, the United States, Israel and usually Palau, Nauru, Tuvalu, the Marshall islands and Micronesia,” said Ahmed, his tone cold and caustic as ever.
I’ve realized that Justice and equality are shoddy terms invented by those residing in the legions of power to con the underprivileged and poor. Those in power will constantly get through unscathed, irrespective of the enormity of their crimes.
Baba works as a hired laborer. He’d leave before sunrise and return back only after sunset to sit along in the courtyard with the elders, stringing the chords of his Oud, to entertain everyone on the tunes of Maqam Hijazi- melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music. Our family had grown manifold times. The twins-Sara and Nadia along with the newly born Abbas, ensured that our home was never short of action. I loved my twin sisters very much. I used to carry them on my shoulders, entertaining them to the captivating spectacles of lush green fields, trees laden with fruits and the serene aura of sunset.
“Why can’t we cross the barricades, Ali?” questioned Nadia on one of those numerous sunset excursions.
“A Marid lives on the other side of the fence, Nadia,” I replied.
“What is a Marid, Ali?” questioned the normally inquisitive Sara.
“Marid are the most powerful Jinns. They are incredibly proud and arrogant. They feed themselves by prying on nimble little kids”.
Both of them clutched my hands firmly. The trick had worked. How could I tell them, that the seemingly captivating and entrancing field was a charming ruse to entice the enemy in its midst and then blow him off in a single strike, courtesy of a wide stretch of landmines. How could I tell them that the people on the other side of the fence vehemently loath us for our ethnicity? How could I tell them that the old adage of victory of good over evil is a mere fabrication, intended to soothe and placate the festering wounds of the oppressed and that in the practical world, only the mighty are privileged enough to call the shots.
“Relax girls,” I told them, embracing both of them in my bosom.
“Ali, let’s sing the poem together,” said Sara.
And we started singing:
“Here on the slopes of hill,
facing the dusk and the cannon of time.
Close to the garden of broken shadows,
We do what prisoners do,
And what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope.”
“The curfew will begin in fifteen minutes. Anyone spotted outside after fifteen minutes will be immediately shot”. The forewarning of the loudspeaker forced us to leave our song incomplete.
“Another time, another place,” I told them.
As the frogs croaked and the nocturnal animals warmed up to the serenity of the westward breeze, I picked up both of them in my arms and rushed back to our camp.
“Take care of Sara and Nadia. Stay close to them,” said Baba in an assertive tone.
“Oh, come on Baba. Today is their birthday.”
“Just do as I say.”
As the sun gradually settled down over the horizon, Nadia and Sara enthusiastically prepared, for what would be, perhaps, our first rendezvous with happiness, since that fateful night. Baba was at his gleeful best, voraciously reciting couplets of Hafez and Saadi as the crowd extolled his rhetorical skills with passion and fervourism, whereas Mama was busy employing her culinary dexterity with clinical precision.
I was sauntering along in the fields with Mehnaaz, my fiancée. We made sure that no one caught sight of us, failing which; the consequences would’ve been disastrous for both of us. We were sitting beneath a tree, our hands interlocked with each other, weaving countless dreams-some meaningful, others illusionary. To be fair, I just wanted to spend some time with her, engrossing myself in the corridors of her ceaseless conversations, disarming smiles and charming exuberance.
It took me a moment or two to realize that the perfectly serene ambience of merriment had somehow changed into a hullabaloo of confusion and mayhem. All I could hear was the dreaded sound of firing all around our camp. Suddenly it struck me.
“Take care of Sara and Nadia. Stay close to them.”