A short story by Qadri Inzamam
In spring, when all the farmers of the village tilled their lands and sowed crops, Hameed would do all the work himself. His wife helped him at some occasions but not when the work would be heavy and apt for men only. Hameed felt envious when he saw other farmers’ young sons helping their fathers in tilling their lands, sowing seeds and watering the crops. Hameed had not much land in his possession but he was not strong enough to bear all the work himself.
At mid-day, his wife would bring him lunch in a willow basket, covered with an old cloth which he would spread on the ground before eating his meals. His four daughters would sometimes accompany their mother to the fields – not to help their father in farming but to play in the fields. At such instances, Hameed would lament to his wife about not having a son.
Nevertheless Hameed loved his daughters, but he desperately wanted a son. He had a wish to have a son who would help him in farming and other works. But more than being helped in work, he wanted someone who could be his support in his old age. Hameed feared to age with no one to support him.
Hameed’s wife would try to soothe him sometimes by saying that their daughters would fill the void of a son, but Hameed knew that his daughters were bound to leave the home one day. “But they don’t have to stay in this home forever, nor will they abandon their children in our old-age and look after us. Pray to God for a faithful son who would be our hope in our old age,” Hameed said to his wife one evening when they had dined and put their daughters to bed.
It was not out of the wish only that Hameed wanted a son. He had many times a nightmare which prompted him to have this wish. In his dreams, he would find himself in a dilapidated bed in a semi-dark room; His wife reclining in one of the corners – snoring; His four daughters – whose voice can be heard only from outside the room –playing with their future-children and laughing. He would find himself in a miserable condition, unable to budge, because of some unknown illness that has consumed him beyond any cure. He draws long breaths but cannot inhale properly and right before he could exhale, the whole room grows pitch dark, laughing outside the room stops, his wife is no longer to be seen. A sudden shriek from the left corner of the room wakes him up.
The first time he had this dream, he went to a well respected and sought-after Peer Saeb[i]. He told him to offer some charity and feed three beggars on Friday. He warned him of a coming ill-luck and advised that charity would do that away. Hameed did the same. But after one month, he had the same dream again and he was more frightened this time. He sensed that something terrible, something unfortunate was going to happen to him.
One day he told his wife about his dream. Initially she ignored it saying that it was all because he had come home late and pissed in a willow orchard near a graveyard adjacent to the village mosque. But after Hameed had this dream every month, his wife suggested him to see a better Peer Saeb. But he did not listen to her, as he had already been to one who did not prove helpful for him.
It was the season of harvesting. Every farmer was happy with what their lands had yielded after their tireless hardwork. Hameed’s land was also in a good condition and the crops had grown to a good height and full of cereals. During one such nice day, Hameed’s wife informed him that she was pregnant. On hearing the news of her pregnancy, Hameed felt little joyous but soon fell into a deep thought and ultimately into a despair – what if this child was also born a girl?
For he could not stop the new baby from coming to this world, nor could he make sure that the new baby should be a boy, he felt himself in an utter despair and miserable predicament. No one could help him; no one could provide him with any relief. For him it was only a son that could give him, if only heavens were kind to him, a life of solace.
To have his wish come true, he turned to God and prayed with punctuality and humility. Despite his miserable financial conditions, he would give charity to any beggar who passed by his home or met him on his way. He visited every famous Shrine and gave charity there. He did everything to make sure that God be pleased with him so that He bestows him with a boy.
Two months before Hameed’s wife was due to give birth to a child – a boy, as wished by Hameed, or a girl that would shatter all his hopes – a neighbor suggested him to host a Khatam Shareef [ii] so that his wishes could come true and the curse that loomed over his home could wane away. Hameed made no delay and within days he arranged a Peer Saeb for Khatam Shareef at his home.
Hameed invited some of his neighbors, a few faithful relatives and the Imam of local Masjid to Khatam Shareef. All the invitees prayed that the coming child should be a boy. They prayed for the good health, wealth, and for the end to the miseries of Hameed’s family; and for their families as well. Wazwan was served at dinner to all guests. Nazrana (money) was given to the Peer Saeb and the Imam of local mosque. Khatam Shareef ended satisfactorily; even the Peer Saeb assured Hameed that it was accepted by Almighty. Hameed was satisfied and felt that his wishes would now come true.
Hameed did not take his wife to a doctor; rather he consulted a Hakeem, famous in his village. He prescribed some herbs which were boiled and taken in large amounts every day. By doing so, Hakeem said, the child would be healthy and free of any disease. Hameed and his wife followed his advice very carefully to make sure their child was born healthy.
And to make sure that the child should be a boy, Peer Saeb had advised Hameed to put an amulet around his wife’s arm and another around her belly. There were many others which he was asked to burn everyday once or twice in Kangri. But there was one special amulet which Peer Saeb had asked him to burn when his wife would be in labor.
When Hameed’s wife went into labor, an old maid – who had almost helped every child-bearing woman in the village during their childbirth – was immediately called. By the time she was giving birth to child, Hameed was busy in praying, and as Peer Saeb had advised him, he burnt the amulet with all his faith and hopes.
After his wife had given birth to a child, Hameed was called in and handed over the child, so that he could say Azaan in its ears. He held the child very cautiously and nervously. Hameed’s heart beat faster than ever. It was a matter of his hopes and dreams. Without waiting much, he removed the cloth that covered child’s legs to confirm whether his wish had come true or not; whether he had to get old without a son looking after him or not. After looking, he immediately put the child back into the old maid’s lap and walked away from the room, despairingly slamming the door and without saying Azaan in child’s ears.
Hameed’s fifth daughter was born.
It was winter and snow had covered everything outdoors. There was no work to do in fields. People spent their time either with their families or meeting at one another’s home or somewhere else like shop-fronts, mosque courtyards or at local baker’s shop at every morning and afternoon. Despite the harsh winter, people enjoyed being in company of their families and friends. Hameed, however, chose solitary confinement. He who had been punctually offering prayers in mosque, was never seen praying again. Solitude consumed him before old age could leave him helpless and destitute.
Since the day his fifth daughter was born, he seldom sat with his family or talked with his children. In the weeks after that, he confined himself to a closed room where he would spend all his days doing nothing but staring at walls or sleeping. Even he would be served his meals in that room which he often did not touch. The room was dimly lit and cold enough to be lived during winters. But that did not seem to bother Hameed.
One wintery night, Hameed had that nightmare again. He saw his wife snoring in a corner and his daughters with their children and heard laughter. He again felt unable to budge and felt a shivering in all his body. A shriek from another corner woke him up again. He was perspiring by now despite the winter. After a few moments as he held his breath and realized that it was just his old nightmare, he found it difficult to breathe. Then he felt like a lump at his throat, choking him. He whimpered, panted, and flapped his hands to awaken his wife who was sleeping on the other side of the room, in a corner. But to no avail. He felt silent and cold. His body was stiff.
Qadri Inzamam is a staff writer for an online news magazine – The Vox Kashmir. He tweets @Qadri_inzamam
 a naturopath
[i] Kashmiri word for a Seer who is supposed to provide divine help for solving problems.
[ii] A small congregation that gathers for special prayers, often followed with a feast of famous Kashmiri cuisine called the Wazwan.