In the exact middle of the front yard of my house, there was a square-shaped rose bed that was extended to almost a small room’s area. The roses of different shades used to blossom with all their extravagance. The magnificence of those roses was the hallmark of my house. My dad on each Sunday with all his excitement used to call, “C’mon kids! Get in front of roses for the picture” and his camera that works with a reel was always ready. Only he knew how to operate it. It was a weekly routine and my Chachu who was my favorite member of the family holds me in his arms and often in his lap for the photo session. But now there is no reel camera and roses. The rose beds have forgotten to produce roses. I haven’t seen sprouting a rose in my house yard for years. The plants also absorb the grief that is there in the air.
“You haven’t passed the challenge yet”. He stretched his hand and challenged me to chomp the area between the thumb and index finger which I never could do. Whenever I tried I fizzled in the light of the fact that he narrowed his hand and gripped my mouth and a small girl could never re-stretch his hand despite using her all energies.
“You are a trickster”. I made faces.
“I didn’t swindle. The dare is to nibble my hand and I have to stop you doing this. This is how the game works”.
These are some of the flashbacks that I have of him. I was nine years old when I lost my Chachu. No, he didn’t die that one would have thought of ‘lost’. He just disappeared… We haven’t seen him for years. How small the word is but how large pain it encloses. He was Textile Engineer in Faisalabad, living away from home. He used to come home on weekends twice a month. One scorching night of July in 2005 my dad answered a phone call that left him in agony. Without uttering anything, he started dialing some number that was constantly out of range. He tried again and again but it didn’t connect. The clear expressions of ache and anguish on his face make every one of us tensed. My mom enquired my dad “what is the matter”? He told that the phone call was from Atif’s manager. He said that Atif has not get back to duty. He was supposed to come back today after his three days break, but he hadn’t. My family was dazed to hear this because according to the manager Chachu left for home on Friday evening and it was Sunday night then. My little mind could not get what was happening. All I wondered was if he left for home then why he didn’t get home. I could not get how on earth one can vanish. By then only vanishing I knew was ‘passing’. Everything changed all of a sudden. In the next few days, I witnessed my dad’s hustle. He went to every police station and hospital in Faisalabad and encompassing zones to check whether there is any report of accident or mishap. After frantically following each source to trace Chachu and getting nothing but dismay, he filed FIR. From daybreak to sunset I saw gatherings of relatives and other people in my house that vexed me even more. Their presence did not show any solidarity to the family but rather a cheap entertainment. The remarks they made still echo in my mind. One voice said “he must have eloped with someone”. The other said “it must be matter of marriage”, the third said “there must be some fight between the brothers” and many more. These comments used to infuriate me, finding no gateway I wound up quiet and confined to my own musings.
My dad despite a professional lawyer could not do anything to figure out his brother in this callous system. He partook in every rally, thumped the door of the Supreme Court, published notices in every newspaper, took the help of police and media but all futile. Perhaps this is the land that swallows people. There was an eloquent cry for justice but we are a part of a deaf system. Officials refuse to take any responsibility.
It’s been fourteen years now. More than a decade without him. The things I could not comprehend then are now clear to me. I got to learn the term “enforced disappearance”. There is no value to a man’s life. It’s so easy to remove a person’s existence without leaving a mark. The state who is responsible for one’s safety and protection fails to do so. At this point in time, none of us still know was he abducted or killed, fifteen years but not a single clue. The mother who bore him died in the hope to see him once again. The father who wished to see his happiness left the universe desiring to hear his voice once. The eyes of his only brother and sister are still glued to the door in the hope of some miracle. The nieces and nephews still dream of their Chachu’s wedding. Life would not be the way it is now. This world is so frightening to live in.
Every morning with the wake of my eyes I envision him among us, fifteen years back, planning his wedding occasions with the same eagerness, saving me from mom’s fury, annoying him with silly and lame demands. Every day passes with this practice but he never appears. There is no real certainty, no closure, no moving on. Roses do not grow now …