August 16, 1947
I saw the newspaper on Papa’s desk. There were pictures of people celebrating on both sides, India and Pakistan. But it’s still two sides of the same country to me. I don’t feel like celebrating. The headlines said “Birth of India’s Freedom”, and “Nation Wakes to New Life”, and “Frenzied Enthusiasm in Bombay”.
But all births are not happy. Like me and Amil. Ours wasn’t. We lived and you died. It must have been a terrible day for Papa when we were born. I wonder if he even loved us then. I wonder if it’s hard to love us all the way now. It’s like India – a new country is born, but my home is dying.
Nobody is celebrating freedom in our house. I must pack my things. I must leave all my books. Our rugs and tables and bookshelves and Papa’s desk and most of the stuff in the kitchen except for a few pots and pans and dry food are staying behind. I heard Papa telling Dadi there are riots everywhere and, if we don’t leave, we could be killed or taken to a refugee camp. Who would do this? Our neighbours? The kids we went to school with? The merchants at the market? Patients who Papa treated at the hospital? My teacher? Dr Ahmed?
Papa says that everyone is killing one another now, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs. Everyone is to blame. He says that when you separate people into groups, they start to believe that one group is better than another. I think about Papa’s medical books and how we all have the same blood, and organs, and bones inside us, no matter what religion we’re supposed to be.
I went into my room to pack. Amil had already finished. He only packed his paper, pencils, and some clothes. We are allowed to take one sack each. We will take the train to the border tomorrow and then change trains to go to Jodhpur, our new home. Papa said a carriage will take us to the train. I put in my clothes, three pencils to write with, this diary, and all of your jewellery that I keep inside a little silk spice sack. Papa says I can’t wear it anymore, that people might try to take it. I put in Dr. Ahmed’s gold coin, too. I also put in a pinch of dirt from our garden so I’ll always have a bit of the ground you walked on, a piece of my India.
August 17, 1947
It’s definite. Papa told us this morning that Kazi is not coming with us tomorrow. I kept hoping there was a way, but Papa says it’s too dangerous and Kazi says he can’t.
Couldn’t he just say he’s Hindu and dress in Papa’s clothes?
Tonight we had a quick dinner of paratha and dal, since most things are packed or given away. Kazi made my favourite kind of dal with red lentils and mustard seeds that pop in my mouth. While he pre pared it, I sat on the wooden stool swinging my legs. I didn’t want to help, not tonight. I knocked on the counter so he’d look at me, not sure if I could say his name out loud.
He looked up as he crushed the cumin with his mortar.
“What is it, Nishi?” he asked.
I looked down and bit my lip, hard. “You have to come with us,” I murmured, and my voice broke. The tears started to fall. I wiped them quickly away.
“It’s okay, Nishi,” he said. “I’ve been crying, too,” he said, handing me a small towel.
I looked at him in surprise.
“I have, but I could make you all a target if I come. People think they are defending themselves, standing up for their people, but it’s all out of fear,” he told me.
“How would people know, if you dressed in Papa’s clothes and said you were Hindu?” I asked him, my voice stronger now.
“People have a way of finding out these things. I’d have to change my name. I’d need fake paperwork. It’s too dangerous.”
“So you aren’t coming with us because of fear,” I said without thinking.
“You should speak more, Nishi. You’re a wise child. Probably because you’ve spent so much time listening instead of talking.”
My face felt hot, burning.
“Yes, it’s fear. Mostly for you, not me. If something happened to any of you because I was there, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”
I squeezed my hands into fists and tried to keep the tears back. Kazi went on. He told me he would look after the house, that maybe we might come back someday. He didn’t look at me anymore and poured the cumin powder into a little bowl. He washed the mortar and pestle and dried it. I sat quietly and watched, my throat feeling thick and scratchy. Then he held out the mortar and pestle and asked me to take it.
I shook my head. If I took it, that would mean I was really saying goodbye. I couldn’t lose him. I wouldn’t. He pressed it into my hands and told me to think of him every time I used it. “Don’t forget what I’ve taught you. Making food always brings people together,” he said.
I ran my hands over the smooth white marble. The centre of the mortar bowl was stained a golden brown from all the spices that had been crushed in there. I put it back on the counter and shook my head. I felt my body shaking. He pushed it toward me again.
“Even if you don’t take it,” he went on to say, “I will have to stay and you will have to leave. It won’t change anything.”
I grabbed it and ran out of the kitchen. I wrapped it tight in a shawl and stuffed it into my bag before Papa could see it and tell me not to carry such a heavy thing.
We were very quiet at dinner and after, as Kazi was cleaning up, Amil ran over to him and hugged him hard. Papa looked up with glassy eyes and stared at Kazi. Then Papa shooed Amil away. I couldn’t hug Kazi. I was too sad. I got up and followed Amil who ran outside to the garden. He sat on the end of the rows of spinach and tore at the leaves, stuffing a few in his mouth.
“Who’s going to eat all this spinach? Kazi won’t be able to,” he said to me.
We sat quietly for a minute or two. The sun had started to set. I could hear the rustling of birds and insects and other creatures settling into the evening. Some going to sleep, some waking.
“Do you think we’ll ever see Kazi again?” Amil asked.
I didn’t want to answer either way. I was afraid we wouldn’t. But that would be the same as Kazi dying, wouldn’t it?
“I don’t even believe we’re leaving,” I said. Then I whispered, “I feel like we’re leaving Mama, too. Be cause she was here in this house. But our new home. She won’t be there.”
“She isn’t here either, no matter what stupid stories you’ve made up in your head.”
“I’m not making up stories!” I yelled back at him. Amil jumped. Then I started to cry again and Amil looked away. He suddenly got up and ran back into the house. He was probably scared of me. I felt ashamed and lonely. Mama, if you were here, would you have sat next to me and held me? Would you have loved me more than all of them?
Amil came running back with a handkerchief and held it out to me. My body relaxed. I thanked him, relieved he hadn’t left me all alone. I took the kerchief and wiped my nose and eyes, my chest feeling a little lighter.
“We never knew her. What’s the point of thinking about her?” Amil said.
I nodded. It was okay that he felt that way. He must love you deep inside, but I kind of like having you all to myself. I feel like I do know you, because I know myself and you made me. I’m going to take you with me, closed up tight in this diary and in the little pouch with the dirt and your jewellery.
“I do sometimes.”
“You do think about Mama?” I said.
“A little. She looks so pretty in her picture. I bet
she would have been different from –” but he stopped talking.
“Different from what?” I asked. But I knew what he was going to say, different from Papa. See Mama, he does love you. It’s just harder for him to say it. I wonder sometimes if Amil feels things as big as I do. He uses his body more to move, to talk, so everything isn’t locked up inside the way it is with me. Sometimes I wish I were Amil. Is that strange, Mama, wanting to be a boy? It just seems like it would be easier. But then I guess Papa wouldn’t like me as much.
Amil sat back down next to me and leaned against my shoulder. I could feel the warmth from his body that was always moving. He sat very still, though, as we watched the sun go down over our garden for the last time.
Excerpted with permission from The Night Diary, Veera Hiranandani, Puffin Books.