Thursday, September 9, 2010

Washed Away - a short-story*

Rahmat watched the torrential rains fill up his small yard, and by evening, the water seeped inside his mud house. The river got higher and higher, and flowed right over his crop and his land. He tried to tie and lead his two cows to safety, but one of the cows slipped and was washed away, the other refused to move against the water's flow. He had no choice but to leave it where it was. His wife and his children packed up what they could, some dry bread and fruits and what little money they had, hauled it over their 'charpai' (a poor man's bed) and waded through the raging muddy water. When they reached the higher ground, they were drenched to their skin, as were the others who had camped there for safety. Rahmat haggled with a few local men to get a piece of canvas, and tried to make a small tent with it, with what little skill and help he had with his son. His wife and the kids placed the charpai and their two packs of belongings underneath, and sat helpless...staring as their entire village sank into the river. 

At night, they only had a bite of bread with some fruit, and they starved the next morning. The kids were cold and wet, and had no change of clothes. The mother tried her best to keep them warm inside the tent. Some other tent neighbours had managed to get a gas-lamp for some heat and cooking. She looked imploringly at Rahmat, but he had no means to get a gas-lamp for them. Some helicopters flew overhead, and dropped food packs from time to time. Meanwhile, some local men were busy hacking and hammering away the 'bunds' (or the breaks lining the river which was gushing towards the big palace "Haveli" of the local Feudal Lord "wadera") in their effort to try and divert the flow towards what was left of the drowning village. The local men were getting paid by the Wadera, and by evening they could afford to pay for a gas-lamp and some more bread. But their own village had completely disappeared, while the towering Haveli was intact. The Wadera Sahib decided to leave the village, as his purpose here was accomplished - his Haveli was safe, while his poor farmers were homeless.

He arrived in the big city, and was interviewed by a local channel. He explained the extent of damage in his area, the whole village has disappeared, he said. And the people have no food no water, nothing. We need help. His plea was repeated by other Waderas (who had just finished saving their palaces by drowning the locals), and was magnified 10 times over to reach the ears of the remaining country-men. People in cities, feeling sad and distressed for their fellow citizens, poured their money out into the 'relief camps'. Some people, fearing Allah in the month of Ramadan, and how He knows that their latest income comes from corrupt means, decided to placate Allah by donating a fraction of the 'haraam' income into the 'relief'.

Usman Khan was busy lecturing on the politics of the country in USA, when he heard the sad news about his hometown being submerged in the flood. His secretary assured him that all the 'bunds' forcing the water towards his Haveli were broken, so that the water could flow easily into the poor farmer's land, and his Haveli was safe. Usman Khan immediately thanked his secretary, and embarked upon a humanitarian quest to acquire as much aid as he could, while he was still outside his country. He pleaded on TV, and his many admirers and fans, pledged money in foreign currency to his account, and felt that they had atleast done their little part to help those poor people. He made sure that a chunk of that money was immediately used to buy food and clothes and medicines for the flood affectees, while the rest of that money was conveniently left in the bank to gain some interest. Ofcourse, interest (sood) is Haraam, of course, yes it is. That is why I have an account with the Islamic banks, he explained. They only give some 'profit' on the money, that isn't interest.

Gonglo Nawab also decided to make several appearances on tv, condemning the present government for their mismanagement, and went to visit several people injured in the floods and shook hands with them. Later, he washed his hands carefully off the matter, and used a ready hand-sanitizer. His brother and himself were invited to a big Iftaar party soon after, and he should have his hands clean for some digging-in to the samosas and aloo-chat.

The Army were required to pull out people from their rooftops, and throw packs of food to those that could not be helped immediately. The Army was also getting a beating from the government for not mobilizing all the helicopters and all the boats and hovercrafts. But, we don't know how to use those helicopters yet, and the guy who knows how to work those hovercrafts is on vacations to the UK right now, sir, - said the Army. The world must help us with Helicopters and boats!
The Army was also getting stretched in the opposite direction, trying to fight the terrorists, and yet save their brothers from the flood. It is indeed like walking on a tight-rope.

The government was trying not to look too much like beggars, and yet, that was what their 'duty' was at the moment. The aid was coming in slowly, and the beggars had to explain to all and sundry that: no, we will make sure every cent goes to the poor, we promise not to take even a little bit for ourselves. You can come and check my pockets, sir, said the government. Just ignore my bank account in Switzerland, and some property in France and UK, and other places. Now that is my hard-earned rip-off. 

People sitting far away in their drawing-rooms clucked with pity at the scenes shown on TV. Some showed off their wealth and 'humanity'/'religiosity' by telling all who would listen how much they had donated to such and such charity. Some people wrote amazing articles on blogs, newspapers and other places on the internet. A handful of genuine charities tried their hardest to reach the worst hit areas, but couldn't get any further. The rains lashed on, and the flooding rivers did not subside. Half the country was drowning, and yet the terrorists sat together in their caves, and planned to blow up more mosques, more Shias, more Kaafirs disguised as women and children in busy bazaars shopping for Eid, or disguised as Red Cross/UN aid workers. Allah will grant them Paradise for recognizing the Kaafir and the Shaitaan, and blowing themselves up to kill it. 
More foreign celebrities displayed their perfect acting skills, and pleaded for money. More self-righteous people loosened their change. More angry people slammed the relief efforts. Why should we save those people? They're brothers with the terrorists!!! Better nuke them all.

All this time, Rahmat sat under his make-shift home, trying to avoid the helpless eyes of his wife, and the shivering kids. They had had two packets of food from the helicopters (the first he had ever seen in his life), and they had soon been interviewed by a professional looking man who spoke flawless urdu, and told them he was coming on Television. Rahmat didn't know what to say, when the man asked him how he felt. Some people, wearing badges of a political party also came to shake hands and take pictures with Rahmat and his neighbours, and they handed them tokens for 'food rations' at their camp some miles away. Rahmat went to get the food in the evening, and they had a hot meal. At night, more thunder and rains caused the Television man and the Political party people to flee the area. Rahmat had two tokens left but nowhere to get the food. 

When the rivers finally quieten down, he and his neighbours will try and re-build what was lost. He will need to ask for a loan from the big Haveli-owner, the Wadera "feudal lord", so that he could buy bricks and one cow. He will spend his whole life trying to repay that loan. His children will not go to school. No more helicopters will fly over-head. No relief camps would come back, to help build his little mud house. No foreign aid-worker will shake hands with him and pose for the camera. He won't be interviewed for the local TV. The terrorists will come down from the mountains, shaking their AK-47s and Rahmat would pull in his children, and lock his door for fear. They will shower bullets over their town, and shriek and scream. His wife's eyes will fill with tears at the gun-shots, and Rahmat would sit alert and frightened, as the terrorists finally leave the village. The Wadera will invite the terrorists for a "talk" inside his big Haveli, and broker a deal with the terrorists and the government, or Usman Khan, or Gonglo Nawab, or any body else, willing to deal. 

Deals that are of no concern to Rahmat. And comments on the Internet, that do not concern him. And the donated money sitting in Islamic Banks gathering 'profits', that are not his concern. And the world will forget Rahmat one day. 

*entirely a work of fiction.