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“Farzana, I need to talk to you in private. Give me just one minute,” Yasmin said, glowering at her sister-in-law.
“If you take Farzana away then the whole celebration will come to a halt,” the bridegroom’s mother declared. She pulled a wad of crisp ten rupee notes from her purse and began showering them over Farzana. Some notes stuck to the dancer’s hair while others landed on the floor and were trampled beneath her dancing feet. The small daughter of one of the drummers tried gingerly to retrieve the money with a drumstick. Consumed with grief and rage, Yasmin considered imparting the tragic news to Farzana in bold and clear words right then and there, but she refrained. Her eyes brimming with tears, she returned home, slumped on her bed and cried into the pillow. Sometimes in her head she saw the twirling figure of her sister-in-law and sometimes a coffin arriving in an ambulance. Sometimes a heavy drumbeat hammered on her skull and sometimes an ambulance siren wailed in her ears.
In the bridegroom’s house, meanwhile, Farzana remained the star of the party and was having a whale of a time dancing and singing. She snatched a tambourine and started slapping it like a gypsy girl. Her oval, wheat-complexioned face was beaded with sweat.
An hour later Farzana set off towards home. She was exhausted but she felt exalted and relaxed. She had not felt such exaltation and relaxation since the first morning of her marriage. Her thoughts wandered to her late husband, she thought of her own wedding day when she was in a heavy crimson outfit. Oh she wished her husband were still alive, she longed to enfold him in her arms and kiss him passionately. But when she reached the house she found her daughters and Yasmin in mourning. They broke the terrible news to Farzana. Her jaw fell, her face took on a rubbery texture, she wanted to cry out but she had lost her voice. She tugged at her new violet georgette suit that still bore a faint fragrance of Rasasi perfume, then she pulled at her hair which was still sweaty from dancing. She crumpled into an unconscious heap on the floor, her fingers entangled in her hair.
Farzana lay unconscious for several days in the hospital and whenever she woke up she would strike her chest and wail hysterically and the doctors would give her a shot of sedative. For months after, her sleep was punctuated by nightmares, she would wake up and erupt into wailing. Two indelible images were impressed on her mind: herself dancing frantically and her son’s corpse in the coffin.
Five years passed. Farzana’s hair had completely gone white, while her leathery face and muddy eyes wore a dazed look. A sense of crushing guilt and deep remorse haunted her. She never missed an opportunity for self-condemnation whenever she met friends or neighbours and big tears rolled down her ashen cheeks. “How cruel and senseless I was, my son lay dead while I was dancing.”
Her relatives and friends counseled her repeatedly that it was no fault of hers, but she would not be reassured.
Farzana lost her mental balance. Sometimes she burst out weeping, and hurried out of the house yelling that her son’s corpse was coming in an ambulance, other times she sang a wedding song and shouted that her son’s bride was coming in a car. If she heard wedding music in the neighbourhood, she would gatecrash the party and start dancing. If she heard a marriage procession passing in the street, she scrambled out of her house and danced with the dancers. Then suddenly she would remember her son and she would start slapping her head, lamenting wildly.
One day a wedding procession of cars snaked into the narrow alleys of Farzana’s neighbourhood, honking their horns and blaring loud music. They had come from Islamabad to take a bride to her new home. They seated the bride in a car festooned with garlands and the caravan started to crawl out of the neighbourhood. Farzana spread her arms wide to block their way. “I’m going to Islamabad with you,” she insisted. “My son lives there, he’s going to tie the knot with a charming lady from that city. I have her photo in my home. Take me to Islamabad. I want to sit in this car,” she shouted, pointing to the bride’s car.
Farzana’s brother-in-law asked the bridegroom’s father to give Farzana just a short ride. The father, placing a rose garland around Farzana’s neck, opened the car door for her.
Farzana snuggled down into the back seat with the bride and the groom’s sister and, clapping her hands, she began singing a wedding song. They drove her around for a few minutes and then announced that they had arrived in Islamabad. Farzana laid her hand on the bride’s head and muttered her blessing. The groom’s sister handed Farzana a sparkly gift pack and when she disembarked from the car the groom’s friends fired a confetti gun over her. Farzana lifted her hands upwards and wished the newlywed couple a long happy life, scores of bits of glittery papers falling onto her grizzled head. The caravan of cars drove off and Farzana’s brother-in-law took Farzana back home.