The last part, Chapter 6 of MangoBaaz and Abu’s Jinns collab, is here: Rabia Apa’s Exorcism – Chapter 6: The Curtain Drop. You can read Chapter 1 here, Chapter 2 here, Chapter 3 here , Chapter 4 here and Chapter 5 here.
When I was in grade six, we had a Shakespeare play. I think it was Hamlet, I’m not entirely sure. There was a choir performance before that and a classical dance after. Ami was happy that at least one beti of hers was performing on stage. I had initially been selected to be a tree – I did have lines and I had to frown throughout, and that took a lot of energy but just two days before the play, Mrs. Khan decided that there would be no trees. And so, I was given an important ‘responsibility’; I was in charge of the curtains. I had to start the show and I end the show. I didn’t want to do so – everyone including apa knew that no one clapped for the people behind the stage. When I told apa what had happened, she said that I should get back at Mrs. Khan. Thinking that apa was just being nice, I let the thought slide. On the day of the performance, we started having early rehearsals. The curtains were heavy and so each time there was a break, I was instructed to drop them and open them for practice.
During the last scene, amongst the seventh graders drinking Shezan juice backstage, I saw apa smiling at me.
Now, during this time apa had treatments going on and she was bed-ridden but there she was, as radiant as ever, standing with the seniors. None of it made any sense. Not knowing how she had entered the school, I signaled her to get behind me before she could be recognized. At that moment, Alishba from 6C clapped her hands. Clapping twice was my cue to drop the curtain. Apa flew – and by flew I mean magically crossed the room in a second and dropped the curtain with a thud. Unwinding it required effort and time but with apa’s strength, the curtains just fell. I looked back in astonishment to find that apa who had placed her hands on mine and rolled down the auditorium drapes was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t a dream. I had seen her, she had smiled, she had flown and she had dropped the curtains by putting her cold, wet hands on mine. When the curtain went up again, the entire hall burst into shrieks and screams. Splotched with blood, the floor nestled on itself Mrs. Khan.
No one blamed me for the accident. Everyone knew that the ‘curtains’ fell and that it was a mishap, but the play was postponed, and Mrs. Khan got twelve stitches across her forehead – in the shape of a tree. When I went home, apa was sound asleep and Dr. Farhan said that she had been in a deep slumber since morning.
Us din say, if I am truly honest, mujhe pata tha, that there was something wrong with apa.
I did not for a moment think that she had a superpower. I always knew that whatever it was, it was sinister. Even though, apa never hurt me. But phir bhi, nothing she did ever felt right.
Pata hai, I think Dr. Farhan knew too. He knew that he was trying to explain something supernatural through science. One night, we had found Dr. Farhan huffing and puffing, completely out of breath near our main door. He was trembling and was so pale, that he couldn’t even say our names straight. This incident occurred a week before baba suspended his doctor services for apa. Acha tou, baba brought him in, and I made him Rooh-Afza. After twelve minutes, as I precisely noted, he told us what had happened.
“I was crossing the road. Society main apki phonch hi gya tha. I said salam to the guard and from the corner of my spectacles, kya dekhta houn main – Rabia hai khari huwi. She’s wearing a black chaddar, which is rather peculiar because she says that she hates to cover-”
“Haan jee, mujhe pata hai ap ageh bolain,” Baba jee cut in, going beetroot red. But, it was true, apa did hate covering herself. Over the span of six months, she had appeared naked and roamed with nothing on, three times in the house.
“Tou,” Dr. Farhan continued, “I tried stopping her. Bohut taez rafter say chali ja rahi thi ageh. I called her name and I started to run after her. At this point I thought that it was not Rabia but someone who looks like her so I stopped near the old qabristan on which a house is being built – three streets away from your house. I thought this because our Rabia with the medicines and all, can’t run so much. Wou bhaagi chali jaa rahi thi. Jaise hi main ruka, wou peechay mur kay meri taraf bhagne lagi. Kya dekhta houn, hawa ki waja say chaddar urti hai, Rabia ka moun hai, per paoun ki jaga haath hain, ath ath unglion wale.”
Baba calmed Dr. Farhan down and said that he was taking too much pressure because his patients.
“Farhan sahab, apna khayal nahin kar sake tou mareezoun ka kya khaak karein gay jee.”
Dr. Farhan nodded in approval and gulped down the last sip of his drink. I was the only one who believed Dr. Farhan that day jab kay, after feeling better he himself started not believing his story.
Khair, I started staring at the decorations. I didn’t want to think about the past waqiyat. Shaadi wala mahol tha. Because of such thoughts, my mind was deceiving me, and I had seen the nurse from apa’s hospital at the dawat – one moment she was there, the other she wasn’t. My thoughts got disrupted as I saw ama bringing apa down the stairs. Wrapped in yellow, apa looked like the winter sun – bhuji huwi, but still shining. Her eye lids were drowsy- as if something was stretching them, her lips had many coatings of peach lipstick on them – probably to hide the cold sores that the medicines had given her.
On the day of the nikkah, the sun was too much for apa to handle. It was as if her body was shrinking.
When we were young, apa and I loved frying massi Bina kay haath kay bune huwe nuggets. They were magical pieces of murghi dipped in flour. When they were dropped in the parching oil, they’d shrink into little cloud shaped chicken nuggets. And just like them, in the heat, apa was shrinking. She couldn’t speak and she couldn’t walk. At first, Uzair bhai thought that it was the heels, and he scoffed at chachy for buying them off a sale at Charles and Keith but when apa started muttering ‘mm – mm – mm-’ after short intervals without having the heels on, we figured that something else was wrong. Baba thought of calling Dr. Farhan but ama forbade him at once.
“Kya kar rahe hain ap? Masjid main guests aa chuke hain. Tamasha banwana hai?”
I went and sat right next to apa. I had seen those Hollywood movies on HBO before where the bride would get cold feet and jitters. Thinking that I was apa’s bride’s maid, I told her that Uzair bhai is a very nice person – that he wrote down the fact that apa likes Dairy Milk with the silky wrapper, not the local shiny one – that I would come to visit apa every day.
“My body is on fire.” Apa replied.
I looked at apa. She was sweating profoundly. Her makeup was on the verge of melting even though now we were in the air-conditioned hall that led to the mosque.
I went to get ama and baba who were greeting the guests. I do not know what happened, but I think that it was the sight of the molvi, the one who had to make apa sign the papers, due to which apa started shouting hysterically. It wasn’t the kind of graceful crying that you see in shaadi movies. It was awful. She was bawling her eyes out. Forun say hi, baba carried her to the car, and we drove to chachy’s place. Only phuphos and some of baba’s friends followed us back home, the other guests left. I recall seeing apa smile as soon as we exited the mosque. The nikkah was now to be done at chachy’s place.
Baba didn’t mind canceling the ruqsati and the valima, maybe because chacha Farooq had paid for it all. But, everyone found it to be in apa’s and their interest to wed her off on that very day. I remember running home to change into my shaadi ka jora and fetching apa’s lehnga after the nikkah. It is all blurry now – the odor of the fresh daig, the sudden arrangement of tents, me carrying the broken pearl of my custom made khussa in my sweaty palm – all of it.
Apa didn’t cry, in fact, after she became Uzair bhai’s wife, she couldn’t stop holding his hand. The locking of fingers certainly got the aunties talking. Pasand ki shaadi lagti hai. Haye Allah, raat tak sabar hi karle. Lagta hai hume ab chlana chahiye.
I remember collapsing on the bed at night. I was very tired. We all were. I remember closing apa’s bedroom door and nano complaining about her croissants finishing. I missed apa. That night, after months I slept peacefully.
The next day, ama woke me up early. Baba had ordered nashta from Dogar and we had to take the poori channay to apa’s place. Ama was busy packing the pathooray in small lunch boxes when the bell rang. It was chacha Farooq. He was accompanied by Fahmida – Uzair bhai’s elder sister.
They said that something was wrong with Rabia apa and they did not know what
Watever it was, it had started at night because Uzair had slept outside and the entire family had been fast asleep to notice. Before chacha could complete his sentence, ama, baba and I rushed with them to their house. Nano sat in the kitchen, dipping her croissant in chai, and decided not to go with us.
When we reached, everyone was gathered outside Uzair bhai’s room. There was pin-drop silence in the house. The roses from last night had wilted and fallen. It was like those cold December days when ama, baba, nano, apa and I sat in a circle to play luddo. No one dared to make the first turn because nano always wanted to go first. Here, everyone wanted baba to speak – to see and to explain – if there was any explanation for what they were seeing.
Apa was lying on the floor with her legs in the air. Her hands were twisted in an odd shape and her corkscrew curls were covering her face.
Jhoole maiyan…jhoole maiyan…Jhoole..
“Uzair nay pass jane ki koshish ki tou is nay us per thook phenki.”
“Mujhe tou lag raha tha tum nay iski tarbiyat theek nahin ki, kay isey koyi aur pasand hai, Riffat, likun iski tou halat dekh kar lagta hai iss per koyi saya hai.”
For a moment, my parents stood there watching apa curl into a ball and listening to chacha and chahcy speak, but then baba grinded his teeth and furiously entered Uzair bhai’s room.
“What nonsense is this Rabia!” he yelled. “Forun utho warna moun per dou lagaoun ga!”
Before baba could grasp apa from the legs, something else did. In front of the entire khandaan, something clutched onto apa’s legs and dragged her across the room – to and fro. The handprints of the entity could be seen on apa’s shalwar.
“Baba jee – Ba-baba jee- rouk lain isay-”
Soft whimpers came from apa and all of us stood there in silence, like frozen pieces of petrified flesh. Horrified, chacha jee who came from behind us, signaled baba to get away and started reciting kalmas in a loud voice. At first, whatever it was, threw apa across the room and ama gasped in both fright and pain, seeing her daughter’s body mold like playdough. But then, chacha started reciting in an even louder tone and one of Uzair bhai’s bhabhis, who was a hafiz-e-Quran joined in. The room started to shake, and outside, the floor on which we stood, remained still. A frame hanging of a certificate from Beaconhouse fell onto the ground and the glass shattered across apa. Uzair bhai, quickly played Surah-Bakra from Youtube and in a minute, the coldness inside the house vanished. It felt as if all the windows of a room which had been closed shut for ages had opened. Apa laid in the corner of the room, and gradually her legs came down and her body stopped shaking.
That very evening, the karih sahab that taught one of bhabhi’s children was called. At that time, apa was in bed but her hands were cuffed with chunri dupattas to the bed sole because hours earlier, she had cut herself using the shattered frame glass. Bhabhi’s child, Muzammil said the eeriest thing when the karih went upstairs.
“Mama, wou aik nahin hai, wou bohut hain.”
Chacha instructed the others to take the children away from the house for a few days till apa started feeling better. Curious as I was, I went up to Muzammil when he was alone in his playroom.
“Apne dekhe hain kay kitne hain?”
Muzammil looked at me.
I looked at him in an amusing manner. I wondered if he said five because his shirt had a huge five written on it.
“Are you sure kay five hain?”
“Nahin sorry, six hain.”
I smiled because I thought that he was making it up. Children na, they love attention.
“Par abhi tou you said kay five hain.”
“Haan wou aik apke peechay betha tha, usay maine count nahin kiya tha.”
Alarmed, I looked behind me. There was no one there but just then, I saw a dark black figure dressed in a nurse’s uniform, exit Muzammil’s room and go towards Uzair bhai’s.
The kari stated that whatever had hold of apa was quite powerful and that it was a woman. It had been inside apa for twelve years and to drive her out was not in his ikhtiar. He gave us the number of a renowned exorcist – Adnan Malik. He stated that Adnan sahab was not only a spiritual healer but a man of science and that he had driven demonic creatures out of people in the past.
Baba phoned Adnan sahab that very moment. I was there, present with him in the living room. The encounter with Muzammil had frightened me so much, that I refused to leave baba’s side. Unfortunately, Adnan sahab was out of the country and he informed us that he would reach us within seven days. He was already assisting a man whose nine-year-old son was being tormented by a jinn for urinating on it in a park. He said that even when countries away, he could tell about Rabia apa because he could sense the unseen. He had been able to do so since a very young age. He said that there was a female sheytaan, not just a jinn, but something far sinister that had hold of apa and, that it had given birth to a man named Azeem’s children as well.
Speechless, baba put down the phone and began to weep. Impatience got the better of him, and instead of waiting for Adnan Sahab to return, baba and chacha, gave in to ama’s cries and got a bunch of molvis from around Lahore to perform exorcisms on apa. I don’t blame baba or ama. I believe that they could not witness their daughter enduring so much suffering. But the truth was that apa had always been in pain.
Within two days, apa’s body tuned into a khajoor –wrinkled and lifeless. Rabia apa left us after forty-eight hours when she jumped from Uzair bhai’s terrace when one of the local molvis left her unattended.
Read the rest of the chapters here:
Cover image via: shutterstock.com