“The Turmoil Within”: A Short Story

Rosie Sahni settled into the deck chair in her lawn, took a long sip of her tea and sighed. It was only 9:30 a.m., but she had been up since 5, completing her myriad daily tasks. Her husband, Brigadier Baljit Singh Sahni, had left for office, after a quick breakfast at precisely 9:00 a.m. He had switched to the corporate sector after retiring from the army, but his body clock, and consequently his household’s clock, still ran to a military schedule.

Rosie relaxed only after he left home. Opening the day’s Delhi Times, she browsed through the coverage of events in the city, before turning to her favourite pastime- the Sudoku puzzle of the day.

“Memsahib….”, a voice called out to her. She looked up, slightly annoyed at the interruption of her solitude. It was her driver Shafiq. He hadn’t turned up for work the previous day, without informing her, and his phone had been switched off.

“Kya hua Shafiq? Kal kyu nahi aaye duty pe? Tumhara phone bhi nahi mil raha tha? And you didn’t even bother to inform me!”, she loudly expressed her displeasure at his absence the day before.

As the memsahib of the house, Rosie preferred to adopt a firm and imperious approach with the household help. However, every member of the staff knew she was soft at heart and could readily be appealed to for help, when needed.

“Memsahib….”, he trailed off in a meek voice. It seemed he had lost his tongue.

Sensing his discomfort, Rosie used a different, more placatory tone, “kya hua Shafiq? Ghabrao mat, batao- kya problem hai?” (don’t worry, tell me what the problem is?)

A slow tear trickled down the man’s face as he bleated out, “Memsahib, Seelampur mein paagalo ki tarah maar rahe hai hum logon ko. Kal subah mera padosi sabzi lene gaya, to dange se bachte bachte bhaaga. Uss hi waqt, hum boriya-bistar bandh ke, Gurdware mein chupp gaye. Par mujhe darr he ki wahan se bhi dhoondh ke maarenge. Meri biwi aur do chotte bache bohot darre hue hai. Mujhe kuch samajh nahi aaya, toh mai unhe aapke paas le aaya hu. Aap hi humaare mai-baap hai, aap kuch kijiye…” (They are beating us mercilessly in Seelampur. Yesterday morning, my neighbour was almost caught and killed by the angry mob- he barely survived. We spent the day hiding in the Sikh temple, but we are worried they will find us and kill us there too. My wife and two young children are extremely scared. I didn’t know what to do, so I’ve brought them to you today. I trust that you will take care of us. Please do something…”)

Shocked into silence, Rosie took a moment to reflect. Last evening, she had heard her husband wax lyrical on the ineptitude of the police and authorities, in controlling the sudden outpour of communal violence in North and North-East Delhi. But she had never imagined it would hit so close to home, so soon.

“Kahaan hai woh?”, she asked, with concern. (where are they?)

He pointed to the gate, where she saw Shafiq’s diminutive wife holding their rolled-up bedding, with two terrified children clinging to her. The family’s collective luggage consisted of two mid-sized duffel bags.

Rosie immediately pictured that fateful day in November 1984, when she and her three young children, hid in a store room in her Muslim neighbour’s home, during the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi. While her husband patrolled the colony with his army-commissioned weapons to keep the rioting mobs at bay, they had thought it prudent to hide Rosie and the children, in case the mobs got through. A chill went through her spine as she saw that same fear in Shafiq’s wife’s eyes.

“Not on my watch”, thought Rosie, springing into action. She ushered them inside the house and instructed her cook to help them settle in. It would be a tight squeeze but everyone would have to manage somehow.

Once the luggage had been stowed away, she asked Shafiq details of the people causing the violence, “kaun hai yeh log?”

“Humaare area ke to nahi lag rahe the, memsahib. Pata nahi kahaan se aaye yeh log. Police ka to namo-nishaan nahi. Kisi ko bhi nahi choda- Hindu, Musulmaan- dono ko berehmi se nanga karke maar rahe the.” (They were not from our area. I don’t know where they came from. There were no police officers anywhere and not a single person was safe- the angry mob attacked both Hindus and Muslims, shamelessly disrobing them to check their religion, and then beating them.)

Shaking her head, Rosie reflected on the irony of the situation. “History just keeps repeating itself. How can human beings show such inhumane behaviour despite having lived through it in the past?”, she wondered.

For now, she decided to focus on her husband’s reaction. The Brigadier was due to come home at 1:30 p.m. for lunch, and she was worried he wouldn’t take kindly to the uninvited house guests. A few years ago, her cook’s family from Bengal, had arrived without notice and shifted into their servant quarter. He had assured the Sahni’s this arrangement was only temporary, till his wife and daughter found other homes to work in. However, the Brigadier, always suspicious of people’s intentions, had not allowed them to stay beyond two nights. Rosie had secretly handed over money to her cook to get his womenfolk rented accommodation nearby. She was worried that Shafiq’s arrival may receive a similar reaction from her husband.

On entering his home, the first thing the Brigadier did, was to neatly stack his shoes in their shelf, replacing them with his comfortable slippers.

Without preamble or even a friendly greeting, Rosie addressed his back with trepidation, “I have to talk to you.”

He turned around, alarmed at the tone she had used and asked, “what’s wrong, my dear? You sound really upset.”

She took a deep breath, and framed her words carefully, “my driver Shafiq and his family live in the riot-affected Seelampur area. Yesterday, they hid from unidentified mobs that were wreaking havoc on locals. This morning, he brought his wife and two young children seeking shelter at our home, till the situation calms down.”

She paused to let the information sink in, before continuing, “I have asked them to stay here for as long as they need to.”

The Brigadier was silent. He was not used to his docile wife making strong decisions that would affect them both. The division of their roles had been clear from the beginning. He brought the money home and was responsible for making big life decisions, while she ran the house, took care of the children and made all decisions with respect to those responsibilities.

He quietly asked his wife, “are you asking me this or are you informing me, Rosie? Do you know how dangerous it can be for us, if the situation becomes worse and the riots spread? What if the mobs come to our neighbourhood looking for Muslims to kill?”

Not one to give up easily, however, Rosie retaliated, “please jee, how can I turn them away? He has two little ones and a young wife. Have you forgotten what it was like for us in ’84?”

The Brigadier attempted to reason with her, “but Rosie, it’s not the same. For one, where will we keep them? We don’t have the space for it! Second, we are an old couple that lives alone. I am no longer physically capable of protecting all of us. I haven’t even oiled my gun in years!”

Rosie had been expecting his resistance. All her life, she had compromised on what she wanted- it was expected of her as a woman.

Her Papaji had married her off, before she could complete her Bachelor’s degree. She had been top of her class and every professor had hailed her academic abilities but that didn’t matter.

After marriage, her husband had encouraged her to continue studying, but the set-up at her in-law’s place had never been conducive to women’s education.

In the first few days of her marriage, while her bridal churra bangles still adorned her slim wrists, her formidable mother-in-law had made it clear that her duties lay toward her home and family. Pampered little Rosie, who had known only her books and vanities till then, was forced to grow up.

Her husband’s first military posting with family, had made them move from her in-laws’ home, to one they could call their own, in Allahabad cantonment. She could’ve pursued her studies then, but was too busy adjusting to life as an army wife.

Their three bonny babies arrived over the next few years, and though her husband adored them to bits, his professional duties kept him away during their formative years. Playing the roles of both mother and father, she ran the household, learnt to drive for school pick-ups and drop-offs, tutored her children through academic and personal problems, and remained tight-fisted at home in order to save money for their education. Hence, her studies and dreams took a backseat.

But this situation was different. Rosie knew if there was ever a time to take a stand for what she believed in, it was when people’s lives were at stake. She drew herself up to her full height, and replied to her husband, “courage is not measured by the state of your gun, but by the largeness of your heart. If you don’t stand up against the intolerance the religious minorities are facing today, then all your talk of seven decades of India’s greatness will count for nothing, and you know it!”

“You can keep complaining about everything that’s wrong with our country and the people in power, but if you can’t address a problem of this nature in your own home, then what’s the point of your lofty ideals? In fact, what hope is there for humanity in general?!” she announced with finality.

The Brigadier sat down. This was not the first time he had viewed a situation myopically, and been called out on it by his intelligent wife. There was a reason their marriage had worked as well as it had for 45 years. They balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and there was not a soul in the world who knew the intricacies of their personalities, as well as they knew each other’s.

Finally admitting defeat, he said, “you are right, my dear. We should give them shelter as long as we are able to. That is the best we can do right now, to stand up against the religious hatred being spewed by some parties.”

Addressing her by the nickname he had used privately for years, he said lightly, “now, General Sahiba, can I get some lunch?!”. She was, after all, the General of his heart and home.

“Coming right up!” she smiled, relieved at her husband’s change of heart.

Rosie Sahni was an excellent student, dutiful daughter, supportive wife, obedient daughter-in-law, caring mother, able housekeeper and compassionate human, and each of these unacknowledged roles had made her the extraordinary woman that she was.

THE TURMOIL WITHIN

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Hi everyone, my beautiful city and its innocent people are burning in awful communal riots. I’m infuriated with the situation and the ruthless politically-driven instigation that has led to it. This senseless violence needs to stop and humanity must prevail over our political and ideological differences. I urge you to share this story ahead, and to spread the message of peace. Please- it is an urgent and necessary plea!

Though I’ve woven it as a fictional story, the incidents mentioned here are largely based on news reports that I’ve read over the last few days.

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This work of fiction was originally an ode to the extraordinary strength of women, as well as a nod to the diverse roles they play in life. It was meant to be a tribute to womanhood on the occasion of International Women’s Day, but I could not ignore the circumstances we’re currently living in, and the story took its own turn.

Brigadier and Mrs. Sahni will appear in more works of fiction penned by me. Click here to read the previous short story “Seven Decades of Greatness”.

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This post is a part of ‘The Woman That I Am’ Blog Hop #TheWomanThatIAm organised by Rashi Roy and Manas Mukul #RRxMM. The Event is sponsored by Kraffitti.

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159 Thoughts

  1. Noor, I am short of words to say what an awesome piece of writing this is. In these times where humanity seems to have taken a back seat, your post makes us realise that we all need to do our bit to restore the faith. The topic is not something we all need to be proud of but your writing is brilliant as always and this one is a winner for sure.

    1. Thank you so much dear Arushi! Your appreciation means a lot to me.
      I think the only way to win, is if the message spreads far and wide and this horrific and mindless violence comes to an end.

  2. You have brought out the grim situation and the irony of life very well in this story. You write very well and I thank you for the translation as otherwise I would be lost. I do hope that people will be more kind to each other, saddened by what the world is becoming.

  3. The situation of inhumanity is at its height in Delhi right now. The strength of a woman is so clearly woven in your tale. Rosie is the potrait of every woman out there who have helped people standing courageously for sake of humanity and shows that why a woman is called ma Durga.

  4. Well penned story and apt to the current situation of our capital. Delhi is my home town and I am too worried about the city. Hope, peace prevails. The hatred and violence is not going to benefit anyone.

  5. Hi Noor! Yours was a totally different piece. For some days, I am also thinking of it and some other issues. This keeps me burning inside. I loved your fictional take on it. Somehow, Rosie Sahni resides in my mom too. It was great reading such a deep and intense yet subtle short story. Love and respect.

      1. Absolutely agree. We all are same in certain ways. Eagerly waiting for more tales from the two characters you are portraying so intricately. Already started loving Rosie. 🙂

  6. Oh….I m sure the feelings of everyone here is littered through your pen so beautifully on paper…I join you in your prayer and may God give us more strength…a strong woman is not just about building career but a strong character is what counts! Kudis

  7. So apt as always. You’ve shown the strength big an army wife and moved to the current situation. I love your way of narrating the events in simple and logical way. Hope people can see sense soon. Wonderful and heartfelt.
    Deepika Sharma

  8. This indeed was penned beautifully. I have read only one of your work earlier and had goosebumps, well I had them again today while I was reading this story. I also must agree that this is one of the best stories i’ve read in a long long time.
    Always a treat to read your work Noor 🙂
    — rightpurchasing

  9. Noor, I was eagerly waiting for your blog and it was totally worth it. The way you have woven the current situation into fiction is amazing. It is sad that as a country we are in this state today. Hope sanity prevails soon.

  10. This is the story today, most of us tend to see the bigger picture but when it comes to actually doing the smaller bit of not ourselves, we tend to lose focus. Great piece Noor

  11. Very nice, Noor. Well written and though the story is fictional, as we read your story, many are actually living it. My heart goes out to them..

    Janaki@beyondthefamiliar

  12. Very well written.Yes this is not the time to blame each other.This is time to maintain peace around us.
    Sangya Nagpal

  13. It is your special talent Noor to weave fact with fiction, just this morning I posted about how Sikhs have proven again and again what community really means. Kudos for this story and all the best for more.

  14. I apologize in advance if my inner reviewer finds the sudden shift in the story jarring. I guess you didn’t have enough time to iron out the change of the direction, and it shows. I know it might sound odd that I’m talking about the story presentation rather than the theme. But since the title itself calls it a short story, I couldn’t resist. Your writing style is very good (so you can see why the change caught me unaware).
    Rosie sure is a strong woman, though I can’t help but feel sad that she couldn’t get her degree in her favorite subject. Since you are planning a series, maybe she can join a distance course or something?
    Just an idea to let her dreams come true. 🙂

    1. Thanks Srivalli. You are absolutely right, the shift in the story is jarring but as I mentioned at the end, this story had started as something else and took its own turn owing to my current mental state. A short story format simply doesn’t do justice to the subject I have chosen, but I had to fit it in to one blog post. I hope to write a novel with the Sahnis as the central figures, where I won’t allow myself a shoddy job of structuring the story! Please forgive this story as a message that just had to be sent out on an immediate basis- not to be judged on its legs as a work of serious short fiction.

  15. What a piece of work Noor..Loved the way your story went ahead picking each pieces of womanhood and finally portraying the present scenario. I pray that things settle down, I pray for piece. Acha likha bohat 🙂

  16. A fabulous piece, Noor. When the system fails, it is the ordinary people that step up. I don’t recognize this Delhi anymore, but then I do. Takes me back to the carnage of ’84.

    1. I wasn’t around then, but I’ve heard the turmoil in my parents’ voice when they speak of that time. We must do everything in our power to prevent that from happening again. Thank you so much dear Ritu for reading and appreciating the post!

  17. Well written story Noor. I was surprised by the sudden turn of the story to the current situation of the Capital. It is really very sad and this should be stopped now. Hatred only creates violence.

    Deepika Mishra

  18. A beautifully written short story. I liked the gripping narrative and apt characterization. Apart from weaving a tale on a woman, you have also shed light on the current issue. Great work, Noor! Loved the way you have blend fact with fiction.

  19. Noor, it was a very beautiful story..Your writing style was amazing as always.. It is sad to hear about what is happening in Delhi right now ..But he theme of your story came as a ray of hope to see that humanity is still alive..Hope to read more of your stories.. All the best for your future writing..

  20. Ultimate piece of fiction Noor and that too on the bloodcurdling situation of Delhi, I literally got goosebumps, at some points found me in tears, trust me I am facing a shortage of words to express my views in your flawless writing, the way you project the plot of a story, gives me a feel that I am sitting somewhere at the corner in your story and witnessing every scene in front of my eyes, Noor you possess an attribute of a true writer. I am in forever love of your writing, Kudos dear!!!!!!

  21. Hello Noor

    Back your blog and so good to read this story and you are magical with words.
    I appreciate the way you weave stories and the connection between them remains so constant. Peace be on everyone and our country and also the world need men like Mr Sahni.

  22. Hi Noor. Though I’m not participating in this hop but somebody referred your story to me and I must say well done. We need these stories and not senseless debates and finger pointing. This is the way to go. So admire you.

  23. I see it as the word of God and the almighty and the merciful hand of God has guided you through. I am a fan of your writing well written and at the right time. Humanity must be in the air we breathe and thats how peace will find its way 😊

  24. Humanity seems to be fading away with every year. Every drop of bloodshed is a waste of our own energies, resources, strength and sanity. No one but only you could have weaved this story with such finesse. So happy to be an acquaintance. Hope to meet you in person someday. Very proud of you.
    Love n hugs
    Urvashi #damurureads

  25. Such a wonderful story Noor. It so beautifully Expreses the strength of ever women along with crisis in country today. Every woman deserves to the General of their home and family’s heart.

  26. You weave beautiful stories through your words but what makes you different and unique that you are using your words to bring change. To show the face of humanity that is depleting everyday. Kudos to your efforts.👏👏

  27. It is a shaking post . You have well portrayed the riots of Delhi . Just listening to Ankit Sharma news . So inhuman !! Which direction the society is moving ? Petrol and acid bombs used ., Oh my God !! Noor you have written a great post.

  28. Wow it was intriguing and the way you weaved it with current scenario speaks a lot about you. I salute Rosie Sahni and many such positive humans who’s presence keeps our faith and trust in humanity alive.

  29. Noor, loved the story. I often wonder what turns humans into demons who are to slit throats of those people with whom they have shared some good time. God bless the humanity

  30. First of all many congratulations to Noor for having the talent of writing where yours words have a wonderful expression and art to connect readers… As I belong to a Sikh family I can relate with the home environment of any Punjabi family in 80’s & 90’& as you have mentioned here. Of course the way of menupulation that any orthodox conventional woman can do with her new and educated or say more adavance daughter in law.
    Keep writing and keep inspiring…
    All the best!!

  31. You have showcased the fact that a woman will speak out, call out and stand out when she really wants to! Beautifully written!

  32. Storytelling is tough but you seem to be a terrific storyteller. I love the way how you knit each part of the story. Commendable.

  33. You have used the characters you had created for the decade hop. That was very creative of you. The story itself is very nice. Hope the people involved see sense and all this violence will be controlled.

    Meena from balconysunrise.wordpress.com

  34. I cried and I haven’t cried in a while… What’s happening in Delhi is infuriating… It needs to stop…
    I hope and pray that everything gets better!

  35. wow, really loved reading this. such a heart-touching story. You are an awesome writer.. Everyone should read this story.

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