It was an autumn of her early years. The sun had gone down and everything was quiet and dark. She remembered the kuther, the small square room, one that was to the left side of the narrow corridor that lead to the big house. There were two more rooms in that floor. One a happy large room dyewakhaan,that was full of life, work and play. The other one was a quiet closed door that she rarely ever saw open. Adjacent to it was a storeroom, soundar, the darkness of which was revealed by the open space on its top. She liked the small square room. It was warm and cozy. When she entered through the green wooden doors of that aged house that was the first room she sought. Excited sometimes, sometimes in sorrow. That is how her childhood had been.
The kuther glistened in the candle light; three small thin candles were set on the wooden shelf by the window frames that doubled as a kitchen counter. Large brown windows with small rectangular glass panes on the top in two’s, ordinary but intriguing, shut out her fears of the jinns that lived in the imposing Chinar in the courtyard. Even in the darkness she could hear the rattling noise of the fallen Chinar leaves. It was a huge tree, like an empire in the sky, spread out in all directions, with leaves floating in the clouds, so it seemed to Aiza as she could never make the top end of it until she was fourteen. To her, it was a giant tree that was home to jinns and pari’s. She sat across her granny, eyes fixed on the windows with her little brother ready to hear her favorite story from the warmest person she would ever know. She remembered her nani from her earliest memories of their bedtime stories. White moonlit skin, soft, wrinkled in age, hair darker than the night, braided in two thin plaits that showed a little beneath her headscarf. Her hands were soft and shaky that trembled while lighting up the candles every time. Her smile was radiant that lit up her black eyes, hinting to what a beauty she might have been in her own time.
Aiza and Aamir were excited to hear their bed time story, Sonnekisser. It was a magical tale of a beautiful girl that was thrown into streets and taken over by the jinn kaav (ghost crows) of a Chinar. A beautiful story of friendship and wisdom that ended in her becoming the Queen of the magical land. They had heard the story like a million times, they loved it, and Aiza never outgrew it. It was like a bedtime tradition with their granny, that every other story had to end with Sonnekisser being told as well. A happy magical story that put Aiza and Aamir to a peaceful sleep in troubled times. They were mere kids of eight and seven years but they had known their share of sorrows even at that young innocent age.
In the mornings, Aiza would run down the wooden staircase to the kuther for breakfast. With only a mouthful, she would hurry out to observe the Chinar. The yard was a carpet of crimson, brazen Chinar leaves that had surrendered to the winds in the night. She would run all across the yard, trampling the leaves, crushing them under her feet when Aamir and her two cousins joined her in the feat. They would roll themselves into it, throw heaps into each others face, laughing at their fun game. Unless someone would come up and light up in gray smoke, the small mountains of the fallen leaves to clean up the yard.
In Summers, the Chinar looked more huge to her. It had long thick branches in white and brown, with large green leaves from which would emerge a continuous noise of birds that nested in it. Aiza would always perceive that the jinns of the Chinar were eating the eagles and the crows for their breakfast, lunch and dinner. So it seemed by the consistent noise that emerged at all times from the Chinar. That sacred her all the more to go even near it, when her kite got stuck in one of the branches.
On the other side of the house was a narrow lake that sparkled in the sunshine. Large wooden logs would rest in it, which the adults sometimes would use to go to the other side. It would be bustling with noise from all the shikaras that came by. Some selling fruits, some vegetables while other sold beautiful flowers. They were on their way to the large lake some miles away from the house where beautiful houseboats played home to the visitors of their beautiful town.
It was the little sorrows in their life that brought Aiza and Aamir to the house, every now and then. They scarcely ever had a happy reason to go there, but once they arrived they loved every moment spent there. It was an old house, warm and affectionate, that always welcomed them. The children ran happily across the large yard with colorful kites reaching the skies. Aiza had spent many a winters and summers of her childhood in the house, and the Chinar had been all a part of it. She played hide and seek around it, ran merrily around as a girl of eight with Aamir and her two cousins. They played with their dolls, little kitchen toys, and many fun games in the house of the Chinar. It had been indeed a wonderful time of her life. She missed it. A coy smile spread across her face at the thought.
She was there after what seemed like a hundred years. Like her, it had changed but not in an unrecognizable way. Old but strong, ruined but standing. She looked at what now remained of the beautiful house. She recognized the brrand kaen (a cuboidal stone) to the left of the yard where the grannies of the house would sit in the sun for long hours of the day. She sat there and looked around. The house was in ruins and seemed so small to her as she explored the corridors and the halls.She went inside the kuther, of which nothing remained. The mud walls were coming off while the wooden shelf still remained. Everything seemed so insignificant to the eye, but inside her, her heart turned at the pain. She had heard so many stories in that room, played many a games with Aamir there. It had been the warmest place her heart had ever known.
In the yard, the creepers had taken over the walls in a homecoming embrace.She looked up at the Chinar, resting in front of her. It now stood as an old bowed man who had been ripped off of his youth by the ages of turmoil. Some of its branches had been cut off. It was not as grand as she remembered it from her childhood.Tired from the life that had been, waiting as if to die gracefully. The Chinar had been a witness to all. It was a witness to everything that happened in the house. The rise , the glory, the innocence, the happiness and then the sorrows, the grief, and the unyielding fall. It had aged with the house. Humbled down yet gracefully standing up.
Aiza was overwhelmed in sadness by the plight of the house. Whenever she looked back to the happy moments of her life, she always found herself running, laughing and playing in the yard of the Chinar house. It was her happy place. A house filled with laughter, a humble abode of love that had always welcomed her. Always.
She stood by the Chinar, as a leaf fell off it. She held it in her hand and made a silent prayer for the house. For the affectionate people that lived there, for the laughter that had vanished in the troubled air, for the sorrow that now filled her heart. Her happy place was in ruins, and she could find no way to help it. Except for her small prayers, there was nothing much she could do about it.
In her heart Aiza knew, as she stepped out of the small wooden door, that whatever may be, the Chinar House would always remain the happiest place of her childhood where she had made so many memories. She knew, that every beginning came to an end. Every story ended. Some happily, some in sorrow. What remained was their essence in one’s life.