The author of this blog stopped writing here long time back. The posts published here embarrass her now. And hence, there is very little chance that she is going to write here again.

This blog is hence declared to be in a state of COMA.

"ADVIA!" — A Short Story by Sigrun Srivastav




Hi friends! This post is to share with you all an extremely beautiful and touching story that I first read back then in 7th standard. I'd like to tell you that it is a book named "A moment Of Truth" by Sigrun Srivastava containing "true stories from around the world" that brought me to it. The book was a prize, and thus an even more prized possession. The stories in it, lucidly written for children but drenched with emotions and life nonetheless, were awe-inspiring. But the best of them all is "Advia!". It was while reading "The Kite Runner" recently that I recalled faint memories of the book and "Advia!" as both the stories are based in Taliban occupied Afghanistan. It sends shivers down the spines to think what kind of a life commoners there would be living. Won't say more.
Thank god I found the book among my old things. I was trying hard but the word "Advia" just couldn't click. The whole story revolves around it. So don't look it up. I'd love it if you too would read this short story. I'm sure you won't be disappointed. 


Tanvi says, “Forget it, Puja.” But I can’t forget it. The memory of the two men, hitting on the car window, rattling the door, shouting, “Advia, Advia”, still haunts me. 
***
I hadn't decided whether I liked Afghanistan. I knew my father did, though he had been here for only four months, working as an engineer at the Khanabad Irrigation Project. My brother and I had stayed back in Delhi with my uncle and aunt. We had come to spend our holidays with my parents in the small town of Kunduz, not far from the Russian border. We had visited the historical place of Balk over the weekend, and were on our way back when everything began to oppress me: the stillness of the wild rocky mountainside, bare of any vegetation; the ghostly craters of rocks and stones flanking the road on both sides; the dust and the heat. I felt uncomfortable. 
I looked at my brother, sitting next to me in the car. Suddenly he put into words what I had been thinking, “Look at this side. Isn’t it a perfect hiding place for dacoits?” 
    My mother started and shot a questioning glance at my father who laughed softly. Without taking his eyes off the road before him, he said, “I haven’t been long enough in Afghanistan to comment on that. But from what I have heard from my colleagues and experienced myself, I gather the people of Afghanistan are rather friendly and hospitable.” I met his eyes in the rear-view mirror. He smiled at me and added, “Oh, don’t look so frightened, Puja. We will soon be at Tashkurghan and from there it is not far to Kunduz.” And to change our mood he suggested, “Why don’t you all sing a few oldies for me?” 
So we sang the oldies at the top of our voices, in an attempt to drive the blues away—the blues and the dacoits.     After the next bend, before the road began to rise, my father slowed down and brought the car to a halt on the right side. “Nothing to worry about,” he assured us. “I’m checking the rear wheels.” He got out of the car. We opened all the doors to let in some fresh air. But the air that entered was hot and dry. 
My mother picked up the flask at her feet and I wiped my forehead with my handkerchief. I wished we were back at Kunduz and I could take a long cool bath. 
    “Do you want some water, Puja?” asked Mother, I nodded and extended my hand, while my eyes travelled past her, up the road. What I saw made me drop the cup. Water spilled onto my jeans and the matting of the car. 
    “Puja,” scolded my mother. 
    “Idiot,” grunted my brother. 
I continued to stare past my mother’s surprised face at two men rushing towards our car. The taller of the two charged at us. The other one limped behind awkwardly. Their eyes glittered menacingly from under their dirty turbans. Their ankle-length black coats, with long sleeves hanging at both sides, flapped around them like the wings of some monstrous bird. They were coming straight at us. I shrieked and pointed at them. “Dacoits, dacoits.” My mother turned around to stare at them, at the one swirling a stick above his head and shouting, “Advia!”     My mother shrieked again. The, flask dropped from her lap. Drawing away from the window she whispered, “Rohan, Rohan, help!” 
“Papa, Papa,” I shouted and flung myself across my brother in an attempt to leave the car from the opposite side. My brother pushed me back and said harshly, “Get back, Puja. Stop acting like a fool.” Then he was out of the door and calling to my father, “Papa, dacoits! They’re coming straight at us. Come back. We have to leave. Start the car, Papa. Hurry! Please!” 
    Sudhir banged the door shut and shouted at us, “Shut the doors. Wind up the window glass, 
fast.” 
I pressed myself back into the seat of the car, paralyzed with fear. I kept staring at the two men advancing towards the car at my side. The taller of the two had already reached the bonnet. His left hand slid over the metal and touched my mother’s window. He shouted something. 
    “Wind up your window, Ma,” I heard my brother shout. “Lock the door, Ma. You must lock the door. Bring your window up, Puja. Do you hear?” 

I did hear him. But his voice seemed to reach me from a distance. I wanted to move, wind up the window, but I couldn’t. I just could not move. I was aware of my father squeezing himself behind the steering wheel, slamming the door shut behind him. Winding up, he shouted, “Lock the doors! Lock the doors!” Then he turned the ignition key, once, twice. The motor started. 
Automatically I reached out for the handle. My hand trembled as I turned it rapidly. My eyes were fixed on the face of the man who had reached my mother’s window and I did not notice the glass moving down as I turned the handle in the wrong direction. The man thrust his hands forward. By that time, I had realized my mistake and started raising the window glass. The hands were caught by the upward moving glass. He grabbed it, and clung to it, trying to push it down with great force. The glass inched up slowly, painfully. When finally it reached the top, it pressed the dacoit’s fingers against the frame. The man yelled and withdrew his hands. He banged at the glass with his fist and hammered the door with his stick. Then he dropped it and rattled the door handle with both hands. He shouted at my mother. His words sounded like “Advia”.
Then from behind the furious man, the other one emerged. He threw himself at my door, and tried to hit at the window pane with his fists. But there was no window pane. He hit me, almost. Then grabbing my arm, he pushed himself forward and with his bloodshot eyes flashing at me, he roared, “Advia, Advia, Advia!” 
    I stared at him, unable to move or speak. All I could do was stare into the dusty, bearded face and listen to the voice that shouted over and over again, “Advia, Advia. Lutfun mara dawa bitte.” He shook my arm and reached inside the car with the other hand. “Papa,” I shrieked. 
Then I was thrown forward against the back of the front seat and bounced back again. The dacoit was jerked forward. He released my arm but hung onto the window. As the car gathered speed he fell into a run beside it, still holding onto the window frame with his left hand. His dirty face bobbed up and down as he kept on running and shouting, “Advia. Advia. Advia.” Over and over again. 
And then his hands were gone, his hands, his face and his voice. Our car sped along the unmetalled road, leaving behind a cloud of dust. 
I did not turn to look back. But Sudhir did. He cried excitedly, “We licked them. We shook them off, Pa. Wow!”
Then he looked at me disdainfully. “How dumb can you get, Puja? Don’t you know how to raise a window glass?” 
“Stop picking on her,” murmured my father. “These things do happen in such moments.” 
“But the dacoit almost got her by the throat,” shouted my brother. 
“He did not,” I protested weakly. 
“Well, if he’d had time to pull out his knife, you…”
 “Sudhir, please,” pleaded my mother. “Will you please stop that! Let’s thank God that we are all safe.” 
“Okay,” mumbled my brother, and shot a last disdainful glance at me. He looked out of the window, then shook his head once more and cried, “We’ve licked them! Papa, you were great! You got the car started in a few seconds.” Those seconds had seemed an eternity to me.
“These guys,” continued my brother, “were out to get our watches and Ma’s chain. But we shook them off. We licked them!” Sudhir clapped his hands gleefully. But I wasn't pleased at all. I was on the verge of crying as I fought the voice still running through my head, “Advia. Advia.” 
“Pa,” I said finally after we had had our dinner, “I would like to look up the word ‘Advia’. I wonder what it means?” “It means ‘hands up’,” stated my brother taking the last spoonful of kheer, “or ‘I’ll kill you!’ or...” 
“Sudhir,” pleaded my mother. My father returned from the bedroom with a thick dictionary. It did not take him long to find the word, but it took him almost a minute to read it. His face was pale and his eyes looked troubled as he said in a flat voice, “Advia means ‘medicine’. 
For a long time no one spoke. Then my mother whispered, “Oh my God, oh my God,” over and over again. 
I stared at her and at my brother and did what I had wanted to do all afternoon. I began to cry.
 ******
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