Mourning in the House of Joy

Farzana Moon

[The Location of "Mourning in the House of Joy" is Swat, in the north west of Pakistan amidst the fragrant valleys of Hindu Kush mountains.]

Monica was the daughter of the Himalayas. Her father was a wealthy Nawab. He was the uncontested ruler of the valley of Swat, known to all as, Vali-i-Swat; meaning, the master of Swat valley. His real name was Ashan. He was married to a Kashmiri princess, known as Rukhsana. Their palace was called Shangri-La where youth and beauty bloomed forever, and Monica had become the eternal bloom of that valley. Gathering joys from seasons all, and wafting the perfume of love from the purity of her youth and innocence alone.

Alas, that that purity was to be desecrated, the youth wilted and the innocence trampled over by the swift strides of misfortunes. While growing up, she knew neither pain, nor sorrow; in fact knowing very little about the trials and travails in life. Least of all, about grief or tragedy, since all her wishes became her commands, and were always obeyed with utter devotion and subservience.

Little did she suspect that her parents who loved her with all their hearts and souls, would serve as executioners at the threshold of her happiness. Monica was fed with happiness to such surfeit that she led a carefree life, even sheltered from the traditions of the family. Had she been exposed to the traditions of her family, she would have known the harsh realities of the world, but as it was she was to remain ignorant of the old customs, which would hurl her later into the abyss of cruel fate.

For Monica, the life and world were loving and beautiful. Brimming with the blooms of joys into the very hearts of the valleys where her own purity and innocence were transformed into the nectar of youth and ecstasy. The dark, red tulips over the rooftops of her parents' palace were her favorite spring flowers, and the saffron fields in the distance her paradise of love where she and Javed wandered blissfully, drinking the wine of Solitude and Nearness. Javed's parents had died when he was a child, and his uncle had adopted him at the time when he had accepted the governorship of Swat Valley. So both Javed and Monica were playmates from their cradle to the first rung of childhood, into the very lotus of youth. Nurturing their love for each other like one tender bloom under the bower of their own precious secret. This secret was their own sacred amulet, not ever to be unsealed until sprinkled with the holy vows of a wedlock, they were hoping and dreaming.

These young lovers were oblivious to all, not even suspecting that one splinter of a nightmare had entered their dreams by the arrival of Farrukh. Farrukh was Monica's maternal cousin, who had just graduated from King Edwards Medical College in Peshawar, and had returned to Swat to practice Medicine. Farrukh's father was also a physician in Peshawar, but his mother had died when he was barely a lad of ten. Rukhsana was with her sister at the time of her death, and Monica only a two year old babe with no recollection of such a visit or tragedy. Farrukh's mother's dying wish was the betrothal of her son to her sister's daughter, and both Rukhsana and she had sealed this contract with solemn vows. This was an old family tradition when the children of relatives were betrothed to each other even in their cradles, and were informed later when they were initiated into the circle of maturity and adulthood. So Rukhsana was consoled in her grief upon her sister's death, that she would find comfort in the happiness of Farrukh and Monica, when both would be wedded in conformity with family's honor and tradition.

Farrukh was a shy, handsome young man. Intelligent, rather on the melancholy side, devoting his time entirely to studies, so he had formed no attachments. Upon graduating from Medical college and being informed by his father about his betroth, he was both curious and anxious to meet his bride-to-be. The awe-inspiring valley of Swat had humbled him even before he had reached Swat, but beholding the miracle of his dreams in Monica, he was drunk by the wine of beauty so pure and guileless that his heart was a volcano of torment in pain and rapture. Monica, not even knowing the paradox of her relationship with this cousin, had greeted him with open arms, befriending him with bright smiles and genuine affection. Paradoxically, a great trio of friendship was formed, for Javed was destined to love all who found favor in the eyes of his Beloved.

Sweet sixteen and sweet loves, drowned into the odor of secrets old and revelations wilting! It was Monica's sixteenth birthday, and the palace was brimming with lights and guests. A great feast was drawing to its close, when Ashan with one thunder of a clap courted everyone's attention. He was quick to announce the long- promised betrothal of his daughter amidst cheers of approval and felicitation. All rejoicings were coming to a sudden halt when Monica had swooned on the Bokhara rug in a heap of maroon silks stitched with pearls. Javed was pale and stunned. Farrukh sat there aghast and stricken, as if carved to marble whiteness of the floor, which seemed to be slipping under his feet. Rukhsana was the first one to fly to her daughter's side, while Ashan managed a command to fetch the family doctor.

Sorrow and sadness had settled in the valley of Swat. But for Monica, the cloud of tragedy was never to leave her till the day of her death. Her own innocence had tasted the first draught of bitterness, and her heart was poisoned by the arrows of torment. The holy knot of a secret which she and Javed alone had tied was to be unknotted by her own sweet lips, not only confessing her love, but her bitter, bitter disbelief in being the betroth of a stranger whom she had known but a few months hence. Her pleading, weeping eyes in favor of dissolving this engagement had no affect on the parents who could not break the bond of this Old Tradition. Javed was still mired in shock and could not be revived from the bliss of his apathy and oblivion. Farrukh, shielded by the veil of ignorance, courted only despair and confusion. Monica was the only victim, excruciatingly aware of her misery and hopelessness, and sinking without drowning into the waters of profoundest of agonies she was ever to suffer and endure. Her boat of youth, caught amidst the waves of turbulent waters, was struggling to reach the calm shores. But, alas, there was no shore, only muddied pools, and darkness' insufferable.

The drowning bride had no oars to reach the safety of any shore, and no bridegroom to lift her above the waters of agony and despair. She was to be the bride of strange fates, betrothed not only to Farrukh, but to the rocks of tragedies. Javed had lost his sense and sensibility both, succumbing with ease to the lances of fever and delirium. Monica herself was the rock, though splintered and lacerated, still fit to be whipped by winds inclement and hurricanes incontestable. One of such hurricanes had made a truce with a lesser storm, throwing the dice of a wedding date. Great preparations were under way, musicians and dancers, and a grand feast to compliment the grandeur of the Vali-i- Swat. The tailors were summoned to the palace to stitch gowns for the princess in the softest of silks and velvets, and the same were used to adorn the parapets and balconies. Such wealth and opulence, the denizens of Swat had not ever seen before, as they gathered on the palace grounds. They were a horde of revelers, to celebrate the wedding of this princess, who was always praised for her two most noticeable of virtues, joy and beauty. But inside the palace, the music was subdued, the joyful songs gleaning sadness' from the hearts suffered and suffering. The tailors were still struggling with the last beautiful dress to be added to the dowry, when the bride was being led to the garlanded stage. Monica, the beautiful! The daughter of the Himalayas, sinking lower under the weight of gold on her red wedding dress and on her pale, shuddering body, could barely reach the garlanded altar of shame and suffering. The death of her soul had raised its cry a moment too soon, and she was limp in the arms of her bejeweled cousins. Sinking slowly and blissfully on the carpet of rosettes and medallion, as if welcoming an eternity of peace in death. The unwedded bride in gleaming red and gold was dead. Her small white face haloed by diamonds in her hair, was glowing like a moon amidst the clusters of cold, glittering stars. In fact, such sparkling luminaries were alighting in the eyes of all.

The house of joy was turned into the parlor of mourning. The same tailors who had stitched Monica's wedding gown, were now hemming the white burial shroud of cotton. The daughter of the Himalayas who had worn nothing but the finest of silks and velvets, was now swathed in twenty yards of cotton, called kafan. To watch her being lowered into the earth, the hands of the tailors were still trembling, who had cut the lengths of cotton in three pieces, two sown together for the body, and the third one to cradle her in white serenity. Javed too was embracing serenity, if already not on the brink of serenity in surcease. Farrukh, could also be seen floating in the white mists of shock, following the scent of the wedding bouquets down to the grave of his Beloved.

"Fate, not Tradition, or both have reduced us to dust," Rukhsana was heard lamenting, her burning eyes searching the woebegone silence of Vali-i-Swat.

Pakistan OV

Last modified 18 May 2001