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The Dark Grave

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By: Fazil Shafi Bhat

My parents were very generous in having children. They successfully had three kids in just five years. I was the youngest, unfortunately. My parents always had different perspectives and behaviours towards their two sons and one daughter.

They wanted their eldest son to become an engineer and wished for their daughter to become a doctor, while they disliked me from the moment I was born disabled. Although I was very sharp, my disability was a major obstacle in my upbringing and education. Other than my physical weakness, there was something else that I only realized when I grew up. But by the time I gained that realization, I had already missed out on a lot.

My brother and sister always got new clothes while I just managed with my brother’s hand-me-downs. My parents said prices had gone up and they couldn’t afford new clothes for me. I often wondered, if prices had truly gone up, why only for me? It wasn’t just about my expenses and needs – it was also a result of the hypocrisy and double standards in how I was treated emotionally, which had deeply scarred my entire being.

When we were very small, my brother and sister sympathized with me and treated me very well because of my disability. However, they were often puzzled by how my parents treated me and discouraged me from playing with me or showing me empathy. Then, when they grew a little older, they wouldn’t let me play with their toys. I would cry and beg pitifully like a beggar to be allowed to play with their toys, but they would just leave me alone in the room with strange behaviour.

I couldn’t understand my siblings’ behaviour, and then I would cry inconsolably and feel lighter. Sometimes, when my parents saw me crying, they would angrily order me to stop crying, which deeply affected my heart, and I would often feel pain in my chest.

My sister was raised with great care and affection. From childhood, she was taught manners and etiquette, encouraged to be active in school, throw tantrums at home, and demand anything new and expensive that caught her fancy. She was a good student. My father had a decent job and was considered competent in his department. He fulfilled every wish and need of my siblings, whether it was out of love or basic necessities. I grew up observing this differential treatment and discrimination.

I was very sharp, too, and my parents and siblings recognized this well. My brother and sister enthusiastically studied at a private school while I was admitted to a nearby public school due to my disability. I was told I couldn’t travel so far. My siblings had a school van, while I struggled to commute daily, often regarded strangely by school staff and neighbours. Feeling the discrimination, I would come home crying over my misfortune.

One day, I was very sick and couldn’t go to school. I told my mother I was unwell and needed to see a doctor. My siblings had already left for school, and my father was about to leave for work. Suddenly, I overheard my parents arguing loudly. I realized they were fighting about taking me to the doctor. Already distressed and sick, I started worrying that I would be blamed for the fight. Then I heard my father angrily shout at my mother that he had not signed up to take “her illegitimate son” to the doctor and that I was getting two meals and a roof over my head in this house, which should be enough for me. As I emerged from the shock of that revelation, all the terrible treatment and discrimination I had faced now fully made sense to me.

After this incident, I became very quiet. My own existence started feeling like a burden and filth to me. But suddenly, one day, the news came that my father had died in an accident. This had no effect on me. Yes…my mother got a job.

After my father’s death, my mother started staying up-to-date. Day by day, her face was losing its glow. As soon as she buried her husband, their relationship was also interred. She would go to the office everyday dressed up fancily, like a courtesan waiting expectantly in her chamber for her lovers. The young men of the neighbourhood were also envious of her beauty.

I had turned fifteen, but I was still being treated the same old way. My status in the house was no better than a dog’s. I survived on leftover scraps of food. My brother and sister enjoyed all the comforts of life. My mother hadn’t remarried, but rumours of her romance with a young male colleague at the office were common. Now I understand everything. And I had become very quiet. Because I no longer had any self-worth left in my own eyes.

I gradually fell prey to intense mental pressure. A flood of questions started swirling in my mind. Why was I brought into this world? Why should I bear the burden of someone else’s sins and suffocate my disabled and impure existence? Although my father had departed this world, my mother still hated me. Even today, she loved that young romantic partner of hers, for whom she would wear expensive perfumes and dress up before going to the office, much more than her disabled son.

My brother became an engineer, my sister a doctor, and I couldn’t even pass 10th-grade exams. I was now truly humiliated in the eyes of my family. I was made to do all the household chores – washing dishes, cleaning clothes and even cleaning the toilet without pay, in return for barely getting two daily meals. My status in the house was no better than a servant’s. I was introduced to my siblings’ friends merely as the household help. My condition kept deteriorating, and I started hating my own existence, disgusted by myself.

My engineer brother’s wedding was fixed in a wealthy family. His wife was a teacher. Money flowed like water for his wedding. Gold jewellery worth lakhs was bought for the bride, and a new pair of clothes was stitched for me for the occasion. I don’t know how I was introduced to my relatives and friends. But I could clearly sense that everyone considered me a servant of the household.

Right after the wedding, the engineer brother bought a new house and started living there with his new bride. He had now completely severed ties with his mother. He would only occasionally call his mother once or twice a month to briefly ask about her well-being.

After my engineer brother’s lavish wedding to a teacher from a rich family, he moved with his new bride to a new house purchased specially and severed ties with our mother except for the occasional phone call. Soon after, my doctor sister also had a grand wedding with another doctor and moved abroad with him to practice medicine in the US.

Now, it was just my mother and I living together, but it felt like she had been freed from years of the prison sentence. She would now come home with her lover after work. Witnessing this made my conscience writhe. The turmoil became unbearable, so one day, I brought up the prospect of my own marriage with my mother. She probably didn’t expect this from me. At the mention of marriage, her eyes turned red. She dismissed the topic by saying I was a disabled and pitiable person, and no father today would want to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to such a man. I was also told that I could no longer live in this house.

My mental state kept deteriorating. The house property was divided. In that large house, I pleaded for my own room, where I had been living alone for years. That room was my sympathetic companion. My pain was etched on its walls. My tears had formed a crust on its floor. It was my confidant. But I was given a servants’ quarter instead, where the junk from the house was dumped. Silently, I accepted my mother’s decision – what choice did I have?

Eventually, my mother forcibly married that young colleague of hers and started living with him in our house, unaffected by taunts from the neighbourhood. A year later, she gave birth to my half-brother. As soon as he arrived in this world, I was dispossessed even from the meagre quarter. I was disgraced and thrown out of the house. But to leave, I made my mother confess the truth about my existence. She told me I was her illegitimate child, born out of a short affair with a distant relative when her first husband was away on a job posting for months.

Now, I was orphaned. The outside world was very strange. I couldn’t find any work. Occasionally, I would do odd labour jobs to earn some money to feed myself. I’m twenty-five now. While the world considers me crazy, no one has understood my pain. I live on a street corner in the city. I sleep under open skies. Some people put leftovers or a few coins in my begging bowl.

I’m being punished for someone else’s sins. Carrying the burden of illegitimacy and sin, I await my demise destitute on the naked street corner. Some dark grave in the cemetery for the homeless will surely veil my filthy soul and deformed body.

My daily routine now is to stand facing the ambulance of a charitable organization that passes daily on the big street across the shrine, carrying unclaimed corpses to bury them in a graveyard on the city outskirts. Sometimes, it picks up unclaimed bodies from around the shrine, too. On days I don’t see the ambulance; I panic, as if I’ve been thrown back into my mother’s home. I prefer the coldness of an anonymous grave over my mother’s lap.

(Translation by Sadaf Mushtaq Nasti, who is a Doctorate Fellow)





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