In November 2012, a 27-year-old Mumbai-based techie Hamid suddenly disappeared. Even though his parents knew he had gone to Afghanistan for a job opportunity, the truth seemed far from it. It turned out that he was chatting with friends across the border, especially a girl. He went to protect her but was let down by the betrayal of his friends. All of this crafted an unforgettable tale of perseverance and grit where Hamid was labelled as a spy and his mother knocked on doors to get justice for her son.
In the book by the same name, authors Hamid Ansari and Geeta Mohan shed light on the story which seemed straight out of a story book to begin with. It has been published by Penguin Random House, India. Here’s an extract.
10 November 2012
It was 10 p.m. when the phone rang. Fauzia knew it was her son calling from Kabul. That was when he called her every night, keeping the promise he made to her when he left for Afghanistan. This would be the last time he spoke with her before he crossed over into Pakistan. ‘Salaam Alaikum, Hamid, how are you?’ Fauzia asked as soon as she picked up.
Hamid was in Kabul. He was going to take the Dosti bus the next morning. Guilt jabbed through his heart when he heard his mother’s worried voice. ‘I am fine. How are you and everybody at home? Work is fine. I may get some orders,’ he said, keeping his nerves steady.
‘When will you be back?’ she asked.
‘I should be back by the 12th but if I get held up then I would be home latest by the 15th. Don’t worry.’
‘Stay safe. And come home soon,’ said Fauzia before blessing him and disconnecting.
11 November 2012
The next evening, like the ritual it had become, Fauzia waited for Hamid to call after she returned from college. She sat for dinner with her husband, Nehal Ansari, and Khalid and expressed concern that Hamid hadn’t called.
Khalid said, ‘He must be busy. Don’t worry. He will call when he finds time.’
An unconvinced Fauzia called up a few of Hamid’s friends to check if they had heard from him.
12 November 2012
This was a Monday. When Hamid’s number remained unreachable, the entire family was worried. His parents and brother started making calls to friends, acquaintances and former colleagues. By the evening, Fauzia was having an absolute meltdown, imagining the most horrid circumstances in which Hamid could be. She tried to brush those thoughts aside and said a prayer for her son’s safety.
‘He said he would be returning today. Why hasn’t he called? We need to check with the airlines,’ she told her husband.
Khalid, who was sitting beside his father, reminded Fauzia that he had said his return would be either by the 12th or latest by the 15th of November. ‘This is absolutely irresponsible of him, but he must have got stuck somewhere. Let’s wait another day,’ he said.
They had dinner in silence. Later that night, Fauzia went to Khalid’s room to talk to him since she was restless. As she entered, she saw Khalid sitting at his computer trying to figure out if he could find any electronic trace of Hamid. He looked at his concerned mother and put up a brave front, ‘I am trying to connect with him online. I am sure he must be in a low network area, or maybe there is a disruption in Internet supply; it is Afghanistan after all,’ he said.
When Khalid went to bed, Fauzia sat in front of the computer to look up all the flights to and from Kabul. There were only two a week, on Thursdays and Sundays. She thought to herself, ‘It is Monday so he couldn’t have come today. Thursday would be 15 November. He must be on that flight. I’ll check tomorrow morning with the airlines.’ She left Khalid’s room and went into the drawing room to sit in silence for a bit.
She tried Hamid’s number again to see if it rang. It didn’t. It was now around 10:20 p.m. She suddenly had a sinking feeling sitting alone in the tiny drawing room. It felt like time had stopped. She looked up to the wall clock, and saw that the second hand was not moving. Time indeed had stopped in that household. All the wall clocks of that house had stopped ticking. Fauzia was petrified. She didn’t sleep that night, weeping alone and praying for her son’s safety.
13 November 2012
Fauzia called in sick to work. She was determined to get some information on Hamid. She pulled out the number of Ariana Airlines and found the number of their Kabul office. Her fingers shook as she dialled. ‘Please let him be on the list, please, please,’ Fauzia kept muttering as the phone rang. It kept ringing for a very long time, till finally she heard a young male voice say, ‘Hello, Ariana Airlines. How can I help you?’
‘Hello, this is Fauzia Ansari calling from Mumbai, India. I wanted some information regarding a passenger. Could you check if he is on your Thursday flight to Delhi?’
‘I am sorry. We do not give out passenger details. This is our company policy.’
‘Son, I am calling since I am worried for my child. My son Hamid Ansari travelled to Kabul and was supposed to be back this week. He said he would be back by 15 November. Please help me. I only want to know if he is booked on the next flight or not. Please help!’ It was the plea of a desperate mother.
‘Hold the line, ma’am,’ said the man.
She needn’t have worried and could’ve waited a few days. But something did not feel right to her. Add to that the fact that Hamid was not reachable on his phone. She had a sinking feeling, like a part of her was being cut off. Her fears were taking on a life of their own and she was not able to concentrate on work. She wanted to ease her nerves by getting some information on Hamid.
The man came back on the line and said, ‘Ma’am, could you share his details again?’
Fauzia did so. He put the phone on hold again and when he came back he said, ‘Madam, there is nobody with this name booked on our flight this coming Thursday.’
She was stunned into silence. Tears rolling down her cheeks, she said, ‘Son, please check again. He must be on the list.’
There was silence on the other side, then the man said, ‘I have the list in front of me. He might book a ticket later. There is time. He has two more days, madam. Please don’t worry. I am sure you will be able to connect with him soon.’
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