Having spent 23 years in prison, I didn’t want to waste a moment of my second life. I wanted to find that young man within me, who was once full of dreams. 

But after I returned to Kashmir, home without Ammi Abbu wasn’t the same; I’d have nightmares of being back in the cell. 

To divert my mind, my brother helped me set up a store. One day, my sister said, ‘You need a companion in life.’ I froze– the last time I’d felt the rush of being in love was 33 years ago. 

I was in prison when I found out she’d gotten married; she has 3 children now. I did want a family of my own, but just didn’t know if I’d ever be able to love again. 

Moreover, why would anyone want to be with a 49-year-old like me? Lekin bhai-behen peeche pad gaye; rishta dhundhne lage woh. I had made it clear that I’d be honest about my past– as expected, 3 women rejected me.

Then came Fatima Ji’s rishta. I can never forget the day I met her for the first time– she was dressed plainly and didn’t talk much. I wanted to make sure she knew everything about my past, so I spoke to her alone. 

There, the first thing I asked her was, ‘Fatima Ji, apne itne saade kapde kyun pehne hai?’ and it was her reply that stole my heart, ‘I am who I am. I don’t want you to be deceived by outward appearances,’ she said.

We spoke for 4 hours– I told her all about my life in cell no. 3. She told me about her failed marriage– just 6 days after her Nikah, she’d left her husband because they were demanding dowry– ‘If I’d given in once, they’d keep asking for 100 other things,’ she said. We both had suffered for no fault of ours; it connected us.

I told her, ‘I might not be the charming prince you deserve but I promise– I’ll do everything to keep you happy.’ Without hesitating, she replied, ‘Aadhi roti khayenge toh bhi mehnat ki khayenge; saath me khayange.’ 

She was the one. Before leaving, I said, ‘Sab okay report hai na?’ My prison lingo slipped out by mistake; we both had a good laugh.

Uske baad mangni ho gayi; the wedding date was fixed– here, we don’t meet before the wedding but I wanted to spend time with Fatima Ji. So, I asked for her phone number; we’d talk all day.

I got permission from her Abbu and took her out 4-5 times– we’d stroll around Dal lake and eat ice cream. Ek din maine chupke se bol diya, ‘I love you Fatima Ji’; she went all red.

We had a small wedding soon after; being a married man feels different– now, I have somebody I want to work hard for.

I call her Fatima Ji in front of others but when we’re alone, I call her Jaan and she blushes! I’m now learning to drive, so that I can take her for a long drive!

Faatima Ji has brought so much happiness into my life that it all feels like a dream. 

3 weeks of marital bliss and I’m already starting to forget the 23 years. It’s true what they say, ‘Love heals you.’”

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