Akbar the great was our cook. My father brought him from a distant place with a strange name. He was a strong lad with a round, clownish face. People around the house would quip in jittery laughter, ‘Akbar’s nose betrays his imperial name’. Someone else would join in, ‘His parents have wrongly thought that giving him such a name will lessen his comic features’. Perched on his face like a temporary installation, Akbar’s nose became a permanent marker of his personality, so much so that his excellent culinary skills were often times doubted by people outside the house.
His was not a peculiar nose; its oddness was peculiar. It just didn’t seem to fit. Instead of a tip, his nose had a surface, a round surface. A good look at his face triggered an amusement of sorts only witnessed in smug Kashmiri homes. To all this, Akbar had just one response – a silly smile which creased his face and resulted in more laughter. He would smile at you for no reason other than to be spared the tired analogy of his nose with his name. I pitied him.
In the middle of his fourth year with us, Akbar cracked. He had gone to his unmentionable home in the previous winter and since returning had not been himself. When asked, he would respond with an oppressing silence. More worrying to us was the fact that Akbar had stopped to smile. With his smile died the curiosities of the house members. The cheery house turned into a glum abode of lifeless ghosts. Akbar would keep to himself most of the time. Father didn’t press him. He would cook but not with the same refulgence of a grand cook in command of the palettes of the house members. The food lost some of the Akbar in it. No one protested or raised a question. We loved him dearly.
As golden Chinar leaves began to fall off the branches, Akbar took a final fall into irrecoverable madness. He collapsed one night after a bout of fit at the kitchen table. Next morning, he was laid out on a white bed at the Srinagar Mental Asylum, and the whole family registered the sadness with relapses of their own. The smiles of family members from then on grew inward. It seemed to me that Akbar’s absence was felt most by father who took refuge in a silence of his own. A silence unbroken even by Akbar’s death.
Originally published here — https://archive.authintmail.com/article/reporters-journal/akbar-great