Kaak’un Haaput

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This morning when I read the headline “Prepare for earthquake 8.0 & above”, my whole life flashed in front of my eyes. I cherished the things I have done and regretted the things I am yet to do, the places I want to visit, the books I want to read, the food I want to eat and so on. Life is so deceiving, I thought. The next thing that flashed before my eyes was the earthquake scenario, where would I be when it strikes, how will I run out, how will I make sure my things are safe if the house falls. It is ok if I die in the earthquake, but I don’t want to be trapped alive in the rubble, even the thought of this suffocates me.

I pushed away these thoughts and switched to read the other headlines and a few minute words below this headline (read danger sign) caught my attention. Just below this danger sign was a line in smaller font size that read “The Governor writes to CM, seeks time-bound steps to reduce JK’s vulnerability in case earthquake strikes”.

Huh! The news is that the Governor has written to CM to take steps to mitigate the damages if an earthquake strikes and that terrifying headline was probably an excerpt from the letter. If we go through this whole news item, the probability is negated because the quoted headline is nowhere in the text. The desk has just assumed. The governor has asked to prepare for the earthquake, the magnitude 8.0 has come up as an assumption. What is not in the news is written in red on black, and the main news is written in small fonts in grey on black.  In the game of headlines of red on black, the subhead, which is written with black on grey, is the actual news.  If I had some vision defects I would not have seen it at all. Chances are that I would have started to prepare a quick list of things I want to do before the earthquake strikes.

Red and white on black! It is such an attention grabbing colour combination. By the way black denotes mourning and red is danger, so technically this morning we all considered ourselves dead and mourned it too. And those undulating lines above the headline, what were those? The Richter scale graphics or the pulse of a normal Kashmiri that lost momentum this morning when they read the news- I mean the headline. This headline was so scary that people were about to set up bonfires to set ablaze the jeans that brought the September 2014 floods and the scootys were about to be seized!

There is no doubt that Kashmir is on a ticking bomb of earthquakes, but the choice of words and colours of such news stories is only disturbing. The thin line between being alert and panicked is blurred with such words. (I have a cousin who rushes out of bathroom like anything, not because she is quick, but she wants to make sure that she is out of the bath in case an earthquake strikes. She isn’t alert, she is panicked).

To put it crudely this newspaper is just adding to the milieu of voices saying “bunyul ee.. wayn kya bani”. The newsroom of this newspaper is creating such a drama out of a prospect earthquake that it should be renamed to “Shaking Kashmir”. For God’s sake, it is simply a letter where the governor has asked the Chief Minister to take steps to minimize the loss in case a disaster occurs. What possessed the newsroom when today’s paper was being edited and designed?  May be tomorrow the governor writes a letter to the CM telling her to ensure the road safety. Can you imagine a headline in that case? Yes.

                               “Prepare for multitude of road accidents’.  

Anyways the headline of this morning seems to be inspired by Star Plus for all the drama and suspense. The pilots are cut pasted in such a way that it seems that the protagonist will die in this episode but when the show is aired it is about all the same old drama. They do it for the TRP’s, but why does this beloved newspaper need to do it? They have hooked a good readership. Please don’t scare the already terrified lot.

Mirza Ghalib is maukay pe ek shair arz karte hain ki “maut ka ek din muayyan hai, nind fir raat bhar kyun nahi ati”

 

 

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The Last Glimpse

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Noora had just closed her eyes to afternoon nap, but the dream terrified her. There wasn’t anything particularly haunting, but the eeriness of those visions scared her. Those afternoon dreams which have no pattern and no depth, she was seeing them. One moment she was running in the alley to catch her college bus and the next moment she was in the garden of her house looking at the leafless trees and empty flower beds, it felt so din and gloomy. Noora could hear sounds like dragging of feet and brawling animals. Terrifying! At a point the line between dreams and reality seemed blurred, but anyhow Noora wanted to be away from this scene, somewhere peaceful and serene.

Shackles of uneasiness held her captive, she couldn’t wake up. The scheme-less string of her dream now took her to a brook, where tranquility finally awaited her. By the side of that brook she watched the sun as it settled behind the mountains, her head resting on his shoulder and her arm clasped around his. It was her beloved Mohsin by whose side she found peace, there under the crimson skies. The sun was in its last splendors, its reflection looked fire in Mohsin’s eyes. If eternity existed, Noora wanted to live that moment for eternity, but eternity is a mere illusion.

Mohsin removed his gaze from the sun and turned to Noora. They looked into each others’ eyes for quite a moment, the hypnotic hazel eyes spelling Noora. With his eyes lost in Noora’s, Mohsin unclasped his arm from Noora and started to walk away.

Bewildered, Noora opened her mouth to stop him, but words found no voice, they froze at her throat. She wanted to run after him but her numb feet couldn’t be convinced. Mohsin’s steps towards the distant mountain didn’t stop. She couldn’t move and he didn’t stop, the distance just increased. From a distance he turned back and smiled at Noora. In that moment of deafening silence Mohsin’s docile smile said what a thousand words couldn’t have. It was as if he was telling Noora that “Time is running, tell me what you always wanted to.” And with that Noora saw his silhouette recede in the mountains. The howling birds scared her to suffocation and she yanked open her eyes. Her heart felt weak and throat was parched, as though she had actually been stressing to speak up.

But Noora was glad to have woken up from this dream. She pulled the blanket over her shoulders and curled up in the warm bed. It took her few seconds to realize that the howling birds in her dreams had actually been the sirens of the police vehicles that drove out on the road.  Everything seemed fine then, she was in her room. As she was gathered her wits and sifted that peculiar dream from the reality, Mohsin’s eyes, his smile, his voice occurred to Noora’s mind. His eyes, the rich hazels, had been Noora’s solace. Unknowingly, she smiled.  Mohsin loved Noora, she knew that, but Noora loved him back, Mohsin was yet to discover that. It had been a few years that Mohsin had expressed his love for Noora.

But few days later then Mohsin was sent miles away from home to a college in Dehradun to continue his studies. Mohsin had been a bright boy in school so to keep him safe from the milieu back home, his parents decided to send him away, much to his dismal. And as such he could see Noora only on occasions when he would be home for holidays (few times a year).

Through the plains of India, the other foothill of Himalaya was chosen for his safety. Home was unsafe now. Situation remained perturbed most of the times. Young boys, many of them Mohsin’s contemporaries, were picked up from their homes and tortured in dingy cells. Some were beaten to pulp on roads and often their parents were harassed too. A few of them had even fallen prey to bullets, the bullets which are later described as “stray and unintended”.  The people of that area, and Noora too, had witnessed nights when bawls of mothers who had lost their sons echoed through the dark.

That day also Mohsin had been back for holidays and was scheduled to leave the next day. He wanted to see Noora once before leaving and Noora had agreed to it. That afternoon they would meet in a nearby lane, adjacent to the main road.  What would they say to each other, they didn’t know. But the lovers wanted to catch a glimpse of each other.

Noora had to tell him that she too had fallen for him. She had to tell him this before he would leave.  Noora made scenarios in her mind. He would be back next year with his degree and a job too (maybe) and that time would be apt to tell their parents about their interest in each other. Chances were fair that they would get married. A happy ending, she thought.

Noora took a look at the clock; it had been 5:00 pm. She sprang up from the bed and went to the washroom. Her eyes were puffed up and skin looked shallow with the sleep. She splashed away the signs of sleep with cold water. She rushed back to her room, wiped her face dry and stained the hem of the towel black with the residues of kohl strewn around her almond eyes. She ran the comb roughly through her hair and tied it up. The excitement of seeing her love overtook her senses. Noora hastily grabbed her phone and called her friend Nyla who lived a few houses away.

“I’ll be outside your house within a few minutes. You are coming with me. He asked me to see him” she said hastily and hung up the call before her friend could say anything. She wrapped a stole around her head and rushed down the stairs.

“Mummy” she called out as she reached the door. “I’m going to see Nyla, she just called me,” she hurriedly let the words out of her mouth.

Her mother came out of the kitchen “But wait, the police is out there. They are on prowl again,” her mother said anxiously. “It’s alright. Her house is just here.” Noora said as she slipped into her chappals. Meanwhile a distant explosion filled the air.

“Don’t you hear these explosions? What’s the emergency? You can see her tomorrow,” her mother said impulsively.

“I’ll be back in an hour. Don’t worry. I am not going that far,” Noora said with a smile and a wink that melted away her mother’s anger.

Noora descended the stairs of the porch. As she was walking towards the gate, strangeness engulfed the air and it burnt all across her nasal tract. Her eyes felt stingy as if she had rubbed them just after deseeding green chilies (she often did that). Her eyes were teary. Noora sniffed and held the knob of the gate and twisted it open. The thought of seeing Mohsin and talking to him made her feel nervous. With each step, her heartbeat grew intense; it rang in her ears. How would she see him, would they talk or not, what would they say to each other?

Noora was picturing the scene in her mind as she walked to Nyla’s house. Too fragile to go to see Mohsin alone, Noora thought Nyla would be her support, and she wanted a company to walk to that lane.

As Nyla came out she said to her “What did you say at home?”

“I just managed.” Noora said with a giggle and the girls chuckled. Mohsin and Noora had decided to meet in a lane, just adjacent to the main road. Noora blabbered excitedly all the way and giggled often. The roads were deserted, air was peppered. Sudden mayhem of voices was heard in intervals.  This locality had known Friday afternoons usually like this; “security forces” with guns and other weapons chasing boys, who revealed nothing but their eyes. All that these boys possessed would be a stone in their hands.

As Noora and Nyla turned towards that street, the agitated sounds grew louder and closer. They gave no heed to it. And why would they? These girls had been to school amid curfews, they had been stopped by these well armed men clad in greenish brown (or brownish grey) uniforms while returning from college. They had known “safe” shortcuts to go to school. Raining bullets on road had even compelled them to take cover in houses of unknown people on few occasions. This day in comparison to those days looked normal.

They finally reached the decided place and Noora could see Mohsin waiting for her on the other end. She felt wobbly at her knees and her excited words hushed in her throat. She pretended to be normal but her senses ditched her.  Her steps felt heavy, she almost dragged her feet. Noora tried to behave as if she hadn’t seen him and that she had not noticed him looking towards her. But she had grown conscious of his glances.

Each step felt so heavy and the distance! The distance seemed never ending. The sun was setting; the tangerine light washed the surroundings. Everything else ceased around Noora (she almost forgot about her friend besides her). All she saw was Mohsin waiting for her in the rusty light and the distance that she had to walk to reach to him. And out of blues her treacherous dream came before her eyes where Mohsin had receded against the sunset. She tried to brush away the thoughts and walked nervously.

The moment of silence between the two was interrupted by the clanking footsteps, the trouble had reached the adjoining road, it seemed. Boys were shouting and the police vehicles accelerated behind them. In a moment the masked young boys came running towards this alley, panic gripped the two girls and Moshin gesticulated to them to run towards the narrow lane on the left. Mohsin too hastened his steps to run to safety and his stride prompted the girls to move. This surely wasn’t a normal day as they had considered it. They shouldn’t have been out at that time, Noora thought to herself as she held Nyla’s hand, fumbling with her steps.

They had just paced a bit when an explosion reverberated in the air. This one sounded close enough, probably in this alley, and birds perching on electric wires and rooftops flew away cooing sharply. Noora turned back and saw Mohsin standing where he had been but motionless. The boys running past Mohsin stopped too. The fleeing steps came to a halt and heads turned only to see a boy crumble on the ground as if cotton was being emptied from sacks. Blood spilled the ground beneath his head like a sheep had just been slaughtered on the spot where Mohsin stood smiling few seconds earlier. The cloud of blood beneath his head grew each passing second. “Mohsin!” Noora shrieked.

The boys whose faces were veiled in kifayas, checkered kerchiefs and shirts rushed towards the boy who had just fallen on ground. At the mouth of the alley stood a wonton vehicle and the mad stray bullet had probably emerged from there. The vehicle reversed and geared away hastily from the spot as some of the masked faces ran towards it with bouts of renewed anger. People ran past Noora and she was pushed towards the periphery of the road, as if  she was nothing but an inanimate object.

Noora didn’t know what to do. She could not understand what was happening. Was it a dream? No. She had just woken up from one, where her love had left her by the side of the brook. And here Mohsin lay on the ground, his eyes set towards Noora. The lovely hazels had turned pale and protruding. He blinked a few times, his eyeballs rolled back and then the eyelids shuttered down like a feather. His mouth was slightly open, revealing his pearl like teeth.  Mohsin’s face that glowed like ambers minutes ago appeared lifeless like the winter sun.

Noora almost thought he was dead, but the dust blowing near his mouth relieved her a bit. “He’s alive he’s breathing” the words came out of her mouth with some effort. She started to run towards Mohsin with numb legs. But a hand gripped her arm. A masked boy with ferocious eyes had stopped her. “Go home. It’s not safe to be out right now,” he said to the girls, almost scolding them.  Nyla squeezed Noora’s hand and said “Yes. He’s right”. But Noora stood there and saw Mohsin being lifted and taken away in a car, blood dripping from his head. “Where are they taking him?” she said amid sobs.  “To the hospital,” the boy replied in a muffled voice.

As the car sped away, Noora fell on her knees and looked into the fog dust that the car left behind. The sun had set and the light was getting dim. The call for maghrib (dusk) prayers blared out through the masjid loudspeakers.  Noora did not move, or she did not want to. She couldn’t fathom what had just happened. Nyla held her up by her arm and towed her all the way to home.

Noora’s father was at the gate of his house, leaving for the maghrib prayers when Nyla arrived with a stoned Noora.  “What has happened to her?” bewildered he asked Nyla. “Nothing Uncle. We were trapped between the protestors and the police. She’s just a bit scared.” Nyla theorized it instantly and narrated the same to Noora’s mother who was waiting for them on the porch. “I had told her not to go out. But she never listens. I was so worried when we heard that gunshot,” she kept saying as she led the girls upstairs to Noora’s room.

There she stayed silent for some time. Noora’s eyes were fixed, devoid of life.  Her friend stayed there by her side and tried to get her out of the shock. The two friends had gone merrily all the way just to see what they never would have imagined, the death few yards away. Few seconds later she started to murmur something. Murmurs grew clearer and she was saying “I killed him. I shouldn’t have agreed to meet. I killed him,” and with that she became inconsolable. Nyla hugged her, but Noora was flailing and thrashing.

The noise got Noora’s mother to her room. She panicked “What happened to you? See Nyla was also with you she isn’t crying like you my dear. Quite, my dear. The neighbors will listen.” Her mother tried to calm her, but couldn’t.  Mohsin had been yards away from Noora, smiling and in that brief moment she had visualized the prospect of a happy life. And seconds later he was there reduced to a bundle in a pool of blood. The scene kept coming to her eyes. Noora pulled out her hair in utter desperation.

Her mother left the room and returned with a kangir and izban (wild rue seeds). On the amber of the kangir, izban crackled into tongues of smoke. This smoke would ward off the evil spirit that had haunted Noora and made her inconsolable. She placed it in front of Noora. Noora’s father also came to her room and recited a few verses of Quran to her to ward off the evil spirits.

Noora wasn’t back in her senses for about an hour. Later she rested her head in her mother’s lap and tried to sleep. But that treacherous dream returned, Mohsin melted away in the sunset and she woke up. The tears streamed down to the corners of her mouth as the events of afternoon flashed before her eyes. The thick smoke of the izban was looming in the room. By now Nyla had also left. That evening Nyla called her a few times to tell her that Mohsin had just been injured and was being treated in hospital.  Noora too was hopeful that Mohsin would be fine. He was in hospital and would return soon. Many boys of her locality had been injured lethally, yet they did recover after treatments. Mohsin would be back in good health too.

But back in her home nobody talked about the incidents of that day. Nobody talked about the boy who had been injured by a bullet, though an eerie silence lulled Noora’s house. Her parents remained silent lest Noora would grow hysterical again. That night her mother slept by her side.  Noora woke up once, again to a nightmare. She turned towards her mother but she wasn’t there. The door was ajar and the incandescent light crept in.

Noora didn’t remember what she had seen but the fear had gripped her chest. Her eyes were swollen and sore with all the crying. She felt exhausted; her mouth was dry and bitter. She got up to drink water. But the cries and wails from the next mohalla interrupted her. It seemed to be one of those nights when wailing mothers awakened the people around. A thought came to her mind, but she chased it away and tried to convince herself that Mohsin was just injured and was being treated in the hospital.

With careful steps and stretched out hand she walked through the dark room towards the door, like a blindfolded kid in the game of hide and seek. Her parents were engrossed in a deep serious conversation in the corridor. “He was supposed to join his college in Dehradun after a few days. See what they did to him! What a nice lad he was!” Noora’s father exclaimed.  And that confirmed it for Noora. The howls came from Mohsin’s house; his mother had been wailing and was probably thumping her chest too at the loss of her son who had come home for a few weeks to spend holidays. Least did they know that his last day at home would be the last day of his life. The mother lamented and whimpered that her son had come to home just to die like that!

Noora would never see him again. She would never be able to tell him that she loved him and that she wanted to marry him. Mohsin had disappeared into the eternity without knowing all these things.

Noora collapsed on the bed. With her face buried in the pillow she cried and cried and cried; her sobs silenced in that pillow. A few lanes away Mohsin was being mourned by his family and friends and here his love mourned his death, in solitude in the dead of the night. Nobody heard her cries of helplessness; nobody consoled her at her loss. Did anybody know that she too had lost a part of her being?

She cursed herself for she was the one for whom Mohsin had been out that day. Mohsin had wished to see Noora once before leaving and he did see her before departing (who knew he would leave never to return?). In her mind she thought about how the things should have happened that day for their happy ending. What if she had not agreed to meet him? What if they had met in the morning? What if he hadn’t come home for holidays? What if he had left a few days earlier? And what if they hadn’t known each other? Noora thought all this, her theory of catastrophe. Had they not known each other the mohalla would have been peacefully sleeping that night, no mourning, no death, no losses, she kept thinking and mourned in seclusion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A mother, few slogans, drama and another mother

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ABVP activists protest

Amid all the hoo-ha against Pro-Kashmir slogans that reverberated through Jawaharlal Nehru University, there was this interesting buzz from Tulsi Virani, I mean Simriti Irani. This lady of saas bahu fame felt that Mother India had been insulted by the slogans that advocated the idea of a free Kashmir and an end to oppressive Indian policies in Kashmir. We have known her as an adarsh bahu in those serials and now she  tried to be an adarsh beti by pointing out the insult inflicted to Mother India. The slogans insulted Irani’s mother? Really? But whatever the students at JNU said wasn’t aimed to insult her mother India, it had no mention of mother India.   The students in JNU insulted the occupation and occupation does not define a mother. And who is this mother anyways? As Irani and her party mates have crafted the scene, it looks like Mother India is an entity confided and owned by an ideology shrouded in saffron. A particular sect decides what hurts mother Inida and what pleases her. Sorry Irani we couldn’t relate to your definition of mother.

This lady needs to rethink and ascertain as to what inflicts insults on her mother. She needs to understand that when people come out and demand their rights, it’s not an insult, though it does challenge the oppressive policies. (By the way a child pulling rickshaw to feed himself is more insulting for this mother than a few slogans. And when foreigners are assaulted in India, it surely puts Mother India to shame).

And while Simriti ascertains who this mother is and what insults her actually, here is a brief introduction of mothers in Kashmir. These mothers are real and have existed here as long as Indian occupation has. These mothers haven’t been insulted, but the oppressive policies and occupation has tormented them. For years these mothers haven’t seen their beloved sons and the bitter reality is that they don’t even know if their sons are alive or have been killed. Longing is the curse of their lives. Their sons fall in the category of “disappeared”. Nobody knows where they have gone. These mothers live in a limbo, and a few have died in this limbo.

There are mothers in Kashmir who saw the blossom like faces of their sons turned lifeless like the winter moon, blame the bullets from the “mighty Indian army” that pierced these sons. Some mothers in Kashmir have been trampled by the jack boots and lashed by batons because they resisted and hid their sons in safety. Tormented these mothers are, but they are strong enough. They face the bitter truth each day.

You know, there was a mother in Kashmir whose 8 year old son was beaten to death by the armed men from Indian plains because this kid had gone out to buy some candies for himself and there was this mother in another part here whose toddler was thrown into a burning bus by these strong men in uniform because he had been out with his mother while they had lost their mind. Another mother lost her son to a bullet from Indian army’s artillery head while he was returning from tuition and another boy was perforated by a bullet while he was playing cricket with his friends.

That was about the mothers of Kashmir. Who is responsible for the torments of these mothers, Mother India or the occupation? I wish Irani’s Mother India could see the agony of being a mother in Kashmir.

 

 

Two drops that snowballed

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Once upon a time in a far off land lived a boy called Sula. Sula was very intelligent and hard working. He used to study during the day and nights as well. Chemistry was his favourite subject and understanding the nature of chemicals and compounds interested him a lot. A few days ago he had read about micro-organisms and infections that they cause and the treatments of these infections. Polio was one of the diseases caused by a particular bacteria, Sula had learnt.

One fine evening in his room lit by a candle, Sula was listening to the radio. Amitabh Bachan’s voice blared through the speakers   saying “dou boond zindagi ke (two drops for life)”. It was about the polio drops, which the voice said, were to be administered to kids below 5 years of age to save them from a crippling disease called polio.  Two drops for a life; Sula kept thinking for hours as to how can two drops change one’s life.  Moments later he thumped his fist on the floor, he had solved the mystery of dou boond. Sula understood that the drops contain chemicals that kill the bacteria causing the polio disease. Elation filled him, after all he had just cracked a new concept all by himself.

Next evening he went out to the market to chat with people of his village on the vaan pyand. These people, though not of same age group, enjoyed the exchange of wisdom and the chats and gossips, including the inside household stories. Sula walked happily to the vaan pyand. He was to narrate to these men and boys the story of microbes and their preventions. He did not care what gossip these men were engrossed in. Instead, he cut through and spoke in a tone filled with pride and haste.  “Do you know what polio is?” he said, to which one of the old men replied “Aa (yes). Amitabh Bachan keeps talking about it on TV and radio.”

“Yes. Have you any andaaz how can dou boond save us from that disease?” Sula questioned them. The men looked baffled and nodded their heads in negation. One of them said that the two drops are filled with “shifaa (power of healing).”

“No. I will tell you.”  Sula began to explain. The men became interested and squeezed their eyes to grasp this new information. He explained to them that the drops aren’t simply water, but medicines that have chemicals that kill the bacteria causing the infection. Bacteria, he explained to them, are minute organisms, causing infections. “Are they living, can they breathe?” one of the old men asked.  “Yes” Sula said with confidence. The men kept nodding their heads and said acha acha in between the pauses as Sula enlightened them. Then the group continued with its usual chat, as to who would hold the chair after Mufti, who will repair the roads, what has been wrong with electricity.

The group, which included an old man called Gani Kaak, dispersed before the dusk, and the men were happy that they would go home and tell their families about this new knowledge they had learnt.

At his home before dinner, Gani Kaak explained to his family the concept of bacteria and the polio. His grandson, Ali asked him what the bacteria were, to which he replied that they are small organisms causing infections. Ali retained the information. Polio drops kills small organisms. Next day early in the morning Ali went for tuitions and shared the information with his friends. (Interestingly that day was polio vaccination day).  Polio kills small organisms inside our body, he told them

One of his friends Shafi went home and told his family the theory of polio drops. Polio drops are chemicals and they kill small organisms. Shafi’s cousin, Ama retained the information that polio drops kill the organisms and went to meet his friends at the vaan pyand of his village. He explained to his friends that polio drops can kill. At each stage of transmitting the information, the actual concept was theft of a few important points.

KILL!! These boys were shocked to hear that and agreed that polio drops could be dangerous. One of Ama’s friends, Gula had his smart phone in hand with internet facility and access to social network. The friends felt like that team of superheroes on whom depends the onus of saving the mankind. He found it necessary to ring the alarm bell and share this information; after all it was the question of the health of young kids. Gula updated it on his facebook account “Guyxxx!! B3 caeful! pOLio dROps cn be danjeras… feeling scared with cool Dudex and 50 others.” 

Gula put all his feelings and apprehensions in this single update. Internet has the power and as more and more people saw this post they started worrying about the kids. But nobody asked the mechanism by which polio drops could kill. People started calling their relatives who had their kids administered with the polio drops that day and asked “nikke cha theek? Dapaan haz yim drops che khatarnaak. Zuu’as chu khatre. Agar tuahi baasyav kenh yi haeyzyon daactras (Is your child fine? They are saying polio drops are dangerous. They can be fatal. If you find it necessary get the baby checked by a doctor).

Phone calls and messages were exchanged like gunshots in an encounter. From “yim drops che khatarnaak (these drops are dangerous)” the news was modified to “yimav khatarnaak drops’av seith mood akh shur (A child has died because of polio drops)”. Earlier facts were deleted from the information but now details were added at each stage. Panic and seriousness of the issue snowballed and within a matter of few hours the toll rose from one to eighty. Eighty kids falling prey to polio drops, it was worrisome. People wrapped their kids in blankets and rushed to nearby hospitals, clinics and dispensaries to get them examined.

First the people came in ones and twos to the hospital with their kids, but as the news spread truck loads of anxious people, thronged the hospitals. In one of the hospital compounds a parent asked another one “how can these drops kill?” To which other man replied that may be they used expired ones. And the latest news was that expired polio drops killed kids, this time the toll was 90. Nobody understood what was happening. Doctors were stunned to see such a crowd. They kept telling the parents that the kids are fine and should go back home. But the parents were persistent and why not. Their kids were so precious to them. Doctors informed the police to counter this rumour and police came out with loudspeakers telling people that the rumour is that polio drops have killed kids, but the news is that it is fake.

Next morning hospitals were flooded again, the same parents with their kids who had been here last evening wrapped in blankets. This time it wasn’t because of any rumour. The kids had caught cold last evening and were now being checked by doctors and antibiotics and cough syrups were being prescribed in unison.

Who knew Sula’s love for chemistry would make polio drops so fatal!!

An N.O.C

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In this room the books were all across the length and breadth of two walls and two young men sat around the bukhaari, reclining against the chairs. Amid so many books they were engrossed in a serious gossip, probably about Mufti’s demise and the political course in Kashmir here after, a typical representation of a sarkaari daftar in Kashmir during winters. A lady with hijab surfed through the book racks, most probably to take notes for her research work.

To break the gossip of these men, two girls turned up with an application seeking an N.O.C from the library of this department, which is behind the multi-storied Iqbal library, so that they would get their marks certificates. (All the details make it clear that the daftar being discussed is not a daftar actually, but the University of Kashmir).

The gossip came to an abrupt halt and the room hushed down. One of these men took the application in his hand and went through it very keenly, like a scientist checking the composition of chemicals before a reaction. In this lulled room the young man, who happened to be the librarian, examined each word with utter concentration as if this wasn’t an application but an answer book and he was required to evaluate it. He was bound to point out a mistake. And he did. He stopped at a point and said “an N.O.C? How is it correct? This is wrong. It should be a N.O.C”

The moment he said this, I was prompted to speak up. (I belong neither to this department nor the university. I was there with the two girls). All my grammar teachers from school came to my mind. “I can’t let him go wrong like this. Whatever little I know, I have t tell him” , I had to intervene.

“This is correct. We are dealing with the vowel sound here so it deserves “an”, not “a”,” I said, probably much to his dismal.

“How is it that?” he questioned me.

“Had it been No Objection Certificate “a” would suffice, but it is NOC”, I said.

“But N is not a vowel,” he said a sentence which almost meant this.

“The rule you are talking about is for vowel sounds a, e, i, o, u. It has nothing to do with vowel words,” I tried to convince him. But that man was years elder to me and much more qualified than me and of course earned more than my expenses. So he wasn’t convinced at all.

Stubbornness overtook me and I put all my efforts in action to make the point of “an N.O.C” clear to him. But he seemed to be unmoved from his point and the bukhaari of course.

“I can argue with you on this” the words came out of my mouth, though unintended.

These words hurt his ego and I could feel the whole library offended. “You might be somebody who knows English a lot, but this is wrong,” the librarian blabbered. I wanted to tell him that I had no specialization in English (ask my English teachers in college, they have never seen me in the class). All I know is a small lecture on vowels in school, which this librarian had missed. We could’ve sat together and discussed it, rather than taking offences.

Err!! I had to clear this point to him. I desperately felt the need of a blackboard, a chalk and some time and patience of this man, who had a degree in library sciences and spent most of his time in a room filled with hundreds (if not thousands) of books.  At this point the other man who had been quiet broke through the mild rants and told the offended librarian to sign the application and end the war of words.

Meanwhile the lady who was surfing through the book racks turned back and took the application in her hand and said “this doesn’t even sound correctly with it”. God! What did she mean by the word “sound”?  We weren’t talking about rhymes and songs! I bet she knew nothing about the basic rules, but she had to jump in to make her presence felt and her colleague needed support. The library needed voices to hush me down and offend me back.

I decided not to speak further, after all these people  whom I wanted to correct had degrees in sciences, apart from being recruited at the highest seat of learning in Kashmir.

And after the discussion (even Arnab Goswami’s show is called a discussion program) came to an end the lady went back to the book racks (from where she would further drain out information but not knowledge) and the man started to sign the application.

He sarcastically said “We now have to learn again” and the lady surfing through the racks echoed his thoughts “Yes it’s high time” and they shared that giggle which was filled with the air of triumph, as if they proved their point.

 

Land of hopes

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Have you felt it?

A mayhem of feelings, 

the grey cloud of fear.

A tempest

Looming over you,

Cringing your soul.

Telling you to give up, suffer.

“There is no hope”

It tells you.

And a subtle light follows

Shining through the clouds

Breaking the din

to lovely shades of autumn and rust.

Holding your hand,

it paves your way to a land

the dwelling of peace

amid serenity.

The land of myriad hopes. 

The game of silence

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Sunlight penetrates my closed eyes; I can hear the birds singing. With half an eye open, I pull my cell phone from the side of the pillow. 9:30 a.m. So late! I spring up on the bed. How could it be? I did not smell the burning ghee on tawa that Mama uses to make rotis early in the morning; neither did dad knock at my door. And the hawker… even he did not ring the bell at seven. What is wrong with everybody? Have they decided to let me sleep or they want me to wake up on my own. In any case I think I will be bashed for waking up late. No time to think.  I am avoiding the autumn morning chill, though my bed beckons me to stay back.
I hop down the stairs hurriedly, tapping hard so that my parents get an idea that I over slept by chance and that I am guilty of it. But I hear no sounds downstairs. No tinkling of cups, no flipping of newspaper pages, nothing.
I will freshen up first. May be they are outside in the autumn sun. Dad hasn’t taken his bath yet. His towel lies there on the peg here, dry. He will take a bath later today, maybe. I keep thinking about possibilities as I splash my face with tepid water.
But nobody is around, and why such eerie silence?  No cars honking, not a soul talking. What is wrong here?  Why such silence? May be restrictions are in place to impose normalcy and peace. I check my phone for messages and updates to get a clue. Strange! No messages since last night, no updates here as well. I didn’t come across anything like internet gag.
But why is my home empty? Where is everybody? Mama, Papa, bhaya? As I peep out of the window I don’t see them anywhere. Even the newspapers aren’t strewn by the gate. Hawker didn’t come too. I can’t understand what is happening. I hear no human sound.
Yesterday’s newspapers are on the floor of living room. I grab one of them. The authorities have talked about arresting people and leaders to maintain law and order. Within a few days hundreds of people have been put behind the bars. And they intend to arrest more. Maybe they will arrest as many people as it takes to portray that Kashmir is serene and peaceful and that conflict and turmoil is just a myth.
But where is my family? I am feeling wobbly at my knees. Nobody is around me, not a single soul. I am trying to call dad, but something is wrong with mobile networks. I go to the kitchen and gulp down a glass of water, too cold for this autumn morning. The kitchen tells that mama hasn’t entered here. No tea has been made here since morning. It is as she had left it last night.
As I come out in the garden I take a look at the sky. It is as blue as it can be, trees are orange with little strokes of green, and birds are perching on branches, flying and singing. They hardly care for theories of peace and normalcy. But this black cat on the wall, how it darts at me. Her eyes are some strange shade between yellow and green. She scares me like the dogs who kept howling last night.
Where are the people around me? What seclusion have I been thrown into? I can’t come to any tangible conclusion.
I try to look around the house to see if anybody is there. But nobody is here! Have I been condemned to this loneliness? I walk towards the gate, hold the cold knob. Papa had latched it last night. I had heard the creak of the latch. How come it is unlatched?  I don’t know if it is because of fear or chill, but my hands are cold and blue. With my hands shaky, I twist the knob. I hope hawker, sweeper or a vendor is outside.
I step out to see a pack of canines sleeping on a mound of sand.  How peacefully they are sleeping after a night of howling and barking. A few dogs are scrapping through a heap of garbage looking for food. Putting all the fears of these aside, I walk reciting all the verses of the Quran I remember at this time.
I come out on the street. But I see no soul here as well.  The road seems to stretch to eternity. This silence is deafening.  I need to talk to somebody. I want to hear a human voice. I want to see a human face. This is a world minus humans. How is it possible? Where have all of them gone? Why did they leave me here?  What happened during the night? Is this a prank? Is this a nightmare?
My heart is sinking, I am shivering. I need to see a human face. I want to see my father, my mother, my brother. I try to shout “papa….mamaaa”. No reply.  I need to be a bit louder. And I try again louder this time. The pigeons on the poles and under the roofs fly away as I shriek. But no human face or voice comes to my relief.
Helpless I am. Alone in the middle of this road, I yell another time and my shout breaks into a wail. I can’t stop my tears. I am alone, I am helpless, I am scared. Am I dead? But I didn’t see the Angel of Death coming to me, neither does the grave look like my home. Am I lost or everybody else is hiding. What is wrong? What is happening? I put my hands on my ears and wail. I kneel down and cry as hard I can. This goes on for a while. My throat aches, my mouth feels dry and my eyes are stinging.
This crying will not help. I need to do something. I assemble myself and wipe my tears. I start to walk. Where am I going? I don’t know, but I need to find my family. I am walking and consoling myself. I remember the last day, how we had joked about political issues at the dinner time. I was to go for shopping with mama today to buy the winter wear.  As I remember the happy times I break down further, only to be consoled by myself. The dogs, who are the only inhabitants of this place for now, look at me.
Is it the sympathy for me in their eyes or is it the loneliness that makes me look into the depth of the eyes of other creatures. How much I feared the canines. How I used to change my path if I saw a dog.  And all of a sudden this morning I wake up to seclusion and company of these dogs. They are not scaring me, but this solitude makes me hysterical.
I cannot see a human face, I don’t hear a voice. They sweepers haven’t cleaned the roads. Hawkers haven’t dropped the newspapers anywhere. What has happened to this city?
I look everywhere possible. But all I see is a deserted city, barbed wires at a few points. Why have they put these wires when nobody is here? Dogs do not harm them and humans are nowhere here, so what is the point?  In my frustration I kick a barricade and shuffle aside this razor wire. May be this might infuriate a hiding security personnel and he may come out to arrest me or shoot me. At least I will see a human. But nobody comes, I just bruised my hand. No newspaper will carry the news that barbed wires inflict injuries t another girl.
After a few meters another road blockade, barricades and wires. May be a security person is hiding here. I repeat the kicking of barricade and shuffling the wire. But my eyes catch sight of something, a paper. Looks like an official order. How did it fly to this place?
“We are working to impose peace and enforce normalcy here. We won’t let people talk in groups. Anybody speaking up that hurts our sentiments will be put in prison. We are determined to create a normal situation here. May the silence of peace prevail here”.
OK! So here it is. Everybody has been arrested. Everybody has a potential to disrupt their peace. They have silenced the human voices. Peace and silence are separated by a thin line. Peace is felt and silence is created.
But why did they leave me here? I keep pondering. I lift my eyes from the paper to see that I have reached the banks of Jhelum. The houseboats are there, shikaras are lined up the by the bank. As I look across the Lal Mandi road I can see the Chinars ablaze in the fury of autumn. Zero bridge is empty, though the mountain behind it stands as it has always been, silent and unmoved.
Should I panic or be patient. Everybody will return after the game of silence is over. An entire city has been locked up somewhere and I have been left out in a city all by myself. Yes the city has been put under siege, but I have been subjected to a suspension between freedom and siege. I pray to God that may this day pass in a jiffy. I want to see my family, I want to see people, I want to talk people and tell them how it felt in a world without humans.
By now the sun has come overhead. I try to look at it with an eye closed. This too shall pass.

 

Away from floods, in the flood

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I had just slipped into the bed and I started to look at the candle by my side. This small candle had been lighting up my room for the past few nights now. The incessant rains followed by floods had grounded us to utter darkness. The flame kept flickering and burning; the melting wax beneath it kept rolling out like tears.  Then with a wave of hand I put out the flame and darkness engulfed the room. I felt nervous in this light deficient space. I was feeling what Jane Eyre might have felt in Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”, where this lady extinguishes the candle and later wishes she had left it burning.
The darkness did not scare me. In Kashmir we are used to undeclared phases of no-electricity. Yet the night was haunting, an eerie silence had settled around. The events of that weekend had shaken me like other Kashmiris. The first shocking news came from Anantnag, my maternal home. The flood waters had entered my “matamal” on Friday and had compelled them first to shift to the second story and then to a family friend’s house. My mother kept saying, “yeetah sehlaab aay. Aaz taam chu ne zanh aab andar aamut. Yicha shahmat.” (Despite so many floods, the water never crossed the door. This flood is real disaster.)
  Rajbagh brought more nervousness to me. On Saturday night the angry Jhelum and brimming flood channel had torn apart their embankments and had rushed into this posh settlement of the city. This place is somehow close to me. For many years we lived there, in fact my first memories start with that place, even my first school. This was the place where Mama and Papa would hold my hand each and make me jump over a puddle. But how would anybody cross it now as it was now a virtual river.
As these thoughts loomed over my mind I wished the night to pass quickly. I took up my phone to check the time, “23:00”, the phone showed. Each hour ticked away slowly like a hopeless night. The crashed telecom services added to the anxiety.
I wanted to call all my friends, my relatives and acquaintances to know their well being, but how could I? The rash waters had engulfed the roads, the electricity, the networks and everything. My mind shifted to the desperate phone calls and messages that Radio Kashmir had been receiving during the day. People were stranded in their submerged houses in Rajbagh, Jawaharnagar, Karanagar, Bemina, Indrangar, Pirbagh and so on and were calling for help. I couldn’t imagine a three story house in water. A horrible feeling to be on the top floor of your house and seeing your belongings in flood water, a splash of water breaking the wall, a gush of water taking your belongings out of the house. The shelter of safety called house was now like a time bomb, which could kill them anytime. It felt like “Titanic”, waters rising every moment and devouring and smashing everything that came in its path.
I was in my room, I could breathe in the dry air, yet I felt helpless. As I stared at the darkness I was thankful to be safe, yet anxious as I thought about people trapped in the attics and Jhelum flowing actually beneath them. I thought of my city and lake was the image I could get in my mind.