It was an early winter morning. I and my friend had planned to visit Pari Mahal—a beautiful place in our hometown, Srinagar. Our exams were over. And, we had to discuss and decide many ‘complicated’ things of our career. And for that, we really needed to breathe in a peaceful place. (We were in search of peace—which is, unfortunately, a big casualty in Kashmir!)
But Pari Mahal, which is at stone’s throw from our residence, promises peace. But before going to the place housing dilapidated structures; we made up our mind to visit Shalimar garden.
The feeling was heavenly. And, it was after a long time: we both were really happy. I was eagerly waiting for breathtaking scenes, to unfold; and for fresh wind, to blow across my face.
Talking and smiling we reached Dal Lake. The place offered an overpowering view—literally, a jaw-dropping scene! It was surreal. A feeling of rejuvenation was touching crescendo in us. We saw tourists enjoying in boats, capturing each moment with their camera. Joy was simply ominous on the scene.
But I don’t know where those water ripples in the lake took us. I somehow lost in transition. Deep inside, it seemed, as if a muddy blood was coming out from every part of the lake. I was not able to resist the sight. And within a next few seconds, I was conversing with Dal Lake!
“What is wrong with you?” I asked. “Are you in any sort of pain?”
Dal Lake didn’t break her lull at a very first go. After a while, with a deep sigh, she answered: “Oh my child, don’t bother yourself by raising such query. Just enjoy. Like others.”
“How can I?” I replied: “These people are from other places, but you can tell me—as I share the same land, as you do.”
She beamed a ripple smile, and answered: “Then, why are you asking me such question. Don’t you know: how my children are being butchered?”
“Your children?” I quizzed, “Where? How? Please, tell me.”
“Those Kashmiris who are being killed every now and then—they have taken birth on my land. They are my children first; then the children of their parents!”
Amid the stillness of Dal Lake, a long silence ensued between us. The only sound, though, came from rowing of our boat. And then, she again broke the hushed air.
“Pain, which you are feeling,” she continued, “is the pain of a single mother. We have thousands of such mothers, right? But…”
And suddenly, my friend patted my back, saying: “Let’s go, we have reached.”
A tear that rolled out of my eyes stirred up a little ripple in Dal Lake—maybe, it was a mark of an adieu. All words stalled between us after that. And then, my friend was doing all the talking.
“I am feeling relaxed and full of positivity here. What about you?” My friend asked. I managed to give her a smile, and replied: “Me, too.” But my reply didn’t convince her. “But, you don’t seem so!” She enquired, “Okay, let’s move on to Shalimar garden and have some refreshment.”
Somehow, the dialogue between me and Dal Lake was still playing loud in my mind. I could feel her (Dal Lake) conversing tones akin to my mother’s. And, in the state of longing, my mood for fun got badly derailed. But yes, it wasn’t good to spoil the mood of my friend, who seemed to have a great time.
We had some tea and snacks inside the crowded garden. Tourists from Indian mainland appeared to have a fun of their lifetime. My friend too was overtaken by fun and frolic scenes inside the garden. After beaming frequent smile by watching tourists enjoying, she said, “Let’s move. Let them enjoy. We can come any other time.”
And with that, we left. We decided to stroll up to Pari Mahal. On our way, my friend clicked pictures of anything that caught her attention. And soon, her camera caught me off guard!
“Hey, where is your smile?” She demanded. I couldn’t answer for obvious reasons. But a barrage of her queries continued—which were simply, getting on my nerves!
But I had to give her a genuine answer. So, I said: “I am just missing my mom!” My answer simply opened up a floodgate of her queries.
“Why? Isn’t she at home? Is she alright? What is wrong…
Her queries didn’t stop, till, I cleared some airs: “Yeah, she is alright. But I am missing my Dal Lake mom!”
I had simply and honestly poured my heart out. But I realised: for any sane person, my words were quite incredible. And, my friend wasn’t an exception. She chuckled. But, I didn’t mind. I gave no more answers and she asked no more questions for a while. And, in silence, we pushed on.
And then, I heard her singing. “Singing is my catharsis!” She had once told me in college. Then, I found her voice, soothing and melodious. But the same voice sounded an irritating noise to me during our day out. And when I couldn’t take it anymore, I retorted her: “Will you shut up!”
But she brushed me aside, saying: “Come on, let me enjoy.” I couldn’t retort her anymore. “Okay, go on,” I said. And then, the two friends kept walking—one, lost in longing; and other, lost in tunes. Ours was a contrast company for the day. In between, time kept ticking by. And then, I found my hangover.
Being a photography enthusiast, I started capturing some shots. Nature was my subject. And while clicking pictures, something caught my eye. I found trees very dull. Their leaves were green but they seemed lifeless to me.
“Look at you,” I seemed to enquire from a tree, “what happened? Is my camera bothering you?” Amazingly, the tree sighed in a similar tone as did Dal Lake. The resonance was mystic! And then, he spoke up, “Yes, there are plenty of things that are bothering me.” His answer, though, didn’t take me by surprise—but somehow, I insisted him to tell his tale.
“Look, I am not in peace,” he briskly replied. “I saw them spilling blood last night! He was a young soul—who kept pleading for his life. But they wanted to eliminate him. Oh, his cries are still resounding inside me. He was young and innocent. But even then, they didn’t spare his life!”
The revelation seemingly pushed me further deep into the abyss of melancholy. After a while, he resumed: “Every day, the morning wind after travelling from the length and breadth of valley brings a message of mourning with itself. It hurts me. I couldn’t withstand it anymore.”
And again, I got a tear in my eye—but this time, I walked away willingly. And then, my stance shattered. With hazy eyes, I saw my friend shouting at me: “Are you coming in to Pari Mahal or not?”
I replied, rather in a soft, but sad voice, “yes, I am.”
We stepped inside Pari Mahal, a place where even an ugliest piece of stone looks beautiful. We sat at a place from where the view of Char Chinari—four Chinar trees in the middle of a Dal lake, could be seen. “It is really awesome scenery,” my friend said, and asked me to click some pictures. “You click. I want to sit calmly for a while,” I replied. “You were never so boring!” She concluded, and walked away.
While sitting, I was brooding about the situation in my home, my Kashmir. While recounting and recalling, I was unconsciously pulling out grass from the garden. Then, I noticed some ants walking over a patch of land. And soon, my mind transported to some other space and time—where I was raising another spell of queries.
I wondered: people just walk on these ants and kill them without noticing. “Why don’t they [ants] go inside the land and come out during night when nobody walks here?” I thought, “But where would they go inside?” I quizzed my own self. “How will they live there?”
And then, I heard someone answering my queries! The respondent was carrying no mortal frame. It was the land itself!—yes, it was speaking to me.
“My innocent children are in a deep sleep with a blanket of blood over their bodies,” thus, spoke up, land. “There is no space for even an ant left inside me, now!”
The land, my land, our land was assertively admitting—that it has run out of space! And without letting me wander anymore in my own random thoughts, it resumed: “I do cry; scream with a pain of waking them [martyrs] up. But they don’t respond. And their number is only increasing. So is my pain.”
I had no idea, how to respond to my motherland. And suddenly, a kind of different insect walked on my finger and gave me a bite. I called my friend quickly to pick the insect up from me—as, I am such an entomophobic. She laughed out loud at me. And stomping her feet hard on the ground.
I shouted at her angrily, “Stop stomping your feet like this, don’t you know: our land is in pain!” My retort flashed ire on her face. And then, she broke loose: “What happened to you since morning? What is wrong with you?”
“Nothing,” I replied, “I feel, our homeland is passing through a terrible time.”
“I see,” she said, “so, you are thinking of yesterday’s killing of an innocent boy.”
“Yes,” I replied. “I mean, how could they train their guns on somebody who just stepped outside home to get medicine for his mother.”
I could see my friend echoing back my concern.
But at that vantage point, I felt a strange melancholy muddling over major households in Srinagar. But, I wasn’t alone to think that way. No doubt, sun was about to set, but, there was a rise of the company of my views.
As we stepped back home, I was wondering: how should I seek answers for all the queries raised during the day. And just then, my friend held my hand very firmly—and I realised: I was no more alone in my quest.
Between reverie and reality, the dawn of the like-minded company had indeed arrived.
(Studying Journalism from Srinagar’s Women College, Sheikh Tabish is doing internship with KL)