10th January 2015
The mellifluous dulcet tones of Kashmiri folk music coupled with soft breeze, ushered in, the strings of harmony, in her love drenched room. The soft balmy rays of weak, Delhi winter sun couldn’t match the heated passion, this room had witnessed. The sun-rays left behind their austere creator and frivolously tried to disturb the earthlings. They whirled and twirled along the window panes. They wedged between the marigold strings and pirouetted on the window sill, as if to be a witness of their love. The rhododendrons squirmed from their touch. Wary of their unknown surroundings, these rays added to the lament of the rhododendrons, withering away. The sun’s messengers oblivious of the pain they inflicted on these alien blooms, lingered on Nikita’s eyelids, laden with slumber.
As the balmy heat percolated her eyelids, Nikita lazily fluttered them open. It seemed the rays and their warmth had infiltrated her entire being and had descended with fervour to bless her new relationship. However, her favourite rhododendrons didn’t seem in agreement. Their dwindling, waning appearance was a proof of their discord with the Delhi heat. They were especially flown down from the valley of Kashmir, to fulfil her wish to get married, surrounded amidst them. As her grandmother often said, “If not Kashmir, Kashmiriyat hi sahi!”
It was her first day in the new household, Nikita prayed fervently to the Gods to bless not only her nuptial, but also her relationship with other family members. She had met Aman through common relatives, and that day had destined her future. Aman’s calm demeanour and reticent attitude had released a Cupid’s arrow. They were both working in corporate world with comfortable family backgrounds. Like-minded thoughts and common culture of their long-lost Kashmir, sealed the relationship.
“Tal mahrah yem neevokh…. Tal mahrah traviv!” a girl’s anguished shrieks tore through her reverie.
Nikita jumped off the bed in a daze, perplexed. In a flash Aman, who till now was deep in slumber, rushed towards the pandemonium. Nikita too followed.
“Tal mahrah yem neevokh…” ranted the air.
Nikita witnessed a pitiful sight; a dainty, alluring beautiful girl being held captive in Aman’s hands, trying to break free. The horrific scenario invoked the ‘Durga’ within her. No, she wouldn’t let any man, even her own husband to defy a woman. Her newly married status forgotten, she barged in the room, and with hell’s fury pushed Aman aside.
“Tal mahrah!” she bellowed. Nikita embraced the trembling girl in her arms, shielding her from the world.
“No one will touch her, I shall spare none!” She announced to the entire household.
The girl cradled her head on Nikita’s shoulder, and cupped her hand on Nikita’s face and cried.
Seething with fury, Nikita glared at Aman to reprimand him, but she was shocked at the sight that greeted her eyes.
Aman was curled up on the floor, crying, anguished silent tears roiled down his face. Nikita looked around to comprehend the situation but similar sight greeted her in all directions. Aman’s aunt sobbed in her saree pallu and his uncle’s face conveyed mute storm.
Nikita understood that there was more than what was meeting the eye. She cradled the girl in her lap and sunk to the floor, caressing her. Innumerable thoughts clouded her mind, which had no answers. She decided to wait. Exhaustion of physical and emotional turmoil took over and the girl drifted off to sleep.
Nikita didn’t budge, Aman got up after a while and started clearing the room, strewn with fruits all around. Grapes crushed to pulp, apples scattered under furniture, bananas stomped all over. The stench of rotten fruits overpowering one’s senses. Nikita felt nauseous at the sight of bananas plastered to the floor, but refused to leave her alone. Her womanly instincts still not trusting Aman.
“Nikita, didi is sleeping. I have cleaned the room, please get up and get ready for the function. Your family must be on their way.” suggested Aman.
“Didi…?” she sighed with relief at the thought of her husband not being the tyrant she had envisaged him to be.
“Yes, she is my elder sister, Khushi.”
“But, why didn’t you tell me about her and what’s the matter with her ? Please tell me or I will go crazy trying to decipher it myself. She is holding on to me, I can’t explain but I feel if I leave her, I will break the trust she has entrusted me with. So, talk and talk right here!” Nikita was adamant.
“I didn’t tell you, because I didn’t want to lose you. I feared that if you get acquainted with the fact that I have mentally compromised sister, you wouldn’t love me enough.”
“I lament at your expectations of me. However, it’s not about us, tell me about Khushi didi,”
Aman seemed to have aged in a span of couple of hours.
“Nikita, meet my elder sister Khushi Kaul, who is only five years elder to me, but saved my life by sacrificing hers on that fateful night of January 19th 1990.”
19 January 1990 the day of ‘KASHMIR EXODUS”
Kashmir was brimming with communal talks, strife and hatred. The Anantnag valley, the epicentre of the power play was in shreds. Oblivious to the cacophony enveloping them the innocent peace-loving citizens of Kashmir loved each other irrespective of religion and creed. Neeraj Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit of repute and respect was one such soul. For generations these people had lived with their neighbours in camaraderie. The gnawing fear however, was now palpable.
When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers. A prominent organisation declared that if the Kashmiri pandits do not abandon their land and run away, they will be killed. Their declaration read “Convert, leave or die!” They called it the day of ‘Kashmiri exodus’
“We are the only ones left, all our relatives and friends are long gone. Oh, God! Please let good sense prevail, let’s leave before it’s too late.” cried Anita, Neeraj’s wife.
“No, no… shall never do that and live with shame for the rest of my life. This is my motherland; I was born here and shall die on this pious land.” Interjected Neeraj defiantly.
“Don’t get influenced by these political and incinerating talks, our friends will never deceive us. Our generations have lived together in peace and you think that these people who came to our land some years back can malign our relationships. Never. Rehmat has assured me that come what may, he will always stand by our family.”
“I don’t trust Rehmat and his family. He has always eyed our orchards, always trust a woman’s instincts.” cautioned Anita.
Cold winds often numb your senses. One start believing whatever he is told repeatedly. Yes, these harsh winds impair judgement. It was one such day.
The morning newspaper greeted the city’s Kashmiri Pandits with a last warning “Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive!”
It ruffled up Neeraj Kaul too. The history was evidence enough. Anantnag had seen bloodshed during last riots but this warning sounded more like a death knell. He finally gave in and recalled his entire staff from the apple orchards to prepare for their emigration. His gait and demeanour exuded defeat, but the safety of his family was of prime concern. He may become a refugee in his own motherland, but he shall be alive. He had to move fast.
“Convert, leave or get killed!” the new war cry made Anita quiver with fear. She awaited the return of her children from the orchards.
The clink of brandishing swords and daggers made her heart cringe.
“Drag them out… Prove your love to your saviour!” hollered the crowds. Anita couldn’t leave without her kids; she ran frantically to Neeraj’s study.
“Neeraj! Khushi and Aman are out there somewhere, they haven’t come back from their morning stroll with Shakeel. We can’t leave without them. Do something, please do something,”
“Anita, It’s too late, we can’t leave at all,” replied Neeraj with stoic calm.
“I have failed you and your trust. My love for my homeland blinded me. I failed to perceive hidden motives.” reflected Neeraj, peering down the window.
“Rehmat, my friend of childhood, my confidante has come to take me down with a naked sword. There is nothing left to live for.”
Anita scurried towards the window. The desire for land and lack of righteousness often culminate in disaster. This twinned with mob mentality clouds one’s sense of judgement. Soaked in this impassioned pleasure, carnal instincts of lust and power take over.
Anita saw her biggest fear take shape. Rehmat and a mob with swords and ignited torches, were assembled outside to claim their land and life.
Indeed, a woman’s instincts are never wrong, but for her, they came too late.
The mob cried in the name of religion and barged inside her home. There was nothing left to fight for. Her life danced like a dream cascading the mountains of her homeland. She reflected “No religion can allow such atrocities; no God would accept such fiends as his followers. They were not fighting for their god but for the few men who made religion their business. I shall never forgive Neeraj too for not heeding to my warnings.”
She walked to the children’s room, the last minutes of her life she would snuggle in their blankets. What an unfortunate mother was she; she had no clue whether her kids were alive or not.
“This one life, I give back to you my lord. In exchange, be fair and save my children.”
She glanced back once more at her husband and heard the marauders stomping on the staircase. The eternal partners; husband and wife exchanged the language of silence. Their eyes met.
Hers asked. His replied in affirmation.
Anita enveloped herself in the kid’s quilt and bid him a silent goodbye. He rendered an apology.
Anita plunged down from the children’s room window. She didn’t let Rehmat and the lust in his eyes, win.
Far from a distance, their mother’s fall and the house being burnt down to cinders was witnessed by Khushi and Aman, tucked away securely by Shakeel Chacha, their man servant of years. Khushi, all of ten couldn’t take it. All this while she had cuddled her baby brother, Aman, but her mother’s plunge toppled her self-control.
She struggled to be set free of Shakeel’s grasp. “Tal mahrah…Chacha!”
“No, my dear child. We can’t do anything. She is gone… The least I can do is to save the two of you. Allah! Grant me strength.”
“No chacha… She may be alive. I will come back. Don’t follow me.”
She wriggled free and ran towards her house.
Destiny had turned turtle. Her little footsteps were captured by wolfish whistles and catcalls. When man becomes a beast, even Gods are ashamed of their creation.
They sneered, smiled contemptuously, a prey had stepped in their arena, it shouldn’t be spared. Khushi realised that the damage was done, if she stepped back, Aman too would be discovered and killed. Thus, she stood firm.
Unfortunately, the apple orchards that she played in, climbed trees and sought solitude in served as a perfect bed for gang rape. They stifled her cries by gagging her and when that didn’t work, they stuffed apples down her throat. The carnage continued for an hour. Khushi’s sobs died with the dwindling embers that torched her home. She survived death but died forever.
Shakeel cursed himself, but couldn’t conjure courage enough to save Khushi from hooligans. Five-year-old, Aman couldn’t comprehend the calamity that had befallen him. Shakeel thought fast. His Allah was with him, not these scavengers. He shall guide his path. Shakeel clasped Aman’s hand, lifted Khushi, and sneaked in the dead of the night. He reached Neeraj’s truck yard, from where fruits were transferred to Delhi. He hid Aman and Khushi behind crates of fruits. Khushi was in an altered consciousness. His best thought was to drive away from there. His appearance and identity would grant him easy passage in this time of strife. He had to save the kids. He decided to drive them to their aunt’s place in Delhi. His life had just one mission, to pay his due to his master by saving his children.
“Shakeel Chacha never went back, he soon left this world ridden with guilt. However, Khushi didi died in many ways. She gets hyperactive and violent with the smell of fruits. She suffered injuries to her throat, the smell of rotting fruits in the truck for three days added to her torture. Thus, we never eat fruits but overlooked their presence in our house during wedding ceremonies.” Aman seemed desolate and empty. Nikita cried, for that little girl, butchered in the orchards.
The sound of cars screeching to a halt, signified the arrival of her family. Nikita walked out of her room to receive the guest in her new home.
She looked resplendent, a bit mature, her grandmother wondered, “Does it take only a day for a girl to become a woman?”
“No, Amma, it takes only a moment.” replied Nikita.
Her parents palpated the uneasiness in the atmosphere, thus, to lighten the moment, her father inquired, “So, when are you leaving for your much awaited honeymoon trip to Switzerland ? You both have planned it so extensively.”
“Papa, we are not going to Switzerland, it will have to wait to be graced by us.” stated Nikita.
“Is everything all right? You seemed to have changed overnight. You were so excited to visit the Alps. Tell us … What’s the matter?”
“Amma,” she addressed her grandmother, “We are all going to our homeland, we are all going to Kashmir!”
Wonder, fear, resentment and finally tears reflected in every one’s eyes.
“Kashmir! Alas, my Kashmir! They made us flee…. took our identity…. This pain shall never ease. A refugee in our own country. I shall never forgive them.” Howled Amma. Silent sobs reverberated in the room.
“Amma, we have just one life, and we shall redeem it. We shall go back to our roots, relive those moments. That will give all of you a closure and to our generation, a chance to connect with our heritage.” Nikita’s face glowed with ‘Kashmiriyat!’
“Oh, yes Amma, mom and Papa, I want you to meet my sister-in-law Khushi…she is the loveliest person I have ever met.” Nikita’s family met Khushi and fell in love with her beauty and valour.
They went back, planning their return to Kashmir, a tad proud of the daughter they had raised.
19 January 2015
Reaching Anantnag, was no easy feat in freezing cold but worth all the trouble. Pristine mountain ranges with meandering brooks, seemed as if they were dancing down the hills to nature’s tune. Bucolic farmlands swarming with white fur balls of cattle. Indeed, it was heaven. Their bodies were taking to the cold well, re-establishing the fact that they belonged to this land.
Locating Aman’s house proved tougher than anticipated. His childhood memories weren’t strong enough and Khushi had been silent throughout, but seeing. It was impossible to gauge her intimate emotions. They roamed aimlessly for an hour in the locality of their long-lost home, but to no avail.
“Aman, we are roaming aimlessly. Try and recall. Khush didi… Can you…”
“Where’s Khushi didi… …there she is running away. Where is she going?” pondered everyone, trying to keep up with her pace.
“Khushi…Khushi… stop,” but she didn’t relent.
Suddenly, she ceased to run. Khushi fell down on the snow-covered ground along a dilapidated building. She held her head in her hands and wailed. Her cries were heart wrenching, but also comforting. It had to drain. This pain had to flow into the ground from where it had originated. They all held onto each other and cried for loss of their loved ones, their pain, anguish and suffering. At their inability to fight and loss of their one life, they had lived in vain.
“Shakeel Chacha...!” She wailed, “Chacha… only if I had heed to your advice.” her body rattled with sobs. She flayed her arms in the air and her cries rent the frigid air. Echoes of her anguish shuddered the mountains and made them feel puny before her pain.
“Shakeel Chacha, and they, were followers of same ideology, but it was never about religion. Alas! Men get blinded with lust and misconceptions. It’s your morals that make this one life given to you, worth the while.”
Khushi’s torment disgruntled Mother Nature, and she cried too. Light snowflakes tried in vain, to balm her aching sores. They left her there to share her melancholy with the witnesses of her apathy.
Aman and Nikita, roamed in the apple orchards that once belonged to their family. Their eyes reflected true love full of understanding and respect.
“I have found my sister back, all because of you, shall always be indebted to you.” his eyes proclaimed his love.
Nikita walked towards the house and saw rhododendrons flourishing in the backyard. They appeared resplendent, radiating with alluring charm and grace. Her mind raced back to the ones she had deliberately ordered for her wedding. They looked displaced, wary, uncertain and unwanted there. This was their habitat. Here they were connected to their roots, unlike the refugees they seemed there. This was their homeland. Plucking away one from their homeland is a crime to humanity, she had understood.
She turned and glanced at her husband, accompanying his sister, inside the half-burnt house. The eternal partners; husband and wife exchanged the language of silence. Their eyes met.
Hers smiled. His, misted in gratitude.
She had redeemed their life.
GAR! HAMEEN ASTO HAMEEN ASTO: HOME! ITS HERE,ITS HERE
Kashmiriyat: like Kashmir (a famous term)
Tal mahrah yem neevokh: take these away
Tal mahrah traviv: leave me
Ralive,Tsaliv ya Galive: Convert, leave or die
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