They were mere stones.
Pale, grey, dark and round, atop each other.
Mere stones for the passers-by.
But meant more to us.
I, Sana and Rafiya had laboriously climbed the same hillocks every summer, to add more stones there. All winters, we would wonder if they would survive the sleet and the ice. As the skies would turn blue and the sun would shimmer brighter, nudging the snow to melt, we would hope to start our expeditions again.
And just as the tourists made a beeline for the colourful blooms adorning the gardens, we would make our arduous journey uphill. We would look for our precious treasures and would be delighted to see them intact, a bit weathered of course. Magically, they remained undisturbed inspite of the harsh conditions. And that had probably deepened our faith in them.
“Is that a game?” a curious trekker had once asked. We had just stared back with blank expressions. We were conditioned to do that.
In reality, they were the answers to questions that popped up in our minds. Questions that we were forbidden to ask. Answers that we had sought for years.
The first year it had been only me.
The second year Sana accompanied me.
The year after, Rafiya .
Now, it’s a ritual we don’t miss.
“What do you get by doing so?” A kind lady with a pen and a camera on a tripod once asked.
I was tempted to say.
But no; she only got a blank stare. We were conditioned to do that.
Solace. For me. That my brother forgives me. One autumn evening, twelve years back, he had disappeared into thin air. My mother had sent him to buy medicines late in the evening as I was running high temperature. He never made it to the chemist. The rustle of the fallen Chinar leaves disclosed what they witnessed.
My fever went in a day but my brother, forever.
Peace. For Sana. That her father finds peace. It had been her birthday. They had been cutting a homemade cake at midnight. The knock on their door announced unknown visitors. Her father stepped out. Never to be seen again. The clouds thundered to drown agonizing screams; As she and her mother waited for eternity.
Knocks on Sana’s door always made her hold her breath.
Love. For Rafiya. The love that she lost. The newly-weds had been returning from a family dinner. There was a grenade blast in the vicinity. They escaped injury. But couldn’t escape implication. Her husband vanished from the apple orchard. Never to return. The apple blossom withered, unable to prove his innocence.
Rafiya was labelled a half-widow, like the discarded rotten-half of an apple.
Closure. For all of us. Since the discovery of the mass graves ten years back. Unnamed mounds on distant hillocks.
The gravediggers had been prodded by activists. They gave a blank stare. They were conditioned to do that.
But our stones speak to us.
Author’s note:- This is a work of fiction exploring dilemmas of inhabitants living in a conflict-zone. The write-up is inspired by the disappearance of thousands of civilians and appearance of mass graves in the last two decades in conflict-ridden Kashmir.
Chinar – (Here) – name of a tree found in Kashmir
Half-widows – term given to Kashmiri women whose husbands have disappeared during the conflict in Kashmir.These women are called so because they have no idea whether their husbands are alive or dead.
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