An eerie silence had dulled the spirit of the evening. Noor was engaged in his efforts trying to figure out the possibilities of the case he had been fighting for almost three years. He was a lawyer and was valued in his society for the dedication he had put towards his profession. Elderly people looked upon him as a polite and virtuous personality for his conduct and work, and young boys in the society took him as their inspiration for the justice he had been doing towards his line of work. After tiring out, he lit a cigarette and made up his mind to leave for home. He packed his black leather bag with all the important papers and went to switch off the record player but hesitated for the want of listening to the unfinished couplet that was still playing out:
“Kaa’ve val gach shaam tschayan naeri maa
Braand-e-kaeni aush waan lekhi afsaan myoun.”
(O crow! Come and dwell into the evening shadow, she might show herself
My beloved will write my story with the blood of her eyes.)
The record player was the gift of his life. He recalled how he had met his lover for the first time after passing his matriculation exams. She had been very shy and had hesitated in presenting the lovely gift. It had been newly wrapped and she had forgotten to remove the label of the famous gift seller of Srinagar ‘Nishat Gifts’ she had bought it from. They had embraced each other for the first time and had also grasped each other’s hands till evening. It was raining and they had been lucky to catch sight of the unique rainbow overlooking the mountains surrounding Dal Lake.
Noor did not remember much of the life that had passed in all its usual deed. He failed to recall something that had been haunting him for several years now.
Hard work and humility- together had made him look much older than he was. He did not get time to trim his beard and mostly forgot to maintain himself. He took less care of the person that had grown in him.
Kashmir had already received the first snowfall of the season and market was already shut. A strange silence had masked the roads and there was no one visible in the dark. As he stepped his right foot outside the gate, his sight straightaway fell on the second storey of the district hospital and by his right side an abandoned cart laid. The vendor had a connection with his memory. He raked his brain to recollect that part of his memory that had made him what he was. Confusion and fantasy always run together. They are like pain and fear. They never let us rest. They make us imagine and travel across worlds we have never seen. They frustrate us at the same time. The street wore a deserted look. Everything around was white. When a car would pass by the road, the snowflakes looked dazzling in their vivacity.
He sat down and lit another cigarette. He spread his index finger and thumb over his mouth and began to think of the night that had taken away his mother from him. He had spent that night leaning against the whitewashed window of the hospital. He had waited the whole night, praying for the recovery of his mother. She had lost her emotional responsiveness after the sudden disappearance of her husband. And at the arrival of winter that year, she had developed arthritis. When in a state of waiting, Noor had witnessed so many happenings around the street. He had seen a queue of boys, waiting for their turn to come and grab their share of the French fries the street vendor was famous for. He had also relived the time he used to sit in the queue. Such was the demand for his delicious French fries that one had to wait for fifteen minutes to get his turn.The boys of Srinagar called him ‘Lala’ with love. Not many knew the whereabouts of Lala. Some believed that he was a Nepali. The art in his hands had bowled over the Srinagar boys. When the crowd had diminished, he had seen Lala, sitting alone, across the cart. Then all of a sudden, a group of people had come to him and one of them banged him on his head. Noor had not seen anyone except a notorious man working as a major in the Indian military.
The major was a familiar face who had been active around the streets of Srinagar for many years. People looked upon him scornfully for his bad conduct with the citizens. After watching the humiliation of Lala at the hands of military, he had tried to go down and rescue him but Dr Jan, his mother’s consultant, had grabbed him from behind, giving a miserable look. Dr Jan had not said anything to him. He had put his index finger between his teeth, chewing it intermittently for a minute or two and muttered helplessly, “Sorry Noor beta, sorry my son.”
A doomsday had befallen Noor and he had rushed in the night only to his brother’s college where he was pursuing engineering.
As he stood up after recollecting whole of his memories, he lit another cigarette. His face wore a tired smile and he began heading towards his home. The solution was at hand now. Lala, a Nepali to some, a French fries maker to some, a Bihari to some and simply Lala to some had not gone astray. He had been killed by Avtar Singh, the notorious major of the Indian military.
The following morning, before leaving for court, Noor began to look for papers and extracted the demise date from his mother’s death certificate. It added to the substance of his proof. The complexity was over. The case Noor had been fighting in the court of law for years now had already gotten an implied decision. People had come from far off places to watch the proceedings.
Each one had listened intently to the words of the judge: “The nightmare for all of us is over today. Lala, the cart vendor did not disappear. He was killed by Major Avtar for gaining cash rewards and promotions. Killing of Lala has opened chapter today to the numerous disappearances that have taken place during the conflict in here. The killings of foreigners and locals and later their dubbing as militants is a slow genocide happening in Kashmir. Human Rights Watch should take a keen interest in this grave concern for humanity. I hereby give the Indian military a time of one week which is a privilege provided to the soldiers working in conflicted areas. I also congratulate Mr Noor Baba for his dedication and hardwork over the years. He’s set an example for all of us today. Wemust draw inspiration from such brave people.”
And the court room reverberated with chants, “Noor Sahab- Zindabad, Long live- Noor Saheb.” Noor returned home early that day.
The evening back home was lively. A fresh breeze hit the windows occasionally and they were all busy in preparations for the supper.
When everyone finished their meals and went to their beds, a knock on the front door awakened his daughter from sleep. She rushed to her father’s room and informed him. He took her in his arms, patted her on the back and placed her into the bed again. When he opened the main door of his house, his eyes straightaway fell on a brownish yellow vehicle, implying that it was a military jeep. He took his right foot out and two men seemed to be guarding him from the borderings.
Noor’s doubts were cleared just as they were about to reach the army station. The armored car was damaged on the sides after facing several public attacks in the past. It was not fair to travel in a broken vehicle for carrying out an encounter. Major Avtar had pointed out to his driver before they set out this evening. The driver had paid no attention after knocking back few pegs of rum. Major Avtar did not know of anything called patience. He asked his driver to stop on the bridge that connected Raj Bagh with the city centre. The driver had heated argument with the major after he had reminded him of the plan they had made in the camp. “Stick to the plans, sir,” he murmured.
Major did not want to waste any time. He dragged Noor out of the car and started to thrash him with the butt of his rifle. He wanted to kill him. As dawn drew close, Major wanted to finish the job as early as he could. He asked Noor of anything he could do for him. What a pitiless pity!
Noor’s struggle throughout his life had made him a complete man. He stood firm and did not falter.He grumbled in a broken, tired and yet energetic voice, “I do not need your mercy. God gives and takes away life.”
He took a pen and his small diary from the right sided pocket of his kameez and wrote his final words to his wife. He handed it over to Major and requested him to deliver it to his wife. The following morning, Noor’s wife rushed to her brother’s house and informed them about Noor’s abduction. They went to the police station, registered a missing report and went here and there, wandering and wondering. The sky looked deep red in the evening when she returned home. When she stepped inside the yard, she saw a number of people gathered there amid shouts and wails. She was unable to understand this rapid change of milieu and nobody could gather courage to disclose the calamity that had swept over her. She opened the entrance to the backyard only to find Noor lying dead in a pool of blood. She collapsed and fell on the floor.
Major was reminded of Noor’s request in the afternoon. When he opened the letter, he could read:. “Jaana, Beloved, you should not stoop low in life after my departure. Remember always that hope sustains people. When I was a young boy, my father disappeared in the raids, my mother fell to arthritis. I had to work in a rubber factory in India for several years. I worked so that my brother could study. Hard work gave me a chance in life and I started to study again. With endurance and hope, God endowed me with so many good things. Life is a struggle, remember. To succeed in a process of revolution, we have to give every kind of sacrifice. I am not the only one. Do good things to people. Yours and yours, Noor.”
When Major turned over the page, he found that Noor had also quoted Rumi, “Away…beyond all concepts of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”. After reading the letter, Major grew restless and began to reason. He thought of Noor, his wife and daughter. He began to think of his own wife, his own daughter. He suddenly found wisdom in the words of his enemy. The restlessness grew more after he thought of delivering the letter to Noor’s wife. He had an inkling that something dangerous would happen and he began to think of the consequences.Whenever he wanted to dump the diary, his body gave strange appearances. He began to realize the fear that had already stormed inside his body. It all started getting terrible and a jinn(ghost) took possession of him.This demanded no delineation to the other members of the camp. They all witnessed it daily with their own eyes: Major crumpling abruptly, his eyes rising and falling, his head moving back and forth in a continuous manner, his body attaining the shape of a snake, his nails stretching, his teeth getting golden, his arms elongating, the blood coming out of his eyes before falling off hisbody on ground. Major badly wanted to leave. He did not want to do this job anymore. He wanted to get away with the ghost and meet his family. He booked tickets for a direct flight to California and started to live away from people. The California house had a nice, large yard, and an established garden with a swimming pool. But that all looked empty. Sometimes, a giant lady would appear before him and slap him for hours on both sides of the face. At times, he would sleep on his bed in the night and find himself lying in the bathroom next morning. Sometimes, a brunette with large nails would throw him down from the flat. His children would swell and attain the shape of Noor’s daughter before him. He could not survive it and killed all of them- one after the other. One night, his wife came to him in the shape of Noor, screaming aloud, humming the quote of Rumi, scribbled on the back page of the Noor’s diary. He wailed and wailed and was regretful of what he had done in his life. He was left with two bullets in the end and shot one at his wife and the other at his own head.
“…take no life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.”~Al-Quran(6:151)>”
Note:The story is dedicated to Advocate Jalil Andrabi, who was murdered by Major Avtar Singh,a major working in the Indian military.
Published here : |Kashmir Life
(Aarif Muzafar Rather is a non-conformist, man of letters, pursuing bachelors in law from Central University of Kashmir.)