by Burhan Qureshi
My mother comes from a sleepy village in north Kashmir. It is, indeed, picturesque. At times when she sits me down and tells me the stories of her childhood, she takes me into a dreamland. Her house there is on a hillock, a gushing clear stream runs at its foothills. There are vast fields on either side of the road. She tells me of the orchard where the finest apples grow, of the walnut trees in her garden that she used to climb (in fact, she taught me how to eat the raw, green colored walnuts, which if you know the trick, taste even better). And when she tells me that she used to swim in that stream, my heart skips a beat. I fall in love with her all over again.
I picture my mother: a little girl, climbing a tree, comforting herself into its extended arms and relishing those walnuts. Or running around the trees in the orchard, joyfully wasting all the time at her disposal. At times I picture her with her sisters, running down, the hillock, which used to be her haunt. Amidst the rain, her tiny feet, without slippers, move at lightning speed.
Just then she unleashes on me the most heartbreaking, even if seemingly innocuous, sequence of words she ever invented. The words run through my heart like a dagger and squeeze out every last drop of blood from it. No matter how many times I hear those words from her, they always have the same impact. “Waih! tuhe kya wuchuv!” [“Oh! What has your generation had to go through!”] This is when the Kashmir of dreams disappears and the Kashmir of nightmares, the Kashmir I saw and grew-up and lived in, comes back with a vengeance, comes back like a haunting, choking the space for dreams, filling the space of the ephemeral with the choking existence of reality. Dreaming becomes a luxury.
So, what did we go through?
It’s impossible to sum it all up here, however, I’ll inscribe a few memories that have been consuming me…
So, for one, we heard of cousins who showed up only in conversations. Conversations that took place to the tune of a constant sobbing in the background. When the conversations were over we would be left with task of conjuring up the cousins’ faces. Memory in such cases is of no use, but our imagination was, and is, free. That is how I know, have always known, my cousin, Asim.
From another year, another day, I remember when we had a “waer” — when electricity was cut off for the night — so it was very quiet. We were sitting together having dinner. Suddenly there arose a shrill cry that seemed to emerge from the darkest corner of the Earth, that tore apart the stillness of the dark unlit-night. ”Allah-u Akbar.” And then the sound of two bullets. The next morning we found on the wall of that house the telltale signs of the night. Two small holes in the brick. His funeral perhaps done and the area cleaned, we walked on without mourning, only to make another addition to the leaves of memory, to one day re-tell the story.
Why did we not mourn? It is difficult to say, but perhaps there is a point beyond which we thought they can’t hurt us anymore. Perhaps there is a point beyond which we become immune to our own pain. Perhaps there is a point beyond which life becomes meaningless. Perhaps there is a point beyond which we get “used” to it.
I remember when I was a kid, it was okay to tune into news and keep a score of how many had died. How and when and where. It was okay not to mourn, and accept, instead, the daily dose of “reality.” It was as normal as having the daily evening tea, or reading the newspaper, or going to work. It was a part of our life. It was normal. It was routine.
Once, during a ‘crack-down’ raid on our house, the security forces took away all our family photographs. But there is this one photograph of my mother, among only a few others, which they couldn’t find. Mummy looks right into the camera; she is young and incredibly beautiful. Perhaps just as beautiful as the Kashmir of her memories. I wonder when she goes to her grave, will she have the choice of carrying that Kashmir with her. I, however, will have no such luxuries.
Even then there is a yearning for peace, a yearning for closure. There is a yearning to seek a sliver of joy from the moon. The last time I went to her village, I made sure to go to that orchard. I made sure of forgetting everything for a while, and waste all the time I had at my disposal. I plucked an apple from the tree, and ate it. It was the finest apple I have ever eaten — just as tasty as she has always described. It only enhanced my appetite, my curiosity. How beautiful, one day, some day in the future, would it be to live in the Kashmir of her memory?naheeN nigaah meN manzil to justaju hi sahi naheeN wisaal muyassar to aarzu hi sahi…….. dayaar-e-Ghair meN mehram agar naheeN koyi toh Faiz zikr-e-watan apne ru-ba-ru hi sahi — Faiz Ahmad Faiz