The confined tale

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Bilal Handoo

Prison

It is raining heavily tonight. A haunting darkness has wrapped hundreds of households in downtown Srinagar. The clock has struck 10 pm. In Khanyar locality, somebody is knocking hard at the door of Mir House. It is 2005. It is different regime operating at state level. The fresh ‘claim’ asserts: militancy and counter-militancy have dipped. They are applying ‘healing touch’ on everything. But in spite of all this ‘assurance’, these untimely knocks have set hearts on racing mode in Mir family? It is no 90’s. Dreadful knocks don’t haunt these days. But why these looks of alarm have flashed on their faces. They aren’t sure. Perhaps, this is how they have learned to react over such untimely calls.

In the family of four, the elder musters courage to attend the loud knocks. He takes a candle with himself. It is power cut tonight. His steps are getting heavy as he approaches near the door. The knocks are getting desperate now. “Who is this,” Mir raises his voice of inquiry in a low tone. “Please, open the door,” someone shouts from outside. The rain is still falling quite heavily. And then, with trembling hands, Mir unbolts the door.

In a flash, a shabby looking man—sporting long hair and beard, rushes inside. He is huffing quite heavily. The man turns backwards and bolts the door immediately. A jet of air blows off the candle. In that dark company, Mir can clearly feel a loud panting of a stranger. “Don’t worry,” a voice assures Mir amid darkness. “I am one among the family!”

Mir has no idea: how to react over the presence of the stranger in his home. He is tight-lipped. And then, both of them move towards the living room—where Mir’s wife and two kids are quietly seated. The entry of the stranger derails the mood in the room. He looks like a runaway convict. Quick glances are being exchanged. Nobody has seen the man before. He is still panting and is soaked wet. Mir fetches a glass of water for him. He gulps it in one go. They hand him a towel to wipe out his hair and beard.

As he lifts his head up, Kulsum—Mir’s wife, takes a good look at his face. She begins finding some resemblance from his eyes. Some old memories are rushing back. She clearly recognizes these eyes! Yes, she does. They are the same eyes which made many girls to fall for them. These are same eyes, which mysteriously went missing from everybody’s sight a decade ago. She is now certain about the identity of the stranger. And then, a wailing cry ends all mystery about the man: “Myane Baaya!”

In the garb of stranger, Kulsum has traced her lost cousin.

Now, all fears have been replaced by smiles and joys in the room. A decade old uncertainly over the fate of missing soul has finally ended in this pitch-dark night. But before miserable tales of ten years would unfold, Basharat Ahmad, the stranger-turned-missing cousin is being comforted. Hugs, kisses, tears, wails, smiles: all human emotions are at display tonight.

Another hour or so has passed now. Still, nobody is scratching the painful past. Kids have started yawning. Kulsum accompanies them to their bedroom. After a while, she joins back her cousin and husband in the room. Under the candle light, Basharat’s big brown eyes are reflecting remorse. The rainfall has stopped. A dead silence is prevailing over everything. And then, Kulsum touches the raw nerve: “You absence turned all of us mad.”

Basharat is still quiet. But, the remark wells up his eyes with tears. He too wants to convey: how he felt once he lost touch with his parents, his relatives, friends and his love—Shagufta, the affection.

That day, in the fall of 1995, he was heading home back from SP College—where he was pursuing Bachelors in Science. Protests were happening in his locality over the arrest of five locals. He was young, emotional and charged up. He saw women beating their chests, pulling their hair and crying haplessly. He couldn’t withstand it. He was brewing inside. He charged nearby sand bunker along with the young horde. They were soon dispersed when they shot bullets into the air. Later that day, he was reported missing. Nobody saw him after that day…

But in this dark night, ten years of emotional trauma has finally unfolded. Basharat heard her cousin saying: the last decade devoured your parents as well as your love. He restrains himself from emotional display upon hearing all this. In a sobbing tone, she keeps reflecting everything.

Amid the stretched conversation, clock has struck mid-night. Sensing a need to halt the talk, Kulsum insists Basharat to take some rest now. He is yet to narrate his own tale. But she shows no urgency as of now. She has all the time to hear him out. He must be tired, she thinks. He should rest now.

Within the next 10 minutes, Basharat is lying on the softest bed he feels since he went missing. He remembers very well: how he was made to sleep on ice cells. Sometimes, bedding on concrete turned a living hell—as his badly beaten back wasn’t ready for such surfaces.

But now, physical agony has taken form of mental trauma. Previously, there was mere longing; but now, loss of loved ones is haunting him like this night—which has no room for the light.

Earlier in the day, they were taking him for the court hearing. He managed to give them a slip at Srinagar’s Lower Court. He merged with crowd at Lal Chowk and was soon out of their sight. Till the evening, he hid himself in an abandoned pandit house at Habba Kadal. And as darkness spread, he rushed to his residence at Khanyar. He saw his house razed to the ground. They have recently displaced scores of households from the area and scatter them on the outskirts of city. He then ran towards her cousin—Kulsum’s home in the area. Till the time he reached there, it was already dark and raining.

But tonight, all his memories are devouring his sleep. The very thought of losing mother is indeed enormous for every son. He is no exception. But he lost her in exile. It is disturbing. He lost his father too. He is biting his nails in silence over the irreversible loss. He was their only son who was missing from their dead bed.

Apart from his parents, the loss of his love is equally troublesome. He had promised her that they would marry after his graduation. She was in same class—studying Humanities, at Srinagar’s Women College. At the time of his disappearance, they were already in love for five years.

She was beautiful, and he was daredevil. They were both in Class 8, when he had proposed her outside her school in presence of her friends. She was touched and impressed by his bold nature. He then handed over a love letter to her.

Later at home, she unfolded the letter—inked with his blood, and sprayed by pleasant perfume. She had cried like a child over this act of his. The next morning, she wanted to meet him to convey: you are the best for me. But she couldn’t. It was a crackdown—that lasted for three days.

Finally when caged ones were set free; she saw him waiting outside the school. She blushed over the very idea to reveal her heart to him. She couldn’t utter a single word. Mere looks of shyness and smile crossed their ways. But the message couldn’t have been more direct to him. And thus, their love bloomed amid the chaotic situation.

But earlier tonight, Kulsum had informed him that Shagufta couldn’t withstand his separation. Soon after his disappearance, she had gone disturbingly silent. She had also stopped her college. To end her plight, her parents had decided to marry her off. But once she sniffed the intentions; she silenced herself, forever!

All these thoughts are disturbing him very badly tonight. He remembers the pile of letters he wrote to her, saying: “My love, please move on. I don’t think, our union is possible as long as these forced cages would confine us. Please, move on!” But his words lost in transition.

They had charged him with a murder case. From last one decade, he has failed to make a sense of the charge he was carrying on his head. All his sensibility failed to make a sense of it. He would attain a state of nuts when these thoughts overpowered him. He would then smile. Within seconds; that smile, would change into an insane laughter. But once senses would regain control in him; only a heartfelt cry would escape from his prison cell. And, that is how all these years have been passed by.

He once wrote in their cage: “how ironic! You are so desperate to base your empire on human miseries. Remember, the end of Hitler is no glorifying chapter in history books! It rather calls for introspection.”

But the notes of his confinement never reached anyone. And, he continued to remain untraceable for all his loved ones. He had a company of Sonauallah Ranjay in Kot Bhalwal jail all these years. But as the jail figured on press attention after Ranjay’s murder, his case was taken up for a hearing. But he had already lost his ten years till that happened.

With these thoughts, he finally passed into a slumber. As dusk next morning; knocks have again appeared at the front door of Mir House. With a sleepy state of mind, elder of the house opens the door. The sight outside has stunned him! On the other side of door, government forces are staring at him. They push him aside and start barging in.

And within no time, Basharat has been taken out of his sleep. They bundle him inside the vehicle and left the family wailing.

Perhaps, henceforth: Kulsum would never know her cousin’s tale—she postponed last night!

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