Pen, an Elixir

Saima Rashid


It is Tenth year of the Twenty first century…

Peace is eluding Srinagar. Countryside is no different. There is disturbance, disorder and dilemma everywhere. Conflicting sources have fled to their emergency protection traps. Humanity has gone to dogs in this part of Himalaya. Deserted scenes prevail everywhere. Plenty of mouths are desperate for morsels of food. But who has a gall to step out amid enforced peace. They say, Srinagar was never so haunted!

There are mothers, sisters and wives pleading their sons, brothers and better-halves to stay indoors. Time seems conspiring. It’s a fatal façade of fate. Life has slipped into dead end. Nobody is making any effort for permanent solution of this eternally consuming conflict. Mere rhetorics feed prime time television in plains where geeks are vociferously denying Kashmir’s fundamental right. Outside mountains, there is no end of this gimmick. Old fuss-mongers are shooting weird comparisons with plight and pain of strife-stricken people of Kashmir. “What about us?” They keep chanting, loud and hoarse; and thus: justifying this ‘orgy of blood’!

Other countries are closely monitoring this ongoing uprising—where stones are facing bullets! Kashmir is back to headlines: Himalayan conflict has soared again, Kashmir is back to ‘stone’ age, Valley in grip of simmering summer… Their national channels (at gate-keeping) are busy reporting under the ambit of their nationalism. No trespassing. No pro-Kashmir narrative. No alternative analysis. Nothing. Just mugging up the scandalous deed and done with past discourse. The other story is just a myth. Just a myth?

“You triggered massive rebellion by rigging polls,” tell them. “Tell it to mountains and it will echo what you say,” their reply. So, tell them: “Aren’t you using coercive methods to contain the terrain?” “Look, understand something: iron cuts iron. You started it, we are only finishing it,” their rapacious reply. Have a cheek and go on asking: “Will you ever rise above this Chanakya tactics?” “No personal questions, please,” end of the discussion.

What a way to treat “integral part”! But then, this dissidence spearheaded by young is their nightmare. Some elders are joining the dots rooted deep in Kashmir’s chequered history.

And then, her heart bled…

Nowhatta, Downtown

Except police and paramilitary, there is no trace of life in the area. Streets are littered with bricks, stones and teargas canisters. Houses with shattered windowpanes vacantly gaze at the ‘peace-keepers’ on the streets. Ire runs deep on their faces. Some cops drained by frequent street confrontation are sitting on shop fronts, yawning and massaging their forehead, perhaps easing out some stress. Nobody is pleased with the situation. Both ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ has their own method behind their own madness. Amid this scene, life in valley has been pushed on backburner.

One medieval house in Nowhatta bears stark signs of assault: its glasses broken, door hangs on upper hinge, and its walls punctured by bullets. The house looks like an old man with folded skin, poor senses and one leg (almost) in grave. This is Bhat house, often on the firing line. It houses the family of four; a couple with their two children: Asif and Mehwish.

During Fridays, a swarm of youth passing on street near the house makes Asif uneasy. Being a passionate freedom seeker, he doesn’t spare a thought before joining them.

In July 2010, to contain the tempers from skyrocketing, scores of youth were detained. Asif also figured in that list. His grief-stricken parents were informed by the cops of nearby police station that Asif has been booked under Section 125 of RPC “for waging war against the state”. The terminology and the language of cops escaped their comprehension. The parents swallowed a bitter pill and didn’t question the police version.

Back home, Asif’s absence is troublesome for the poor parents. Mehwish is no better; her woes are reluctant to wane.

Every day she sits near the broken window on the second storey of her house and keeps gazing at street behind the curtain. She has seen masked youth hurling stones at other side of road where police and paramilitary stand guard during days of no curfew. She often sees them getting bloody upon hit by bullets or tear gas canisters. All these scenes leave her numb and pale. Such scenes are too vicious for a 14-year-old daughter of Bhat family who is fast turning into a wretched soul.

Her miserable state of mind is triggered by multiple factors: her brother’s detention, her curfewed studies and violent street scenes. A daughter of a cart-puller, Mehwish is also getting anxious for her family’s survival in these hard times. All reserved food grains are fast drying up. But she is no demanding daughter. She is sensing it all. While looking at parched and pareeshan faces of her parents, she often gets lump in her throat. To escape the hurtful feeling, she confines herself in her room where she often falls sleep empty stomach. Neither god of heavens nor demigods of land show any sign of mercy upon her miserable plight—a beautiful girl in an ugly situation!

Her hunger instead of damping her down is fuelling her mind. She is pondering hard over Kashmir imbroglio: slogans, stones, clashes, deaths…This state of mind is too heavy for the girl of her age. They have already devoured her childhood by imposing this frequent cage. These thoughts are making  her bitter. She wants to vent out her feelings. She wants to speak her heart out. She wants to fight for herself and for others. She wants…

But she finds herself chained, helpless and fragile. This feeling only beefs up her frustration. It is ironic, she feels, “they make me angry and I am not even allowed to express my rage!” This is a grave thought. A very grave thought for a budding flower like her. They have ripened her mind beyond her years by stirring up a whirlpool of rage. How is she going to survive now by harbouring such a feeling at such a young age? But then, she is not the only one, she thinks, and, absorbs the shock.

Now she looks for alternatives to ebb her woes. She somehow picks up her diary and pen. She bleeds her blue thoughts on white paper. With each stroke of pen, her expressive thoughts lighten up her burdened heart. It is a solace. She begins to think: pen and paper have more patience than people. Like John Milton thought to serve His master through poetry, Mehwish wants to alleviate her pain and that of others through her verses.

Along with her pen and diary, she sits near the wretched window. Most of her verses strike a sense of longing: to see her brother free, to see her father resuming job, to see her mother stop ruing over their ill fate and to see happy scenes outside her window.

She reminds one of Anne Frank, a little Jew girl who trusted no man on this earth, except her diary. Mehwish is somehow like Anne, whose verses are spaced in diary; and that diary is soaked with her bleeding heart.

But why on this earth some buds want to share mundane pains? Why they assume responsibilities? Like Mehwish, there might be thousands of other girls growing beyond their years. They do grow. Yes, they do. Situation, makes it, all happen.

“What if, curfew continues?” Her worry returns. “How are we going to survive then? What if they don’t release Asif? They have already silenced Wamiq, Tufail, Sameer… What if they silence my brother, too?”

Not only her parents, she is equally depressed about the prevailing situation. A few days before curfew, she saw a few protestors carrying banners:


The very sight triggers her pen on her diary:

Naysayers won’t be merrymakers forever

Gory empires do crumble in the face of virtuous tide

Days arrive. Nights pass. But the condition of her home is only getting worse like the prevailing situation of valley. The life, the paralytic life is plunging deep into dark. But Mehwish keeps on writing her words of sorrow and pain. Last night when the heat of July was too ruthless, she left her bed, picked up her diary and sat near the window. And then, words had no pause amid the haunting hush around:

Stop muting those rebel voices, Pharoah

Moses still dwells; and sea of wrath still exists

 And dread that divine spark which can blaze

All the coercion measures you hold so dear!

 You robbed myriad mothers of their motherhood

And then, you have a cheek to utter, ‘my chips are down!’

 Now listen up, a collective curse is on your way

Till then, go gaga with your power frenzy…

She couldn’t write anything more; and in disgust, she closed the diary. For a while she kept gazing outside her window, that too, vacantly. With sleepless eyes, she was dreaming somewhat—a departure from reality: She was running in the beautiful meadows, her parents were cheerful much to her surprise and her brother was around her. It was an awesome sight. She always cherished life like this. But it was a weird dream she was viewing with open eyes. Much to her own ignorance, she was smiling. The invisible sight in front of her eyes amid darkness was her catharsis. But good things had a history to have a short stint with her. And then suddenly, her stance broke. Something swung her back to vicious reality. Someone was wailing nearby. She grew curious: who is crying at 1.36 am in the night. But the moonless night devoured her curiosity. Nothing could be known. And then, she retired to her bed amid a baffled state of mind.

The next morning is no different. She finds her mother sobbing in the kitchen where nothing is available in the name of breakfast. “What is wrong, Mama?” The mother is reluctant to unfold her grief. But Mehwish keeps repeating her question. When her mother finally breaks her silence, she petrifies her: “They have killed Mushtaq’s son last night!” A silence. A long silence follows between them. “I heard whispers of his killing from our window.”

Her mother’s revelation clears the confusion about the cries she heard last night. She leaves the room in a flash and returns to her room. She is fuming over the loss of another young one—who happens to be her own classmate!

The last time when schools were yet to face curfew, both of them had shared a lunch. She had told him: “Glutton, you devoured my lunch completely.” And Abid Mushtaq, the boy with amber eyes and gentle manners, had replied: “And what about scores of lunches of mine you ate?” It was an usual chit-chat between friends that ended on happy note.

It was the last time they had seen each other.

But now, all these memories are rushing through like a tempest and are literally choking her inside. The mourning has never been so intense. She has already cried a lot over the lives lost on streets, but this one, was indeed too personal.

While making sense of her friend’s loss, she is asking herself: “How I am going to return his notes, he gave me last time? How I am going to find a friend like him who was always there for me…” Abid’s killing has left many unanswered questions for her.

In the same quizzing state of mind, she falls to sleep. By afternoon, she regains her consciousness when a street commotion enters inside her room through window. The sun is blazing outside. With sleepy eyes, she peeps out to glimpse the clashes on the street. The young has defied the curfew for the day. And then, a gunshot rings and Mehwish’s stance tilts…

A bullet, a “stray” bullet pierce her heart and bleeds her to death! Up to this very moment only slogans of justice used to cross that very window, but now a bullet! Her wish has been fulfilled. She wanted to leave the world same way. She has shown the power of her words and verses. That pen and diary are still attached to her. And, to leave the world this way, was her dream.

Mehwish ceases to be. And no one knows about her death till evening when her father calls out, “Mehwish Jan, come downstairs, let’s have a Nun Chai.” He repeats the same call. But there is no responding voice left. He asks his wife, “Did Mehwish had her lunch?” “No,” replies her mother. “Actually, Mehwish was a bit depressed at breakfast. When I asked her the reason, she replied, ‘Mom what if I will die as a martyr!’ ”

Both of them stare each other in silence before rushing upstairs. The moment they open the door, they petrify. Blood was oozing from Mehwish’s heart and painting the floor red. The moment blood touches her father’s feet, his whole body vibrates; tears starts rolling down. He has no idea that his wife has collapsed to the surface behind him.

Mehwish is dead, and with that, the wretched window has lost its beholder, forever. But now, there is no piece of land for her eternal rest. Curfew is still unwavering over Kashmir. Amid this, no one knows: a house in Nowhata has lost its daughter. Mehwish seems resting in peace. As if she will get up and say: “Dear parents, I have been blessed with life again. I can write more for those depressed souls.” But alas! It can be only wished—reality is beyond one’s wishes.

In the midnight, somehow, they lower her in a small piece of land in nearby Malkhah cemetery. Cries couldn’t reverberate around for the fear of their enforced peace.

Four months after…

Asif walks out of prison. The death of his sister is yet to shake him up. He has no idea that his family has been reduced to three. He meets his speechless mother. She is comforting him, but his urge to see Mehwish is troubling her. “Asif,” she begins to unfold, “count her in martyrs now.”

Mehwish is dead again.

A fresh spell of mourning restarts. After a while, Asif goes upstairs and enters her departed sister’s room. The room smeared by his sister’s blood welcomes him with an exceptional aroma. Her diary and pen have been placed near that window. He steps forward and picks up that diary. He hugs it tight, close to his heart—as if: embracing his martyred sister!

Trying hard to overpower his gush of emotions, he opens it and finds each and every word written on it full of grief and pain. Asif is shocked and surprised: how Mehwish was able to sneak into protestors’ hearts and minds. “She was an exceptional girl,” he begins to realise, “who forgot her own pain only to share the pain of others.”

On the backside of her diary, Asif pauses to read this line:

Writing makes a person immortal. Pen is, indeed, an elixir!



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