I do not know who I am, nor do I know from where I belong, the only thing that I know is that I am alive but that too for only a little while longer; but to be precise, I have faintly been told about myself, I remember my Pind, somewhere nestled in the lap of the Himalayas, where summer is ephemeral, and happiness is omnipresent, where the lakes are transparent and the mountains are white, where the valleys are green and the sky is blue, where days are weaved in fantasies of the impossible and nights are entwined in magic and charms of the supernatural.
This magic setting was made even mystical by the husky voice of Noor, my friend, a girl – the girl – whose eyes radiated love and innocence, and her voice was like the breeze, she could sing, I can still sometimes hear her voice, hanging in the air around me, like it did then, her pretty voice would be floating around in the air as she sang, with every high pitch it was like a soothing gust through the greens, then slowing down to a breeze, and like that it would hover in the surroundings till her daily practice got over.
I would everyday be waiting for her on top of the hill at the far end of our village, and she would come everyday, and we would chat and dream, endlessly, fantasies were easy to conjure, magic was created, genies would fulfill our wishes, time would stop, or go faster – as we wished – and future would be decided, imaginations soared, as our make-belief world lied on the other side of the hill, how our wooden house would look, how our pet dog would help keep the sheep together and in position, how she would sing for me everyday after I returned from work, how our life would be filled with love, joy and warmth, and such magical nights continued, until we were sixteen, and it all culminated into that one particular night when we saw a silhouette, against the last pyres burning of the afternoon Sun, on top of the hill, beyond which was supposed to lie my and Noor’s world of fantasies and happiness, and we watched how from that one silhouette was born a hundred, a thousand more silhouettes, and they came towards us, at an adagio pace, but there was speed in them, tremendous speed, I could feel it.
I still have goosebumps whenever I think of that fateful evening, as they slowly advanced towards us, Noor and I just stood there, seeing the storm approaching, after a while we could only see a cloud of smoke, like a tornado, coming slowly towards us, it was a sight of destruction, wicked, yet great, we could now see the men on horseback, their swords held up in their hands pointing towards the dark blue skies, and just before we were about to get thrown away, or cut apart, or perhaps sucked in that great wall spelling ruination, Noor had hugged me, and we squatted on the grass, our faces covered in each others arms, my ear still rings that shrill voice of Noor, shouting at the top of her voice, as I felt a tremor around me, like the sound of battle drums, a hundred such drums beating to Noor’s shrill tone, we had just sat there, tightly holding each other, as if we were falling down, or rather would fall off into the vastness of the dark unknown if we let go of each other, my head was going round.
I lost the ability to think or reason, Noor’s voice had gone numb, or maybe she had stopped shouting, or was it that I had gone deaf for a couple of minutes, I do not know, but I know this much, that too young Hindu Pakistanis, had sat in each others warmth throughout the demolition of an entire town, and when the earth had stopped shaking around me, when my ear could hear again, when my nostrils could smell smoke, and when my sixth sense sensed the end of the tumultuous masque, I had opened my eyes, it was a blurry vision at first, but as my tears completed their round of flow, and I could see clearly again, what I saw was – again – magic, the city had changed its face, entirely, like some great philosopher had cast a spell of destruction over the entire settlement, and then I looked at Noor, she was fast asleep on my lap, her tears had dried on her cheeks leaving white marks there.
I had carried her on my lap through the demolished town which had been buzzing with life and elan just a day back, all that happiness and life seemed so very obsolete, like some long lost dream, but never really lost, all the joy and peace was removed and substituted by wreckage and fire, I saw war and killings, blood and fire, dead bodies of several known faces, the faces that were happy and smiling last time I had seen them were now white and expressionless, some had their intestines dangling out of their body like some unwound bloody spring, someone’s brain had burst out of his skull, their legs bent at an impossible angle, while someone else had his organs fighting to rip their skin apart like a child bored of the dullness of the womb.
We were seen by the villagers and they had taken us with them, they were all leaving, there was nothing left, everything that we had was either looted or burnt and we were left to make our way to the newly freed country of India, although our Bade Buda, the great grandfather – whose age was rumored to be more than a hundred years, and whose origin was known to none, but it was whispered that he had founded this village for the many homeless and identity-less people like himself – had decided to stay back and face the wrath of the newly born Muslim state than to end his days in nostalgia of the lost.
We needed another such village then, we were again reduced to nomads, the homeless who knew where they had to go, the jobless who knew where to find work, the impoverished who knew where where to find food; and all of this was available, at least they gave us hope that we would get all that we had ever wanted, in this big grand land called India, which was on the opposite side of our magic hill, beyond which lied our wooden tenement, our horde of sheep, our safe and sound life, our peace, our dreams, and we headed towards some unknown destiny. Among the regret of what was lost, and the excitement of the cliffhanger, the many waifs made their way to the known rumors of the unknown truth.
I left my homeland, with Noor, and like the many naujawans of the time, who had crossed the border into India, and amidst the chaos and tumult of who’s who and what’s what and where’s where, Noor and I were each others only support. Then one day the fire that broke out due to some idiot smoker’s burning bidi been thrown away at some pile of clothes, the already erratic situation in the refugee camp reached a new level, and within that sea of people, somewhere, somehow, two sweaty palms, trying hard to not let go of each other, failed, and they drifted apart, so far, in that small area, that they could never get the warmth of each others’ touch again in their life so long.
Sometimes I still think of her, and I know that there are almost no chances of us meeting again, but I just wanted her to know that I have been doing a lot of thinking lately, and that I still miss her, I know after all these days, I have always missed her. I had tried to find her, in the refugee camp, always I have craved for her company, be it during my short stay at a Gurudwara in Chandigarh, or my working days as a peon in Delhi, I cannot think of a single night when I did not miss her, and then when I started my own business in Lucknow, and then in Kolkata, every night I had come back to bed, tired, my whole crying for rest, but I could not sleep.
I grew insomniac, and I realized that when you are suffering from insomnia, you are never really asleep, nor are you awake, you are always in a trance, dreaming, contemplating about those transparent lakes and white mountains and green valleys and blue skies and breathy music. Today I am an old man, living a bachelor’s life, managing my own business in a foreign land, with alien people of unknown customs and weird traditions and food, I do not belong here, I want to go back to my place, to those fields, and beyond the fields, the mountains, to my Noor, to my village. I have no reasons to regret, because all the rumors have been true, all that was promised has been fulfilled, this country has given me food to eat, and air to breath, she has nestled me like her own child, but I am, at the end, not your breed.
I just want to say that I miss them, my land and my people, especially Noor, I, just, miss them. It’s so strange to think that there was someone, and some lands that I knew so well, is now a total stranger to me, most of the time I implore my tired and sleepless brain to forget, because that is easier, but then I find something, some old memory lying deep inside at a corner of my heart, and I get years younger, as I feel a surge of bliss, which makes me realize that there never had been any reason in my life, in the way I lived, but off late, I perceive that everything that has occurred are all just mere effects of many particular causes.
And that is good, because today, I am still alive and earning my own bread. I hope everything is good there, in Pakistan, and Noor is happy somewhere, I hope everything is great, but a small part of me also hopes, that those days come back to my taciturn life, those carefree and causeless and distant days, and we can at last hold hands and walk those magic fields again, be happy again, sleep under the stars, feel the coolness of the night, untangle the mysteries of the unknown through our imaginations, and set up our wooden cottage on that side of our mystic mountain, let me control the horde of sheep, and against the dying lights of the day, as the valleys and mountains and skies would be painted in sepia, your voice would play with the winds and as darkness would descend we would be lost in our own little world of fantasies, away, far away from the madding crowds’ ignoble strife ruling this crazy world.