As I sat on her lap I realized that I was living my dream. The green grass and the clear blue sky echoing with the voice of stream intensified my love for my beloved soul mate. As time stood still for me in this enchanting paradise, I tried opening my eyes to come to senses. Wounded, Hurt and Bleeding. I was unable to recapitulate my last engagement as I found myself lying in an abandoned and besmirched street. I could hear the rats calling for more of its friends as I tried to fend them away from my blood stained shirt with the help of pebbles lying nearby. The requiem song played inside my hollow mind with illusory images of angels blistering inside my mind.
Zubaida. I had to meet her, she could be in grave danger, as my mind commanded my body to act but the strength inside me dwindled to a void as I got up to walk. With a partially damaged arm and a bruised body I resembled a walking dead. As I tried to blast through the deserted alley, my memory refreshed, I remembered talking on the cell phone to Zubaida. The child weeping as she laid her into the cradle. How I promised her to be home this weekend after a fortnight of stay in Saudi Arabia. Promises are really meant to be broken, I affirmed myself to this truth of life as I hastened my steps. With every stride my limb lambasted the shin-bone tearing away the life inside me in a jiffy. My tear glands ran so dry that they could not even account for some extra water work!!!
After walking a few meters the vision became clearer but the biting cold took a toll over me. The danger of succumbing to the Kashmiri winter was even greater than that of facing the fires of hell. The wise sages of India had always considered the atma to be a wanderer in nature and the ultimate peace or trance laid only with the communion of atma with the Supreme Lord. I knew that I was about to reach this abstract realm as life blew farther away from me with every breath. I perceived my sands of time to be ending and that too quickly. Reminiscing my days with Zubaida was the only source of energy for my battered soul.
With every step my body felt lighter and my soul seemed to fade into oblivion. The heart pumped only to seek union with Zubaida subsequently shielding me from the continuous chilly winds emanating from the magnanimous Himalayas. Finally, as I proceeded out of the labyrinth of alleys I found myself a few steps away from a house which was dimly lit. It was too late in the night to ascertain at first sight whether anyone occupied the household. As nature released all its fury over my diminishing strength I ultimately surrendered to the will of Allah.
The communion achieved but only at the doorstep of Mr. Mehta, Professor of Psychology at Srinagar University. I barely made it to the entrance of the secluded place and thereafter I fell. My collapse resembled the thumping sound of warrior elephants engaging in the battle of the millennium. As the door opened my vision faded into darkness; an infinite tunnel with no light at its end.
As I regained consciousness, I found myself in an unknown precinct. With absolutely no memory of how I ended here, I tried to check for all my valuables. They were missing. Panicking, I almost jumped out of my bed. My bruised arm was bandaged and I found myself in a gown. Reassuring, that I was not made in trouble. As I rested my head against the pillow, I saw an aged man walk towards me from the other end of the room. He brought me green tea and aspirin.
Introducing himself as Mr. Mehta, he informed me that I almost died last night due to the injuries and how he found me on his doorstep. As he cared for me I comforted myself in his presence. He also told me that he knew the basics of nursing and therefore was able to provide me with immediate first aid. I was ashamed from within for doubting the malafide intention of Mr. Mehta, I shook my head in shame. I requested him to let me call my wife. Pointing towards the desk I saw a cell phone being charged. After racking my brain, I punched in the phone number.
“The number you have dialed is either not reachable or switched off. Please try again later.” All my efforts to call Zubaida were in vain. Being a professor of psychology, he advised me to investigate into the sub-conscious mind to recollect the chain of events prior to the “Great Fall”. Realizing the power of mind to answer the labyrinth of the unknown, I started to recall the happenings one by one. He dragged a chair from across the room and sat down with a pen and paper in his hand just like a psychiatrist.
The flight wasn’t long but the journey seemed tiresome. As the flight landed on the airport I hurried past the security, to reach for the fresh air of my homeland, and I decided to have a walk to the nearby market to get Zubaida some seewanyi from Kamran Bhai’s store which was her one of the favorites. Even great miles seem few steps when you walk with complete devotion of your loved one. Surprisingly, most of the shops were closed but then also I decided to look for the seewanyi. My cognitive faculties intervened through this emotive disposition upon realizing the substantial loss of time and destination.
Unable to find the desired shop I tried to rescue myself from the unwanted crowd of people in and around me and subsequently in a fit of anxiety I entered a small pathway which apparently seemed to me as a way out. Seeing a dead end again, I turned back towards the busy market place only to find three tall, dark and rough males staring directly at me and confining my egress.
“What is a guy nicely dressed as yourself doing in a grim alley as this?”
At that very instant I knew that misfortune is about to visit me and these people wore bandanas with the impression of Jai Mata Di, which is a eulogy for Goddess Durga who is the Destroyer of Evil. The moment I identified myself as Rehan they raged an epic cyclone of anger against me. Thrashing me mercilessly and repeatedly, my cries for mercy fell on deaf ears. I heard them cursing, “You Muslim ra**als are polluting our motherland. You don’t deserve a life, in this country. Die you son of a bi*ch.”
Squirming in excruciating agony, I began to lose my consciousness gradually. They picked me up, robbed me of whatever possessions I had and after looting me I heard something which distressed me even before it materialized. I heard one of them saying, “Let’s do him. Teach him a lesson for a lifetime. Sodomize him.”
As the other two held me, the leader started unzipping his pants. Scared to the core, I wished for Allah to embrace me in his arms before it is made impure by this gruesome act. Allah-oh-Akbar. As I lost my faith in the Almighty, I closed my eyes to the world around me and surrendered my soul and body to the will of Allah. Suddenly I heard the sirens blazing and the sound came nearer every second. One after the other a conclave of police vehicles passed by and many government vehicles were accompanied by them. The Chief Minister was on his way back to Srinagar from the airport.
As a phalanx of soldiers passed along the way at some distance, the thugs decided to leave my mutilated body as it was and decided not to annihilate my remaining spirit and flesh. Devastated and Shattered. Even though the pain was unbearable, I believed myself to reach a stage where I felt absolutely nothing. Consistent branding of a specific emotion makes you immune to it. I was invulnerable to pain, trauma, agony, the perfect stage of what I term as miserable tranquility.
Psychologists listen. And Mr. Mehta stood the test of his profession. Carefully listening to everything he revised all that he had written and revealed something which shattered the ground beneath my feet. Mr. Mehta stood up, lighted his cigarette and informed me of the recent events in Srinagar. Leaning over the window sill the sunlight lit up his ripened face and he began to unfold a story which explained why I was victimized last night.
A Muslim peasant family was murdered and burned alive by the thugs of a rich Hindu landlord. The landlord was a Kashmiri Pundit who tendered loans to many and since the debtor, who was a Muslim laborer, could not pay-off the loan on time, he had to pay-off the debt with his life. The Muslim community reacted to the crime, killing a member of the Pundits, sparking off a riot in Srinagar.
On learning about the chain of events leading to a riot, I comprehended as to why those three people chose to attack me. I realized how generous he had been by sheltering a Muslim in a Hindu house during the riots. Truly, he was an angel in disguise for me. I was well aware of the consequences which he could have suffered on account of harboring a Muslim during these tumultuous days.
Curious to know about his family I enquired about his wife and children. He said that his wife suffered from breast cancer and his son had deserted him after his marriage; the case prevalent with most of the hereditary Kashmiri Pundits. After a brief chat, I asked him if I could call Zubaida. Mr. Mehta told me that the phone lines were dead but he could get me to Zubaida if I could provide him with an address. I wrote the address on a small piece of paper and thereafter, Mr. Mehta gave the chit to his neighbor.
Supposedly, the neighbor was a constable in the local police station and he could provide us with an official police vehicle to reach home. Reunion. The very thought of it enthralled my senses and eased away all the pain endured by me. Continuing my conversation with the psychologist he informed me that curfew is usually imposed at dusk and people have to fight for groceries and therefore we had to leave before dusk. Any act which seemed suspicious was punishable with indefinite imprisonment during such days. Atrocities by the fundamentalists as well as the police authorities were on the rise in wake of the killing of people from both the communities. I reassured myself that Zubaida would be alright and the almighty would be looking after her.
As the afternoon sky soared, the chit came back to Mr. Mehta and he told me that in about an hour, they would be ready to leave in a police vehicle. The house was on the outskirts of Srinagar and probably it would be late in the evening to reach home. As we prepared ourselves for the journey, I flew into a different world altogether thinking of meeting with Zubaida and the baby, Zafar. The very thought of reunion filled me with exuberant energy and joy.
Passing through the streets of Srinagar, all I encountered were policemen and destroyed property; burnt truck tires, remains of explosives and debris. This was the scene of the place so called “Heaven on Earth”. As we proceeded towards the outskirts, the effect of the riots faded into the shade of the trees. Yes, nature accommodates for the violence perpetrated by humans, such is the grace of the unknown. Mr. Mehta, who was seated beside the hefty pot-bellied constable, was a bit distressed by the fact that we ventured to the outskirts of the city with the sun settling down.
As we got down from the vehicle the constable informed us that he had to rush back to the police station as the situation in city seemed volatile. Mr. Mehta and I, proceeded towards the house which was nearly 100 meters away from the edge of the road where the constable had left us. As I hastened my steps to meet my family, I saw Mr. Mehta being left way behind. The joy of meeting your loved ones produces an adrenaline rush which cannot be expressed in words. On entering the house, I found the lock on the door broken and the door was left ajar. This was the first time I stumbled upon the thought of losing my family to the hands of communalism.
Mr. Mehta sensing my anxiety held me back and silently handed me an iron rod which he found lying in the porch. He also armed himself with my old Windsor cricket bat which reminded me of my days as a young lad playing Cricket in gullies of Srinagar. Stealthily, we moved room to room checking for Zubaida and Zafar. With every footstep I could hear my own heart beating so loudly as if it wanted to burst open from my chest. The rooms were disarranged and the furniture were either broken or destroyed. It was a deliberate attempt of vandalizing my home.
As I approached the kitchen, I saw a glimpse of Zubaida’s salwar behind the kitchen platform, she was lying still on the floor. With all my hopes shattering into millions of pieces I rushed towards her. As I held her head in my lap and checked for her breath she was dead. I was late. The corpse did not project any external wounds of signs of struggle but the very fact that she was no more breathing, smiling, laughing, conversing stole the momentary happiness off my face. All I saw was a bluish tint on her face but yet again her death seemed a mystery to me.
Mr. Mehta decided to simply witness the scene and did not attempt to pacify or console me, he knew that the sorrow was inconsolable. The moment devastated me into smithereens and I started blaming myself for the loss. Why was I not on time to save her? Mr. Mehta advised me to not let my grief cloud my rational mind as it deepens the trauma. But his words were of no avail to me. Humans do feel for the loss of their loved ones and I was unable to overcome Zubaida’s sudden loss. The very fact that the smile, the touch and the care is no more there rattled my nerves. My eyes were filled with tears but I couldn’t cry. Why I was unable to cry? Maybe I did not want to believe that she was no more.
As I sobbed I heard the voice which re-instilled my faith in the promises of Life. Zafar, moaning and struggling in pain. As I heard this sound a mad adrenaline rush hurried through my senses and I ran arbitrarily to search for the origin of the melody. The kitchen cabinet was half opened with the baby writhing in pain released a sorrowful melancholy. Seeing the beautiful face of Zafar made me realize that I still have reasons to go on with my life amidst all these tragedies. His tender body resembled the gentleness of the Lotus flowers in the middle of the Dal Lake.
Trying to capture this perfect moment in my mind, I almost unheard Mr. Mehta’s calling. Mr. Mehta in his rough voice called me into the Kitchen. Zubaida was still lying there on the floor. With Zafar in my arms and Zubaida lying dead on the floor the feelings which visited me were surreal. Both the living and the dead generated inside me an unfathomable sentiment which could not be understood. To be mad or to be calm, to feel elated or depressed, to love or hate such questions boggled my mind as I saw everything around me. The Alpha and the Omega coincided at one juncture of time creating an emotion devoid of an emotive appeal. My mind seemed thoughtless, maybe I was in the perfect state of equanimity.
Unable to comprehend the mixed passions Mr. Mehta pointed me out which upturned my calmness into anger. There was a big sign of OM spray painted on the wall in the room adjacent to the Kitchen. Zubaida preferred death by consuming poison than to be victimized but fortunately the baby somehow survived. Hatred for the fundamentalists arose like a strong wave in the ocean inside my heart but then the very sight of Mr. Mehta doused such passions. He helped me throughout the journey regardless of the repercussions which he could face. Not all men are bad but it is our perception about people makes them the way they are. Handing over the child to Mr. Mehta I realized that my Jehad was not far away.
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