A Deep Fissure – A story of love and loss
Their story of love was a secret one. Shafiq was handsome, most gregarious; made ‘naz’ by his presence. She a beauty, a recluse.
Exactly nine years past from today some fifty students from our college located on the outskirts of our hometown, Pulwama, were severely injured by pellets. A number of girls were rendered unconscious. But a more appalling thing happened that day. Something that would dramatically change our lives to come. Besides it amputated each of us. Left deep fissures inside.
It was one fine day of spring when the green grass of the lawns of the college had sprouted full. The clouds like freshly harvested cotton, were making shapes on the bluest skies, shapes we would make lions and Santa, come out from, in our childhood. It was the best sunny day one could wish for. The contrast it created, to come out of things, was magical. The things that always lied around seemed alive. The grass was greener. The fence looked rustier. The broken bricks that lied in a heap in a corner of the lawn were beautifully crimson. The dew drops on the grass were yet to be annihilated by the sun.
The three of us, me, Sajid and Shafiq were plucking the grass that had grown taller, talking about how Fritjof Schuon could have written on Sufism. Shafiq was not much into this. He usually wouldn’t delve into our discussions much. However sometimes when he would speak up, he would nail it out of his crude common sense and real life experiences. He didn’t like our abstractions. He would always jokingly say, “you two always have ideas about everything.” We called him G. K. Chesterton.
Each of us was looking for four leaved clovers. In our lives however Shafiq had found one. He had found his love. He had chosen the third leaf of it. He never was aware of the intricacies of finding and preserving the first, that of faith. Sajid and me were yet struggling to find our first and that drove us to reading from Richard Dawkin to Iqbal to Nietzche and to Schuon. Because we were looking for the clovers. Evidently, we, like every tender soul were yet to be convicted of the murder of The Stranger and so were yet to come with terms to anything. But we already had the fourth, the leaf of hope and the story of the last leaf was to be narrated by time itself.
Sajid was more like me. Or maybe not. He was more passionate to know The Truth. I remember him explaining to me the Information loss paradox that once had really troubled Hawking and his peers, on our first meeting. It troubled him equally and that troubled me even more at that moment. In no time Shafiq got up and went to the gate. Since a day before he hadn’t seen Sehrish. An army vehicle had came into the college premises and had disrupted the whole day. He warned that there are army vehicles standing near the gate on the bend of the road. Worried, he said, “I too would resort to throwing stones. If they came in today”. He was from the town and knew some the stone-pelters and had spent some time with them, some of whom were in the college too. But as a person he was open to us. We often told him those guys threw stones for sport. He would get a bit angry on that and would remark, “What would one do when the person very immediate to him is killed.” He would humorously say, “What sport can we play when even the playgrounds are occupied by the army”. He had known many boys who would turn to be militants later.
I remember Hashim. We used to be in school together. He would read out the news in Urdu after the morning prayer at the school. He loved Urdu novels and he loved me to read them to him. We would read them stealthily in the recess time. His uncle was an aalim from Darul Aloom Nadwa and had a very nice collection of books – Hashim had told me. Hashim would sneak one in his bag. We were in the 9th standard then. I remember the first novel we read was Naseem Hijazi’s Insaan aur Devta. Once we got our hands on a collection of erotic and disturbing short stories too. We were not sure what to feel. They looked very dark to us. But anyway we would read from them. They happened to be the smallest book in the collection and could be easily concealed.
For his 10th standard he Hashim was transferred to a missionary school. During our 12th standard we attended coaching classes together. He regularly joined the dars-e-quran after the Asr prayers in the mosque near our coaching centre. He started growing his beard, short and carelessly trimmed, one which would be called a Jamaet daed. When we were in college in our first year. His house in Karimabad, a village from where many young men had took up arms, would be regularly raided, every one or the other day. One harsh winter evening his sisters and mother were made to stand barefoot in the snow while he and his father were beaten by the army, accompanied by the local police. They were asked to inform about the militants from their village. His family was terrorized and fearful that they will kill Hashim one day, the only boy in their family, if they declined to comply.
That night he decided to be a rebel. He went to be with the Hizb-ul- Mujahideen, a militant group that was of the same religio-political ideology as his. He was killed just a year after. That night I along with many from our village went to his home. The lawns were full with people. Everyone holding torches and mobile phones in their hands; his home was dazzling with brightness. When his body was brought home everyone went in frenzy to touch his face just for once. He was like a Bridegroom. I envied of him that day, but the idea of being killed terrified me. Everyone would say he is a shaheed; he is alive. But when i saw him from a distance. He looked simply dead.
In the starting of the novel Insan aur Devta, the lead character, becomes a rebel helping a people fight against the oppression of his own people, and unexpectedly dies very soon. It would be his son, decades later, who would unite them and gather an army of rebels under his command. Hashim like the character, he once loved very much, died a sudden death.
Shafiq got up and went to the stationary shop which was midway between the college entrance and the administrative block. Everyday he would like to see her at least once. He very rarely talked to her in the college. “One reaches the stage of Ishq-e-haqiqi through Ishq-e-majazi. Shafiq is yet in the former”, Sajid would say. “She also doesn’t know much”, I would respond.
Shafiq and I had joined the college together. On the very first day we saw her sitting in the class where the English classes were to be held. We entered in the class along with the teacher who was to teach us. Along with other students Sehrish too stood up, adjusting her dupatta that had slightly came down from her head. She had that golden brownish silky hair any dupatta couldn’t resist sliding from. How both lucky and unlucky all her dupattas were! A strand of her hair had just came over her face. She looked surreal to me. She had the face, I would imagine looking at the full moon covered with the fabric of clouds and those rosy curves over that waxy one.
She was a Sociology Honors student. I liked her on that very first day. Shafiq too liked her. He told me once after that. He was sure of that. At that time I wasn’t sure if I did. Sometime later, when Shafiq began to have some conversations with her, I too hit a conversation and asked her if she had heard of R. K. Merton to which she said, “No”. “You a sociologist of science, you don’t know him!” I asked her again. Well, she didn’t. I could talk to her no more. I couldn’t stand along with them when Shafiq would very rarely meet her. I didn’t like her being to herself. She couldn’t talk of anything. Or if at times she would, it would be just about trivial things. She could never relate anything of her. I sort of disliked her for being able to love Shafiq and not being able to once give an affectionate look to someone else, rather particularly to me. My infatuation of her didn’t decrease, however. I would dream of her.
She was standing on the peak most forlorn among the smaller ones in the greyish green infinite stretch; looking towards it with her head held high. Her face was brighter than usual. Her lips content with the smile. Arms lift very slightly; she didn’t look lost into the sight. It was a strange place, gloomy, but I like her was at peace with everything. Her creamish silky robes, stretched and spreaded, covered the peak behind her. She looked calm and content. The soft wind hugged her, like it had lifted her off from the ground. I slowly walked towards her not sure whether to do so. She looked towards me as if she expected me only. She turned but just remained there. I walked to her. I felt like gliding. As I was near, she lift her arms and put her hands on my shoulders. I gently put my arms around her waist. She indeed was above the ground and now so was I. She put her fingers on my lips.That was the last I dreamed of her.
Shafiq came running towards us. “The army has entered in”, he shouted to us. We got up. We were distant from the road. Boys were running from the vehicles, stopping at a distance, turning back, then waiting for the vehicles to come closer and running again; turning back again. We were just running along the vehicles at a distance and angling closer. Shafiq was on the road. He seemed very confused what to do, whether to jump over the fence between the road and the lawn or just stay there. He kept his eyes fixed at the personnel on top of the larger vehicle with a gun in his hand ready to fire. Shafiq fixed his eyes on him as if expecting him to open a fire on him anytime he looked away from his face. He hopped left and right, fixed at one place. Some young boys had come running after the vehicles. They were at a distance. As the vehicles proceeded. The students on both sides of the road started pacing up after the vehicles. The vehicles passed Shafiq and stopped near the administrative block. Some personnel came out of the vehicles and started vandalizing everything. With their batons they broke the glasses of cars parked there, shouting and asking who had pelted stones on their vehicle the day before.
Suddenly students came out of the buildings and gathered around the vehicles terrified at what was happening. A stone came from nowhere and hit one of the vehicles. More personnel came out of their vehicles with their shields abusing everyone around, beating the students around, chasing them aback. Suddenly that made everyone furious. A wave of boys erupted and they threw whatever they could get a hold of towards the personnel.” yeki ha chey kani”(here are the stones).
Sajid pointed me to the side of the road having gathered some in both if his hands. I got surprised by his gesture. I was not sure what to do. These were just pebbles. A bit further away a small heap of stones laid. It was perhaps meant to be used for the payment to the library that would always be covered with mud. I just gathered some pebbles still hesitant enough. The first retaliation was not effective. But the guys with stones came just a moments afterward and the army personnel receded. I couldn’t believe my eyes what I was witnessing. I strongly fell drawn into it. Some five to six pellet fires were shot towards us. Two of the students got severely hurt on their legs. They fell to the ground, screaming for help. Some boys quickly lift them up, while others surrounding them, with their backs turned towards the personnel as if they were sure that they too could be hit and they just were preventing their eyes from being pierced. They had learnt much.
Infuriated by this, another strong offensive was launched on the personnel and the vehicles. Some of them suddenly got into their vehicles. The vehicles started turning around in front of the administrative block. Some students meantime had gathered stones, carried them to the upper floors of the administrative block. They started targeting the vehicles from above. Few of the personnel hit pellets into the building and hurled teargas shells in. Some of them meantime launched a strong offensive to let the vehicles turn, firing teargas shells and pellets towards us. Some kali-kharab (insanely brave as anyone doing anything like this would be later called) slipped from a side and kicked the smaller vehicles with such blows that one among them almost tipped to the side. But the personnel with their batons hit them hard. Just as all the vehicles turned, boys who were behind turned up furiously not allowing the vehicles to leave. The vehicles were halted. We gathered some stones and ran behind. I gathered some stones too. I wanted to aim the one who was at the top of the large vehicle. His upper part of the body was out of the vehicle. He was shielded by a roof from above, a part of the vehicle. The mere presence of him terrified me. They still do. Those Frankenstein’s monsters – a result of the Indian experiments with democracy in Kashmir. Struggling to live with their families but shunned in a far-off land where they could never be accepted or assimilated. As I drew back my arm to aim at him, something hit me from behind. I didn’t know what happened after.
When I gained consciousness, Sehrish was standing near my bed. I was astonished. She didn’t smile at me. She never had. She went to inform the nurse that I had gained consciousness. I tried to hold her hand. The adrenaline rush that I had went through made me just unaware of what I was trying to do. I suddenly realized the fuss that was happening around. The ward was full with people. Boys and girls from the college, elder men and women. Nothing made sense. I was totally confused but what I just longed for was Sehrish to come back. I tried to get up but my head had been wounded badly and it ached. I looked left and right there were many casualties all from the college. On two beds left and right to me there were two girls on breathers. Sehrish came back with a nurse, who checked on me. She told her to be with me for a while and with a precarious grin advised me not to talk much. Sehrish asked me about Shafiq and Sajid. I thought they would be alright. Besides I didn’t want to talk about them to her at that moment.
In the most annoying voice I have ever heard, “kamis taam Shafiqs chi aamich kalas guel. Dapan su mud tati.” (someone by the name of Shafiq has been shot in head – they said he died on the spot) these words came from somewhere and reverberated. The sudden imagination of that monster came to me. I looked towards Sehrish. She transformed into a stone and fell on the floor.
Today, exactly nine years from that day, we are getting married, Sehrish and I. She is equally beautiful. Will she put her fingers on my lips?
‘Naz’ is an Urdu word that I feel cannot be translated in a few words. Technically this means “pride or arrogance,” but it’s a very specific kind. Naz means the confidence you feel because you know that someone loves you. It’s the self-esteem boost that comes along with being someone’s object of affection and desire. Someone has described it like this, “Sometimes it feels daunting to be put on a pedestal but sometimes it just feels damn validating. Naz describes the latter.”
The title is inspired from a title of another story, Andrim Zarb, by Mushtaq Ahmad Mushtaq from his collection of short stories in Kashmiri titled Yeth Wawi Hali.
(Author is pursuing post graduation in Physics from Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)