Jhelum – A short story
As the night held her empty thoughts to be planted far off on the burning stars, Sheen’s sojourn with the dark night was snapped by the call from her father. “Sheena, Sheena” rippled through her mind like an old watermill brought to life by a sudden flow of water and in a voice that sounded robotically real, her obvious “Aayas Abba (coming Dad)” burst through her dry lips. Her father, a senior advocate, with drained eyes and ragged hair, gave the look of a defeated man, envying death. The house located on the bank of famous Jhelum river smelled of pine and lilies which ran alongside the entrance and all the corners of the house respectively – left to the care of Bhara, a house servant from Bihar, to be trimmed and tamed.
“You look weary”. Mohammad Dilawar, Sheen’s father, asked her.
“No Abba, just…” Sheen hesitated and continued “just a little sleepy”.
“Have you packed your stuff?” Dilawar asked.
“Stuff!” Sheen replied with an air of alarm and uncertainty.
“We are moving to Srinagar for some time; your Khala must have told you?”
“No… but why Abba?” Sheen’s voice seemed rough and shaky.
“It is ….” Dilawar hesitated too, searched for words and could only manage, “We need to move”.
“But how can we leave now!”Sheen sanely replied.
“I don’t know how, but we have to”.
Sheen seemed to have been shaken and continued to argue with her father as she had never before. She did not want to move out of her house, not at all. She felt utterly devastated and Dilawar fully knew what she meant. But, he also knew that they had to leave and that there was a cure.
That night Sheen could hardly sleep, it was not only the case of having to leave her house, but the added misery was that she had to get into a car, which she had not done from the past four years and which was highly painful for her – not because it would bore her, but that it would break her. The very idea of getting into a car or a bus brought all those phantoms flashing past her eyes which she, her mother and many mothers and daughters had been prey to –ripped, shamed and killed. Oh, I forgot to tell you that her mother had died some four years ago; yes died, because she was raped, yes raped, because she was a Kashmiri – it is as easy as unwrapping the 5-star chocolate, tearing, eating and throwing off the wrapper. Yes, it was on that fateful evening, like other fateful evenings and on that damned bus, like other damned buses, travelling from Srinagar to Sopore, that the boots broke the bodies and the guns stained the silence.
Sheen’s head rested upon her mother’s shoulder while they were returning home after having attended the marriage ceremony of their relatives in Srinagar when all of a sudden the wheels of the bus screeched vehemently and came to a halt. The patrolling unit upon seeing the bus had shouted and waved the driver to stop – the bus did stop, but only a few meters forward to where they had intended. This infuriated the party so much that they fired a volley of bullets that tore the glass, the flesh, and the bone. The screams outdid the roar of the guns and invited further fury. The forces entered the bus, killed the men including the driver and dragged out the women that had survived. Both Sheen and her mother had survived, but only to be left pleading for death. One elderly woman, two middle-aged women (including Sheen’s mother), Sheen (aged fifteen then) and two little girls (aged between eight to ten) – raped; mother in front of her daughter, a grandmother in front of her granddaughter – all raped. Raped and dead! The dead are lucky, but not Sheen. She had survived and God knows why!
Sheen’s father, who wore a long and undecorated pheran (a long woolen gown) – probably to hold and hide a bosom full of dirty wounds – always seemed to search the ceiling for unknown demons and slay them with his watery eyes. Though he loved his Sheen far greater than anything else, alas, she was a constant reminder too –a reminder of everything else that can make you a living corpse.
The morning wore on and seemed as usual dull and meaningless, devoid of life and warmth. Dilawar called twice, but Sheen managed to respond only at the third call and then appeared shortly.
“You are not ready yet? We need to leave”
“I am perfectly ready Abba Jaan, We must leave” Sheen replied while surveying herself up and down. She was wearing the same clothes as she had worn yesterday. There was nothing new to her, except an added eagerness to leave. Probably the demons had fled and left her to haunt other Sheen’s! O’ God she felt so free!
She didn’t stutter at the sight of the car as she used to, but easily got into the car and waited for her father to accompany and drive her to … did she know where? Probably she did!
Dilawar got into the driving seat, turned the key and the engine roared. Sheen again didn’t panic and now probably understood the difference between the roar of the gun and the roar of the engine. Or was it that she now didn’t care! The wheels screeched, not to halt as they had on that fateful day, but to rapidly shoot forward their way, heading Jhelum–the river that holds horrible secrets. Holding each other’s sight in the front mirror, they steered the car through the frames of time, the hours of honor – meeting shame and greeting death.
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