Author: Saadut
•8:26 PM

The presence of military fatigues was overwhelming across the city and a return to home for those Kashmiri’s who left for the daily grind was guaranteed no more. Mehraj , a tall man of fair complexion and a longish face worked as a carpenter at a construction site on eastern shores of the Dal Lake, near Nishat. Would start early to commute to work from his residence in Downtown Srinagar, transverse via the interiors of the lake to avoid the main roads where many days back one of his friends had been picked up by forces and was yet to return home.

The spring sun had risen early on this Thursday, life returns early to the lake after the freeze of the winter chill has faded past. He had been working on this construction site for the past two months after being out of work for pretty long. Thursdays in Kashmir are the weekly wages disbursement time for the basic worker class, and Mehraj had not availed his weekly wages for the past three weeks, hoping to save and take home enough to pay for some of the debt accumulated during his no-work periods, and some to pay for his daughters school ‘new term’ fees. From a family of skilled craftsmen, who had specialized in making those beautiful ‘kahatmband’ ceilings, Mehraj would now take any odd carpentry job as a human survival necessity. During the lean periods when work was scarce and the number of feeding stomach many, necessity had become a luxury.

This was one of those few days that Mehraj had reveled in the beauty of the early morning lake, been enchanted by the different hues of azure, green or blue that the sunlight had majestically created in these waters. When the heart is happy, the world seems beautiful.
At work the day seemed to be winding into endlessness, on the rooftop of the construction site where Mehraj was working, even the spring sun seemed to burn like the summer furnace. Today he wanted the day to end fast, for the evening to close in briskly, for this Thursday to lighten his debt, to open the doors of a school for the little girl back home.

The sun was embracing the western mountains, a golden glow fast receding over the horizon and the work day had come to an end. Mehraj tucked away the ‘three weeks’ of wages in his inner waistcoat, into a pocket that felt close over his skin. Thursdays he used to take along his bag of carpentry tools from the work site to his home, just in case any odd work landed on the Friday weekly holiday. Retracing his steps back home, he was trying to march but his steps seemed unable to match his desired pace. Multitudes of thoughts were running parallel in his mind, about how many of his priorities would be able to squeeze within the waist coat inner pocket that clung close to his skin, about the waiting faces back home, about lost smiles.  From the eastern shores of the lake ran the big water pipes, centrally across the breadth of the lake and ended right into the city. On these water pipes by the shores of the lake, men in fatigues were seen in the evening. A posse of gun wielding uniforms had spread across some part of the road, their vehicles lay parked in a cluster closeby. Locals were being stopped and quizzed randomly, and Mehraj was next

“Kya naam hai?”              “Jinaab Mehraj”,
“kahan thaa?”                 “Jinaab kaam pe”,
“Kya karta tha’a wahan”  “Jinaab baam lagata thaa makan pe”

It was only after almost 20 days that Mehraj was released and came back home, crushed to pulp, battered, stripped, demolished and bed ridden.

Debt had grown behemothic; the gates of school for the little girl still closed and for many years to come there were no hands for his tools.

31st December 2011

Legend: ‘Baam’ in Kashmiri is a part of the roof
“Khatamband’ is a ceiling of geometrical designs made of wood by master craftsmen   from Kashmir

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