Author: Saadut
•9:15 PM

At the starting corner of the lane that split out right from the downhill road was this four storied old house. Made of old ‘half a size’ bricks that fitted closely in a pattern and latticed windows with small stained glass, it was home to many families of Kashmir Pandits. With a rusted iron roof, this old structure stood quietly overlooking the mohalla square. A mud and rock wall bordering it ended by the old wooden door that creaked and opened with some effort, leading to a barren mud baked courtyard. On the fourth floor of this cluttered house lived my mathematics teacher, my tuitions of evenings became a journey of sorts from here. The Mathematics professor took fewer and small groups of tuitions, not more than 4 or 5; more often than not it had Muslim students.

A low entrance door on the ground floor lead to an old narrow staircase that wound up to small and dimly lit rooms. The professor’s family had three rooms of this house, three and a half to be precise. The room on the top floor overlooking the square had the ‘dubb’, a wooden extension that gave more space (dub could be seen somewhat a cross between a porch and a Rajasthani Jarokha). This room was the kitchen and the sitting room combined, divided by a half wooden partition in between; we sat by the first partition where the professor used to enjoy his ‘kho’ess’ full of tea during sessions of learning. A family of three, the professor had a beautiful daughter, who we never dared to see in the face or talk about; the sanctity of teacher – student relation was adhered to by us in totality. Form a learned family, our professor’s other brother was also into education, an English professor known to resemble a famous movie star of his years, lived in a separate house next lane.

Mushtaq and I studied together in this group and even though were not from the same school (I had come from boarding & he studied locally), became best buddies. Mushtaq would take out his shoes outside the ground floor low entrance only; some of us would carry them to inside where the professor also had his pairs kept. My pairs soon joined Mushtaq’s outside the ground floor main door, part of his code of teacher house ethics.

Two bends down main road near the govt boys school was the post office. The road widened here to narrow again ahead, and it was here that Mushtaq leant of this Pandit bully lad, who had been troubling the professor, his imputations that reeked of viciousness. One of those occasions when the professor passed that way and we witnessed the bully at his wily ways, Mushtaq and I confronted him. For all the ‘bully’ that this Pandit lad was worth, he stood no ground before us and fled. We thought he was done with, but he was not. The fox won’t try conviction & bravery but will attempt deceit. The ‘paper bully’ tried provoking the local milkman’s son, a strong wide bodied young man with a flat nose known to throw his weight around, against us but unsuccessfully.

Next day afternoon during tuitions for the first time ever tea was offered to us by the professor. Aroma that had always tinged me during learning sessions of complex theorems was finally conquered, the ‘kho’ess’ of tea was briefly in my hand.

It was a bleak winter morning that had cast barricades over a curfewed night, January clouds gathered ferociously across Kashmir. In many places even the Muezzin has gone silent, his Azaan muted by a petrified quiet. Days barely passed, lengthened by their own shadows, time had no course to escape. By one of these evenings I juggled by the inner lanes, crisscrossing bolted doors and sobs of a terrified population. Over a dirt filled track which had not been cleaned for days, I crossed over the square being placed right in front of the old four storied house. I was all alone confronting the brutal emptiness that blew like the tundra wind in my face, Mushtaq had since taken to sleep (Mushtaq died, shot by security forces near hawal while he was coming out from his classes). Confronted by an intriguing noiselessness, the old house stood like a lifeless monolith, occasionally only disturbed by the hum of overhead wires. Everybody was gone and soullessness had taken over. On the top floor, an old latticed window by the ‘dubb’ was creaking, hung in stillness of time. Had the window been left unlatched by the fleeing owners as the only sign of a lifeless existence or was it trying to break free from the bonds of this reluctant lull? I kept searching for souls, for voices in this forced insipidness, but in vain.

Many years later on one of my autumn vacations from college, I was revisiting this place (my family had long ago shifted (migrated?) from these habitations in that coerced winter chill, to city suburbs, nocturnal flights of a conflict land). In the faint sundown golden glow, the monolith structure stood as lifeless as could be. The creaking latticed window of the ‘du’bb’ remained no more, perhaps blown away by the winds of desolation; a philosophical interpretation could be ‘it finally managed a union with its fleeing souls’. The rusted iron roof had caved in, no longer able to sustain the burden of neglect in this conflict. When human lives become collateral, skies are known to have collapsed in torment and twinge.

I stood there still and frozen in infinite turbulence. Deep inside I heard the professor asking me to redo the mathematical theorem, I heard him praise Mushtaq for his efforts and hard work. I could see the glee of his daughter running down the old stair case, his wife by the kitchen corner stove and the latticed window open by the professor’s side. It soon rained, outside and within me; the skies had opened up. Time and apathy had swept ruin to homes of Kashmir and time like sand slips from our hands even before we realize it.

The burden of our relentless wounds far overweighs our human capacity to heal. With the unsparing conflict tornado unleashed by political proxies fuelled to further cull, defile, deprave and oppress;  when will we all heal?

10th July, 2012