Author: Saadut
•8:15 PM

Seen a war ravaged city, overrun by a tempest and then forgotten to ruins? A city, once beautiful now uprooted by the night and cut open like a cadaver to obliteration? My city, on the throes of drowning, yet clinging to life by its threads, looks desolate and devastated like a night zombie that suffocating breathes living but drags half dead by its streets. 

I lost count of the days since these floods came, lost track of time too. Someday I presumed it was still Monday, while the calendar marked a Thursday. There were no reasons to herald a morning for days together, for a city that had not slept for so long now, awake in fright of collapsing homes and missing families, awake in anticipation of the unknown worse, awake because every institution had long gone to sleep, the state being the first to flee. I lost track of time, for it no longer mattered if the hands of clock moved between morning to noon or after it, time had ceased to be the sand of an hour glass, turning into a seemingly unending flow of sinking events, of boats that never came to rescue, of walls that no longer held, of roofs that caved on to families, of water that was enough to drown but not enough to drink, of time that became a tide and kept flowing over us. 

I lost track of identity, of who we were in this melee. Who was I struggling by the shore to wade over what once was a road, a garden, a wall, a bustling street, an embankment that now ceased to divide the river from our homes? Who was I pleading to unknown oarsmen, the boatmen who spoke my language on other days, but turned deaf today, the aliens among us, the herders of luck and life? Who were the ones stuck in homes of deluge, the faceless crestfallen, the marooned without a name tag and class? Who were those brave hearts, running all along water and earth, saving the unknown, un-acquainted, some of who then lost their own life? Did they seek the caste, religion or status of those they saved, redeemed, accompanied, and shored? What identity did those crying for help carry, what profession, what religion, what sect, what belief? Or maybe nothing of this mattered now, nothing of this identity remained intact, nothing of it was carried along. I lost track of my own identity, over ravaging waters that treated everyone with equal scorn. I lost track of their identity, those who pleaded for dear life, those fleeing but not too far, those fleeing but not intact, those who burned their intricate wood carved ceilings for strangers to stay warm, holding on to islands on their attics. I lost track of you, who watched all this from the other balcony, from the other shore, for the distant shoreline, from the farther dwellings over your TV sets, for the farthest mainland where each one of us, the marooned and the starving, were supposed to be grateful for your benevolence that never reached us. Over all this I lost track of our pathways; from where did we start and to where do we go now?

I lost track of the borders of humanity, when those youngsters who not long ago had been labeled by the military state as ‘anti social elements’ ‘the unwanted, hence condemned to black lists and hounding’, extended help to paramilitaries, offering rescue and food, unmindful of the concertina of state terror that excluded us. I saw these youngsters wade over torrents to carry tokens of life for the same paramilitaries who in other times were known to have aimed at our heads for mere target practice. I heard those who fled us long back, prayed for the deluge to consume us all, and then I saw local brave hearts rescue the kith of those who cursed us, from near the garrisoned cantonment, for our humanity had still not fled. 

Today again, seemingly umpteenth time, I drove across my city, to shed a few more tears among its stinking, sinking ruins, to walk a few more steps among its abandoned alleys. The few souls that did dare venture this evening ran hurriedly over broken demarcations, lost road signs and heaps of rubbish, as if escaping some fearful demon. In the dark of an unlit evening the malls of exhibition crossing looked like tall metal caged ghosts, grayish and brooding, hanging their heads in perpetual shame, those had gleamed in neon of a bright evening in the recent past, now hanging like relics a shameful defeat. Over the bridge to its right leading to the city center, an odd streetlight glowed over eerily empty roads, the oddity of this street light creating dreadful figures over chalk like silt on these roads; roads that stood abandoned even by those gun trotting uniformed near Maisuma, who till recently would stand scattered on these roads, stopping and peering every night traveler. In better days, I thought these columns of armed patrols were there to guard the night lights of my city, but now that those lights had been stolen these menacing armed patrols have fled too.  

On the Residency road, somewhere by the corner of desolately abandoned shops, a solitary billboard light blinked in pale sickening yellow, like the last sighs of a person who refuses to let go, even while having been abandoned on his bed to a cursed fate. I stopped and looked back towards an unending stretch of this road that was dissected by a dark long shadow of once what was the clock tower, a deeply contested place to hoist a flag; our blood red green versus their forced nationalism raised by blood drenched sleeves. I imagined the not so distant evening lights, the sparkle of life moving slow over illuminated shops, receding bright tail lamps and converged cartwheels by road corners, where spice and fish was served with laughter. Now the dim long shadows of the once clock tower created ferocious faces in this dark, scaring away all even the moonlight. 

Over buses of the transport yard, the storm had left markings like lines of age, each grey line for a new high of the deluge, each layer of silt like an unwritten warning note.  Each piece of thrash hanging high over floors or once impenetrable now part collapsed walls, became a reminder of what we had been offering nature for decades, which was now to become its return gift. Rows and rows of muted shutters stood like mourners in a queue, in grayish brown imprints like forgotten faded bar-codes of a warehouse, awaiting redemption in the middle of an endless nowhere. I imagined, how on earlier days, scores of people would be rushing home late, trying to grab the last transport over shouts of destinations, overlapping over brightly lit roads. Today there were no destinations to catch, no voices to call, no homes to rush to. There were just strange shadows of dark streetlights stumbling over each other on a lightless night, long shadows those chased the scary solitary traveler.  

By the bend of M.A road a lonely man scurried on the left, then suddenly darted to the middle of the road, undecided where to go. I stopped wanting to offer him a lift, “where do you have to go?” I asked. “Not decided yet” he replied shaking his head and moved ahead to the right side, carrying a pace that seemed unsure of distances. He too, like my city, had lost way. 

They called it the bride of evening, adoring colors in hanging lights. Now ‘Sangarmall’ looked like a mortuary, where the war had buried a debris pile. Its rows held some faces, hiding in dark, as if ashamed of their befallen fate. Endless arteries of dark roads seemed to lead to darker unknowns; the roads those seemed so familiar till recently had become so unknown today. In the strange dark of these roads, grey shadows seemed to chase each other, over street bends, empty squares and grim looking pavements. The fortified police station at Khanyar, which extends to major part of the road there, seemed to have escaped to its own shell, leaving the night to play on these empty roads. Neither a whimper, nor a baton would dare the stillness of this nebulous night. 

This year autumn has burned early to my city beloved, leaves that were green and lively to fall, turned desert brown early on. The autumn gold now lay to dust, of smoke and ash in water lit fires. 

From a sunk city.