You kissed me the way, the bullets kiss the gun and I lost you the way, the land lost its sons
Aghast, Ammi sits near the wooden table as the landline failed to connect for the fifth time in a row. Abbu is concerned about Nanu’s medicines running out of stock. Umair hasn’t replied to the texts yet; even the 2G services don’t seem to be working for him. Things haven’t changed a bit; leaves of the Gulmohar have been shed, the phone lines still dead.
Been months since I heard Umair and Zehra. Their silhouettes settled in my eyes, their voices in my ear still buried in our native tongue like the silent echoes in peaks of Zabarwan.
“Gulon mein rang bhare baad-e- naubahar chale, Chale bhi aao ke gulshan ka karobaar chale”
Shakir Sahab would recite this Faraz’s nazm often in beautiful rhythm while riding his shikhara to the other end. He would also hum the lyrics of Harmokh Bartel or listen to Rind Posh Maal on radio Kashmir during our boat ride in the old floating market in the early hours of dawn.
Shakir Sahab lived in an old city of Srinagar very close to Safa Kadal but we barely saw him leaving for home even after the sunsets. “You can always find me here watching the sun melt on Dal in Meena Bazaar, the sun that steadily sinks on the waters, these waters that smell and taste a lot as shehad(honey)”. Few days and we found him in the same waters; scarred and sunk. We never went for the ride again, these waters that now taste like death.
1671 AD/Safa Kadal/Saif ud din Khan
We always meant Umair, Zehra, and I. We would often assemble near Eidgah, watch sunsets at Peerbagh, carve our way through Shaheed malguzar, and get red threads from Shah Hamdaan. Umair always had an affinity towards art. On most days, I found him with a typewriter and a fountain pen under shades of Gulmohar writing quotes. While I mostly talked about Keats and autumn leaves, he would quote a ghazal or a verse of Shahid. He said words always sound beautiful in Urdu while he hardly muttered any to Zehra. One day, he handed me his book by Basharat Peer and asked me to return it to her. He left soon without a word, left to never return. I think Umair learned with time that goodbye doesn’t sound good in Urdu; it reeks of melancholy in every language. I opened the book the next day to be greeted by a note, a note that read,
“Duniya Kaaghazo se bhari hai, tum khat likhna Mujhe “
The last time Umair called he was choking on words more than tear gas and smoke. His words were hardly audible amidst sounds of slogan and pellets. It’s equally hard to connect with Zehra, they say conversation with victims of campus violence isn’t permitted inside wards. Zehra had left for Delhi a few years back. I remember it was chaotic in the valley when she last came to meet me. She asked about Umair and handed me a note for him while leaving.
“You kissed me the way, the bullets kiss the gun and I lost you the way, the land lost its sons”, I iron the creases and fold it again. The storm calmed but it rained on the papers.
Years become fluid when you shift to a new state. Abba’s Kashmiri carpets and Pashmina Jamawar business flourished over the years, he painted himself in colors of the new town. Ammi remembers Nanu most days while knitting woolen sweaters, cooking native cuisine, hearing begum Akhtar when the skies remain drunk on dusk. I can’t relish the same cuisine now, it sits like sour memories on my tastebuds.
It’s the 144th day and Ammi could finally connect with Nanu after few attempts. Ammi seems relieved now after so many days.
I glance outside the windows, it’s autumn but winter, winter hasn’t left my heart. I hear Ammi calling my name twice. She informed me few people called in the afternoon. I run towards my cellphone, check my call history and scroll the names. After a minute, my heart skips a beat, my heart blooms a bit, the names on the phone, Umair and Zehra’s.