The stories inside
Sometimes stories untold tell more powerful stories
Some rooms stay with you long after you have left them. They narrate their own stories, constructing their own little houses of memories.
In Kashmir the disappeared and the dead have left behind their rooms in a state of perpetual mourning. Rooms that once breathed with their presence are lifeless now, mourning their absence. Empty spaces, emptied rooms, filled with a deep sense of loss.
Grief is a state of mind in Kashmir. Occupying its own permanent corner, grief looms large here even in times of apparent happiness. Even if you leave Kashmir, that particular sadness—the cumulative grief of this place—is carried with you. And it stays with you forever. It lives in the memory of the survivors. It thrives in the homes of the departed, in the eyes of their loved ones, and in the rooms bereft of their presence. And in the things they left behind.
For parents the things that once belonged to their loved ones – clothes, books, a wrist watch, for example, a shoe – mean more than just things left behind by the departed. They’re a haunting reminder of what remains despite the loss. They are the remnants of what is left behind when everything is taken away: memories.
On a cold November afternoon I met the old father of a student, Muhammad Rafiq Shah, who is indefinitely imprisoned in Tihar jail for the past seven years now. We sat in the garden of their home. The old man called out his daughter to bring a cup of tea. He had a dejected look in his eyes as if all that he loved was suddenly taken away from him. After retirement, he had looked forward to rest at home, expecting his son to take over the responsibilities of home. But that was not to be. After his son’s imprisonment, he remains in a state of perpetual unrest. Until his son returns home, there’s no peace in his life.
While talking about his son he would often look away into the distance, emptily staring around in silence.
“They destroyed the future of my son,” he would say repeatedly after uncomfortable pauses. “soe maesha aese zeah.”(Can we ever forget that?)
“Who will return all these years he spent behind the bars?” He asked. “Who will return his youthful years that were imprisoned?”
I had no answers.
Inside Rafiq’s room, which his father says is opened only at the time of cleaning it every week, his absence is palpable. The things that belonged to him have become sacred in his growing absence. They are touched with reverence. And all his things are kept in place, always clean, as he left them seven years back when he was picked up one night by the government forces from his home.
Nobody enters his room now. It remains locked.
Time seems to have frozen in his room. His passport-size photo is pinned on a wall hanging. On his cupboard his name is vertically inscribed in large, white capital letters. The notes on his notebooks date back to the days when he was arrested. Near his study desk small shelves are adorned with his books – volumes of books on Islam, his textbooks, books on Kashmiri Sufism and Kashmir dispute, and a collection of Allama Iqbal’s poetry. A few of his used pens – their refills half-emptied – still lie undisturbed near his notebooks. On one of the small bookshelves there is a pocket-size Holy Quran he would recite from every morning.
I sat down where Rafiq would often sit in his room, studying late into the night hours. That night, when the SOG and police personnel took him away, his father says he was preparing for his university term exams. The books that were lying open for his study were later closed in his absence, and put back on his bookshelf by his parents.
Gently and very slowly, with his right hand Rafiq’s father rubbed the corner where his son would often spread out his books to study. As if hugging him in person, he then kissed his own hand and said a silent prayer for his immediate release.
His son is yet to return home.
(Full Version first published in Kindle magazine)
Lastupdate on : Sat, 5 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 5 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 6 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST
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