The lamppost gleamed in the now evolving twilight raising far over the entire mountain range. I lay there on the same bench, the dogs had by now started entering the park for their morning cuddle. The fancy lights hanging over the gate of a cafe behind me were still very visible in the emerging light. I was spread over on the bench, one of my legs hanging from the bench and the opposite arm dangling over the bench. The grass had by now soaked wet by the morning dew and it was visible all over the parks surface. The night had ended.
In the distance rises a clattering sound of a bicycle, a man in a white shalwar stout on the old bicycle. The deliverer of newspapers. I don’t read newspapers. What news do they deliver? I wondered. In a city which is now only news and has no stories, what news do they deliver. He held up his cycle against the fence and crossed over the low iron bar guarding the door. The dew so freshly fallen that it made marks of his early presence in the park. It was like a night of stories been taken over by the morning news. He glanced around in the park and noticed none but me lying on the bench. I gathered my body to welcome his early presence in the park.
The city wakes up late, he says. But you seem to have had no sleep. I was silent, no answer, I was still withheld in my nightmare. Smoke often pumps a brain into action. Smoke often denotes an action or maybe they say an accident. Plumes of thick smoke escaped through his nostrils speaking about some long-hidden fire within his chest. He crossed his legs as he sat along the boulders lining the river. “The gradual flow of the river carries away my heavy heartedness.” He says. People in Kashmir are strange. They start narrating to a stranger as to an old friend.
A huge pile of newspapers stacked on the back of his bicycle, he points at it, narrating the headline about the fresh deaths. “I have been delivering newspapers since my teenage days but I myself don’t follow any news. I start pedaling, first light, several kilometers from my home to the printing press where I load up a fresh stack of newspapers. I have not taken up a single paper to home since the past 30 years. Earlier while I loaded a fresh stock of newspaper, I used to take a glance at the front page. Now that front page has evaporated, every time I try to see the newspaper on the top, it seems blank, no news, only shouts. All news seem to have evaporated from the sediment of age old stories that mar our land…”
He kept talking about it and I was silent!
In that brief moment I had taken a turn, he seemed like a 12-page newspaper flung towards me. A newspaper reading its news for me. As he kept going. I sunk. He delivers news every day, yet he captures untold stories every day from the chirping of early birds to whichever secret the morning light reveals. The pages of the newspaper pile fluttering like wings. He narrates about a sequence of changes he has noticed in the mornings of Srinagar. The ever-changing colors. From Dal Gate his shadow reflecting long along the waters below, stories of barbed wires abandoned on the roads. Stories of bicycles, and convoys and ambulances. Stories, of men and seasons. How gentle morning breeze befriends soldiers guarding the borders of Dal, how no one assembles the broken leaves in the city anymore, how leaves wait for the hands of autumn now to set them ablaze and free forever.
And suddenly he stopped.
The first sound echoed. Jogging sound of a morning jogger growing louder. He passed a sharp look at the jogger running on the other side of the fence.
He turned the page of the newspaper, the sound, turned back to me, “I have visited this place for all my life. I had old accounts of my grandfather in the Grindley’s Bank on the river bank. The boatmen used to charge me a few pennies to row me across the water and land me near the bank. The place still echoes the sounds of old typewriters, ink spilled across its dusty floors. My grandfather had a stamp pad he used to equip me with and I loved the impressions of my finger on the inward plank of the boat. He never pretended that he knew I was making those impressions. Probably he liked them too. Probably he saw it as an impression of his own last remains.”
The twilight in Kashmir is cold, moist air keep hitting the face until the mountains allow the sun for a passage to shine upon the city. It was moist and now the sun had gradually risen up the mountain top. Sun rays escaping one by one over the mountains and showering herself upon the city. As the sun floods the city lighting up the inwards side of the mountain it evolved from.
The loose knot on the pile of papers let the newspaper on the top fall on the ground. Its pages fluttering like wings and now it is open, wide, lying there over the green grass.
A page fluttered, crackling sound of the words dancing over the surface of the newspaper. The wetness of the grass seeping into the thin paper-host. There was tension in between the lines. Eyes revealing secrets which he intended to conceal. “No story was told. No story was told” The torn shalwar fluttered open in the air revealing a stitched wound stretching across his leg. I did not enquire who had stabbed him, he was the open newspaper on the grass revealing the words and meaning hid inside it. He had been locked before; but the chains had now penetrated the body over time leaving unending scars surfacing over his legs now. He quickly covered the wound burying all the stories of the city between his flesh and bones. He handed me a bundle of papers which were now old as him. “Are these from your childhood?”
It was just numbers to me as he started recounting his forgotten days in an attic or a trunk, patiently drawing one line a day from
his memory… only to keep track of the days he was locked inside the trunk.
Bewitched by his unspoken truth, I was shaken back to senses by the sound of the bell installed below his seat. He was tightening up the stack of newspapers and offered me to leave the park with him. I refused. The sound of the bell again. He was now fading away into distance. Earphone hanging out of my pocket. A lone voice was shedding blood in my voice mail:
“ I’ve found a prisoner’s letters to a lover
One begins: “These words may never reach you.”
Another ends: “The skin dissolves in dew
Without your touch.” And I want to answer:
I want to live forever. What else can I say?
It rains as I write this. Mad heart, be brave
Mad heart, be brave.”
The author is a practicing artist and aspiring entrepreneur.