A Journey to School

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It is a morning of early July, Cuckoo is sleeping in her bedroom with her legs folded in a strange way as though she is walking in her dream. Her rounded face is glowing bright like a sparkling pearl. She has tightly clipped her hairs but some of them have violated the rule and falling over her silent eyes. She is wearing a half sleeved red frock embroidered with dark blue circles and stars, a hippopotamus is roaring amidst embroidery. She has strongly belted a pillow with both of her hands as if she is walking with a bag full of precious stones. A table is placed near bedside with an alarm watch screaming in high pitch. A bright sunlight is coming through window span, finally settling d0wn on pinkish puffy cheeks of Cuckoo. Birds are chirping clamorously and a cool breeze is flowing all over the street. It is 6.30 am, Cuckoo’s mummy is in kitchen baking the bread and omelette. The nagging cry of alarm watch fells on her ears.  She switches off Gas stove and comes over to Cuckoo hurriedly. She put the alarm clock on silent mode. She sits down on bed and start caressing Cuckoo’s head.
“Cuckoo, my child, get up…” She utters in a shrill voice
” Maa, but its very early. Let me sleep.” says Cuckoo placing one of her hand on her mother’s shoulder.
” No Cuckoo, it’s not early. I have already finished much of my work and my child, your father has gone downstairs to open his shop. Get up and go to washroom.” says her mother with picking up Cuckoo’s head and embracing it to her chest.
” Let me sleep, Maa, you know I had slept very late last night. and Maa my head is aching, I am not feeling very comfortable.” says Cuckoo in a soft voice. Her eyes are still half shut. Her mother kiss her idyllic face.
” Beta, don’t you know, today you are going to school first time. Get up, Beta and have a bathe. I am going to prepare your lunch box.” says her mother while leaving room to kitchen. Cuckoo is still lying on the bed but she is awake. She is looking at window span. She wants to make sure if Maa is right to tell her that it is already very late to get up. She gets up and meanders meekly towards the window. She opens the window and a flash of sunlight falls on her face. Now she can see her beloved Peepul tree with its leaves fluttering in cold blowing air. She takes a deep sigh and a bound of fresh air goes into her stomach through her nostrils. The old decaying branches of peepul tree is home to various birds. Cuckoo does not like crows, especially their acrid scream.  She is fond of sparrows, they often come to her window. While watching sparrows, Cuckoo has had this illusion as if she is among these sparrows , a black headed sparrow flies down to her window. She wants to catch this little creature but stops as her Mom is again calling her from kitchen. She closes the window and walks down to her mother. Her mother has prepared breakfast and now she is washing utensils. Cuckoo embraces her mother from behind and says in a arguing manner
” Maa, why do we need to go to school? I don’t want to go to school leaving you alone here.”
“Cuckoo, we go to school to read and learn new subjects, to make new friends” answers her mother
” but Maa, why don’t you and Papa teach me here in home? why do I need to go school?” says Cuckoo meanwhile her mother is taking her to Washroom.
” We don’t have time to teach you, my girl.You have to go school as everyone goes. your father and I also went school.” says her mother while taking off Cuckoo’s clothes to give her a bathe.
” Maa, but tell me one thing, Why little sparrows don’t go to school? They play with each other whole day. ” argues Cuckoo. Her mother has untied her hairs and giving her a warm bathe with water pouring down on Cuckoo’s head to toe. Her mother covers Cuckoo with a towel and brings her to bed room. Mother has gone to another room and Cuckoo, covered in towel, comes in front of  dressing table. She takes out a comb and starts combing her hair. She sees herself in mirror and makes poker face of herself. She places comb in right hand as if she is a warrior carrying a sword in her hand. She hums some lines of patriotic poetry. Her mother enters in room, she had some new ironed clothes in her hand and a red colored bag is dangling from her shoulder. Her mother puts down clothes and bag on a corner of bed.
” Cuckoo, my Jhansi ki Rani, come here. Look, these are your new clothes.” she utters with a smile on her face
” Maa, these new clothes are for me, really. and what is in this bag? let me open this.” says Cuckoo enthusiastically with picking up bag into her arms. She opens the bag with her little fingers unlocking the buttons.
” Oh, Maa, You bought these beautiful books for me. Look at these pictures Maa, how amazing they are.” Cuckoo says to her mother. She picks all books out of bag one by one. Suddenly her hand hits a yellow colored rocket shaped pencil box, she picks it up with her eyes wide in amusement.
” Maa, all these books and bag are for me. love  you Mom, could you please show me my clothes now.” Cuckoo requests her mother with her hands reaching down to clothes. She unfolds her clothes and tries to wear it without her mother’s help. Her mother is watching her dear daughter’s activity with all embezzlement. She pulls Cuckoo towards her and puts white shirt on her upper body through her neck. She ties a blue skirt around Cuckoo’s waist. She sees Cuckoo’s face in the mirror. Cuckoo is very happy.
” Cuckoo, you know, your father has bought a new pair of shoes and socks for you.” says her mother with adjusting Cuckoo’s shirt.
” Oh Maa, you and father are the best parents of the word. where are my new pair of shoes and socks. I want to see.” says Cuckoo playing with her newly get books. Her mother goes to another room and comes with a pair of new shoes and socks. She also brings two red colored ribbon. Cuckoo is sitting on the bed carefully watching note books. When she sees her mother entering room, a sense of curiosity apparently visible on her face. Her puts those pairs of shoes and socks out of her reach. She ties Cuckoo’s hair with red ribbons. She looks like a Barbie doll with white shirt, blue skirt and two dangling tail on her head making her quite adorable. She wants to get rid of her mother’s protective cover and look her self in mirror. When her mother leaves her hand, she rush towards mirror. Now she is standing in front of mirror, looking at herself.  Cuckoo asks her mother with randomly putting her hands on waist like a model , ” Maa, am I not looking like a model? and Maa, why don’t you tell me about these crazy things earlier. With these gifts of your’s and father’s, I am ready to go to school daily.” Now Cuckoo is ready for a new journey in her life. She hears her father calling her from the downstairs. She knows her father will accompany her to school. She wears her socks and shoes with asking her mother’s help. She happily puts bag on her back.
” Maa, I am happy to go to school. You both are really nice people. Father is calling me, can I go downstairs.” says Cuckoo with her luminous eyes reflecting her happiness.
“Father, wait, I am coming.” shouts Cuckoo in an attempt to throw her voice to her father. She kisses her mother on her cheek and says goodbye to her. She hurriedly gets down the stairs. Her father is waiting for her near his shop. She picks one of her father’s finger and starts walking with him. Her mother comes to window, Cuckoo’s walking image is fading far away, entering in a new phase of her life.
” My child’s journey begins here.” she thinks. With Cuckoo’s new journey, here also begins a new journey for her parents.

Darkness of Silence

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In a congested neighborhood of old decaying houses in Sopore, a muddy lane passes towards a thick forest covered with Chinaar trees. Fundamentalist run their writ in this ancient Kashmiri town. No one can raise a voice against their bigotism in fear of danger to their lives. They decide code of ethics here. They are fighting a long battle with Indian forces. These fundamentalist want a free Kashmir governed with Shariya (Quranic) law. There are old looking houses both sides of the lane which passes through middle of the town. In one of these houses lives Fareeza. Her single story building is covered with wooden roof with cemented stairs working like a bridge between lane and the building . It is friday evening, Fareeza is sitting beside Chimni in a old revolving chair. Her face is pale, eyes are exhausted with deep circles underneath. Her age has a left a conspicuous mark on her face. She waits for her only son Jeelani in her 8 and 10 fit room with wires hanging from its low ceiling and rough cement walls turned black suddenly seems to have become big for the family that was always cramped for space. Her eyes are constantly looking at a corner of a room. There is a table where she has placed a framed photo of her daughters, Akhtara and Arifa. Whenever she looks at her daughters, smiling in photo frame,  a deep fear shivers down her spine. She picks up the frame and place it near her chest. She put her hand on photo with tears strolling down on her cheeks. In a moment, she is lost in thoughts.

It was a lively house when her both daughters were alive. Her elder daughter Akhtara was introvert, only going out of house to bring vegetables and fresh meat. She would clean fishes with chatting a neighbor girl Reshma.  She was favorite child of her father Gulab Nabi Dar, a daily wage laborer who works in local Iqbal market. Dar would bring unwashed fishes from market and Akhtara would wash those fishes for a mere 20 rupees per hundred.  She had just passed high school from a girls college and forced to discontinue her education because there was no Intermediate college in Sopore. She could continue her education if she moved out to Srinagar where her maternal uncle Imran was posted in a government department.  She refused as she wanted to help her parents. Her younger daughter Arifa was a bubbly, unrestrained child.  Fareeza loved her very much. She was flamboyant,  always wrapped in a red frock, her eyes twinkling like little stars. She would move her hands like a little bird flapping its small wings. She was in high school and wanted to be a doctor. She would accompany Aktara when she would go to market to bring goods and vegetables. The sisters would roam around the market at the dusk , laughing and chatting. Little Arifa would bring her father’s mobile with her. She was very fond of mobile, it was sent by her uncle Imran, who wanted to be in touch with Dar family. Near Iqbal market was a army camp. It was established years ago as a challenge to undergoing terrorist activities in town. Sopor is still very sensitive town, it was a hotbed of insurgencies in 90s so Army had every reason to keep a vigil on this town. Near army cap was bus shed. Here Akhtara and Arifa would sit and wait for her friends to meet. Occasionally they would talk to army men who were getting down from buses belongs to state transport department.  As it was a orthodox and communally charged Muslim town where people would not like girls talking to strangers. They suspected as both girls were spying for army. People had apprehension that the mobile girls were using had been given by army. People often would come to Fareeza and Dar and would complain about their sisters. When they saw their complain was not making any effect on girls’ parents, they decided to warn girls directly.  Once a group of men stopped Akhtara and asked her to mend her ways else she would pay a heavy cost for her immoral act of being a informer for Indian Army. There was a also palpable feeling in girls’ parents, as people started alienate their family. But both Dar and Fareeza believed that their girls were doing nothing illegal and warning them would not make any difference. But here they made a mistake.

One day, at around 7.45,  Arifa was cooking rice in the kitchen of her single room. Akhtara was upstairs with Rashma cleaning the fish. Their father had gone to mosque. Their Farzeena, who could no longer walk because of arthritis, was sitting with her son, when the door suddenly opened and three masked men clad in phirans walked in. One of them asked Farzeena to call her daughters out. Farzeena was bewildered, She didn’t know what her daughters had done. She called both their daughters. Arifa was in red frock as always and Akhtara was in brownish salwaar-kurta. Fareeza fell at those men’s feet, begging them to tell if her daughters had done something wrong. But they said they just wanted to ask a few questions. Outside their home, it was like a crackdown. Almost everyone heard the noises but no one came out. They asked girls to come with them. They warned other if they tried to follow them, they would shoot these girls. Jeelani, younger brother of those sisters, hovered around for sometime, unable to understand what to do.  Sometimes begged the gunmen to leave his sisters alone, but his pleas fell on deaf ears.  Those masked men took girls away. They left horror and uncertain fear back. Dar along with his wife Fareeza was praying for safety of his daughters.
Fifteen minutes later, gunshots shattered whatever little hopes the family had left. When Dar and his relatives rushed towards daughters out of fear, they found bodies of both girl. One was riddled with six holes, other with four, including one through the head. A day later, some posters appeared all over the town claiming responsibility for the killing. Posters claimed the girls were killed because their behavior was improper and they were involved in degraded activities like spying for Army.

Now Farzeena puts down her daughters photo, tears falling from her eyes. She can hear evening Namaz coming out from a nearby mosque. Now she doesn’t believe in Allah, who could not save her daughter’s life. Tears still rolling down from her eyes.

Those Days Of Summer

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It were days of summer. The Sun was bright and its light was spreading all over the street. Being a jobless in those summer days, I had nothing substantial to do. I was living in city all alone, surviving on money sent by my father from far away home. My room was near a Nullah in outskirt of city . It was a dark room, deprived of sunlight even in scorching sun. I hated my room immensely. Part of the reason was its bad smell. It was impossible to pass day in claustrophobic situation. In these circumstances,  my only respite was a park facing over my balcony. I would pass my days sitting in park, looking children playing clamorously. It was not boring as it seems in one look now. I had some books to accompany myself. I would sit on one  of two benches of park and engross myself in reading, occasionally overlooking towards children. I was not alone in that park who would pass his day in park. I would often see a lady sitting next to my bench. She was not very fair but something in her deep eyes would force me to look towards her. She was short in stature yet her charm was something that could make any heart loss her beat. She had a blue gown over her body and two clips in her hair making her a sort of teenage girl.  Her appearance seemed as she belonged to an affluent family.  She would come to the park daily and would look towards playing children until they had gone to their home. I was certain that she must be related to these children. Her lost gesture and slow movement would make me restless and bemused as the same time.  But I never dared to ask about her misery. Her mystique eyes always threw a static glance at those children.

Everyday I would come to that park and sat there for long. One day I made a mistake. It was not deliberate as my bench, where I would often sit, was occupied by some other old age men. I had no other option but to sit in another bench. It was same on which that mystique girl would sit. I had a strange feeling while I placed my books on bench. I thought she must be annoyed when she would see me sitting on her bench. But as time passed I again lost in my books, unaware of world around me. As bright afternoon approached, I sensed someone was standing near my bench. I looked up with an escaping gesture. She was there wearing a white Salwaar-kurta embroidered with twinkling star-shaped glasses. She had covered her face with a red Duppatta. She was looking at me. Her sharp glance was piercing through my body. I hesitated for sometime. A sudden smile came on my face as I started arranging my books randomly scattered on bench. I was also expecting a smile from her as a return to my smile. But her face was static as ever, no expression shown on her face. She was not more than an arm’s length away from me. I could easily feel her breathing. She was panting heavily as though she was in hurry to sit on that bench. “It is always hard to talk an unresponsive person” I thought.  I controlled myself and placed all my book at one side on bench. Now bench had enough space to her sit down. She was still standing and looking at me. It was enough to frighten me ” What does she really want?” I thought. I was looking for an excuse to engage with me. Meanwhile my fear came down as she stepped up and occupied a corner of bench. Now I could see her hand, soft and unwrinkled.  I could see her face clearly. Her eyebrows were cleverly set. Her lips seemed to me like a petal of red rose. Her gray-reddish hair were interrupting her view occasionally. She was looking at children. A sweet smell was coming from her. My eyes were into my book but mind was wandering. I was thinking about her unusual behavior of looking at these child nervously. I wanted to ask her but could not collect enough courage to utter a word. I could not believe how quickly two hours passed. She was leaving the park behind those children. She didn’t say a word in that two hours. I could see her leaving park with heavy steps. My heart was beating on its extreme. I felt a deep desire to call her back but my cowardice came between our way. I kept looking at her until her shadow faded away from my sight. Now I could see no one was there in park. But strangely solitude didn’t sweep me . Her glowing face and those two hours passed with her, were with me. I got up and started strolling to my room. That day changed me totally. I could feel a kind of empowerment in me. Now I would go park very early and wait for her. I could feel a certain belonging to her. It was quite futile to concentrate for me in book till she was in park, sitting next to my bench. Her dresses could change daily but her mystique look never changed. Now could know one or two things about her.  I asked to those children if she was their relative. Even they didn’t  know much about her.  She was from Alaknanda society and had lost her father in an accident. She was still out of memories she shared with her father in that park.  Her father would come with her daily in this park when she was a little child. This was the reason she would coming daily to that park only to look at children like a spectator. She could see herself in those playing children. She had an illusion that her father was still alive and she was among those child playing and singing . She was going to leave this town in a month as her mother did not want to live in town anymore. She wanted to utilize her remained time in that town. Her only desire was to pass her time with her father, might be in delusion.

Finally the day came, I could not see her in park. It was a doomsday for me. She had left for another town with her mother. On that particular day, She had not arrived in park until evening. The Bench, next to me, was empty. I was feeling a void, an unfulfilled desire, an emptiness. She was not there but still I could feel her presence on a corner of the bench. I could still see her bright face, her soft and unwrinkled hands, her Salwaar- kurta embroidered with twinkling glasses but she was not there.