You see, Snow White was chosen. It could have been anyone, couldn’t it? But it had to happen to Snow White, and it did. Mirror, Mirror on the wall. We often thought what if, in the parallel universe, Snow White was born in Kashmir? Someone would put a bullet in her. ‘Zoonie’ would be her Kashmiri nomenclature. It just so happens that someone had to be killed. Why not Snow White?
That’s how I look at it, anyway. I didn’t choose to be the writer, but it all started in childhood. It was written in the stars.
You know the story, right? Ma’am, in the classroom, announced the skit on Snow White – Seven dwarfs – poisoned apple – and a witch. Lucifer had chosen Aamir and me. We never liked her in the class, so we had nicknamed her Lucifer. She had confidently sketched out Aamir’s and my role. The golden boy was set to dress in pink pheran. After all, he was the prettiest even amongst the girls. Seven dwarfs from the descending height order were also selected, and I was the witch. On the practising days, time and again, Aamir and I would escape to his lineage orchards hanging around in pink pheran; Aamir looked like Lal Ded. Laughing brutally, I would question Aamir why wasn’t Snow White born in Kashmir? I’d do it deliberately and often teased him by calling him Zoonie. Aamir once asked, “why is it that Apple is considered the most sinful fruit? Eve had it, Snow White had it, Kashmiris have it. Why does it represent evil and not good?” It was a good observation which I laughed off embarrassingly.
On one same kind of a day, after the practice, while we were goofing around the orchards, we heard fire shots so close that the fragile Zoonie collapsed on the floor. It felt as if a small battle was going on somewhere nearby, and I was on call to save her, ‘Aamir’. I saw apples falling on the ground, shot right in the center, just like a human shot in the head. It was already three hours past the college hour. Mauji would have been perturbed. It was consequently the third year that the area had been cordoned off. The rat-hole cars circled the whole area checking on each house. The news was that the time had come for the two boys. The CASO had been put in the area. I saw my Zoonie, Snow White; petrified. I saw her, collapsed on the floor. After an hour, we got up bravely making our way through pitch-darkness.
Theatrical lights had been put off. The doors had been closed. The robberies, the murders— all were committed. Yet none was to be blamed, none to be fired from their white collared bosses. Chinar stood mighty and never defeated. It was the most majestic thing that happened to the paradise – a metaphor of a strange epiphany. Since childhood, I had been told that a moron philosopher had called it a paradise, maybe yes, when he was doped high with opium because neither pellet guns nor rifles were introduced back then. What was introduced then was the ink and the paper and the mind that could write any jabberwocky it thought. So began the conspiracy of creating this paradise; the image where there was not only a single couple of Adam or Eve, but a lot of them. Sinning each day; of their identity, of individuality. Capped with the mountains, the entire city looked like a Michelangelo painting. The purple tint on the top of the K2 mountain, the astonishing silver lining of tragedy on each cloud on a sunny day, the rocks put together as if crafting a beautiful piece of the human face into it, not a miracle, but fucking magic. Sorcery! The flowing, gushing waters, creating the beard of the pious, old man, coming out of the rustic building of the holy prayers, were thickened of the loots, of the sweat of the martyrs. The eyes that rolled out from the lenses of the sieve of a bunker looked, for one thing, a walking dead movie in the making. Bunkers placed at each corner in the city were there for a purpose. And that purpose was dead now. The deed had been done. The slaves were freed, and the religion set free. Remember, when the earth was made? In the Bible, it is said that the earth took six days to form. Wrong. It took three days, and the rest of the three days were conspired for religion. Imagine, you and I are all born into this earth naked, crying like we already know our destined fates of Resistance of Freedom. The power of imagination creeps into us like the infinite happiness of being a trouble to the world. Shakespeare once said the world is a stage, and we are all born actors. But which character would I, you or anyone else play was in His hands. The all-knowing, the powerful, and the system. Ideology has it that the power aligns with the powerful, the majestic, but in a city like this who had the power, everybody wondered. The Dal lake had been frozen through its histories of bloodshed, false navigation boats, photos of disappeared fathers floating aimlessly on the surface half-eaten by the dreams of the wives, children wanting to get them back. It had been locked down since centuries of its flowing capacity because the system wouldn’t have it set free. It was a monopoly. Either the subject and object are equalled, or the subject is suppressed under the object, or the hierarchy is loosened.
Sometimes, we would sing Kashmiri lullabies and re-imagine the Free State. Then, after being hit by Noor Chacha by an apple, we would relocate into fauda (Chaos). The nuke that had hit Zoonie’s orchard was discovered three days later. Snow White grew red whenever the radio would hit the news of their famous orchard. When we met in college after a week, we started rehearsing the skit with the same energy. This time it would be reverse psychology, after what they had done to the orchard. The guests came, and the event was introduced by a keynote from the head of the college. Scores of students assembled into the playground to witness the skit titled ‘Snow White in Kashmir’. Aamir had persuaded the teacher to put it that way. The story went like this:
“Zoonie was the prettiest girl in the village. Skilful. Talented. Most of the people woe her. Her father, who had remarried after the death of his first wife, was always very protective of his daughter. But the new wife was pretty jealous over it. At a particular time of the day, the wife would sit in front of the mirror and ask the question, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who do I kill today?” And it would answer, “Snow White”.
One day, the wife took Snow White, my ‘Zoonie‘, into the orchard, beside the largest apple tree. She had plotted with the army men who came seven in the number. Dressed in the shadow of the orchard, the seven dwarfs shot seven bullets into the heart of Zoonie, while she was asleep.
And the chorus sang: “Mirror Mirror on the wall, who do I kill today?”
And everyone in the audience, including me, clapped for the astounding performance. This was the last time I saw Aamir lying dead in the circle of the seven dwarf-army on the stage. He was the Master, and the dwarfs his Dervishes.
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Takbeer Salati is a PhD Research Scholar. Her research is based on Manto and his representation in Mathematical Literature.