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The Red Cart

The Red Cart

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The durood were heard from both the local and distant mosques. It sounded as a viscous amalgam of voices to me, in which, if listened with the ears of heart, one could quickly lose himself. It was strange how it awoke me, even though it had never done before. I went to the kitchen where my grandfather was offering Fajr Namaz. Pearl-like water drops from his white beard were dripping on his threadbare prayer rug.

It was a weird morning. Yes, weird, perhaps because I wouldn’t rise so early and the sound of mosques tormented me that a sinner like me was going to burn in the abyss of hell. However, while listening to the echoing durood, I tried to pick out the farthest voice I could hear from the amalgam. There was one that seemed to be coming from a shrine, sitting on the edge of a lofty mountain, miles away from my house. An old, shaky voice struggling to complete the Azaan.

“You, Owl-head! Why did you wake up so early? Okay now, go make wudhu and pray!” my grandfather said to me with his same deadpan face.

“Okay. I will!”

I prayed with no fear or feeling of devotion, rather I was thinking it is going to be one long day.

We both sat on the veranda, soaking the golden morning sun. Though we didn’t speak but caught glimpses of each other in every passing minute, almost secretly. My grandfather, to me, was now an old, senile man who would spend all his time, calculating the financial estimate of our unlucky household. Unlucky for all was lost in the rut of our lives, ignoring each other like strange pedestrians on a busy road. Our rooms had become our territories and the kitchen, a parliament of debates that would mostly turn into bickering. Moreover, from the milkman’s monthly payment to the electricity bill—grandpa would keep count of everything. Time had carved deep wrinkles on his face, deep enough for hummingbirds to live in.

I had tea and went outside. I remembered something my aunt had said to me over a lengthy phone call earlier that day.

“I am not telling you but it’s an order. You stay inside or I will never talk to you again. If you disobey me, you will be nothing to me.”

The times were grotesque. Indian army had finally killed commander Burhan —their worst nightmare. Due to his sudden killing, Kashmir was on a boil. Bullets, deaths and funerals—the ancient rut didn’t break but only worsened with each passing day. My aunt was right since I was young and young people attract bullets here. Despite knowing the fact, I disobeyed her, for young people are rebellious as well.

I went to see another aunt of mine in the main town of Bijbehara. From her house, one could see a clear view of stone-pelting and clashes on the roads, which made a strong urge to pay a visit.

“You shouldn’t have come. Army comes to our doors at times. God forbid, if they drop in, who will save you? If something untoward happens to you, what answer I shall have for your parents?” she scolded us.

She sat on the door of her son’s room to make sure he doesn’t leave the home to join the stone-pelters. Her husband lied supine on the balcony, listening to Muhammad Rafi’s songs on the radio. He had plugged the narrow mouth of his ashtray with cigarette stubs. He coughed and smoked, lighting one after another. Meanwhile, I was in the lobby with my cousins, one my which I had nabbed from his place without letting his parents know. Whenever we both visited the place, we would end up playing to fritter time away. I had lost the battle and as a punishment, they made me do thirty push-ups and each ascends, I could see my tanned face on a discoloured windowpane. I felt my face was smeared with dirt. I went to wash my face and quit the game.

Days had become enforced leisure; nobody kept count of the time. And, nights were sleepless—a gush of night-time breezes, which carried a tangy smell of tear gas and chilli grenades, would blow in from the mesh windows of my room. Sometimes, I would demur to turn over in my bed, thinking there would be someone or something keeping a vigil on me. Probably a gun-barrel pointed at my face or a dagger poking my back. It was obviously the hangover of George Orwell’s 1984, however, if a bunch of army jeeps rambling around one’s house at night add up to scrutiny, the book was always relatable and I had been living under scrutiny from my birth to the day.

Kashmir was under the same old siege—hushed marketplaces, empty classrooms, curfews, deserted gardens and long spirals of concertina laid by military forces, which were about to pass over our dastarkhaan one day at dinner. Most of the people around me had become blasé to the volatile ambience, but I couldn’t. It wasn’t cowardice, but my overemotional demeanour. I always woke up, hearing news of umpteen deaths, young and old. Over Nun Chai in the morning, my family mourned the deaths and I would watch them frown and sometimes snivel.

After lunch, a rage would always bottle up inside me, which was soothed only after hurling a handful of stones over army vehicles. Moreover, I had forgotten the address of my school bag. For fear that I might see cobwebs inside and bats coming out of it, I never dared to open the bag.

I walked back to the lobby, and by that time they all had dropped off except my uncle whom I could faintly see now in his smoky room. It was seemingly a beautiful day with a sun-drenched sky but a bit hazy. Later, we had rice with dagge haakh and curd for lunch; the tastiest thing on earth after yakhni. After Zuhr prayers, a commotion of yells rose on the outside and we rushed to the windows to see what the hubbub was. The police SHO, surrounded by a group of paramilitaries, walked down the national highway, pellet-guns as well as gruesome machine guns all the way. The khaki-donned man simmered with anger as he heard the innuendo and slangs from boys who had hidden in the narrow alleys.

‘Machi Khandar Ti Nache Kus
Pondi Police Ti Baye Kus’

As the boys came out on the roads again, police abruptly shot pellets, shells and rubber bullets on them. Many got hurt and some were hit by pellets directly and from close range, blinding some protestors permanently. Still, the clashes remained undeterred until it was evening and an untimely silence took over everything.

“Hata yaha mood hoo…” someone yelled from the alley adjacent to my aunt’s house.

We abandoned our teacups and ran to the balcony where we saw some men laying someone flat on a rusty tin sheet bearing him along and stopped just below the balcony. As we laid our eyes on the boy, my aunt and her daughters burst into screams. He was hit by a bullet in his head, an inch away from his left ear. The boy looked nearly twenty, sharp-faced and immaculately clean-shaven.

Everyone was mourning and so was I. I was baffled and sweat trickled down my spine as I could see no emotion on Aabid’s pale face, not even the slightest nuance of the fact that it was his last day on earth. Suddenly, a man who lived in the neighbourhood came with a cart and told the boys to put him in it. As the boys lifted Aabid, blood spilt from his head like water rushing from a tap left open. The floor of the cart turned sanguine, and Aabid slowly took out a handkerchief from the pocket of his cargo pants and tied it around his head, all on his own. He looked up in the sky and I thought he was watching me and his flickering eyes asking, “See what happened! Would you still pelt stones? I had left home with no forethought that I could get shot. You should think!”

After a lot of bickering with the army, the boys finally managed to take him to the hospital.

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Later in the evening, both the boys and army men were silent and the muezzin gave a call for Maghreb prayers. In the meantime, an old woman from the neighbourhood came out of her house. She came to us, bearing along the creak of old bones. She slowly raised her cane and called upon my aunt.

“Balaai lagai, yath khoonas traav tè aab.”

Aabid’s blood had seeped through the gaps in the tiled floor of the alley. My cousins and I helped my aunt washing the bloodstains off the alley and then left for our homes. I didn’t hear anything of Aabid thereafter.

I remember dreaming of Aabid twice after that incident. He would bleed in my dreams and I would stare at his face in the same helpless way.

After a few days, my frustration crossed limits and I rebelled again by going out. I felt nauseated staring at the naked walls of my room and looking for an insect so that I could smack it. I would wake up at 3 in the afternoon and then wait at the windowsill to see darkness conquer the days.

Once a lady who lived in the neighbourhood visited our home bearing along with nightmarish news.

“A boy died in a cart some days ago. The army had shot him in the head. People say the cart was all red with blood.”

Just as I heard the news, my despair dragged me down and fear grabbed my collar, I wanted to die on the spot. It was the second time when I felt like a coward, and the first time being when I saw him bleeding right before my eyes. His face would hover over my tanned face at night, and flash before my eyes; the blood that spilt from his head would rain on my eyes. I would suffer from acute pain in the gut and feel a handful of silverfishes crawling in my mouth. Aabid remained within me like a nightmare. He remained etched to the annals of my memory.


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