When ‘status’ fell last summer, the romantics, like Shakeel and Zehra, of the Valley found themselves at the crossroads of the enforced crisis.

Suddenly when messages stopped coming from mountains last summer, Shakeel struggled with his pining heart in his Delhi apartment. The first night was getting excruciatingly long and unbearable for the IT guy.

Along with a growing concern for his family, he was grappling with his gushing emotions for Zehra, the love of his life.

It was the first night in the last two years when they were not talking and, to the lovers’ torment, it wasn’t going to be the only silent night in that crippling year.

Being no strange to communication outages, Kashmir saw the worst ex-communication, post abrogation Article 370 in 2019. All means of communication including landlines, mobile phones, mobile internet, broadband and other internet services were blocked since August 5 that year.

As the place reeled under an eerie quietness for many days, Kashmiris inside and outside the valley struggled to survive the enforced silence.

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In the regulated region, Zehra was hysterically pacing stairs, making rounds of her courtyard, before confining herself as a despairing detainee to her room.

Far from the dominant and dogged problem of the land, Kashmir’s amours and romantics have been struggling amid communication clampdown since long now. Their struggles hardly fare online and generate some empathetic talk and policy intervention, despite last year’s human hostage crisis testing them like never before.

Shakeel in Delhi and Zehra in Srinagar were shedding tears for each other, and suffering the fate they could never make peace with.

By the time Fall arrived, Shakeel was still attending his office as an unshaven guy, with a weedy and weird appearance. On his wasted face, he no longer wore his characteristic smile.

After a certain point in last September, when he couldn’t take the politically-enforced separation anymore, he made up his mind to leave everything behind and trace his lost love in his homeland.

But the idea was far-fetched, his friends in Delhi told him, especially when even tested emissaries were being pushed back from Srinagar Airport. Besides, in the paralytic valley, where the movement was near impossible, coming out in search of someone was simply a ‘wild goose chase’.

All these hiccups made Delhi appear a claustrophobic capital bereft of concern and care for his folks back home.

In Srinagar, Zehra got alerted when someone told her that certain working landlines in DC office had become a lifeline for the troubled souls of the valley. She kept frequenting the place only to return wretched every time.

“I was with her one day when she went to call Shakeel at DC office,” Misba, Zehra’s cousin, recalls one of the unsettling days in Srinagar amid lockdown.

Representational Image / Sadaf Masoodi for MI

“What I saw there left me numb. Young Kashmiris were wailing for their loved ones. Those who managed to talk were crying out of concern and longing. Those tear-jerking scenes were too much to take. I’m sure one day those crying hearts of the valley would return to haunt those who separated us from our loved ones!”



But then, in the charged crowd of desperate dozens, not everyone could even get a chance to dial their beloved’s number.

Zehra tried, but each time, she had to either face the restive rush, or some nagging official gatekeeper, telling the distressed souls, “Make it quick!”

Nobody was reporting this daily searing struggle of Kashmiri lovers in the clampdown. Even as Aatish-e-Chinars gave in to gusts and shed leaves, there seemed no respite for many of them.

After some time, Zehra wasn’t seen on the manned streets wandering like Habba in search of her faraway Yusuf.

In Delhi, Shakeel kept praying for the deadlock to end. But in wait, he was withering. From a happy-go-lucky fellow, he had now become an insomniac, absent-minded and recluse.

“Mostly,” he says, “nights would flood me with her memories and concern. I would sit on the window and imagine her sitting in front of me in her room in Kashmir. Time and space, it seemed, melted away. This reassuring idea of life was a lullaby for my crying heart. I would send her hearty dispatches through the night’s desolation. But at times, I would imagine her mad at me, for leaving her behind in the mountains, all alone, sans those comforting talks. It was not a poet’s musing, but a human heart’s longing for each other.”

Those nocturnal encounters finally ended on 14 October 2019, when the post-paid mobile services were restored in the valley after 72 days. With the announcement, a long spell of silence broke for many lovers in Kashmir.

Aggrieved and aghast, they eagerly rushed to dial-up their loved ones with hope and eccentricity while crawling out of an unprecedented communication blackout of dark days.

Seething with mixed emotions on the day like everyone else, Shakeel also dialled Zehra’s number in Kashmir.

“I heard a different voice from the other side,” he recalls. “It was her mom. My question—‘Where’s Zehra?’—silenced her. She shortly shrieked, ‘Zehra is dead!’ ”

The life blurred from his eyesight, and he fainted on the other side of the phone.

Soon after stopping her street search, Zehra had succumbed to her pining heart, without giving a whiff of her passage to her beloved.

From her living room turned necropolis, they had retrieved her dead one morning.

The long night had ended, and with that, another love story died a silent death in the valley.

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