By Deepak Budki
The city was agog with the
informers were being hounded out, put to
death. For the past fifty years the Valley had
not known of even a single death but now four
or five killings every day had become the
order of the day.
anguish were writ large on everyone's face. It
was difficult to trust one's own shadow.
questioning themselves 'Does my name
appear in the list of informers?'...'Do they
suspect me of connection with security
forces?', or 'Has someone seen me talking to
any security personnel?'
question that one asked oneself, restlessness
would increase. 'Does anyone know about my
political allegiance?' And then his heart
would beat faster with anxiety..
'I do not suppose I have any enmity with any
one that matters in today's world, then why
should I be singled out?' His blood pressure
would soar still high.
Next day he would issue a
advertisement in a local daily so that people
came to know that he was not connected with
any political party nor did he have anything
to do with any espionage agency.
One does not
fear death as much as one fears the very idea
of death. Everyone was working out plans to
escape the inevitable death. Some tendered
apologies in the press, some resorted to
explaining their position, while others simply
bade goodbye to the Valley.
Nilakanth did not
take recourse to any of these. He had spent
the sixty five years of his life honestly and
with utmost austerity in the Valley. Even now
he spent his days without worrying about the
vitiated atmosphere around him.
The house of
Nilakanth, made of
akin to today's tiles, plastered with mud and
covered with shingle roof, was situated on the
bank of River Jehlum,
which majestically flowed by since ages. He
lived in a place called
Habbakadal. This was the only place in
the city of
that would come to life everyday with the
cock's first crow. On the one hand the temple
bells would start ringing, while on the other
the Muezzin would call the faithful to pray to
God. Within no time, the hawkers would throng
bridge and lure
customers with the best sells. You could hear
the vegetable sellers selling
khol, lotus roots
and Kashmiri saag,
and fisherwomen taking swearing on petty
pretexts to sell their fish. From one corner
arose the appetizing smells from the baker's
ovens, while from the other corner the sweet
fragrance of milk arose from the
Karahis of the
You could see a Hindu customer incanting
while buying fish, while you could see a
Muslim incanting Surah
Bakr of Holy
checking the bundle of lotus roots. During the
day the atmosphere became lively with the
horses galloping on the road, bicycles ringing
and making their way through the crowd and the
puttering noise of the
autorickshaws. The noise would continue
till midnight. The road presented a
captivating picture at the time boys and girls
marched to their schools and colleges. Groups
of young beautiful belles, clad in
shalwars, would be
seen followed by young sadistic boys
looking for an
opportunity to tease them. They would seize
every little chance to pass a remark, while
the coy young girl would simply blush,
perspire and yet feel amused.
looked different. There was a sudden change in
the air. God knew why
Nilakanth was immersed in deep
thoughts. His aged wife had just cleaned the
pipe of his Hookah and changed its water. He
filled the chilam
with tobacco and topped it with burning
charcoal and then sucked in a long draught of
smoke through the pipe. While exhaling, clouds
of smoke came out from his mouth. He looked
blank for a moment with no thought whatsoever.
He coughed for a while and then got immersed
in his thoughts again.
the day of his marriage when he had to simply
cross the Habbakadal
bridge since the
house of Arundati
was situated on the opposite bank of the
river. He could see her parental house from
his own window, and watch her standing near
the window. It was just the majestic
separated their houses from each other.
finishing her daily chores,
Arundati sat by
his side. One doesn't know how time flies.
"Forty five years have passed since we got
said to Arundati
while looking at her face with disbelief.
romantic. How come you remembered your
marriage, that too after all these years",
Do you know what date is it today?"
Who cares to remember them at this age? Don't
you see our life is like a calendar of bygone
year which hangs on the wall simply because it
contains the picture of a
God. Had there been no picture of God
on it we would have thrown it away long back.
We too are there hanging with the thread of
time because they rever
us and cannot throw us into the dustbin. Don't
you think we too have become such Gods,
waiting for time to wither us?"
right, Arni. We
too are waiting for our fate like those
obsolete calendars on the wall".
that she had kept 'Kahwa'
on the heater. "Perhaps, it must have started
boiling", she thought with herself and taking
support of the wall stood up and brought the
tea kettle and two khasus,
the brass cups. Nilakanth
put his pipe aside, held the
Khasu with his
right hand, covered with the arm of
phiran to use it
as an insulation.
tea into his Khasu
and then went back, filled another
Khasu for herself
and again sat by the side of her husband.
do you remember that I used to watch you for
hours from the roof of my house?"
possessed you, you sound strange today".
interrupted her husband and later herself
became nostalgic about her childhood.
Arundati was five
years younger than her husband but due to
acute arthritis for the last ten years her
fingers had become
ankylosed and swollen. Winter season
aggravated her pain. The joint pain restricted
the movement of her hands and feet but there
was no way out, the household chores had to be
performed because there was nobody to help her
in this old age. Not that
she did not have children but they were
all gone, fending for their own families.
the other in Mumbai.
eyelid has been trembling for the last so many
days. God knows what is to befall us".
Arundati tore a
small piece from the
underneath, moistening it with saliva
she then put it on right eyelid in order to
is written in the Heavens above. Whatever has
to happen will definitely happen",
pensive and resigned.
had never seen her husband resigned to fate
earlier. She showed her annoyance when she
couldn't get replies to her queries. For the
last several days she had observed
windows and the doors before going to sleep.
He would check each latch of those to make
sure that he had closed them properly.
Sometimes, he would suddenly get up from his
bed at night, carefully push the curtain of a
window aside and peep into the darkness
outside. Except the movement of the army
vehicles and the foot fall of the soldiers on
their nightly rounds he could hear nothing.
And then he would return to his bed gripped
with fear and anxiety.
"There is so
much anxiety on your face, what is it that is
eating you up? Have faith in God, everything
will be all right,
console her husband to put his fears to rest.
it is not anxiety, but you should know that
the situation has taken a bloody turn never
witnessed before. The Lord
Yama is plodding
in every street on his
the buffalo. Only he knows what is going to
happen next", Nilakanth
laid bare the facts for he could contain
himself no longer.
remembered the time when the Valley was
invaded by the tribals
from across the border, indulging in rape and
slaughter. She was eighteen then.
Heart-rending accounts of
killing and rape everyday sent shivers through
the spine of everybody.
city received the news that the tribal
invaders had killed thousands of unarmed
innocent people from Uri to
had not even spared the nuns of the local
convent in Baramulla
town and were heading towards
People expected them anytime. Women,
particularly the young girls decided to
electrocute themselves to save their
honour but as luck
would have it the electric supply to the city
was snatched away for days on end and they
looked helpless. Their suicide plans could not
be executed in the event the
the city and every moment turned into death
alarm. Death that was
approaching slowly but steadily.
One fine day
news was received that the Indian army had
pushed back the raiders and they were on the
run. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief.
depicted unbounded courage those days. To this
day she was proud of herself. How a similar
situation had arisen. She implored to her
husband, "Why do you worry? We have been
through hell during the tribal raid. We will
be through it somehow, why do you lose heart".
his wife's courageous words,
Nilakanth heaved a
sigh of relief but at the same time he pitied
her innocence and simplicity.
he would lap up every line of newspapers. This
was the only link left with the outside world.
News came but in trickles, more fearsome than
the previous one. Both souls writhed in
anguish like clipped wingless birds.
"This is all
your doing. Now
face it. Veeru had
invited us to America so many times but
refused to go. God knows what keeps you glued
to this place. Agreed that his wife is an
American but how does it matter. She would not
throw us out of her house. We would just
occupy a corner of their house. We could have
looked after their children. Children after
all are the biggest source of satisfaction to
the old people," Arundati
spoke her heart out.
"It is not the
question of Veeru's
wife. You don't understand. At this age one is
afraid to leave one's home. All our lives we
have not even gone beyond
Jawahar Tunnel, how
can we think of going and staying
beyond the vast ocean. Who knows what kind of
country that would be, what kind of people
would we come
across, what is their style of life. And then
why do you put all the blame on me? Your heart
too was not inclined to leave this place".
aside, Kaki too had
invited you to Mumbai. You refused to go there
because you thought breaking bread at a
daughter's house was like eating beef. Have
you forgotten that?"
you just can't understand. If they really
loved us they could have come here and taken
us with them. How could we have refused then?"
"Both of them
were ready to come but they were afraid of
you. Your decisions are final. You are
Remember, you had written letters to them not
and Kaki both remained busy looking after
their families in those metropolitan cities.
In the Valley the old couple would count the
days. How many were past! God knows how many
"Today is the
7th of Shrawan.
You should have prepared 'Tahri',
the auspicious yellow rice today.
Kaki's daughter was born today only. I hope
you have sent a telegram to her?"
and wife remembered Veeru
and Kaki, their children every passing moment.
It seemed ages when we had received letters
from them. Old age and loneliness are killing.
One longs to see one's children but they think
it is our selfishness to crave for children.
How can one live without near and dear ones.
"Write to your
son tomorrow asking him to send us tickets,"
"I am also
thinking likewise. I shall call Kaki today. We
shall stay in Mumbai for a few days and then
go to Veeru's
you think right. It is already late in the
night. Now go to sleep".
switched on the night lamp after all other
lights were put off.
Nilakanth was still uneasy. He got up
from the bed and reassured himself that all
the windows and doors had been secured. Till
he was not convinced that everything was in
place he strolled in the room wantonly. And
then he was back in his warm bed. He handed
over his Kangri to
Arundati to keep
it safely aside and then burrowed deep under
the quilt. Sleep eluded him tonight. He kept
turning in his bed. In the meantime there was
a loud tap on the main door. Who could be at
such a late hour? Their souls were gripped by
fear; they shrank into their beds. Even
stopped breathing out of fear.
heard the cracking sound of the door being
opened. Someone kicked the door of the room as
well. The door opened wide like a wound. Two
mufflers masking their faces and with
sten-guns in their
hands, entered the
waiting they started firing indiscriminately.
Though the souls of both old creatures had
already left their bodies out of fear, yet the
bodies had blood in them which gushed out from
underneath the quilts. The armed youth turned
round and left after a while, leaving death
and silence behind.
Next day, the
local newspaper carried following headline:
two informers, Nilakanth
and Arundati in
were suspected of being spies working for the
*(This is the English rendering of author's
short story 'Mukhbir',
originally written in Urdu and published