Dr Saba Shafi Makhdoomi
New Delhi | Oct 31: The year was 1992. A little girl, all of five then, could not contain her joy as her parents took her to show the ‘lake’ for the very first time in all those years. She gasped in excitement, breaking into peals of laughter, looked at her mother, wide eyed and pleasantly surprised. ‘Where had you hidden this all along? How come I get to see it now?’ She questions them, in a tone that did nothing to contain her overflowing happiness, also one that brought to the fore a deep, boring sense of hurt, deprivation and betrayal. Yes, they had cleverly hidden all beauty and joy that she ought to have inherited being born here, instead burdening young shoulders under the immense weight of fear and uncertainty. She felt cheated, tricked, duped, in fact. Who decided what they must inherit from this land? How? And why? Were they asked what they wished for?
Many years later, as they spent yet another year in a beautiful mental prison, a loud noise is enough to make them lunge forward and crawl on the ground. Yes, this was one emergency drill that had been inscribed in their DNA by now. All loud noises were ominous, unless proven otherwise. Kneeling on the ground on all fours, they crawled away from the windows, only to realise the folly of their act. What cowardice! A firecracker had been mistaken for a shot fired in the air, the thick menacing soot settling on their mottled lungs having turned black from years of mental bondage. They had exchanged their shiny glass bangles for iron shackles that fettered their minds inexorably. What an unfair deal! Occupation occupies the mind. Nay! It consumes it.
The fire spreads far and wide, in the uneven terrain of one’s psyche, until sharp, jagged peaks are thrown up, those unscalable heights that must be conquered, whether one liked it or not. There was some truth in it after all. Conflict was cancerous. It spread and grow at an alarming rate, depriving one of all the nourishment, until it wasted one’s mind, body and soul. And they were the treacherous ‘children of conflict,’ as they had been romantically christened, at a time when there was no love left for their land.
As one’s mind is bombarded with images of fearless young kids holding stones in one hand and a death wish in other, one is forced to address a few uncomfortable questions. ‘How does it make you feel seeing an entire generation harboring a collective death wish?’ These words formed by a stranger, pierced through the phone, penetrating her, as she lay embroiled in a tempest, making sense of pain, both personal and collective. In a fused, syncytial ‘existence,’ where is the line of control that separates personal from the collective? Surrounded by mountains on all sides, cut off from the rest, the valley is so designed that whatever rock is cast only ricochets back onto us. No matter whose hands releases it, the ones to loosen their grip on life is us. Ours.
As masked faces dissolve in the sea of young, faceless men and women, as art, culture, poetry, language, beauty and life is burnt, charred and singed along the way, we must remember to take time to take a candle to light our way through the ruins. We must, then look and look intently, to search for answers to questions that we ‘raised.’
We must look within and hold the dark night’s vigil.
‘Are we done with the world, yet?’
(Author is a doctor by profession, currently working in a cancer hospital in Delhi. Her debut novel, Leaves From Kashmir has recently been released.)