The Creative Section (Vol. 5, No. 1) is on its way and will be published by the end of May, 2024.

THE ILLUMINATING LIGHT

 


THE ILLUMINATING LIGHT

-         Farheen Farid (India)

 

It was a calm September morning, an ideal one to go out to the lake for fishing and then after all the hard work and the satisfaction of having caught a handful, lie on the side of the lake where the department of tourism had placed some wooden benches, slowly soaking in all the heat one possibly could from the sun. September marks the onset of autumn in Kashmir when apples are in their maturing state; green chinar trees turn golden; saffron buds begin to pop out of the ground; migratory birds from Siberia and Central Asia set flight for the wetlands surrounding Dal Lake; the smell of the wazwan, a concoction of special Kashmiri delicacies spreads out celebrating the bloom of the wedding season; and the days start getting shorter and the nights colder and longer, announcing the arrival of winter and with it the warmth of the kangris, the traditional fire pots that people hold under their traditional attire, phirans; and of the piping hot spiced drink popularly known as kahwa served from the exquisitely and intricately carved copper samovars. Everything is beautiful about autumn in Kashmir.

Although the morning was calm, there was nothing peaceful about it. The dull grey clouds had taken over the redness of the September sky. It wasn’t that ideal a day everyone had hoped for.  The muezzin had not called the faithful for the prayers that morning; nor had the boys rushed to the local bakery to get the freshly baked bread that is usually taken with noon chai, the salt tea. Pigeons and sparrows did not fly in search of food; Zooni Aapa’s warm smiles did not greet anyone that morning. Children were not seen on the streets, there were no buses to take them to school. Bashir kaka, an old daily wager, had not gone out to feed his cattle, something he did every day before leaving for work. There was no electricity and no working telephones. The whole land had been silenced by an unusual terror.

 The lakes and rivers that had once projected the idea of beauty, exhibited their most calamitous side by engulfing the whole valley with a blanket of never-ending silence. Stranded on the topmost floor of his house for three days, Hamzah, a thirteen-year-old boy remembers the night when he and his Abba were preparing to go to bed and suddenly the pride of their land, river Jhelum, breached its embankments and gushed across the settlement leaving the whole area inundated. He was completely clueless as to what was happening, his Abba had held him by his arm and they had rushed to the topmost floor of their house hoping to find a safe spot there. It was an unusual sight for everyone as the worst floods that the valley had ever experienced had created chaos and a feeling of helplessness among people. Hamzah had heard his heart beat violently with fear. The same feeling of uneasiness and breathlessness would sometimes cripple him when he would suddenly get up from his sleep in the middle of the night and then with tears in his eyes and trembling voice would usually call out, “Abba! Abba! Please save me Abba.” His parents’ room was adjacent to his and on hearing Hamzah, his father would rush towards him, not caring about what time of the night it was and would then hold him close and comfort him by saying, “don’t worry son, I’m here with you. I would not let anything happen to you, just close your eyes and recite that prayer I taught you and you’ll be fine.” These words would work their charm on him and fill his heart with a feeling of certainty that nothing would ever happen to him. His Abba was someone he could trust blindly. He had brought Hamzah up all by himself. His wife had died when Hamzah was three. Hamzah did not remember his mother; he was only acquainted with the idea of her. Abba kept talking about her all the time and Hamzah had known her through him. He was a man of principles and his love for his son was unconditional. The world seemed beautiful and every insane thing meaningful, when Abba explained it to him. That very night, his Abba had held him close and repeated the same lines, but somehow it did not ease out his restlessness but instead, he felt that the darkness was smothering him in its powerful grip.

It was their third morning there and Hamzah had become quieter because of lack of energy due to unavailability of proper food and consumable water, and also the inevitable fear had drained him emotionally. They were surrounded by, a sack of hard raw rice which was fortunately kept on that floor by Abba as he was supposed to return it to the wholesaler for a better quality one that Sunday; a plastic bowl that was used to collect fresh drinkable rain water; an old blanket that kept them warm during the night; a heap of old files with a hoard of calculations and numbers inked neatly on plain white sheets of paper that were of no use; and an empty Pepsi can that Hamzah had placed on the stairs just to see it rise each time the water level increased. There was a washroom adjacent to the room but it was already overflowing. They could drink water only when it rained. Every time before having the rice, Abba soaked it in water for about fifteen minutes just to make it a little easier to swallow. Rain was both, a boon as well as a bane for them. With every downpour the Pepsi can would rise. It had risen to over three steps the previous night. Hamzah had seen fear in his Abba’s eyes as he faced the sky in prayer. He was running down on patience, but had certainly not lost hope. His diabetes had begun to trouble him, making him a little unstable. He somehow could sense that something was not right with him.

There was stillness all around, the level of the water had not increased that day. They felt a little relieved but this feeling was short lived as they witnessed their neighbour’s house reduce to dust just before their bare eyes. Its aged bricks could not overcome the sturdiness of the dead lifeless water that had weakened and distressed its very existence. This incident made Hamzah shiver. With dwindling hope, Abba was trying to console him, but all his efforts went in vain. It was when they had begun to slowly accept the graveness of the matter that they heard a woman crying out loud, “Come back Muneera, my child. Please come back to me.” Rushing to the window they spotted a woman in the house across the street holding a baby in her arms. She was not letting anyone touch or come near her. It was Bashir Kaka’s one month old grand-daughter who had breathed her last due to pneumonia. Hamzah had heard this name before. He had a friend named Muneera. He recalled the day when their teacher had asked Muneera the meaning of her name and she had then replied, “the illuminating one”. This made him wonder what good this name had brought to the dead girl’s parents, as the radiating light that had just begun to spread across Bashir Kaka’s house had faded out completely. Bashir Kaka was now looking for a dry piece of land to bury this dead illuminating light, but all he could find was a vast expanse of despair. The happiness that had encircled their lives, was now vehemently mourning the grandeur retained by the unceasing sorrow.

            Hamzah’s Abba was foreseeing the dreadful fate that was about to befall them. The night was getting colder and darker. He was all drenched in sweat. Hamzah had held his hand saying, “I’m here Abba, I won’t let anything happen to you. Let me read out that prayer for you and you’ll be fine.” Abba had made him sit close to him. He was trying hard to hide his tears but could not contain them for long. Hamzah had never seen him like this before. There was an earnest appeal tied to each and every drop of tear that rolled down from his Abba’s eyes. On having recited the prayers, he placed himself next to his Abba and could not resist admiring the beauty that the white light from the moon had brought along with it over his Abba’s tired face. It made him realize that one can find shades of solace even in the most undesirable situations. He placed his head on his Abba’s lap and gazed out of the window, his bright eyes were looking for some miracles. The thought that a life bestowing thing can be life destroying, made him value the importance of the workings of nature that maintains perfect balance in order to make everything function in the right way.

            Abba had always asked him to have faith in the Almighty and sticking to that belief, he was longing for that moment when God would free them of their misery. It was then he heard something and his happiness knew no bounds. This commotion made him feel ecstatic as this feeling was more overwhelming than hitting a fifty in the cricket match played at the local ground on Sundays; more exciting than watching the flakes of snow disappear when they touched one’s face; even more relaxing than the sound of the rain touching the tin roof; more cheerful than the feeling one gets after watching the fish fight for a piece of bread in the water or even more complacent than finding a branch laden with apples close to where one does not even have to jump to reach them and even more blissful than the numbness one feels after putting one’s feet in the ice cold river water. His happiness was unexplainable. It was the sound of an oar cutting across the surface of the stagnant water that had filled his heart with hope again. Some people had come to rescue them in their boat. He rushed to the window and waved to them. On seeing them come towards him, he again rushed back to his Abba shouting, “they are here! Abba, look they are here!” He tried everything he could to wake him up. He tickled his feet and kissed his eyes but he did not respond to this. Hamzah then tried lifting his hand and even sprinkled a few drops of water on his face but his body was lying still and had become too heavy to be moved. He tried almost everything but little did he know that his Abba, his only support, his illuminating light, had gone off to an eternal sleep, leaving him all alone in the dark.

 

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