Kashmir mountain village

Choices

By Ash Kaul

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I’ve wasted enough time sweating shivering crying not because it’s hot or cold or because everyone cries here all the damn time but because I want to expend the last few tears before putting into motion my plan which I know will consume 33 seconds and so I must act before they trudge back home through the snows gingerly looking out for the hoods who could be waiting amid the fog-filled ripples of bare-boned trees along the snowed-in village track or behind the hill like they do whenever a few village boys disappear and then we are subjected to hell for knowing some of those boys besides that we are “jihadis” for wishing for the simple freedom granted by Allah to every land including these comatose mountains which are called the paradise of Kashmir but are pounded by vainglorious jackboots in an attempt as sage as trying to crush all the near-maple Kashmiri chinar leaves splayed but then oppression in action is like oppression as a word for it exists in the present-continuous tense with no end in sight but to hell with all this for right now all I can see is the rope rolling in my fingers that I’ve decided to hang from to leave this Jannat for Allah’s paradise which should be saner than the ones he created because I am broken part by part starting with my little brother Adil who these soldiers fancied because they are secular when it comes to rape of girl or boy or man or woman and it didn’t matter that Adil was 13 just as it didn’t matter that Mouj my mother was their mother’s age when they raped her with a hundred other Kashmiri women in our twin villages of Kunan Poshpora in February 1991 and for all the hullaballoo here it was muffled behind the sound-proof Hindu gateway of Jammu the only gateway to Kashmir and brought no justice to our cracked padlocked doors but the likes of my best friend Shahid believed that the very pursuit of freedom is freedom itself but when he disappeared to fight for Azadi his mother set out in the deathly cold of Chillai Kalan to look for him and died of pneumonia for she refused to go to a military hospital till it was too late and his father followed her lifeless into the foggy grave with mournful nettle trees for company while a flood of pale yellow Narcissus flowers came up in spring when the snow left the ground to give false hope because with spring comes siege the only season these outlanders from the burning tropical plains dare to step out and all this I learned from my militant friend Shahid because till then my eyes could only see blood but he left me empty when he died a martyr in a night-long encounter when he came home to place flowers on his parents’ graves and the hoods snatched away his body and did not hand it over for the fear of again enraging more 15-year-old boys enough to fight for Azadi and nine-year-old girls to pelt stones at them but now weighed under like the boughs under snow I see this rope as the bridge between this bleeding Jannat and Allah’s paradise which must be saner than this one he created and not because I am not brave for actually I am too numb to not be brave but because every time the hoods pick me up my raped mother dies and so does my poor father and so many others in whose lap I played and so I stand up with the rope in one hand and smother the Bukhari space-heater and caress the pot-belly of Bab’s hookah like it is him and run my fingers on Mouj’s yinder spinning wheel and kiss the traami the copper plate in which the three of us started eating together after little Adil left and whisper Khuda Hafiz and then taking a deep breath I lift the rope and blink as I recall the swift steps I read on the internet that odd day when it was working but I suddenly slip and fall with this judder of guns and freeze when it hits me that the hoods have come and I wonder if the guns are going for Bab and Mouj or any other “jihadi” a word used in both singular and plural and applied to anyone who is Muslim and wants to remain so and so I fling the rope and run out of the falling rubble and my eyes hit a blind white fog that blocks the path where Bab and Mouj could be and I think Allah stopped me from dying because only I can save Bab and Mouj right now and so I tumble out through the snow through the twiggy trees of a gray-white Kashmir slipping falling over the verglas on rocks and uncertain snow screaming “Bab!” “Mouj!” my overgrown hair flying militantly in the wind or so I think and when the rat-a-tat-tat of guns fades gets uneven and even stops I bend with my hands on my knees and pant to get my breath back and then rise and marvel at where kismet and Allah have brought me now and so I knock on the door of Fatah Khan’s nomadic mud hut and from his eyes I know he already knows what I tell him when I say I am ready and so can he take me uss paar that side to return to fight for Azadi for a land that is loved by its people more than most lands genuinely are and he lays a dastarkhwan rug on the mud floor and reminds me I am only 15 but does not say that what I want I should not want because he knows that between a torture worse than death and a fear-free life of two more years even a fool would chose the latter.

 

 

Ash KaulAsh Kaul is a strategist, mountaineer, and Kashmiri writer. He has published a political satire column in LITRO and his satire, stories, and essays have appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, The Satirist, and Bella Caledonia. He was a “favourite” in the Reflex Fiction (UK) Flash Spring Competition 2018 and a finalist in Cutbank’s Montana Prize for Fiction 2018.

Header photo by ImagesofIndia, courtesy Shutterstock.

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