Since morning today the sky was covered by a thick blanket of clouds. Not a single ray of sun was visible. By the afternoon the wind started blowing. Zaina Ded came down from the upper story of her house sat on the verandah of house and while gazing at the sky she wondered that if winds catch up the speed and result in storm what would be the fate of paddy crops lying cut in the fields. She got worried as she was scared of the wind especially the autumn wind. The autumn winds spread like wild fire of forests, she believed. It may destroy the crops, trees, houses and not even spare the human beings. She looked at the sky and the grain store one after the other. The grain store was empty as the entire paddy crop was still in the fields. Zaina Ded got restless. It was her weakness to get nervous at the slight pretext, but could not stop it happening as she has been braving her bad luck since her childhood. Lost in such memories, her eyes spotted the house of Veshamali straight across the compound of her house. Her heart began to sink. She forgot all about the paddy crop and grain store. Whenever her eyes caught sight of this house, the closed doors and windows of house would stare hard at her. With right hand resting her face she closely started staring at the front door of Veshmali’s house. The upper portion of the door was cast with cobweb and the lower edge of the door was covered with white mushroom like fungus. The door chain had rusted and the entire wooden door was mud ridden and soiled. From the very bad shape of this house it was evident that it is lying vacant for a long time now.
Zaina Ded took a long breath and got lost in memories. Veshmalis cries pierced into her ears. “Why don’t you go to play to some other place. You only get stuck to this door.” Veshamali would shout at Posha’s younger son Aashu. But all such shouts would hardly bother Aashu. He would get more aggravated and aggressive and swing on the door. Veshamali would pick up a stick in her hands and scare him away. Aashu would run towards the walnut tree inside the compound. He would jump and try to touch its leaves to irritate her further. She would shout at him again, “You naughty boy, now you got stuck to the walnut tree. Are not the children from the street enough to damage it? Let them go to hell they have not left even a single walnut on it. They always get stuck to this walnut tree, and now you…” Zaina Ded took a long breath again. She thought that both the door and walnut tree are very much there but it is Veshamali who is seen no where? As if the autumn storm blew her away along with her whole family members. Oh my God where have all of them gone Veshamali, Sarva Joo, Posha, Rani, Picha and Aashu.
Zaina Ded became restless she got up and walked upto Veshamali’s compound. She started strolling inside the compound and lastly came and sat under the walnut tree again gazed at the house. She again got lost into memories, remembered the day she had entered this compound as a bride for the first time and first of all they had taken her to the same Sarva Joo’s house. Till then Khala Rather had only a muddy house made of raw bricks that is why they brought the bride into this house. Khala Rather and Sarva Joo were childhood friends. They grew up together, were playmates and lifelong neighbours. Zaina Ded gave birth to three children, two daughters and one son Ghulam Ahmed who was youngest of all. Veshmali had one eldest daughter SonaBaTyan and son Pushkar Nath the younger one. Ghulam Ahmed and Pushkar Nath were almost of same age. So like their fathers they became natural friends. Both were studying in a school of neighboring village. As the ill luck would have it Khala Rather died of a sudden disease, Zaina Ded wanted to discontinue the studies of Ghulam Ahmed but SarvaJoo did not allow that to happen. He paid for his studies as well and made both the boys pass the matriculation examination. Thereafter both Ghulam Ahmed and Pushkar Nath were appointed as teachers in Government schools. The whole village celebrated their appointment, since they were first such employees from the village. Zaina Ded felt indebted to Sarva Joo. Ghulam Ahmad’s marriage was also arranged by Sarva Joo. Pushkar too was married. Both moved together in life and became fathers as well. All was going on normal terms till such time a strange wind blew, gathered speed and turned into storm. Mutual trust was lost, brotherhood was lost. Entire valley of saints and sages was engulfed by the blanket of dark clouds. Everything turned topsy-turvy. The autumn storm swept away people to far off places across the mountains of valley. People got scattered across places. Thousands of houses got emptied and deserted. Beautiful houses cried and craved for their occupants. It was not ordinary wind but a devastating storm.
Had it been in her power Zaina Ded would have punished all those tabligis who would move from one village to other and from one city to other and poison the ears of people, spread hatred in the name of religion. Give communal sermons in mosques and other religious places and brainwash people under the garb of religion. All this was going on for quite some time and finally the thin membrane of tranquility between two communities was blown up with a bang.
After Salam peer’s son Rashid told her that Sarva Joo died in Jammu with heat stroke, Veshamali has lost her senses and is asking every passerby about the welfare of her home in Kashmir and Pushkar along with his family is living inside a tent, Zaina Ded would spent hours inside Veshamalis compound gazing at the house with remorse and repentance.She would wish to transform herself to a crow, flew to Jammu to see and meet Veshamali. Several times she asked her son Ghulam Ahmed to visit Jammu and find out the welfare of Pushkar and his family but every time he had the same answer that in case kaakhs (code word for militants) come to know they would punish us.
Zaina Ded was lost in deep memories. Her face had turned dark black eyes were wet, while wiping her tears with palu of her head gear, Naseema’s call stunned her. “Oh Dedi what are you doing there in that BhaTTa’s compound, come up stairs now.” Naseema was not happy with such a gesture of Zaina Ded. She would repeatedly taunt her mother-in-law on such behavior. However, Zaina Ded would not give her a damn. She had an association of fifty years with this compound. How could she forget it. Naseema would taunt her husband repeatedly on this, she would say “I wonder what gold mine mother has found in this compound of bhattas. She doesn’t stay much at home instead camps in that very compound whole day”. Ghulam Ahmed did not like Naseema’s such foul observations but would remain in uneasy calm. But today she had crossed the limits and he could no more bear with it. He broke his silence with a bang, “Naseema you shut up, stop this nonsense. You have no manners to speak. You do not know what this compound means to us. It is not the simple bhaTTa compound but my childhood, the bloom of Ded’s youth, it is a witness to our age old brotherhood, our past, our history. You would not understand its importance to us. You city dwellers hardly know importance of our tradition, culture, brotherhood etc. You people are fussy and root cause of all disputes. You are the root cause of current dispute as well. We village folks are simpletons and have to bear the fruit of all your sins.”
This way Ghulam Ahmed gave vent to years of his anger. He emptied all his grievances he had of Naseema. But Naseema could not take it lying down. She got further infuriated and spoke with equal anger, “Mother and son both of you, are possessed and carried away by some evil ‘bhaTTa spirit’. I cannot understand why you are so furious, I don’t think I have said anything unreasonable. Nowadays a brother does not care for his brother not to talk of neighbours, that too a neighbour from other community. I would still not mind had they been our Muslim neighbours.” This statement of Naseema added fuel to fire and Ghulam Ahmed shot back with rage of anger, “Naseema stop this nonsense, do not provoke me more, I know very well what good the guys from our own community have done to us. Ahmed Mama’s Bila was abducted, Sulah Gada’s daughters and daughter-in-law were gang raped, Salama Haji was killed like a dog in broad day light. You shut up now and stop this bullshit.”
Naseema was bogged down, kept calm, she perhaps realized her mistake and left the room in a hush. Her younger son Imran followed her. He asked her, “Oh mother what is bhaTTa”? On hearing the term bhaTTa she again lost her temper and reacted in anger. “bhaTTa means (treTa) striking lightening ‘for him’ who was swept away by deadening autumn storm to meet death. But, alas he still stands here: alive botheration for us.
Translated from Kashmiri by the author