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Burning Windows.

By Ibrahim Qureshi

Once upon a time there lived two friends, Arsalan and Aadarsh, in a small picturesque village namely Wandhama of district Ganderbal Kashmir. They lived in close vicinity which made their friendship grow even stronger. Their bond seemed unbreakable. People used to call them Double-A as they were very close to each other. Both boys were very good cricket players and eventually got selected for their junior school team. They used to practice during their leisure time with other village boys and watch all live cricket matches together on a small black & white TV. Even though the duo supported different teams, they never let it affect their friendship and bond. From walking back to their homes every day from school to preparing for every examination, they did everything together. Their family bond was extended to other members of their respective families who also lived like good neighbors and friends. Both families spent their festivals together, be it Eid, Mela Kheer Bhawani, Hehrath or Mela Qamar Sahib. They happily used to visit each other’s religious places and occasionally would exchange specially prepared dishes to each other as a token of love and respect. They even felt privileged to go for family picnics together. In short you can call it a Single Family with different religious beliefs. Everything was fine and their lives were running smoothly.

As winter started to set its feet in Kashmir, happiness and joy spread over their faces as it was time for a long winter vacations. They started planning all sorts of stuff for these vacations. But God had some other plans. It was snowing, in the month of December; they were merrily going back to their home with relaxed minds, when they got hit by a speedy two wheeler. The biker had hit Adarsh on his right side. Arsalan was very scared when he saw his friend screaming. Blood was oozing from his right hand. But he gathered his strength and courage, picked up his friend with the help of the biker and reached to the nearby district hospital Ganderbal. He was admitted in the hospital for many days as he had fractured his right leg. Arsalan being his true and loyal friend did not leave him for a minute and remained by his side during his hospitalization.

On the last day in the hospital, the two friends were happy and waiting eagerly for Aadarsh’s mother to get the discharge certificate quickly from hospital authorities. But it all changed when they saw Aadarsh’s father (a renowned Govt. Teacher of the area) walking briskly towards them with a hand baggage in his hand. He hugged Arsalan and kissed his forehead. The tears were rolling down his bony face. All he said was “Please tell your parents thank you for being there whenever we needed you. We will never forget the time we spent together. Goodbye, may god bless you all”. It was the last time they ever saw each other.

Many years have passed now; Arsalan with his three year old daughter in his lap still looks out of the window searching for his childhood friend, searching for the family who taught him moral values and above all true meaning of being human. Unfortunately, all he can find through his blurred eyes is the burnt windows of that house which he once called home. All he can see now is two little boys running and smiling at each other.


Burning WINDOWS - II A Heart Wrenching Story of Two Friends Untold Stories from Kashmir**************************************************************************************

In 2001, prestigious C.K Nayudo cricket tournament was held for the first time in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir. Many qualified officials were deputed by Directorate of Youth Services & Sports of the state to make it a successful event, as all state teams of the country were participating. The officials from different districts of state enjoyed the leisure time after their regular match duties. They used to walk on the banks of world famous Dal Lake as their accommodations were in the hotels of Boulevard area, near to the Cricket Stadium. One fine pleasant morning, the match responsibility was given to Mr Aadarash (from Jammu Division) and Mr Hamid (from Kashmir Division) to officiate a crucial match between Delhi and Bihar. Both the umpires enjoyed to officiate the match as Bihar team was lead by Mr Tejaswi Yadav, the youngest son of Lalu Prasad Yadav, the then Chief Minister of Bihar. It was noted that there was a huge fan following for teenage Tejaswi and his Bihar team. Massive security was around him and his team. After the end of the match, Adharsh and Hamid moved towards the hotel, took a bath and sat together in the balcony of the hotel to have some tea and relax after hectic day in the field.

“Where do you live dear?” Adarsh asked Hamid

“Downtown Srinagar and You ?”….. Hamid replied.

“I presently live in Jammu after our poignant migration in 1998”, replied Adarsh.

“Where did you live in Kashmir before your migration?” Hamid asked again.

Adarsh after looking into the eyes of Hamid answered, “Wandahama, a famous hamlet in District Ganderbal.”

“Do you visit your native village?” Asked Hamid.

“My father took all our family members to Jammu after they saw the changing colours of Kheer Bhawani Spring. Our elders related it to the growing tension and turmoil in Kashmir. I have never visited Kashmir after migration because of the fear and tragedy we faced. This is my first visit after more than a decade. I would not have visited here again, as my friends in Jammu have always advised us to avoid visiting there. I don’t miss anyone except one of my childhood friends and the tasty water of a spring that existed in our village”.

Your childhood friend? Are not you in contact with him after you migrated? Asked Hamid.

No, but the bond we shared during our childhood was unbreakable, he was just like my brother. We used to play cricket together every day after coming back from school. I can never forget the memories we shared. There isn’t a single day when I don’t think about him.

Hamid felt very sad after listening to this untold story of separation. He remained quiet for some time and thought how he can help to reunite these childhood friend, hence told him; “You are here in Kashmir, so you should visit your village.” But Adarsh was reluctant. He was scared to visit his childhood home because of the trauma he had faced as a child, but his heart was beating otherwise. Hamid told him that he will accompany him and take all responsibility to arrange the trip.

Adarsh could not sleep a blink due to the thoughts running in his head as he wanted to visit his native place but was directed not to move out of station. Next day in the morning, Hamid again requested him to think about his proposal. But Adarsh did notrespond and both went together to the cricket stadium for further duties.

It was a break day, Hamid went to home and next day came back and called Adarsh from the window. Adarsh opened the window after hearing the call from Hamid.

“Please change your dress immediately, today is an off day and we are free. I have brought my brothers vehicle, let us go around”. Ok, please wait, replied Adarsh.

After a while, both sat in the car and Hamid said,

“Please don’t refuse me this time; I want to take you to Wandhama, your residence.” Adarsh’s eyes lightened-up with a weird expression, but with some inner deep happiness which he was unable to express; he answered, “ok, let us see where this journey takes us.” Hamid started moving his car towards Wandhama village which was around 35 km away. Both started sharing their experiences about their sports achievements. Both enjoyed the beautiful view of famous chinar valley and river Sindh during their journey. When they were about to reach Wandhama hamlet, Adarsh felt very nostalgic on seeing all the familiar places. He recalled every childhood memory as if it happened yesterday. He felt right at home. He told Hamid to stop the car near a spot where many local young and old women folk were filling their matka’s (earthen pots) with fresh spring water, few were standing with Matka’s on their head.

“I remember this is the place from where all the villagers used to collect the crystal clear and cold drinking water. Let me please refresh myself and drink water from this spring”. Hamid parked his car and both walked towards the spring.

“Can I take a little sip of water from the spring” Adarsh told them.

“Yes why not, please come,” ladies replied,

Adarsh quickly moved towards the spring, washed his face and started drinking ice cold water to quench his thirst as if he was thirsty for months. He quickly sprinkled some water on his head without caring that his clothes were getting wet too. The women folk were surprised to see this act.

When Adarsh was drinking water, an elderly lady having wrinkled face, sitting on a boulder near the spring wearing traditional Pheran (Kashmiri Gown), was observing him keenly. Then she suddenly asked Adarsh,

“Are you the son of Masterji Kanaya Lal?

Adarsh turned and looked at the old lady, got up, and said “Yes”. The lady immediately started crying and opened her arms, “come here my dear son.

You have grown up just like your father, same face same voice”

Adarsh touched her feet, and braced her too. The old lady was crying and everyone present there was shell shocked to witness the sight. Hamid was also watching this emotional scene and could feel the tears rolling down his cheeks.

Adarsh said “Are you Boba, aunt of Arsalan?” My mother always told us about the story of her childhood friendship and close association with you.

“How are you all, how is Arsalan, what is he doing, where is he this time, can I meet him, I missed him a lot.” All the questions were asked in one breath.

The old lady got up, Adarsh helped her to move towards an apple orchard, both sat down under the shadow of a Chinar tree, talked to each other for a long time. Adarsh told her that he wants to see his old friend. Both got up and started moving towards Bot-e-Mohalla. Seeing the love and affection shown by his villagers, Adarsh was very happy, lightened up and full of joy. He requested her to accompany him to the house of Arslan. All the ladies were walking behind and following them with matkas on their head. It was a great sight to watch. Finally they reached the hilltop, where Arsalan and Adarsh once lived together.

It was paddy season and the village was empty as people were busy in their fields. Arsalan was taking rest under an apple tree with few other men when he heard cries of Boba, “Arsalan Arsalan, look who has come to see you.” He got up quickly, wiped his eyes and saw two strange men coming towards him. Before they could reach him he jumped into the nearby small stream, cleaned his legs, arms and face which were dirty because he was sapling paddy in the fields. After quickly cleaning himself he moved towards them. Arsalan looked towards Hamid and Adarsh with a smile. He tried to recognise them, and when he looked at the face of Adarsh closely, he immediately recognised his childhood friend with whom he had spent years together. “Are you Adarsh” said Arsalan. “Yes dear,” replied Adarsh. They were shocked and couldn’t believe their eyes. Out of disbelief they hugged each other tightly and both burst into tears. They did not talk much but their tears were visible on their faces, their eyes turned red. Meanwhile people of the village started assembling around them. It was really a great sight to witness their reunion. The ladies who were following them were also in tears. Boba requested both of them to sit down. She called someone to bring tea. Arsalan and Adarsh sat down under the shadow of a tree and all the villagers, young and old sat around them like giving their guests a security cover in the orchard. Some among them knew that the pair was famous for their family alliance and cricketing as both were famous players during their childhood and schooling. Hamid was very happy to see the separated friends reuniting again. He was happy that he was able to unite them. After some time the family of Arsalan brought tea in a “Samavar” (a big kettle), and “Chochvor” (Kashmiri bread) in a traditional woven basket and started serving tea.

Please give tea to Hamid first as it is he who brought me here, otherwise I would have never reached my birth place,” said Adarsh. While taking sips of tea Adarsh was glaring at the stream flowing nearby, the music of the dancing water was refreshing his old memories. Meanwhile Arsalan pointed towards his daughter and introduced her to Adarsh. Arsalan was surprised and happy at the same time. She came running towards him after he said I am your uncle and kissed her on the forehead. She sat in his lap and told her father,

“Baba Baba, is it him whose stories you always told me before sleeping?” Yes my dear.

After some time Hamid told Arsalan it is getting late and they should leave. Both Arsalan and Adarsh looked at each other as they didn’t want to leave each other. Adarsh told Arsalan to visit him at Jammu along with his family and Boba.

“They all miss you very much. Papa is not feeling well, as his health condition is deteriorating day by day”.Yes I surely will,” said Arsalan.

As they both got up, Adarsh told Boba that he wanted to see his old house and pray in the Mandir nearby. All the villagers looked at each other in surprise and started whispering. Adarsh started moving towards the Bout e Mohalla. Arsalan and Boba accompanied him, while Hamid and a few old aged villagers followed them. When they reached the mohalla, Arsalan was shocked. The mohalla had been burnt to ashes. It was destroyed, as if a war had taken place. Adarsh was looking for his house but everything was burned down. He walked towards it . He was glaring on the burnt wooden ceiling (traditional khatum-band wooden piece) which were scattered everywhere. Adarsh seemed visibly very upset. Arsalan could not gather courage to support him or give him solace. Without talking to anybody, Hamid moved towards Adarsh and put his hand on his shoulders. Adarsh got up and moved towards another area near his house. And there too he could not find anything except the idol, they once used to pray in front of. He sat near it started praying for a while. His eyed again were full of tears but this time he controlled himself. Hamid and Arsalan were waiting for him nearby. Adarsh looked at his friend as if asking him what had happened to their mohalla but did not utter a word. All villagers were waiting him. Arsalan told Hamid that one night, when they were all sleeping, they heard people crying that fire had engulfed the Bout e mohalla. Everybody got frightened. But some villagers gathered courage, assembled and rushed towards the mohalla, but could not save the houses. Within minutes all was gone. It seemed like gunpowder was sprinkled on them. To this day, nobody knows who burnt these houses.

Adarsh was quietly listening to them, but did not say anything. The villagers were walking behind them in absolute silence.

When they reached the car, Adarsh again requested Boba and Arsalan to visit him in Jammu,“My mother wants to see you all. She wants to come back here but she is not feeling well,” said Adarsh.

Hamid opened the window of his car and Adarsh got in. When they were about to leave, Adarsh through the rear mirror saw Arsalan’s wife running towards them with a bag. She handed over a bag to her husband and told him to give it to Adarsh. It was full of walnuts and almonds and in the bag she had kept a very precious gift, a picture of Arsalan and Adarsh from when they were small kids, with cricket bats in their hands smiling at the camera unaware of all the evils of the society. As the car started moving, they were both staring deep into each other’s eyes.

It seemed as if the windows of their hearts were still burning.

By Ibrahim Qureshi

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