ANNI GATTE: The Darkness (A Short Story)

By Khan Khawar Achakzai

Tsaalun chhu vuzmal ti trattay

Tsaalan chhu mandanis gatakar

Tsaalun chhu parbatas karun atte

Tsaalun chhu manz athas hyon naar

Tsaalun chhu paan kadun gratay

Tsaalun chhu khyoun ekvat zahar khar


We must bear the lightening and thunder

We must bear the darkness at noon

We must bear the mountain on our shoulders

We must bear the fire place on our palms

We must bear our bodies milled to dust

We must bear to swallow the poison load together.

The 15 year old Azhar had just finished writing his Kashmiri assignment from school. He had never liked doing his studies so early, but he knew that he wanted to meet his friends really bad and his ever complaining mother would have no reasons to stop him meeting his village buddies if he would do his homework in time. He thought of the notebook as a big full stop to her unending bickerings about him being a spoilt little boy who doesn’t take anything seriously in life.

Even though Azhar had been a topper in school, he wondered why his mother would, very meanly, still call him darbedear, a term he had now accustomed himself to as being his nickname. He realised that her struggles had made her sour. He was anything but darbedear, he thoughtafter all he had been praised in the assembly by the Principal for being the most studious boy of the school and was awarded with a medal.

‘mummy mea hai moklowmai sabakh, be hai gazcai batas gindni’ (mother I finished my studies, I will go to play with the bat) he cried out loud with a delinquent lisp. He knew it would take her a lifetime to reply, partly because she wasn’t interested in him going out to play and partly because she did’t take seriously anything that he said. ‘Mummy zarr chhuye, mummy me hai gov czear me hai chhe pyaran doss’ (mother are you deaf, my friends are waiting for me)

‘Chhe shoth mandchhawakh mea mondi maaji, yi kya czhenmiz kameez leajith,’ (You will bring your widowed mother disgrace, why are you wearing this torn shirt), his mother replied with utter revulsion in her voice, a disgust which seemed to be forged from habit as well as concern about her only son. ‘Bea Karai ath rouff, shikas ladah hyu chhukh nearan, lukh kyah wanan, wanan yeman chhuna kihin’. (Let me patch it, stupid person, what will the people think, these poor people have nothing to wear)

Azhar cursed himself in his heart for having even asked her, but to cut short the discussion he complied and took of the shirt to pass it over to his mother who took it inside and returned back in a few minutes.

‘Yi kyah korthas, yi kyazi logthas, bea chhusa shur, mea trawan asun atti, yi kyazi korthas mooji’ (What did you do to this, why did you patch it with this, am I still a kid?, everyone will laugh on me, why did you do this mother?), Azhar whines when he sees a patch with a picture of Mickey Mouse, a cartoon he cherished and he still watched but made sure that none knew about it or he would be made fun of.

‘Balai lagai, mea kati aes payi, mea wonn cze chhui yi ponz karan khosh te loalle saan onmai, zu wandai neaar wany wenkes yohai leagith, be shearei patte yeli ikh gindith’ (Oh my dear! I thought you loved his monkey and got it out of love, I am sorry my dear, you go to play I sure shall make it right when you come back)

She had always been very particular about Azhar’s upbringing, especially so after her husband had died due to renal failure right after he was abducted by some ‘unknown gunmen’ and subjected to the most barbaric torture. When his half dead body was returned to the family, he could hardly speak or move his eyes, a roller had been moved over his legs, his nails had been piled out, his genitals were bruised due to the electric shocks and his skin burnt with an iron. Azhar had been 6 at that time.The mother had cried and pulled out her hair when she saw Abuji, that was all he remembered.

His father had recovered for a few week, he would speak, eat and cry in pain. He remembered how Abuji had started swelling up and the doctors told him that his kidneys were failing and he would need a transplant that would cost around 10 lakhs an amount unimaginable for a labourer like his father. Abuji had sent his wife, Azhar’s mother to the office of the party he had been volunteering for since last 5 years. He was positive that they would help him, after all, it was the dedication for the party that had landed him in the situation he was in. Azhar’s mother had returned back with 300 Rs. He had died the next week.

Since, then the only hope that kept her going on in her life was her son. She had wanted him to become a Kidney doctor so that he could treat those like his father. She worked in a bag factory and earned very little, half of which would go into her sons education and the household and the rest she would save.

She would always look back and think how at the time of her husbands death it had created a furore. All the groups: the militants, mainstream politicians and separatists had issued condemnations and warnings against such grotesque incidents. Each one of them had its members visit their home and promised her education and other expenditures for her son, the promises that had vanished as soon as the cameras had stopped rolling. Leaving aside the people with political interests and aspirations, not even her own relatives or neighbours had ever come forward for help over the years. She had never understood whose and what purpose could life of a poor labourer, with a mud house, torn clothes and a 6 year old son serve. She was left alone with her battles which she had fought very bravely till now.

She would often feel lucky that her son was safe, atleast he was around and she had a hope that she would see him grow up. These feelings had grown more stark and conspicuous over last one year which had seen hundreds of mothers lose their young ones to the unquenched thirst of bullets, hundreds of youngsters blinded by the merciless pellets, numerous others incarcerated and languished in jails away from their families. In the last two weeks only, the blood of more than 20 people had been shed in the streets of the valley. There was an, ‘Anni gatte’ (darkness), she thought, in the lives of those who had lost their near ones, the anni gatte that she too had witnessed in her life a few years back and prayed that it would Never return.

All this often made her feel fortunate and scared at the same time. She often felt that she exceeded in the strictness on her son, but that was all she had to hold onto.

Thinking about the anni gatte she realised that the night had set in and it was getting dark, in the room and outside. She had bought Amme beadin kulfi for Azhar and he would soon be returning home. She smiled at thought of scolding hear dear darbeader before letting him have the ice cream and then hugging him tight. She put down the curtains and switched on the small black and white TV.

The TV had become a sort of repertoire, that seemed to play the same stories in a loop, again and again, of loss, seperation and death. As usual there were visuals of those killed, today in a bomb blast around an encounter site. ‘There was an an unedning war in the words of these news anchors, who were they, had they even been to this place, had they seen blood like we do everyday, did they even have an inkling to what it took to see your brothers, father’s, son’s intestines hanging out, how it feels seeing your sister raped, had they ever witnessed the death, who were they? Why were they?’ she thought.

Stonepelters, sangbaazmukhbir, militants, rebels, martyred, all of these had become norms, the cliches that echoed every evening, scarier than the guns itself. The city had taken the shape of a dungeon. It seemed to be built of bones, plastered with blood and flesh and smelt of the incense from funeral rites, the city was filled with conceit and hypocrisy

She was distressed looking at the charred irrecognisable bodies of those killed, nothing had remained of their flesh and clothes. The wails of the women agonised her, but deep within the layers of motherhood she felt a selfish relief, Azhar was neither a militant nor a sangbaaz, he wasn’t ever going to be one, he was the most studious boy of his school who would become a kidney doctor, the anni gatte wasn’t her anymore, she thought and smiled, and just then she saw a half burn’t Mickey mouse patch on one of the charred bodies.

(11 year old Saaliq was killed in a blast along with 5 others on 21, October 2018. The above short story is fiction which depicts the heart wrenching tale of thousands of innocent young boys like Saaliq who have been killed in Kashmir over last three decades)

            – Khan Khawar Achakzai

Dr. Khawar Khan (Writer) is a published author, social activist and a doctor by profession serving in Kashmir.

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