The longest prayers

Light pierces through the space between the crewel curtains. The rays fell on my skin, sharp axes of a wood cutter. The cold summer breeze swaying curtains, the birds chirping into a trance. The leaves of our apple tree rustling, “What do they sing of?”. “Haya wathun tchuina” (Oh you, don’t you have to wake up). He looked into his HMT wrist watch gifted by his grandfather ‘10:30 am’.

Cold tsot and nun chai that was mostly kosh, these are the perks of waking up late, Kashif shrugged his shoulders while sitting on Tzchat’ai (old Kashmiri rug). His mother working on an old kerosene stove. Kashif turning the radio on, “Dophaye az Jummah namaz pat’e, aasnai tim Aziz goor’nis dukaanas pyath dodh nivaan, tet:hi wizchzyan” (they have said that they will be buying milk from Aziz after the Jummah prayers, look for her there)

Kashif blurted a faint alright and “Mere baat rahi mere mann mein, Kuch kehna saka uljhan mein…”( My words remained in my heart, couldn’t utter a word in this confusion). Aisha begum laughed and Kashif stood up, leaving embarrassed from the room. She says loudly, “Tapeari anzi gaadi” (bring some fish home)

It was the summer of 89', the year which would change life of the people and Kashmir itself.

Kashif lived in the Jabgaripora of Nowhatta, an area of downtown Srinagar built by the Sultan Sikandar Shahmiri in the 14th Century around the famous Jamia Masjid. The fridays in the Nowhatta chowk presented a festive look. Thousands of hawkers with their carts selling clothes, crockery, toys… While the fisherwomen had their own baskets set up as shops.

Kashif always prefered Fatima Begum’s fishes since he was a kid. His grandfather would take him on his shoulders to her. He knew her spot, so he managed to escape the taunts of the other fisherwomen “ake aaw fatas nechuv” (here comes Fatima’s son).

“Az tchuk bade sajaan ath khandress’as manz” (you are looking good in that khandress)
“Bas az tchuna Jummah temi”
(its friday that’s whytrying hard to hide his grin
“Mya won am’eul kak:an zi tche tchui az wizch’en so”
(i have been told by Amul Kak that today you will see her)
“Thavsa akh kilo, mya gov tser”
(just give me one kilo, i am getting late)
“Jaan gov, maaje tcha seari pay’e”
(alright then, this mother knows)

Fatima kissed his hand while giving him the fish wrapped in the Aftab. He left to the cherry gardens to meet his friends. Keeping the fishes at Inayat’s tilla-workshop.

Jamia Masjid

He crisscrossed the trees finding them at the corner of the small orchard. Umar and Ali were engaged in a discussion while Inayat, Salim and Imran listened on

Magar Yimav kor Yaseen’as seet galath, temi tzchol su” (they did a terrible thing with Yaseen that’s why he crossed over) said Ali
“Ahnu yeli mangaan oas Azaadi, teli korhes, temis kya wazwan karhene” (it was coming to him since he wants Azadi, would they have served him wazwan then?) asked Umar.

Inayat was giving Kashif a heads up on what they were talking about.

“Yasin Malik left to the other side with Ashfaq, Hamid and Javaid, he was tortured for many days at the Red 16. They have resolved to fight the Indian government. I hear even Mushtaq is leaving.”

Kashif looked at his watch, it was time for prayers. “Wathve ya, Maulvi sahab ha aaw, pakve namazi” (let’s go, the Imam has arrived)

Jamia Masjid is an abode of stories. Hundreds of pillars acting as witnesses of the Kashmiri souls. The echoes of songs of the Prophet, of the greatness of Shah-e-Hamedan along with the songs of the birds creates transcendence in its ambience. Thousands of people flock this mosque every Friday when the Mirwaiz (the head Muslim preacher) delivers a sermon, since the 12 generations of Mirwaizs. Jamia is history of Kashmir in its essence.

Kashif was cut off from his friends. From one row to another until he could see the ridges on the Karakulli of Mirwaiz Farooq.

The prayers finished. Kashif kissed the hands of the Mirwaiz, asking him to bless him and his family. He left the mosque from the front door. Making his way through the pack of small wooden shops, he reached Mallaratta, a colony next to the Jamia. Aziz goor hadn’t opened his shop yet. “Oh this man, puts water in the milk but makes sure he finishes the playlist of the Jamia natte’khwaan to get blessings.”

Ten minutes later. Aziz goor arrived. Kashif looked from far to catch the glimpse of his potential bride. He kept staring at the shop aiming, in the crosshair of his retina.

A young girl arrived with her carved copper jug. He couldn’t see her face properly. He changed his place to get a better angle. She turned her head around, her gaze meeting his as she walked by. Those ten seconds of unbroken gaze swayed his soul far beyond than that tiny alley where Aziz’s shop stood. Sometimes gazes convey a thousand words without any translation, a language which the only the heart that felt them can understand. Kashif was floored.

She wasn’t there, she had gone walking briskly with her silk scarf covering most of her hair. But she was everywhere, for him. She was everywhere. He was in love. Not the cliched kind, not the ones they showed in the Khayam or the Shiraz, it was something he experienced within. Something that overthrown every belief about love while establishing one that only could be.

Kashif awestuck, waited more thinking that she couldn’t be the one. She wasn’t ‘they’ that his mother had told him in the morning. Or could her grammatical they be only one that is her. He waited for another ten minutes. Aziz goor grinning at him.

“Jaana yi ha tchai soi” (She’s the one)
“Tala ma kar tasne” (Don’t tease me)
“Na, Khuday sinz diri tchai soi” (I swear upon God that it is her)

Kashif’s heart was beating the fastest, the last time he felt this way was in school when Ashfaq had beaten him in the 100 metre dash at Bakhshi Stadium last year.

For Kashif, he was in love. How surreal. How unreal.

The walk back to the Jamia was walking through the maze of gardens. A different twist in his walk.

As soon as he made his way through the cherry orchards, somebody grabbed his arm. He was pushed into the women’s section of the Jamia. It was Inayat.

“Yeti ha karikh bandh, nyabri oas kani jung ti waen trovukh fauj” (They have closed the entrances to Jamia, stonethrowing clashes were going on and now they have deployed the army)

“Magar kyazi” (but why)as Kashif was puzzled looking over Inayat’s shoulder. People running helter skelter in the mosque, the old men had joined in groups discussing what could be done.

“Dapaan yiman tchu Bluestar’ hyeuv crackdown karun” (they say that it is like a crackdown which was done in the Amritsar during Operation Bluestar)

“Mouj aasem pyaran” (mother must be waiting) as Kashif sat down in a group in the garden of Jamia Masjid.

These prayers will be longest in memory of Kashmiris in Jamia.

to be continued…

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