Sogam was beautiful, just like a fairy-tale land, located more than 150 kilometres from the
main city of Srinagar on the rim of Indo-Pak border. Apart from the Yaarbal, a local rivulet,
Sogam housed gorgeous paddy fields that looked like a sheet of green during summers and
were stripped bare during the winters, when we often played cricket on those frozen acres.
Icicles drooping down from the naked branches of apple trees were often chomped greedily,
making a crunching sound whenever we took a bite.
During the summers we often sat down on the muddy pavements flanking the fields and
watched the men work tirelessly for the whole day. In the middle of the day, women
accompanied by their little girls brought boxes full of rice and mutton. The hungry workers
ate heartily and often pounced on the food like famished dragons. Quite customarily, we too
joined them in the feast. The view of the paddy fields that stretched on for acres—until it
was stopped by the sweep of the mountains—often flavoured the food. At four in the
afternoon, it was time for nun-chai (salty Kashmiri tea). Homemade ghee chapattis were
consumed along with the traditional Kashmiri satt.
My friends and I often sat down on the banks of the local rivulet that snaked its way
through our village. We would often watch the waters, arguing as to whether snakes
inhabited the Yaarbal or not. ‘I have seen a black snake in this water,’ one of my friends
would often say. We would in turn laugh at him and often wonder what made our village so
beautiful. We would sit down with Showket, one of my friends who would smoking his
Panama cigarettes bought at the local grocery store. Occasionally, we would take a puff too,
but Showket would warn us against taking more than one.
The summer was also the season when we would spend most of our time waiting for the
girls who would accompany their mothers to the fields. The girls would habitually catch
hold of their mothers’ arms and walk adjacent to them. I would wait for a girl, Sumera, who
had this flair and flamboyance that was hers alone. As she entered her adolescence, she
often covered her head with a round scarf, wrapping it so tightly as to stop even a small
strand of hair from peeping out. She would sit between her father and mother under the
shade of the green-apple tree; and as her father tore into the mutton pieces, she would sit
their quietly looking at him. I would often climb the tree overhead before they sat
underneath it so that I could catch a closer glimpse of Sumera. They never seemed to notice
my presence overhead even though I would keep munching the toffees I had in my pocket. I
would wait there until lunch was over; and after both the mother and her daughter
disappeared, I would slowly crawl down and run towards my friends who would then laugh
at my daredevilry. When nun-chai time came, I followed the same routine once again. It was
during these days when Sumera first noticed me. One day, she saw me climbing the tree and
my secret adventure of looking at her no longer remained a secret.
Sumera often played with her girlfriends in the big kitchen garden of Habib Kaka. I often
saw them playing hopscotch or house-house while I peeped from a small hole in the wooden
door of the kitchen garden. She often came to the Yaarbal to play in the water and I would
often reach there before her. Finally, after so much hard work on my part, she too began to
look at me with her almond-shaped green eyes and I felt love in the air. I followed the same
routine during the day and she too reciprocated by looking back at me most elegantly. It
often made me go wild.
After the day was over, I would often sing alone in my own room in a low voice. Ours
was a typical Muslim village that outlawed any sort of Western culture. We never had a
television, but we did have an old radio that my grandfather had bought when he had gone
for his Hajj pilgrimage. I would often strike a conversation with my grandfather about Islam
and then concur with his views to keep him in good humour, so that he would lend me his
radio for the night.
Sumera would often search for me with her eyes while playing hopscotch on the days
when I didn’t come to the Yaarbal or the fields. I observed this as I lay hidden behind some
obstacle to watch her movements. After my eighteenth birthday, Sumera suddenly vanished.
I had never talked to her, but not seeing her for days began to make me as restless as a child.
Now she wouldn’t come to the fields, the Yaarbal or the kitchen garden. I searched for her
everywhere and spent many sleepless nights on my bed thinking about her and wondering at
her sudden desertion. Her green eyes began to fill my imagination and the thought of her
being confined to some place made me sad.
A month passed and then another. I spent the days roaming around in search of her—I had
already explored the places she visited regularly but I did not give up. Finally, after three
months of being deprived of her presence, I caught a glimpse of her. I was sitting on the
concrete stairs that formed a path up to the Yaarbal when I noticed a girl dressed in a
complete burqa on the other side. Her eyes were visible through the narrow slit on the
burqa. I recognized her—those almond-shaped green eyes were speaking to me, asking me a
question. She wasn’t alone at the Yaarbal. The other girls formed a circular barricade
around her. We couldn’t look at each other directly, but I had found a way to look at her—I
was continuously staring at her reflection on the shiny waters of the Yaarbal.
For the next few days, I followed the same routine of not looking directly at her face, but
at her reflection instead. I was so mesmerized by her reflection that I often forgot that there
were other people who were passing by and looking at my eccentric behaviour. Sometime
later, Sumera understood my idea and she too started staring continuously at the slow
waters, focusing on my reflection. Often I smiled while we both stared at each others’
reflections. Every day I went home, thinking about the next day and her splendid beauty. I
would reach the Yaarbal bank fifteen minutes prior to her arrival and take the best possible
position to have a look. She came in every day at her usual time with a group of friends; and
while the others filled their pots, we continued with our routine.
Every day I greeted her by closing my eyes for a brief moment and she reciprocated by
doing the same. Her friends had begun to understand her feelings and they would fill her pot
of water while she sat with me. We couldn’t do the routine directly because of the
continuous presence of the village elders and the women who often flocked to the Yaarbal.
Our village wasn’t a modernized hamlet but I had seen on the TV in Rahim Kaka’s house
how people approached each other if they developed feelings for one another. But our
village was different. You weren’t allowed to talk to the opposite sex; you couldn’t even
stare at them directly. Call it extremism or the extent of darkness. This was how it was. No
one had the fortitude and the backbone to transform the current system and change it with
something that appealed to the present generation.
A few days later, I stood on the banks of the Yaarbal and Sumera stood on the other side. I
was staring at her eyes, reflected on the rivulet’s surface, when she slowly lifted her burqa
and washed her face with the water of the Yaarbal. This brought her adolescent face into
view. A round face shone in the sunlight and its image sparkled on the water; a trick of the
light caused the reflection to playfully change colours like a chameleon. Her lips resembled
the petals of a freshly plucked tulip, but unlike a tulip’s fragrance and beauty that last for
just over two weeks, I knew the beauty of her lips was there to stay. Her nose resembled the
newly blossomed flowers of the Kashmiri spring season. With every splash of water that hit
her face, I felt like I was living in my own dream. A few moments later, the burqa was back
in place, covering the magnificent face that had brightened my day. I smiled. I knew that she
wanted to break out of this barricaded existence and come away with me. I in turn knew that
something had to be done. The glow of her face had stoked the passion in my heart, and I felt
as though I must speak to her. At least greet her directly, my heart said. I was sceptical about
this, and it took me some time before I finally decided what to do.
Time passed and one day, I decided to hop on to the other side to have a direct talk with
her. I started to cross the rivulet directly, the slow waters helped me sail across to the other
side. All her friends stood up and she stood in the middle of that huge contingent of girls. I
wanted to talk, but my lips froze and my tongue didn’t support me.
‘Rishta bhej do (Send the marriage proposal),’ her friends said in unison.
I stood there like a frozen lamb. She didn’t speak and kept her head down looking at her
chappal. I too kept staring at the ground, hoping that she would speak up. But she didn’t. I
wondered whether I should initiate the first round of talks, but I kept on beating around the
bush, until it was time for them to leave. The attempt to talk had failed and I cursed myself.
A few days later, I again crossed over to the other side to talk to her. She was alone this
time and the setting was awesome. But this time she ran away as soon as she saw me and
disappeared from the scene. I looked around and saw Gul Khan, a chowkidar from the local
apple orchard, coming towards the Yaarbal. I left.
A few days later, I again saw Sumera, sitting and filling her empty pot with the clear
water of Yaarbal. I vowed to myself that I would speak this time to her. I crossed over to
where she was and stood in front of her, gazing at my feet, until she broke the awkward
‘Rishta bhej do,’she said without looking at me.
The words hit my ears like a swirl of cool breeze ruffling the leaves of a tree. I left so as
to avoid anyone’s eyes from catching me in front of Sumera. It felt like I’d crossed a barrier
and had finally heard what was in her heart. But I had acted like a coward since I hadn’t
Days later, as I was standing on the Yaarbal bank, I noticed Sumera writing something on
a wooden slate or mashiq. She left without even looking at my reflection but kept the
mashiq on the ground. Curious, I crossed the Yaarbal and saw that the news written on the
mashiq was devastating. Her parents were planning to get her married and she had asked
me to do something about it. I spent the next few days in torment. Finally I talked to Ammi. I
told her I wanted to get married to Sumera, daughter of Majid Dar. Ammi told me that they
were of a lower caste and we couldn’t have a relation with them. I protested, saying that no
castes existed in our religion, but she wouldn’t listen.
A day later, I wrote on the mashiq about what had happened and passed it on to Sumera.
She looked at it and didn’t reply. A teardrop was clearly visible at the corner of her eye.
Devastated, I ran back home to once again raise the question of marriage with the
household. Ammi refused my pleas once again and didn’t succumb to any of my protests.
The next day, Sumera wrote on the mashiq that her father had fixed the marriage date. I wept
as soon as I read those lines. I couldn’t write anything. I started to cry loudly. I wrote back
to her in a miserable condition stating that I was helpless. She cried as she read the words
and threw the slate back. But the worst was yet to come. Gul Khan, the chowkidar, saw us
crying and quickly informed her father about it. The whole village gathered in a matter of a
few minutes; a few elders came forward and slapped me. I was also beaten and abused by
her father. She was asked to leave and she did so, grudgingly. Her father caught hold of my
hair and took me to my house. He shouted at my parents. I stood there, dazed and shocked,
worried about Sumera. The memory of her reflection suddenly came to mind, but everything
was now shattered to pieces. I had never expected the locals to react so ferociously. I stood
there, gazing at my feet and thinking about my next step. My mother and father started to cry
due to her father’s rude behaviour. They had blamed my parents for everything. I was
thrown inside the house and caged.
A few days later, I came to know that Sumera had also been beaten brutally. The narrowmindedness of our village had taken its toll on our lives. Sumera’s marriage had been set to
the nearest possible date. I spent my days alone in my room, thinking about her. Her friend
informed me through the window of my room that she did the same. I had the mashiq as her
memento; she had nothing but a basketful of memories. I heard that she kept crying day in
and day out for me. I did the same. I kept on craving for her presence. Her thoughts filled my
The day of the marriage finally arrived. I couldn’t bear the fact that she was getting
married. I wanted to kill myself but the thought of her getting married virtually killed me. I
turned insane. After that day, I spent my days staring at the mashiq. I held it tightly to my
body; if anyone tried taking it away, even for just a second, it made me go wild. I shouted at
people without any reason and didn’t even touch food for several days. I paced up and
down my room for several hours, circling around without any purpose. Her almond-shaped
green eyes made me cry every time I thought about them. I wanted to die, but kept on living
like a dead person for some obnoxious reason.
After several months, the news came that she had committed suicide. Her mother-in-law
and father-in-law had taunted her so much about me that she had been unable to tolerate
their comments. She had jumped from the third floor of their house. I banged the door of my
room so hard that my parents had to let me go. I ran as fast as I could towards the village
graveyard. I looked at the numerous graves around me until I finally spotted a fresh minimountain of mud. I went towards it and wept as I hugged the mound. Why Sumera? Why
Sumera? I asked her. She couldn’t have replied, not even on a mashiq now. I put down the
wooden slate I had carried with me and wept uncontrollably. The ocean of tears didn’t stop
and I kept on weeping … All I could do was lift my hands up and ask the Almighty to return
my Sumera back to me.
The silence and the beauty around me had lost its meaning …
Sogam was beautiful, just like a fairy-tale land, located more than 150 kilometres from the