LIGHT brown eyes, slightly squinted and fixed on the smooth sheet of water. There was father, holding the railings and immersed in his thoughts (old memories perhaps). The 12 year old version of me walked up to him. “Abbu! ABBU!”
“This is so beautiful, isn’t it? The peaceful Rawal Lake, the calm month of December and the cool breeze sweeping the smooth surface of water. Nature and peace go so well together. This is the most mesmerizing scenery ever!”
“Okay, let me guess! hmm…Was it a classic?”
“Which novel did you read yesterday? You’re being all literary right now!”
“Good Lord! Come on Abbu, I’m serious.”
“So am I, Chamman.”
“Husna Mir! Why did you name me Husna Mir when you call me Chamman, every single time?!”
“It reminds me of Kashmir, you know.”
“And so does this lake, I can read it on your face, I can! Tell you what Abbu? I fail to accept that anything, Kashmir included, can ever be better than this place, this view.”
“If you breathe the air of Kashmir once, you’ll think all this air has is pollution. If you touch the grass of Kashmir, you’ll think the grass here is worse than Kashmir’s hay. If you smell its roses, you’ll no longer like the roses they have here.”
“May be. I don’t know. I mean, you portray it as if it’s heaven. It’s not easy to believe, you know. Half of the world still finds it hard to believe in the real heaven and you want me to believe in a heaven on earth. Please Abbu!”
“Haa! When I was your age, I would sit under the shadow of apple tress, biting a fresh juicy apple, walnuts in hands and draw a mental sketch of heaven, as portrayed by the Imam during the Friday Khutbah.
I still have that sketch in my mind today and the memory of Kashmir is as fresh as today’s dawn. So many times have I compared them both, only to find them exactly similar.”
“Wow! Give me the details and let me make a mental sketch of this heaven on earth, will you? And no ‘you’re too young to understand’ thing this time!”
“Haha! Okay Chamman. So be it!
See this lake right here? Let’s compare it to Dal. Aah! Even the memory of her is so soothing. If you stretch Rawal Lake to make it twice its area, it will still be incapable of holding the charm of Dal. The water there is a hundredfolds purer and crystal clear. Sail a naav* in Dal and you get to behold these stupendous mountains all around covered in green velvet. Oh! Did I tell you about how the Dal looks exceptionally magnificent in winters? White snow replacing the green velvet, men and women in pheran*, sailing the spindle-shaped naav, the hustle and bustle! Nothing here looks like that. Nothing can.”
The spark in his eyes said it all. It said nothing that these eyes behold will ever match the breathtaking beauty of Dal or any other part of Kashmir. It seemed as if these eyes decided to sparkle only on the mention of Kashmir and it’s charisma.
“We can, we can still go there you know. We can see Dal and I’ll compare it to Rawal then. I’m not sure I’ll like it better than Rawal though. But, who knows?!”
His face turned towards me, for the very first time since our conversation began. He bent his legs, kissed my forehead and put his hands on my shoulders.
“After all that happened to your mother?”
“After all that happened to my mother.” I repeated. “Guess what Abbu? Sometimes I feel like, the sole reason you find Kashmir so close to your heart is that 2 meter long piece of land where Ammi rests in peace and comfort. Everything else is an excuse, like the ones that give you a less painful reason to love something. May be if we go to Kashmir, I’ll get to visit her there. I heard, when Ammi stepped out during curfew in search of baby Mustafa, she got a bullet in the left eye. And that, even today, anyone standing on the left side of her grave can smell the perfume she was wearing.
Abbu I’d rather smell that perfume all my life and never complain about not sniffing the roses of Kashmir.”
“But we can’t. I can’t go to the grave of Ammi, neither can you. We can’t even go the charismatic Dal. We can’t go to your home, Abbu. I wish I could tell it to that goon Nuzhat when she taunted me on our last phone call saying how we’re enjoying the perks of freedom. Freedom with nostalgia and pain is no freedom at all, is it Abbu?”
“No it’s not.
But some frothy coffee in cold December breeze is surely a thing, isn’t it?”
He wanted to change the subject. I accepted it, without any delay.
“I’ll have cappuccino!”
And off we went, leaving Rawal lake behind us, or perhaps, much more than just Rawal lake.
*Pheran: Kashmiri Dress
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