By Saba Mehjoor
I must have been around nine or ten years old. Phuphee had come to stay with us. It was a rare treat. She hardly ever left her home. She would always say, “agar akyis dohas naere, yima dinam attyi naar” (if I leave even for a day, they will set fire to the place).
This time she had planned to stay for a whole week. It was lovely to come back from school and see her waiting at the gate. She would scoop me up, cuddle me and ask me what I had been taught at school. When I had finished telling her my daastaan (my story) she would cheekily add, “amyi manz kuutah roodei yaad?” (and how much do you remember from it all?)
One day, I came home accompanied by two policemen. She saw us walking towards her and I could see that the colour and warmth drained from her face and she began running towards us.
“Kya daleel? Soriy cha theek?” (what’s wrong? Is everything okay?), she asked.
One of the policemen instructed me to go inside while he spoke to her. I did as I was told. I went inside. I was terrified. I had done something very, very terrible.
I sat in the kitchen and I waited.
I heard the gate being closed and a few moments later, she walked in. She sat down beside me and took out two cigarettes. She lit them and smoked them in silence. Once done, she said , “paghee pyeath yimai bae seeith. Subhai ti, shaamas ti” (from tomorrow I will accompany you. Morning and evening).
“Walle bae dimai khande batte” (come, I will give you khande batte (sugar rice).
I wanted to cry. I wanted to tell her that I had not meant to be naughty or bad, but I stayed quiet. I had by that time developed a great habit of making things ten times worse, especially when I opened my mouth.
She had already soaked raisins, almonds, cashews and coconut slices in hot water with strands of saffron and green cardamom pods. To this, she had added lots of sugar.
I realised that she had probably done this in the morning so I could have it now and I felt guilty for ruining everything.
She took some rice and fried it in ghee in a pressure cooker. She then took the soaked fruits and added them to the mixture. She fried it a little bit more and added the sugary syrup to the mixture. She then added a little milk, put the lid on and a couple of whistles later she gave me a bowl to which she added a dollop of fresh malai.
“Khe saa waen”(eat now), She said.
I ate slowly — waiting. I was waiting for the world to come crashing down on me.
But nothing. She said nothing. Not a word.
When I had finished, she instructed me to go upstairs and do my homework. I didn’t see her for the rest of the evening until dinner time. At dinner, she said nothing and nor did anyone else. I kept wondering if she had told them anything about what I had done. A part of me was relieved at not having to face the consequences but a part of me also wished it would be better to get it over and done with.
Before going up to sleep, I went to say goodnight to her in the kitchen and saw her making my father’s favourite, chilli oil. There was a huge copper deg (pot) on the stove with the chilli oil bubbling away in it. I kissed her goodnight and went upstairs.
Next morning when I woke up, I was exhausted. It had taken me forever to fall asleep. I kept tossing and turning and wondering what the hell was happening or not happening. After breakfast, I got dressed and as she had promised she accompanied me to school. My school was only about a fifteen-minute walk away. We were walking in complete silence when I saw him, again sitting in the same place. I froze. She asked me what was wrong, but I would neither say anything nor move an inch.
“Rath yi kettle” (hold this kettle), she said.
I did wonder why on earth a kettle was with her in the first place but at that point I didn’t want to rock the boat.
“Yohai chaa su?” (is that him?), She asked.
“Kus?” (who) I replied.
“Sui? Su armywoal yus tohi ausuv haavan panun banyum” (him? The army-waala who was showing you all his below region yesterday).
I was shocked.
I said, “Yes. Yes, it was him. Yesterday when I was walking back with my friends from school, this man was sitting by a tree with his trousers pulled down and asking all the schoolgirls who went by ‘aazaadi chahiye‘ (do you want aazaadi)?”
It made me angry, I said. Nobody did anything so I went to the police station and reported him. But instead of telling him off they scolded me. They said why was I looking in the first place? They said I was a bad girl. They said that I was kharaab koor. I felt confused and guilty. I thought what he was doing was wrong, but they said I was wrong. In the end I asked myself the same question – Why had I looked? I wished I hadn’t said anything.
“Walle” (come), She said.
She snatched the kettle out of my hand and dragged me to where he was.
She smiled at him and said, “chai piyenga tum’?” (will you drink tea?)
He looked confused. She unscrewed the kettle top and poured something hot over his ding a ling. It was hot chilli oil. I watched in horror as he started screaming and running around like a headless chicken.
“Paagal hogayi ho…paagal hogayi ho…paagal hogayi ho” (Have you lost it?) , he kept on screaming and running in the opposite direction.
“Walle,di waen aazaedi, kole, peyi trath” (come, give me aazaadi now, you ass, may you be struck by lightning), she screamed after him.
“Yi yeene waen waapas” (he won’t come back now), she said, smiling at me.
“Pakh, nate gatchi sacoolas tchear” (come let’s go, or else you will be late for school).
“I thought you were angry with me. I thought that’s why you didn’t speak to me”, I said, crying.
“Baekal koor” (silly girl), she said. She scooped me up into her arms, with my heavy bag and said, “yelli jangas aasakh naeraan, talwaar gatchi tez karyin” (when you leave for a battle, make sure you have sharpened your sword).
When we reached my school, she gave me two rose coconut sweets and said, “shaamas khetre banaawai beyi, yuth yi hemath roziy barkaraar” (I will make more for the evening, so that your courage will never falter).
The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily represent Kashmir Observer’s views
Saba Mehjoor is a Kashmiri based in London. She has studied Medicine and Philosophy at King’s College
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