- Kafka’s Kashmir by Takbeer Salati
- Fasola’s Freedom by Shruti Sareen
- Kailash Pattanaik’s Flash Fiction translated by Khushi Pattanayak
By Takbeer Salati
We lay there under open skies on a boat, of our dreams uncoated with heartbreaks. He had a lot of layered assignments and yet he lay with me amidst the lotuses, reciting one of his new poems on Kashmir-a place we live in. We talked about books, journals, poetry and his breakup with his ex-girlfriend. He doesn’t like to talk about it, as it has slunk his mind now. Now he finds it too distant, his life is set up for more work in Department of English at the university than in his broken heart. I love talking to him, have always loved to watch his green hazel eyes.
I asked him about his class, which leads to other discussions. “He asks me are you too, swift to bring in a revolution too”? Like your whole generation. “I answered with a vague smile; I don’t know. Haven’t thought of it like that”. I talk about my usual schedules- research, reading and how I had missed him this week. He tells me about all the scholars he knew when he had made a trip to Kolkata and how everyone had rejoiced to be in his company. He talks about how people there are open to things which feel restricted in this part of the world- Kashmir. He knew about this queer teacher who would be open in proposing him in front of the queer class. “What would it take to change the perception here”? The city is regressing to the old rules and ideas, he said and I sighed.
We talked of free things. I asked him if he ever wants to kiss me and why. “He replies of course, every time I see you, I want to, I love you”.
It was our day off from work and we had decided to visit a place in Srinagar which is famous for its ruined temples. Before we reached the place, a strange dream occurred to me- It was about a yellow Buddhist monastery situated at the backdrop of Himalayas covered with snow had almost three hundred and fifty stairs. It felt as if for me they were nothing. I was already at the seventh stair of my career which they had called the ultimate- Doctor Of Philosophy. It was April and my two week visit to the workplace had just finished. I boarded an airplane to a distance which I couldn’t mark in my dream. But I was happy. It was a monastery. The scenic Dharamshala took me to my inner piece of heart. But something was disturbing in my dream. At one point I saw myself on the seventh stage of my career and on the other I was a bride. Bride to whom? God knows. But I wore a bright lehanga with beautiful mirror work. Who would have thought? It seemed I was being the pendulum clock of my life. While he was driving the car, I woke up after the car hit a rock in a speed. It was difficult to imagine life with someone as strange as a chosen partner by your parents. How could one think of doing it? Wouldn’t that mean spending life in silences?
I thought to myself- I needed to do something otherwise I would end up losing everything. I kept looking at him. A beautiful man with green hazel eyes. He kept massaging my cheek as if I was a baby. It had already been two weeks since we had met and it already felt much more than that.
We took a stroll among the ruins. Open skies, warm and welcoming. I loved the place. It was a meadow full of temples of ruins. I went inside of each one of them and it was a new adventure. We talked about our greatest fears. So commences my first love story in Kashmir behind the mighty Chinar. We arrived early to this place via google maps. However, as our hearts opened up city cried over the killings of two brothers by their own father. It was like Bible coming back into existence. Like Cain and Abel changing their identities to Kashmiri. We took photographs and watched the ruins of the temples which had a unique history to it. The kids hovered around us for food and money which at times became a decent interference in our love story.
I could not afford have to ask him- when are you getting married. I knew my parents would get me married after my doctorate was over. The thought had given me endless sleepless nights. The university had left few chances for me to date or ask the guys out for a dinner, but I had not given up. I knew my parents who packed perfumes in Iranian boxes with golden labels didn’t know me. In the past few years, I had seen a lot of relationships failing and getting back to each other. In Kashmir the war had left every heart a desire- a living dead.
I played with his hair, he was a natural blonde. We read to each other works of Kafka, and other writers that inspired us. We ordered some coffee with cardamom and in the evening when it was time to leave the place of ruins, I held him tight and close to me.
He asked, “Is everything okay?”
“Well, I am quite happy to be here”, I said.
On the other side of the valley hatred had strewn everywhere. People were being killed out of no reason. The unknown gun men had arrived back and the catch-22 had begun. In our absence time in the valley had stopped. Three unknown, unidentified men had been choked to death of unknown reasons.
I turned on my television and the news haunted me. It was like Kafka’s metamorphoses. You find yourself in bed and metamorphosed into a bug. In Kashmir well you found yourself metamorphosed as dead. I ran a confused hand over my chest where I knew my heart pulsated on an abnormal heartbeat today. I wondered if they are going to shut everything out again. For months, Kashmir had been under curfew nightmare and I knew it was difficult for people especially those in love.
Was I drifting between toward horror again? I sensed that it should not be true: the sounds from the gun and the murders were so familiar. I turn my face to the only window in the small room I rented as a student in Kashmir. The morning sun had turned to crimson red and orange were it looked as if burning. What’s to be done? I rubbed my heart again. I must write letters and sent it to him. For once, I thought that Kashmir was a purgatory and life was difficult.
I hadn’t heard from him for two weeks after the trip to the place of ruins. I immediately went outside to look if I can sneak out. But couldn’t, there was army all over.
After almost two weeks of separation something happened. He called.
“Where the hell are you?”. I exclaimed in love- anger. I am alright. The military had come and cordoned us, the whole area. I was gunned down. I was kept in a cell. I am fine.
I cried aloud. I glossed over the terrible I had felt but I kept asking him about his own life. How was the experience? That is so bad. You didn’t deserve.
He calmed me down; military will call off the curfew soon. It is in the news. I’ll meet you then. We will meet love and the phone hangs up.
I tried to read a novel, pick some Murakami. He makes it feel worse. He has all his characters in love in Japan. No, no Murakami. I wonder what my lover would will feel.
I met him on day fifteen. I have never felt this lonely, I told him. How often does life give second chances? The people who were killed would have been us. We would have been on the banners of the martyrdom. But God saved us for more things in life. How pleasant life is and it surprises.
I had never felt this complete, this whole. At the first glance in a place like Kashmir it feels sin. But isn’t it more sinful to marry a stranger? Where is it written that a woman has to shrink into an unknown.
Everything in Kashmir is unknown. Everything was quiet and still. Dal Lake had become stagnant. The hollow men in Kashmir were more curious about the one’s who live. I would never dream of life without the gunshots. The mountains, rivers speak to me of a lullaby -separation and dreams, always far away from the mountains and shades of crimson sun. I retired to my bed with this thought and slept only to wake up to the snowflakes of December and a desire of writing more about the time in curfews.
Takbeer Salati was born and raised in Srinagar, Kashmir. Her short stories and fiction are influenced by the daily struggle of life in Kashmir. Her short stories have been published in Samyukta Fiction, Muse India, Cafe Dissensus, Life and Legends and Cerebration. Her work has also been longlisted in the list of best South Asian Short Story Writers 20 under 30 in The Bombay Review 2021.