The Stories Rooms Tell, The Kindle Magazine

By Majid Maqbool

Some rooms stay with you long after you have left them. They narrate their own stories, constructing their own little houses of memories.

 

In Kashmir, the disappeared and the dead have left behind their rooms in a state of perpetual mourning. Rooms that once breathed with their presence are lifeless now, mourning their absence. Empty spaces, emptied rooms, filled with a deep sense of loss.

 

Grief is a state of mind in Kashmir. Occupying its own permanent corner, grief looms large here, even in times of apparent happiness.  Even if you leave Kashmir, that particular sadness—the cumulative grief of this place—is carried with you. And it stays with you forever. It lives in the memory of the survivors. It thrives in the homes of the departed, in the eyes of their loved ones, and in the rooms bereft of their presence. And in the things they left behind.

 

For parents, the things that once belonged to their loved ones – clothes, books, a wrist watch, for example, a shoe – mean more than just things left behind by the departed. They’re a haunting reminder of what remains despite the loss. They are the remnants of what is left behind when everything is taken away: memories.

——

 

On a cold November afternoon, I met the old father of an Islamic studies student, Muhammad Rafiq Shah, who is indefinitely imprisoned in Tihar jail for the past seven years now. We sat in their garden. The old man called out his daughter to bring a cup of tea. He had a dejected look in his eyes as if all that he loved was suddenly ravaged off him. After retirement, he had looked forward to rest at home, expecting his son to take over the responsibilities of home. But that was not to be. After his son’s imprisonment, he remains in a state of perpetual unrest. Until his son returns home, there’s no peace in his life.

 

While talking about his son he would often look away into the distance, emptily staring around in silence.

“They destroyed the future of my son,” he would say repeatedly after uncomfortable pauses. “soe maesha aese zeah.”(Can we ever forget that?)

“Who will return all these years he spent behind the bars?” He asked. “Who will return his youthful years that were imprisoned?”

I had no answers.

 

Inside Rafiq’s room, which his father says is opened only at the time of cleaning it every week, his absence is palpable. The things which belonged to him have become sacred in his growing absence. They are touched with reverence. And all his things are kept in place, always clean, as he left them seven years back when he was picked up one night by the government forces from his home.

Nobody enters his room now. It remains locked.

 

Time seems to have frozen in his room. His passport-size photo is pinned on a wall hanging. On his cupboard, his name is vertically inscribed in large, white capital letters. The notes on his notebooks date back to the days when he was arrested. Near his study desk, small shelves are adorned with his books – volumes of books on Islam, his textbooks, books on Kashmiri Sufism and Kashmir dispute, and a collection of Allama Iqbal’s poetry. A few of his used pens – their refills half-emptied – still lie undisturbed near his notebooks. On one of the small bookshelves there is a pocket-size holy Quran he would recite from every morning.

 

I sat down where Rafiq would often sit in his room, studying late into the night hours. That night, when the SOG and police personnel took him away, his father says he was preparing for his university term exams. The books that were lying open for his study were later closed in his absence, and put back on his bookshelf by his parents.

 

Gently and very slowly, with his right hand, Rafiq’s father rubbed the corner where his son would often spread out his books to study. As if hugging him in person, he then kissed his own hand and said a silent prayer for his immediate release.

His son is yet to return home.

 

 

——-

 

In 2008, at the time of state assembly elections, I found myself inside another room in a small house in Batamaloo area in Srinagar. Few mothers, whose sons were killed through the 90s by the government forces, had assembled there on the day of voting. More such women were coming in from the neighborhood. All of them were carrying the pictures of their beloved sons. All of them had stories to tell.

 

Earlier in the day, these women had heard that some people from their neighborhood were voting, despite the boycott, in the nearby polling booth. They had immediately come out of their homes, carrying the framed pictures of their sons in their hands. They didn’t say anything to the voters near the polling booth; they only appeared in front of them, as if telling them not to disrespect them—and not to disrespect the memory of their sons. Their meaningful silence conveyed their message. When the people who had come out to cast their votes saw these mothers from their neighborhood, they immediately recognized them. Seeing pictures of their dead sons in their hands, they felt ashamed of their act of voting. They knew their stories. They couldn’t look at the bereaved mothers in their eyes. They stood there, speechless. Unable to face them, they fled from the polling booth. Their votes remained uncast.

 

 

 

After protesting on the street outside, the mothers then gathered in one room. They wanted to narrate the stories of their sons. But only tears came out. Words dissolved into tears. They wept inconsolably when they were asked about their sons who were killed by the government forces through the 90s. Hugging the framed photos of their sons, one after another, they broke into dirges about their loved ones. When one mother would pause for breath, another would raise the lament about her lost son. And they couldn’t let go of their son’s pictures, unable to separate the framed photos from their bosoms. They kept hugging their photos as if their sons had just returned after decades of disappearance and were now in front of them. Everyone in the room had tears in their eyes.

 

I had to leave that room, without seeing the pictures of their beloved sons, without listening to all the tragic stories behind those pictures. The grief that came together in that room was overwhelming. Language was inadequate to express it fully. Sometimes stories untold tell more powerful stories that have to be felt.

 

That room, however, has stayed with me. It has become an unforgettable memory. And I carry it everywhere.

Read more here http://www.kindlemag.in/viewEditorsChoiseDetails.php?id=NTU1&&displayid=MQ%3D%3D

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