Ghulam Nabi Shahid – Capturing Historical Moments

  • Aditya Sinha
  • Publish Date: Jan 19 2016 12:42PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Feb 12 2016 6:52PM
Ghulam Nabi Shahid – Capturing Historical Moments

Ghulam Nabi Shahid began his literary career long back in the seventies. However, in the recent times Shahid has produced literary works in a big way. His latest collection, Ailan Jaari Hey, has proved to be a rage locally, with the author having to come out with its second edition within just one year. The collection carries 22 short stories. Each story is actually an attempt to seize certain historical moments from the immediate history of Kashmir.

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Shahid’s stories beautifully express the collective aspirations and anxieties of the Kashmiris. The stories belong to that bold genre of literature globally known as ‘resistance literature’.

There are no full-fledged characters but silhouettes having assumed powerful symbolic value in the context of the contemporary Kashmir. What distinguishes Shahid from other contemporary writers of Kashmir is his uncompromising commitment to the portrayal of truth.

In “Ajadi”, a non-local cop, Surinder, while patrolling the streets of the curfewed city in Kashmir, decides to help a distressed father to feed his hungry child. However, the child starts crying more noisily when he sees packets of chips and sweets in a shop which Surinder allows to open for the family. He hands a packet of chips to the child and asks him if he needed anything else. The kid instantly blurts out – ‘Ajadi’.

Muhammad Yusuf Taing, in his introduction to the book, rightly says that “there could not be a better articulation of Kashmiris’ collective aspirations than this innocent expression.”

 

                                                                      Ajadi

A fresh military reinforcement was deployed at sensitive areas in the city on the seventh day of the curfew.

Inspector Surinder, who was part of a 15-member contingent, was positioned on Darish Kadal. For the last one and a half years, he has continuously been performing his duty day and night at various places in the city. The flower-like face of his four-year old daughter, Kanwal, keeps making rounds in his mind. He had applied for leave and was praying to God that his leave might be sanctioned. While coming down the vehicle, he was busy praying for the same when a surge of sunlight from the surrounding streets, houses and shops broke off the curfew and spread far and wide. For a while he kept looking at the sun with suspicion. Then, after some satisfaction, he started taking stock of the situation. He was on one side of the bridge. All houses, shops, the road ahead and the stagnant Doongas floating on the surface of water – everything was motionless. He saw no movement in them. At the entrance of   each street leading to the river, the dogs, with their mouths hidden deep between their front legs, were in sync with their surroundings.  He was satisfied to find that the curfew was being strictly implemented.

His colleagues were off, patrolling. He took his rifle off his shoulder, held it in his hand and headed towards the other side of the bridge, looking on either side.  He walked a few steps but had to stop after he heard somebody crying. Somebody was crying around the spot. He looked keenly.  He felt as if everything around him was crying in unison – houses, shops, the road ahead, the street, the river down there, doongas, and the dogs on the banks of the river.

Meanwhile, a police vehicle whizzed away across the bridge giving a jolt to his feelings. The noise of the crying also stopped. The next moment things lapsed into their former state. He stepped ahead a bit which amplified the sound of crying. He could hear it clearly now. Some child was crying bitterly. He looked around in confusion, trying to guess where the voice was coming from. He put his ears out in the other direction of the road with its houses. But he could make out nothing. He turned back, crossed the road and focused on the crying again. Finally he was sure that the voice was coming from under the bridge. He bent forward to look at the doongas and looked on for some moments. Now he knew that the voice was coming from the first doonga. Suddenly he remembered something. He stood erect. He held his rifle tightly and stared far in front of him. The stringent curfew was in place. But the crying kept hitting his ears. Again he bent down to look at the doonga. He was not able to decide what to do. The kid was crying bitterly. “Maybe he is very ill,” he thought for a while.

“What can I do?” he murmured and was about to turn around when he felt his feet were not following him. The face of Kanwal appeared in his mind. He again stared at the doonga and started to move towards the street leading the way to the river. He crossed the bridge, entered the lane, and briskly following the sound of crying, reached the doonga within no time. On hearing the cries of the child, he felt as if Kanwal’s crying was also mixed in it. He held his rifle tightly and forcefully knocked on the window of the doonga. Instantly the crying stopped and the window opened with a slight sound.

Finding a soldier in front of him, Qadir almost fainted, his throat dried up and before he would fall down, Surinder asked him softly, “Why is the child crying? Is he ill?”

“No, no, he is not ill. He is hungry. He has not had anything for the last two days. We had some rice. It is finished… now . . . .”  Qadir could hardly say this much when the child put up his head from Qadir’s shoulder and started crying noisily as he looked at the soldier. The cry had a strong element of fear. Surinder was keenly looking at Qadir. He asked him loudly, “Where can you get rice from?”

“From Mohuddin’s shop up there but I don’t . . . .” Saying this, Qadir tried to put his hand up but it froze there.

Surinder looked up. Turning to Qadir, he said, “No worries. Come with me.” He started walking towards the lane ahead. Qadir closed the window and said something to his wife who stood behind him. Holding his child in his lap, he came out of the front door maintaining his balance on the 12-inch shaft of Deodar connecting the doonga and the bank of the river. The child was bitterly crying with a strong element of fear in it. He reached the front of the street, looked around and finding nothing in front of him, entered the street, panting. Soon he stood in front of Surinder.

“Where is his shop?” Surinder asked indicating towards the shops on the either side of the road. Qadir, trying to control his lost breath, pointed to a shop ahead of some shops on the right side.

“That one . . . with red shutters . . . that’s Mohiuddin’s shop.” Surinder looked intently towards Mohiuddin’s shop. He turned around to ask Qadir, “Fine, but where does he live?”

“His house is adjacent to his shop,” Qadir replied while shifting his child, who was crying, from one shoulder to the other.

“Ok… Come with me.” Surinder started walking towards the shop. Qadir followed him. On getting close, Surinder again started surveying the shop and the house. He stepped forward and knocked at the door of the house, opening in the street. Instantly, a middle-aged man stood on the door.

“Your name is Mohuddin?” Surinder asked somewhat gently.

“Yes, yes”, Mohuddin replied with difficulty.

“You have any rice or vegetables in your shop?” Surinder asked in the same tone.

On hearing this, Mohiuddin heaved a sigh of relief. “Rice and onions”, said he.

“Ok. Give him some rice and onions. He will pay later. The child is hungry.” Surinder said this while pointing towards Qadir, who was standing in front of him. Mohuddin looked at Qadir and his crying child.

“OK sir, I’ll get the key”, said he.

Surinder stood in front of the shop. Qadir began to console his child with confidence.

Meanwhile, Mohuddin came out with the key and opened the shop.

The opening of the shutter disturbed the atmosphere.

Even Surinder was agitated. He held his rifle hard and looked around. Everything had relapsed into its original position.

Thinking that a strict curfew was in place, Surinder looked at the opened shop. Mohuddin had filled a bag full of rice.  Qadir looked on all this unbelievably. Suddenly, the child started crying more bitterly as he saw the hanging packets of chips, sweets, chocolates, etc. He was trying his utmost to get hold of them. Qadir shifted him from one shoulder to the other and patted his back to comfort him.

Surinder, seeing all this, came forward and took out a ten-rupee note from his pocket and handed it to Mohuddin. He lifted a chips packet, came over to the child and gave it to him.

“Take it …. now stop crying . . .” the child took the packet and quietened down. Surinder looked at the child calmly and asked him softly, “Good …. now tell me … you want anything else?”

“Ajadi”, the child replied spontaneously and started opening the packet.

 

(Translated from Urdu by Abid Ahmad)

 

(Abid Ahmad is editor of Sheeraza, an English language literary journal published from Srinagar)