By Dr. Shah Faisal
Place: Lolab, North Kashmir
Time: A moonlit mid-summers night
A Voice from somewhere: Ages have passed since my first step north-ward, these dust-ridden furrows on my face have a matchless acquaintance with the stars, that shine brighter in my company; for always have I taken them along, even when the summer suns scared them away; so many deserts have I crossed and countless oceans sailed through, and they always ushered me to easy milestones but never misled me into fatal longitudes, thus how invincible is their guidance.
An Old Man (Raises His Voice In Retort):
In this fretful darkness who else can console this sleepless sky, but a wanderer on heavens sufferance. I too have trotted but south-ward, for how long I don’t remember but for these cankerous feet; our heads are grey as I divine, might be that our tales are equally similar; so come lets halt a little while near that mound-of-a-rock, as some well-inhabited city seems to fall by.
(The ruffled sound of wild-grass brings them closer and the two shadows raise hands in ceremony)
The Old Man:
Now that this rock has unfolded its carpets of moss to shelter us, what an occasion I find to hear about you and your country!
My life is such a pitiable mishap. I am the spirit of an ancient hermit who came to threaten the gods with his occult powers, and as a curse, the insecure gods caged his soul in the body of a north-ward wanderer and commanded it to be lost in between the poles. Thus for centuries I have been reaching nowhere, though countless civilizations were born and replaced under my feet. But one day when I know the whereabouts of a disguised saint, I shall be united with my own flesh and this unyielding journey coming to a finish. My accidental accomplice, why don’t you also confide in me, what brought you to this unexpected rendezvous?
The Old Man (Joy!):
My friend. Who shall commit to wander if he is not made to do so? I am from a royal descent but by a similar prejudice condemned to wilderness, till one day, I found someone ‘whose fate dragged in a direction opposite to mine, and here I met you, the one who can return me my lost youth and regency…(Surprised but sparkling eyes)
We are all lost in the search of our own identities; I am not alone my friend. Every one of us seems to be living as an impersonator, devoid of his face or bereft of his soul. But how can there be no condition for your freedom as the gods loathe our high spirits and sport when the obstacles trip us down?
The Old Man:
This world is too busy to repeal the conditions, and thus I have to answer with utmost sincerity, three questions that naturally come to your mind right now, and moment I do it, I shall complete my sentence.
My dear friend, the questions come naturally to all of us, but I wish the answers came the same way. But I feel, (pauses and looks around), firstly I must ask you which strange city is this nearby whose lights are searching the sky but the people and the hutments are smudged with darkness?
The Old Man (Sad):
This is a city of odds, where people have the erroneous belief that their miseries descend from above, so their glaring search-lights shine upward, as no one ever taught them to peek into their own unlit lives where laid the sodden seeds of their suffering.
Looks that this city is teeming with people, for its colonies have burst beyond its boundaries, but there must be no true leaders to guide or brave men to guard them. But has this city lost its civility as well, lest in such a dreadful night, why are these women and children being trafficked away and how could these raves be their own men? see their language is one, their grandparents must also be one for how alike are they in their ways of behavior, but dear companion, my heart bleeds with their screams, just tell me who are these wailing women and children?
The Old Man (Sighs):
Have you never seen before a brother shedding the blood of his own sibling, for wealth and women; but here no disputes of land fuelled this animosity nor did the insincere words of cunning women incite them to unsheathe their swords; but they were two brothers, who worshipped the same god and ate from the same earthen bowl, till one chose to tie a black-thread on his right-wrist, out of faith or fashion, I am not sure which one, but the other did not. Their idleness and their astounding fertility saw them grow in numbers and soon they became two families and then two communities similar by all respects except the custom of that black lace; but the boundless love kept their herds together; a shared past vouched for a wholesome future and then suddenly as if by a hideous conspiracy, the love turned into hostility of equal magnitude and thus erupted an era of violence and bloodshed. Every night they evict their women and children away from their safe motherland into exile, and slay them without charges leveled and the guilt proved. It is the pain of homelessness they are departing with but how savage are those swords that cease to melt, in the manner their tragedy has wrecked yours and mine heart. They shall seek refuge somewhere but still die of hunger or bad weather, though after falling ill, for here, bullets never let them fall ill and kill them at the zenith of a healthy youth.
Pause. My friend, tell me what is the last question that strikes your mind, for I want to answer it before taking my next breath even-how close am I to where it took me centuries of struggle to reach! And how anxious am I at the finish, though?
Those sobbing children broke my heart asunder, how hard is it to survive a forced bondage, for someone’s mistaken sense of freedom, and I am reminded of my own lost privileges and the travails of trodden distance and nothing else tugs my mind but the knowledge of that disguised saint who can relieve me from this shameful redundancy. Tell me where is he?
The Old Man (Angry):
A while back we met by chance and you chose to be my savior that too without a condition, but now, when I am just a whisper away from my release, how vainly has you come to bargain? By asking from me the whereabouts of that saint, you wish to make me a race-horse and win for your own selfish purpose? You have really seen the world and wiped it’s all vice and avarice with your ragged sleeve.
No. We old star-gazers are nonetheless both star-crossed you remember, so along the road to your freedom, I just found the lead to mine, thus we both shall beat the unstoppable and return to the grandeur of our past. The angels have blundered in keeping delicate interconnections between our lives that help us to group against them. So you must not decline to answer lest both of us get spun in the wheel of everlasting misery.
The Old Man:
By hearsay I have known that such a disguised saint lives among the haunted hillocks of that city that I told you about, but you cannot risk going in his search as the road is exquisitely perilous and the city-gate is guarded by a rein less beast.
But then, every year in the month of January and August the saint returns to this rock as his movements get restricted due to curbs and curfew there, and whole night, in the company of glow-worms he writes obituaries to those killed and disappeared and sends blessings to them; see his holy foot-print inscribed on this stone,(they both feel for it with their hands.) and you rub your forehead over it, so that if your wander-lust wanes a little, you shall wait for his retreat.
(The wanderer puts his head on the foot impression and a feeling of quietness prevails within him.)
(The old man perceives a sudden quiver of transformation within him and he stands up in gratitude, expressing joy)
(Raising his head) I came to change myself for good but saw the world changed for the worst; that fated city needs the Saint more than I need him, so let him heal their wounds first and bestow them with peace and wisdom. I can wait for ages now, my friend, anchored to this sacred impression for my bondage is too insignificant for the suffering of that people.
The Old Man:
Good bye, what a seeker I met in you, and walks away free.
Good bye, what a leader I met in you and bows to him.
Shah Faisal is a medical doctor, columnist and an RTI activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org