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‘I Wish to Live So I Don’t Die for Nothing’: Tale of Two Kashmirs

The Quint presents an excerpt from Kashmiri writer Siddhartha Gigoo’s book ‘The Lion of Kashmir’.

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Image of the book cover used with permission.
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(Disclaimer: The following has been excerpted from Siddhartha Gigoo’s ‘The Lion of Kashmir’ (Rupa Publications, 2020) with permission, from the chapter titled ‘The Night of Communion’. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

Autumn has set in. Everything is floundering. A smell of decay permeates all around.

Dar has taken all the money out of his bank account and burnt it. He wants to burn his house and possessions. He says everything he has accumulated so far must be destroyed. He spends his nights in an empty sewer pipe in Eidgah and refuses to come out. He doesn’t sleep or eat. I remind him of Rabia and he sneers, “You say that as if you care about her.” Giving me a suspecting look, he adds, “When she gets to know what happened to me and what I did, will she ever forgive me? She should not have been born. I should not have…”

I stop him from uttering atrocities: “She will never think that.”

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‘Cinders Don’t Burn, They Destroy Whatever Comes in Contact With Them’

He goes on: “The same is true for Zooni, and you know it already. Years from now, when you are gone, she will ask herself if what you did was worth it. What are you going to tell her when she gets to know what you have become? When she comes to know that you did everything for her and in her name? When she’s told that each drop of blood that spilled on this soil because of her father is cursing her. It will be too late to do anything then, and too late to repent and seek her forgiveness. Will she forgive you that day? She’s going to return some day and demand answers. Or maybe she won’t because she will know there are no answers.”

“What has happened to you?”

He strikes a match against the floor and lights up a cigarette. “You know we can end this with this match,” he says, stroking the flame with the tip of his forefinger.

“Just this one match, and everything will be over. But do you have the guts?”

“You want to burn yourself…”

“Cinders don’t burn,” he retorts, putting out the flame with his finger. “They destroy whatever comes in contact with them.”

“Why are you doing this to yourself?”

“Today it is me. Tomorrow it will be you. The day after, someone else…”

“You’re wrong, Salim. It will always be you.”

‘Would Our Fate Be Different Had We Chosen a Different Path?’

“I’m asking you once again for the last time. For how long do we keep this act going? For how long do we keep looking away? Aren’t you tired of all this?”

“This is what we are now, Salim…”

“Do you think we could have had a different fate had we chosen a different path?”

“We have to go right up to the end.”

“This is the end. Beyond this, there is nothing.”

“You want to die, Salim?”

“For years, I courted death because I always dreamed of dying young. Now I wish to live so that I don’t die for nothing.”

“What should I do for you? I don’t want you to… You know I want you to…”

“You still have a 50-50 chance. I have none,” Dar says, tossing a coin in the air.

“Are we now making decisions by the flip of a coin? Rabia and Zooni still count on you to protect them. If you leave now, a day will come when they will disown us. They will want us to die.”

“That day is already here, my friend. It is our fate to die no matter what we do.”

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‘Our Fates Are Tied to the Fates of Others...’

For the first time, Dar is speaking of things like fate and chance and life and death. He’s losing grip on reality and questioning his own sanity, thereby subjecting himself to unwanted scrutiny. He’s losing the will to fight. But he isn’t wrong, though he knows I will never admit that he’s right. He knows that his fate is tied to mine and mine to his. And that our fates are tied to the fates of others, and to the fates of even those who are yet to come into existence… And to the fates of those who have come and already gone without leaving a trace.

Dar is forgetting the only code that defines him. Fate is for cowards. People like him chart their own destinies.

You might wonder what I think of all that’s happening to Salim Dar. Was he always like this? No, he wasn’t. Did I see his fall coming? No, I didn’t. Now that the unexpected has happened and I don’t know what lies ahead for him and what he might do to himself and to others, I have only two choices — to let him go or to ease his torment. But I think of Rabia. She’s still clinging to the belief that her father is a hero. What will she do when she sees him? She will go mad. She’s already displaying the signs. She says she knows what’s going to happen and what she’s going to do. She makes predictions about herself and the days to come.

‘I’m to Give Up My Father’s Dreams for the Dreams of 12 Million People...’

I have been thinking of taking Dar to the mystic’s place. But I can’t, because only his chosen followers are allowed in his house. He summons them to his place at short notice, and they drop everything and go. Such is their faith. Blind faith, I used to think. But not anymore! Blindness is the greatest virtue. It shows you doors that no light can illumine. For the sake of Dar, I decide to go against the norm and take my chance. There won’t be any more chances hereafter.

We arrive at the mystic’s place. Men are making preparations for the ‘night of communion’. We are going to stay awake the whole night. Gulzar is going to sing.

Dar is vacillating between extremes. He’s dreaming of his old days. For the first time, he tells me his dream: “Father is taking me to the dargah. He raises his hand towards the holy dome of the shrine and prays for a boon. He wants me to leave home and build my life elsewhere. Years later, his prayer is answered. I’m to leave home and join the freedom struggle. Father is heartbroken at my disobedience. I try my best not to disappoint him. But nothing is in my hands. History has already decided for me. I am to give up my father’s dreams for the dreams of twelve million people who are betting on me.”

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‘We Are Transported Elsewhere... to a Place That Doesn’t Exist’

The mystic enters the room. He’s in a trance. He senses our presence in the room. He’s forgiving. He looks at Dar and gives him a compassionate look.

Evening falls. People start assembling at the house. Gulzar and his entourage take their seats and begin to tune their instruments. Gulzar begins to sing. The chorus follows. A young boy with a broken leg starts dancing. The voices converge and become one. Slowly, Time spreads its wings. The wings are not seen but their rhythmic motion is felt. A circle of energy forms around us and the moment doesn’t seem to end. The singers’ voices permeate our being. Everything ceases to exist. Everything except a sense of touching the untouchable, of attaining the unattainable.

We are transported somewhere else — to a place that doesn’t exist. A place beyond time and space and dream and memory. A place that’s ever changing, yet still non-existent.

The music reaches a crescendo. And then, as if by magic or divinity, it gives rise to a new creation — it is multi-dimensional. Notes blend with beats in perfect harmony as if the communion has been scripted by the masters themselves. As if their union has happened previously in some other realm or dimension. As if the very occurrence of this event has been rehearsed infinitely so that nothing can ever go wrong because there are no wrongs in this creation.

And then, there’s no end. A strange light flickers.

I snap out of it. Dar is reclining against a wall. He doesn’t know where he is and who he is. He doesn’t even know if he’s alive or gone. He’s beyond happiness and pain, freedom and bondage, hope and despair. A smile has settled on his face. He’s dreaming a happy dream.

‘Justice Is Not Blind...’

For the first time, I feel the urge to reveal the truth to him. That I wasn’t the man he thought I was. That I was always an officer, but he had mistakenly thought otherwise. That I had sent him into darkness because his rage was inexhaustible. What I made him go through is hard even on me. It is unfair that he should go on this way. But now, I won’t deprive him of his last dream, no matter how false it is. I shall not stop him now. I shall not come in the way of his freedom. He shall dream again and again of a life that was not to be.

Tomorrow when I ease his pain, everything will be set right. But I won’t keep my word. I won’t do it myself. I don’t have the guts.

Justice is not blind. Justice sometimes comes in the garb of deceit. I hope you will prove me wrong someday.

The hour before a disaster is always beautiful. Especially when you know that the end is near. By then it’s too late to do anything. That’s what makes everything beautiful. You embrace truth. You see beauty for the first time. You see freedom. Right now, I am seeing what I have never seen in my entire life.

The North Star is peeping from behind a cloud, and Jupiter is closing in on the Crescent. Is this a sign of change and of the good times to come? Or is this nothing but a passing tide?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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