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The Dal was quiet, standing still. The winter had brought with it a sense of calm and a hurtful silence. Small ripples formed where the young boy threw his fishing bait. He sat there alone, a lonely lad of not more than 7 years of age. Alone, by the banks of Dal, on a cold shivering morning of Chillaikalaan. There was an air of stubborn silence that even the harsh gawks of crows could not break. The sun was rising in the horizon, struggling in the winter sky. It would like many other winter mornings be lacking in its brightness; looking more like a full moon in the bright day light. Light gray clouds at its guard. The sun, the winter sun , all powerless in the face of the vast sky.
Noori was the first one to arrive. She sat down blowing on her kangri, red hot charcoals just as the redness in her cold graceful face. She was wearing a brown woolen phiran with aari embroidery on the neck and at the hem, an off white scarf tied across her wrinkled face, knotted tightly around her neck, her weak jaw bones holding the layers of her loose skin. She sat there on the forlorn wooden bench on the jetty looking at the boy, waiting for her companions to show up. Her eyes rested on the boy, starting to moisten. She remembered her own, when he was his age , coming everyday in the summers and winters to catch the fish off this very shore. He would come home running with a big catch and smaller pretty ones he showed off as trophies to his friends. He was quick witted, intelligent and a humorous boy. Noori would cook the fish for him, with Nadur and vaer, just the way he liked it. Spicy, very spicy.
SalamAlaikum! A soft shaking voice broke her thoughts. It was Zooni, her friend in grief. She was shorter; both in her structure as well as her temper. The fiercest of the three, who could be fatally harsh in her words but inside, her companions knew, she was a broken woman. Too fragile and weak in her heart.
WalaikumSalaam, Noori responded while Zooni sat beside her. She passed her kangri to her, which she with trembling hands took. Taking it beneath her phiran, she duck in her arms and complained of cold.
Chillakalaan has brought with it unbearable cold. This life is so full of trouble. I wonder when I will leave it. God is punishing me with these years of lifeless existence. Zooni always had these sorts of complaints of her Creator. Her arthritis, her cataract, for her , were punishments from her Lord.
Aah there you go again!
SalamAlaikum, said Rajje as she joined her two best friends. When will you ever stop complaining? She was the optimistic of the lot, the strongest of the three when it came to emotions and struggles, fighting their ways through life. What is it today? What are you rambling about?
Chillakalaan! It is so cold. I can hardly keep my teeth in place.
Yeah you might be afraid of them falling off. Your sparkling white falsies, Rajje teased her.
Chillaikalaan is good for the crops; the snow , the water it brings moistens the earth, nourishes its infertility and plants hopes of a new life.
Why are you so quiet today? Noori Begum?
Noori who was still absorbed in the boy, still looking at him with her eyes full of love. Rajje followed her gaze to the boy , who was still there, hands fixed to his fishing rod , trying without any luck.
Nothing, trying to keep her tears from falling off. They fell off anyways, small transparent pearls off her red cold and dried face.
Noori, dear noori. Rajje wrapped her in her arms. Zooni was the next to join them in the warm hug and tears. The endless hugs that had warmed their cold hearts for the past five years. She silently sobbed into her scarf.
Now, now. Common you two. Don’t cry. They will come back. They will I am sure. God cant be so harsh to us. What have we oldies done to deserve such a cruel punishment.
The three of them had met at a park during a protest, holding placards of their loved ones. The picture of their handsome sons, beautiful young lads not more than 20 years of age, smiling in water set hair and different check shirts. The had been sitting there for three consecutive days, braving the cold , waiting for some news that never came. Holding the pictures close to their hearts, for the blind eyes to see, their cries and pleas falling on the deaf ears. They had lost their sons. All three of them. They had disappeared with no traces whatsoever. Disappeared. Vanished. Fallen to the bloody endless turmoil.
Were they alive or dead; dead as most of their relatives, family, neighbors perceived. But not to the mothers, they could not be dead. They had not seen the bodies. They had not heard anything of them. How could they be dead? Five years of no news. They would not believe it, not till they had seen them, maybe not even then. They would at least need some symbolic evidence to put their discomfort to rest.
The three had since that day in the park, come to be close , each being a solace of other’s broken heart. Noori, Zooni and Rajje , three companions of pain, anguish and an empty hope. They met at the same jetty every morning, discussing their days of yearnings and longings and how life that had turned upside down for them was still normal for the world.
Noori and Zooni stopped crying after sometime. Rajje always comforted them with her words of peace, reminding them of a place in the next world, where there was no pain nor any separation. Noori looked at the boy who was now gone when she saw right beside her on the bench something that broke her into a smile. Wrapped in the newspaper was a big fish and two smaller ones.