Kindred Spirits


, , , , ,


Picture Credits : Azaan Shah

He grabbed her hair. She grabbed his hair.
It was a deadlock position.
He didn’t let go. She didn’t let go either.
He held on to a chunk of his sister’s frizzy brown hair. She frantically clasped whatever she could of his itsy-bitsy raven hair.
“Let go of me. Mouj will be here any moment.” He bawled.
“Are you scared? Sissy!!” she screamed.
He pulled harder. She cursed in pain. She tried to pull harder too, but his crew cut didn’t leave much scope for hair pulling.
“What is happening here?” They both turned to see their mouj standing in the doorway. Hands on her hips, black frizz slightly visible under her worn-out scarf, strained eyes and stained pheran, she was a formidable figure.
The hands went down instinctively.
He started crying.
“Sissy” She muttered under her breath so that only he could hear.
He cried louder.
“He broke my crayon” she said in her defence.
“I didn’t do it deliberately” he said in his.
“What will I do with you two? Look at the other children, look how well-behaved they are and look at you two, you are a disgrace.” She used to be angry with them when they misbehaved but today she was just sad.
The guilty heads went down.
He wiped his tears and went to hug his mouj but she resisted his attempts.
She preened her dress, her pretty white frock. It was her favourite dress, eid gift from mouj. She had cat-walked in her frock till Lala’s store and back, to show-off her dress when it was new. She ruffled her hair and resumed her poise. And then went to take her place besides her brother.
Two pair of puppy eyes looked up at their mouj. She wasn’t the one to give in easily but it had been a rough day, and these were the apple of her eyes.
She sat down, stretched her arms and made them sit on her lap.
They are growing too fast, she thought.
Soon they wouldn’t want to sit on my lap anymore, she thought.
She ran her fingers through her daughter’s hair and kissed the tear-stained cheeks of her son.
“Why do you fight so much? Me and my brother, we loved and took care of each other and always shared our things. Why are you two so wild?”
Anticipating the opening of an unbidden lesson on how to love your brother, she wriggled her way out of her lap.
“We want to play outside.”
Her mouj sighed. It was the sigh of a mouj torn between holding onto her children for a little while longer and  letting them go.
“You can go out and play but you need to be back in an hour and complete your homework.” After pausing, she took a 2-ruppee coin and gave it to her son “Share it with your sister”
Eyes glistening with the spark of an unanticipated treat they looked at each other with ear to ear glee. All rivalry was forgotten, all blows and hair pulling forgiven. Out they stomped, she all poised and plumed in her pretty white frock and he pocketing the precious 2-rupee coin.
Square wooden windows, old and rotten at places, in the crooked brick houses trailed two radiant children romping around in the abrupt patches of light and dark in the street below.
Visit this amazing documentary photographer : Azaan Shah





, , ,

It’s the middle of the night. And it’s hailing. I am trying to memorize some really complex biology terms for my oral test the day after. And my eyes are focused on the heavy downpour. Little balls of ice are hitting my face through the open window. I tried to throw back the ice balls and my sister laughed at my frail attempts. She’s busy coddling her pretty little face and her bobbing ponytail in the mirror. And when she finds my scoffing eyes observing her petty act, she smiles coyly and looks away. Presently she is quite smitten by Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and is trying to imitate it. And then bursts into little fits of laughter at the twisted expression she ends up creating.
We made a cup of hot, salty tea to regain our senses that has been left withered by the nail-biting cold. My sister looked up at me to see if I am taking any tea. And when she saw me taking a sip, she started taking it too. Then she looked up at me to see if I am taking any bread, and when she saw me taking a bite of the warm and fluffy bread, she started taking it too. Little sisters are copycats. I usually get irritated when she copies me like this but today I found it cute. Well, she is cute sometimes. And annoying all the time.
In some abstract world we are out there dancing in the storm, soaking in the rain. But right now, she skidded off to her comfortable bed. And I lingered towards my open biology textbook.

It’s the middle of the night. And my grandmother, my precious granny is ill. Her coughing fits and her flustered silence makes me want to ebb away, find a corner and cry.
My mother, my sweet mother, my undaunted mother, straightened her dress and reached for her money. My granny needs medicines. And we are going to get her medicines.
Me and my mom descended into the dark alley. And my little sister is tagging along.
Why do you have to follow me all the time? I raise my questioning eyes at her. She grins wickedly and walks between mom and me, holding our hands.
The frosty weather and the mute surroundings added to the aura of impending gloom.
We found a lone medical store open at this time, illuminated by a lone candle.
Mom enters the store and we are standing just across the lane, waiting for her to return.
Why should we be scared? Mom is just across the lane.
Just across the lane, I remind myself.
Just across the lane, I tell my sis.
Was that a gunshot I heard?
You know little sis, it’s a game we are playing. It’s called hide-and-seek. And it’s mom’s turn to hide. You stay here, right behind this pillar and I will go ahead and seek her.
There is a brave mother, broken for once, searching for the beautiful daughters she may have just lost.
There is a broken daughter, brave for once, searching for the fearless mother she may have just lost.
And there is a little girl, hiding behind a pillar and peering into the darkness. Biting her lips and tapping her fingers, she’s trying very hard to wait patiently for her model sister and her darling mother. But she can’t wait to resume her game. Moreover it’s so dark. And she’s a teeny-weeny bit afraid.



, , ,

ClXtYwGWgAAJhJXAdorned by yellow flowers and fluttering butterflies, spring stayed in my garden forever. The tall, dark green trees stood swaying in the breeze. And beyond them, the snow-covered, lofty mountains stretched in all directions, as if fostering some ethereal secret. Above everything and beyond everything there was the vast, clear blue sky which spread like a doting bird hiding her babies under her wings. Late evening sun glinted through the open floor to ceiling windows. The pretty, pink curtains were drawn aside for I loved to dream while watching this august wonder with open-eyed awe. A bird soared towards the horizon. A butterfly with golden wings fluttered by my window. Trees whooshed in the breeze. And there was a knock on our door.

My head jerked up.
Someone’s rushing up the stairs.
My door flung open.
It’s my mother, my sweet mother, my jaded mother, dragging my brother up the stairs with an astounding fervour.
My brother, aloof, offhand, ‘Its okay, mom. I am alright. Everything’s alright mom.’
You know big bro, it’s a callous legacy. And we are brittle souls.
It’s a whiff of red. And we are tainted hues.
It’s alright to be scared sometimes. It’s alright. You will still be our hero.
Our attic, eerie and forlorn, hid my bro from the brutes at our door.
He kept pleading. He was dumb to us. We were deaf to him.
We closed the windows tightly. And spread the curtains on every iota of the frigid, naked glass.
I looked up at my mom. And winced at the fear in her eyes and the resolution on her lips.
Not my mom, you brutes at our door.
Not my mom, I beseech with my eyes.
They kicked. And they abused.
We stood. And we stared.
They shrieked. And they smacked.
We stood. And we stared.
I bore my imploring eyes into our bare walls and ancient door.
Don’t give in. Please don’t give in.




The pitter-patter of raindrops overwhelmed her in a manner it overwhelms people after the sun has been too hot for too long. It was not a drizzle and it was definitely not an outpouring. It was just the right element that she needed to go for a ride. It was just the right thing at the right time that she demanded to relax, ponder and resolute. She took out her sister’s old purple bicycle. Like everything else, it also passed on to her when her sister outgrew it. And unlike everything else, it was the only thing she accepted with her pride intact. And that was only because she loved riding. It thrilled her in a way it thrills people when they realise that the world is their oyster.

Have you ever noticed the gates that we have in Kashmir, the old-fashioned tin gates with gaps in-between, the gates that reveal more than they conceal and conceal more than they reveal depending on which side of the gate you are standing or which gender you belong to. She noticed them every time she stepped out and every time she stepped back in. Not the gates. But the prying eyes in-between the gaps, the eyes watching her, trailing her, judging her and questioning her audacity to leave the four walls of her home so frequently. And the consequential detail, the picture bigger and broader than what could be accommodated in the compact rift in the gate was the bicycle. It was a sport for boys, for the male gender, for the stronger section of the society and the dominant one. It was not meant for her. Or so they believed. And the insignificant detail that the eyes belonged to the same gender as hers meant more resentment from her side and more contempt from theirs.

Have you ever taken a stone and hurled it across a lake and watched the ripple it creates on the surface of the water. It’s the same with stories. They take a story and whisper it to their neighbours over the broken fences in their compact neighbourhood. And before you realise, there are random people watching you, sizing you up, nodding their heads in approval or shaking their heads in condemnation. This is what happened to her, every day, every time. Cycling down the alley she was acutely aware of the people scrutinizing her through the gaps in their gates and discussing her over the walls of their homes.  On her spirited days she laughs away their stare, bewildering them with her nonchalant and childish humour, for despite all the glares and stares she is still a child. On her exhausted days she ignores their stare, infuriating them with her brazen approach, for despite all the belittling and scoffing she is still endeavouring. On her awful days she looks them in the eye, provoking them to retaliate, for despite all the rebukes and whispers she is still defiant.



Being The Beacon


You are in a ship in the midst of a boundless sea on a prolonged voyage. Suddenly a freakish tempest seizes the sea and the raging sea seizes your petty ship. Your attempts at advancing are frail in the face of such a robust mayhem. Your ship keeps whirling and twirling and you fret and fume, struggle and strive. But alas! you know you are astray. It’s an infinite sphere of sea and storm and you are an unfathomable blend of dread and horror. You are alone, utterly and inexplicably alone. You are a wreck inside out. You are on the verge of losing all the hope you were capable of possessing. You think about your family. Your mother perhaps? You may never see her again. This is the saddest and the scariest thought ever.

But then you see a ray of light. Hear a whistle perhaps? Someone is out there. A smidgen of hope shines in your heart. You focus on that dim light and endeavour to sway towards it till it gets bright and brighter. You focus on that sound and aim to pull towards it till it gets loud and louder. That light, right there, is your beacon. Dim and flickering in the beginning but as you hold on to it with your latent might, it intensifies and raises you from the deepest abyss.

Remind yourself of the difficult times you have been through. Remind yourself of the times when the nights couldn’t have been anymore desolate and the days couldn’t have been anymore murky. What made you get through that spell? What was your beacon? Were it your parents who were always there for you with their unwavering love and support? Were it your friends who made you laugh and see the bright side of the world? Or was it some inspiration, someone you looked up to and admired, who motivated and stimulated you to work harder and try harder? Or were you your own hero?

The dainty, beautiful butterflies have their own tale to narrate. They are confined in the dark but they use their own radiance to overcome it. Not only do they conquer it, but while doing so they also illuminate their surroundings. If these petite creatures can be so resolute and benign, then what reason do you have to be so lost and hopeless? Sometimes you stumble and fall, sometimes you lose and quit. But the obstacles you face are insignificant compared to the inner spark you possess. Embrace this spark and someday you too will fly high like the beautiful butterflies. Be the beacon. Beacon of love. Of happiness. Of hope. For yourself. For the people who rely on you. For the world ahead. And someday you too will make a difference in your life and the lives of the people who need you.