Nostalgia grips me. A past, which seemed so distant as if it were only a dream, calls. Flurries of dim images, like photos paled by age, appear and take color. A prosaic life now lived in a big city, where one hardly finds soldiers, re-members a poetic vulnerability lived in a time gone past.
Four children, three boys and a girl, walk down the road hurriedly, early on a February morning. Full in woolen caps and pherans, they hold each others hand, and their eyes shine with expectations of excitement. Coins in the pockets, sewed inside their pherans, jingle with each coordinated step. The sound is carried far. Their long boots rise to their knees, and they leave behind a trail of slush amidst the fresh snow. Cherry red ears and crimson nose tips move forward determinedly, to be the first to reach Sherbagh. At a distance the muffled sound of firecrackers tell them they are not the first.
Sherbagh is rocked by crackers. The snow is blown to bits. The children buy crackers with all their money. Each fountain-cracker or the Charkaer brings out laughter. Children have invaded Islamabad’s famous park. They will only leave when their little tummies demand food.
The army men in their bunkers have their fingers on the trigger. They watch carefully. A cracker could be a bullet. A masked man might shoot at them in the din and melee.
The Eid, generally known as the loakit Eid (small Eid) in Kashmir, is children’s Eid. Children adorned in colourful clothes, like dolls, have freedom on this day.
For me, that Eid was a long awaited one. And my heart sank when I woke up to find that an extended sunny, dry winter had been interrupted by snow. It had to happen on that very day! I lay in my bed, frigid with a mixture of sadness and anger. Anger against no one in particular.
My mother had made my favorite feerini, with delicious almonds, cashews, and raisins showing through its surface. Friends from the neighborhood came, and pulled me out of my house, and we all set out for Sherbagh. No Namaz. A year before I had spent a full three hours listening to Mujahids and the Mirwaiz before we could finish Namaz, and run to Sherbagh. And by the time I reached children had already left. I loved Mujahids, but one Eids they sounded too grave for children.
On return from Sherbagh in the afternoon, fragrance of a splendid lunch wafted out of home. After receiving a little scolding for being late I jumped on the food. I ate little though. My mind was already out making plans for the day with friends. The day would be spent wandering, and in boisterous celebration in the town’s dingy streets. Arguably my best day in the year.
~~In the morning today friends came over to wish. Friends, I have found here in Delhi. People who are around me, and who know me well. They brought sweets. We didn’t have sweets on Eid in Kashmir. It was touching, nevertheless. Phone did not stop ringing. Parents. Sisters. Relatives. Friends from home. All wished me. They brought back home. A home that has been cast away from me. A home I am lifted out of, and held above in a suspended animation. Impossibly hanging in a state of contextlessness. Even friends here make me see home. I see my three childhood companions, the two boys and the girl, in them. The childhood companions seem erased from memory. I can barely recall their faces. I will have to dig up their photos.
Perhaps I am only falling forward into a reconstituted past. A boxed imagination can only see a past in the future. Nostalgia is only a wish. May be it is the sound of crackers that is carried far. Across an immeasurable time, and an unbridgeable distance. To a home that will never be home. From a home, that is no longer there.