Nurat Maqbool: Gone


Nilima Sheikh, Hunarmand, 2014. From “Each night put Kashmir in your dreams”. Source:

“Rizwan, it’s you, it’s you. Is that you, Rizwan?”

“Yes, it is me. But who are you? I know your voice but I can’t put a face to it.”

“Ah, never mind. Your father… your father has been looking for you. Where were you? What took you so long?”

“I can’t remember. Ever since I came to, I have been running. I was running over scattered shoes and chappals. There was blood on the road. There was a fire lit somewhere or was it a house burning. I saw people removing statues from temples. Don’t leave, who is going to protect us now? I shouted. They didn’t answer. They kept walking.”

“You saw people?”

“Yes… no… I saw shadows. I don’t see people anymore. I don’t know where I am. Where are we?”

“This is zero bridge. Don’t you hear the water? Quietly moves the Jhelum, beneath our feet, around our soul.”

“What is this? Is it snowing in spring?”

“It does now, very often. But it is ash that just landed on your hand.”

“Why is it raining ash?”

“I don’t know. No one burned buildings. It is the stray ash.”

“Why is it so dark in here?’

“It is the moonless night.”

“How long is it until the dawn?”

“Not until the muezzin calls from the minaret will the light appear.”

“What if they burned the minaret as well?”

“Then it must be hard for dawn to arrive.”

“But I have to reach home. We need light to assess the damage that’s been done. Why is it so cold here? And so lonely. What place is this again?”

“Zero bridge.”

“How can you say so?”

“I don’t know. It is the only name I recall. Hush up now or no one will hear you.”

“Did you hear that? Listen. Is it not someone out there breathing heavily?”

“It could be a dog.”

“Strange. It didn’t occur to me earlier. Why aren’t the dogs howling tonight? There is not even a whimper anywhere. But who could that be? I can feel it. He is sitting at the other end of the bridge. He too is afraid. I can feel that too. Should I call him?”

“What if no one heard you? They might come after us. Hush up.’

“No one?’

“You don’t remember the story about a clever man who enters the cave of a monster introducing himself as no one. And later, when he has blinded him, the monster shouts, ‘Guards, come over here. No one hurt me. Arrest no one.’ The guards obviously think the monster has gone mad. Here it is, a monster posing as no one killing innocent men. They all wear uniforms so that we can’t recognise their face. No one smashed the TV sets. No one broke the windowpanes.”

“You forgot everything but not the story. Strange. Could all this be some kind of a dream? This can’t be real. Is that so? I must be in some hospital. They must have found me beneath a pile of bodies. All this must be a dream. A dream I am going to wake up from. Or maybe I am just gabbling under some deep medication. I must be in coma. But why can’t I hear the doctors. Is it night out there too? How long until dawn, Prinsa? Why am I shouting… we were sane when we woke up this morning? Whatever became of us?”

“We are still sane. Just muttering in between. Maybe it is the sleep. We are drifting on and off sleep.”

“So we are in the hospital after all. But what are you doing in my dream, Prinsa?”

“It could be my dream.”

“Your dream…  your dream… Prinsa says it is his dream… Then how come you don’t remember your name. I know who I am… this is my dream… Why don’t you answer now? Where have you gone. I must grope in the dark. Prinsa must be here… Here are his feet… oh, they are so cold. I must put his head on my lap… Ah, it is fractured.  Maybe you have regained your consciousness and you are back at home… Sleeping on the warm bed, sipping the noon-chai, listening to your mother’s sniffs and laughter… I too wanted to say something to my mother. Tell her, oh mother, Rizwan loves you more in exodus. This exile.  Don’t keep standing at the door waiting for me. I asked for food before I left, now don’t blame yourself for not warming it sooner. I was in hurry. I had to reach this void. Prinsa, you better hear.”

“Stop calling me Prinsa!”

“Oh, you are here… I am glad you are still here… My close friend is Prinsa. When I find him in a stranger, I call them Prinsa.  Could it be that you are the last man I saw in the hospital before drifting into the coma. Maybe you were in the bed beside mine. I saw your fractured skull…”

“Maybe that was by the roadside. Can’t you remember properly? So is that why I am here? You brought me here. In your mind. Yes, we are trapped inside your head. That explains the darkness. So you dragged me into all this. You dragged me along. Now take me back.”

“I can’t do it. I don’t know how. I don’t know what this is. Could it be… Could it be… could it be we are dead?”

“Then what are we doing in each other’s afterlife.”

“Maybe this is how it works. But if this is death then where is the light that is supposed to surround us?”

“Or the tunnel?”

“Or the tunnel… yes… or the angels. But I am glad I found you. Someone to talk to. My fears are calmed.”

“Could it really be that we are two spirits huddled on the bridge? Could it be that they are yet to find our bodies? We have not been given proper burial, therefore no salvation. Could it be we are in the same grave?”

“Then why is it that only you remember your name and not I.”

“That is because they shot you in the head. How are you supposed to remember anything!”

“Then why do I know your name? It kept ringing in my ears.”

“My father must have been calling me.”

“Shouldn’t we pray then to… to… what do we call it… who do we pray to…”

“That one… the one. We say it is us… it is us… it is us.’

“Prayers exhaust me. It must be day back at home. It must be snowing there. The snow might have covered the hills, the road, the trees. The roads have footprints of all the people coming and going to the market. The snowed-under roofs have bird footprints.”

“Footprints! What kind of people go barefoot on snow? Do you see people in your mind?”

“None, just footprints on ice. The gully outside my house is deserted. The roads are deserted. The houses are empty. There is no bird in the sky.”

“Strange. I too don’t see people anymore. I don’t remember anyone. But you remember your friend Prinsa?”

“I just remember his name. I don’t remember his face. But I do remember my mother’s.  I remember as a child I used to stare at her earrings and fall into sleep… I am feeling drowsy again. You don’t go anywhere, Prinsa. We have to go through this together…’

“Rizwan, it’s you, it’s you. Is that you, Rizwan?”

“Yes it is me. But who are you? I know your voice but I can’t put a face to it.”

“Ah, never mind. Your father… your father has been looking for you. Where were you? What took you so long?”