Simple daily rituals have become so severely agonizing. Pain which seems to hide itself behind the necessary necessities of life while it reminds me of him whenever my slow breaths warn me that I am still alive. My shirt would have fitted him perfectly by now. His feet would have grown big enoughto wear my shoes. He would have been wise enough to advise me. Perhaps he would even have attained some levels of patience and not argue as much as he used to. Now, he would have become taller than me and I would have looked up to him. Now, he would have been just like me.
Today, on this very day, he would have been nineteen years old. A young, strong man in the prime of his youth carrying the small dreams of my fatigued eyes on his broad shoulders. Jet black hair, deep brown eyes, his careless smile and a little bit stubborn. Always using his hands when he talked and a high pitched voice with which I used to tease him that he sometimes sounded like a girl. At times mischievous, but most of the times very obedient and quiet. Often wearing his favourite white coloured shirt. The only branded shirt which I was able to give him in his short life.
The son of a simple fruit vendor, who had decided to pursue his studies in the medical stream after his matriculation. The son of a simple fruit vendor who wanted to fulfil his father’s desire of seeing his only son become a Doctor. The son of a mother who stitched clothes for the more affluent ladies in the neighbourhood. A brother to three sisters who all loved him immensely and prayed for his success. Indeed, my son, Farhan.
I still remember when he was born almost two decades ago in Srinagar’s only maternity centre, Lalla Ded Hospital. I had earned 300 Rupees that day, which were just not enough to see him. The ‘price’, fixed by the nurses, to see a new-born son was 500 Rupees in those days. Had it been a girl, then perhaps 300 Rupees would have sufficed. For some strange reasons, new-born girls were considered less superior than new-born boys, which affected the prices demanded by the hospital staff. Eventually my brother and my brother-in-law both gave me 100 Rupees each.
After paying the ‘price’, one of the nurses brought him back into the room where my wife was lying along with dozens of other women on half the beds. I took him in my hands, kissed each one of his small fingers of his right hand and looked with amazement into his half-opened eyes. It felt as if my God relished the sight while this small wonder carried a bliss over my soul.
He was three years old when I took him to my insignificant fruit shop for the first time. We walked for a little more than half an hour from our home in the early morning. He squeezed my pointing finger with all his small fingers tightly while he kept pointing to everything we passed by and asked all those innocent questions like only innocent children can ask. “Who gives water to all these big trees, Baba”? “Baba, how far is your shop from this white car”? “And how far is it from that red car”? “Baba, the sunis at the same place as it was when we left home. Where does the sun go when you come home in the evening”? “Will you buy me a car when I become older”? I adored listening to his pure words. It made me transform from a small-time fruit vendor into the richest man on the surface of this earth.
I gave him his first cycle when he was 5 years old. A second-hand black coloured one with those small side-wheels on the side. The happiness on his small little face and the excitement of his tiny little jumping body are indescribable. As if he was intoxicated with joy. Days filled with sunshine, rain or snow, he would always be glued to his cycle and ride in the narrow lanes of our neighbourhood.
I loved him like every father loves his son, although I believe that I loved him more than any father ever could. He was not only my son, he was the manifestation of my dreams and wishes. He was the hope of my advancing years. The pillar of my infirmity. The reliance of his sisters. The confidence of my expectations.
It happened a few weeks after he had given his matriculation exams. On that damned day, he was again wearing his favourite white-coloured branded shirt. Farhan was neither a so called area-commander nor a soldier. He had nothing to do with the cunning politics of deceit in Kashmir. He was just the son of his father.
While shopping for a new branded shirt, which I had promised him if he would study hard for his exams, a grenade was hurled by militants on a patrolling party of the BSF in the busy shopping street. A fire exchange occurred and in the cross-firing, my Farhan was hit twice in his abdomen and once in his neck.
Nobody knows which bullet was fired by whom. Nobody knows whether the bullet was Muslim or Hindu. Nobody knows which bullet was Indian or Pakistani or which one was aimed at Azaadi. Whatever the objectives of the innumerable bullets, the three which found their way into his body murdered a Kashmiri son and killed the hopes of a Kashmiri father.
I saw the dead body of my son. His favourite white-coloured branded shirt drenched in blood. Holes of hatred in his neck and abdomen, oozing out his young innocent warm blood. Every vein in my body wanted to burst. My legs were shaking and refused to carry the weight of my body any longer. My hands started pulling out my grey hair while I fell on my knees next to his body. I was beating my chest and howling his name while my falling tears tried to wash away the blood from his beautiful face.
A thousand deaths would have been more bearable than carrying my sixteen year old boy to the graveyard on my weakened shoulders of half a century old. I lowered myself into his grave and wished that he was me and I was him. I wished that it was my blood drenched body which he was lowering into my final resting place. I wished that I would have been dead and he would come alive. That day, my sheer desperation cursed all that which called itself Kashmir.
Although I do not know whose bullet proved to be fatal for Farhan, I wanted nothing from anyone. I refused the apologetic compensation which was offered to me by the government. Not because I did not need it or because I believed that my son had died for a ‘cause’, but because mere pieces of paper could not replace him. Money could not become the torchbearer of my unfulfilled dreams. All my dreams and wishes got buried with him and I had decorated their grave with earth and flowers with my own hands. My hands still carried the fragrance of his pious blood. Money would only replace his fragrance by the rotten smell of paper which in many ways had been the actual culprit of the chaos in this land.
Others, known as ‘Senior Pro-freedom Leaders and Senior Pro-resistance Leaders’, also came to my home to express solidarity. Soon their solidarity turned into naked attempts of exploitation when they claimed that my son was their son. One of them told me; “Be brave. He died while walking the path of Jihad. His blood will not go waste and we will soon achieve our promised right of freedom. You have given your son for the cause of Azaadi”.
A rage took over me and a black curtain of frustration and helplessness blocked my eyesight.
I wanted to grab him by his beard and ask him how many of his sons had died for Azaadi. I wanted to rip apart his clothes while asking him why his son became a doctor and mine couldn’t. I wanted to drag him by his hair in front of the whole city and yellat him from the depths of my lungs and ask; why do only sons of poor fruit vendors like mine get killed? I wished I had the power to lynch him and his supporters in public and ask them how many of their family members had given ‘supreme sacrifices’ for the cause of Azaadi. I wanted to pull out his eyelashes one by one followed by his nails and ask him how he managed to import furniture for his palace from abroad while he claimed that he had spent at least two decades in jail. I wanted to crash his existence under my feet and crush his head onto a lamppost until it would burst into pieces while asking him why he and his fellow shopkeepers enjoyed medical treatment paid by forces which they themselves called occupiers.
I wished that I would not have been a simple, poor fruit vendor. My heart wished that my damned existence would have had the strength to do all that, what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, I was just a poor, simple fruit vendor with three daughters and no son.
With the utmost restraint and disgust I looked at him and mustered the courage to tell him just one thing, before ordering him out of my inferior house; “I did not ‘give’ my son. He was taken from me”.