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Panun Kashmir

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It is Night Yet

Harikrishna Kaul

How cold! It is as if I were lying on ice-sheets in the Sombre Magh (the tenth month of the Hindu year). The room was too big for us, only three of us as there were. The window was closed but without glass panes. It was raining in torrents outdoor, and the rain was accompanied by the Pantsaal (the mountain range on the South﷓East of the Valley) wind. Oh what a wind! This biting cold wind of the Pantsaal ran right across that room of the tourist hotel. We had a feel of being in the open, although we were well inside the room.

Our bedding had got thoroughly drenched, covered though by tarpaulin at the top of the bus, and thus, we had hired three blankets for each of us from the choukidaar. As for myself, I had stretched one of these blankets on the wooden plank under me and the remaining ones to cover me up. Makhan had likewise done the same. The Swamiji alone had gone to bed, he had arranged two blankets under him in such a way that he could comfortably squat on them to meditate, and had laid the third one on his knee, he was reading some book.

I was chilled to the bone. Strangely ill at ease with pain in my back, shoulders and haunches, and I simply kept on turning sides. Makhan lay close to me huddled up. Putting my hand on his back, I said to him, "come close to me so that we can sleep together in an embrace. It might give us some warmth."

He removed my hand from his back with a jerk and tucked himself under the blanket. He was rather angry with me, and his anger, to be frank, was not groundless. On reaching Banihal, the driver had told us that we would put up there that night, and Makhan was the only person to oppose that idea. He had insisted on driver's plying on the bus, regardless of the nightfall, so that we could reach a place proper to have rest. But the driver had perversely declined. Had we joined our voices with that of Makhan, we night have succeeded in forcing the driver to ply the bus. But he had chosen to remain mum. It might well have been that most of the passengers had felt scared of crossing the Banihaal mountain, all the more so because the driver himself, whose responsibility it was to drive, was not agreeable to the idea of crossing the Banihaal. Makhan had a long argumentation with him, but only to yield in the long run. He was thus much more angry with the passengers than with the driver.

I could by no means bring myself to sleep. I got up and sat with my back to the wall. I cast a glance towards the Swamiji who was meditating on something with the book besides him.

"What is the matter?" he asked, raising only his eyes to me.

"It is piercingly cold, Swamiji", I said to him.

He gave a mild laugh asking, "How is it you feel so cold? As for myself, I do not feel any".

"How on earth is he to feel cold, God having made him so bulky with such layers of fat!" Makhan said in a muffled tone so that I alone could hear him. The Swamiji irritated him more than any other. The Swami had got down the bus at Ramban and disappeared, nobody knew where, and thus wasted a precious half an hour, hard pressed though we were, for time. Had he not wasted his half an hour, we might have crossed the Khooni Nallah before the landslide and we might have been at home quite comfortably. Makhan set down all the anxiety we were in to Swamiji. But we could attribute it to some other possibility that did not occur to Makhan : Swamiji might have had an intuition that the landslide was to take place and he got the bus stopped for half an hour at Rambhan; had he not done, our bus too, in all probability might have rolled down the hill when hit by the landslide. Who could say? It is said that all that God does, does it for the good of man.

I covered myself up again with the two blankets and tried to sleep, but it was far from me! The pain in my shoulders and haunches grew worse and I got all the more restless. On the one hand, my whole frame was bristling with cold, on the other hand, my heart was overtaken by a weird terror; I had for the first time in my life seen hill sliding down, a portion of the landslide was already thereat the Khooni Nalla. As we were staying there, talking, a few pebbles rolled down, but we took no notice of it. What made us apprehensive was that the narrow fissures in the rocky mountain were broadening right before our eyes. Then a frightful thunder lowered and the whole mountain began to roll down. We gave a shriek and moved back. Having moved back, we witnessed an entire portion of the mountain flowing down like a cascade of water and vanishing deep below, big rocks splitting, entire pine trunks sliding down pell-mell with clay and stone. A big dread had seized me and I was not getting over that even then.

The road had been cleared after six hours, but in its wake came an incessant heavy downpour, which even until then did not look like stopping; it was gaining in intensity every moment.

I turned my side, bringing my knees close to the belly and my hands between the knees. Outside, the heavy down﷓pour showed no signs of let up and the cold wind kept rushing in and out the tourist hotel rooms. I felt the plight of those who preferred to stay in the bus far better than ours.

Suddenly, the current failed, augmenting my terror further. The dread seemed reigning all around. Treading softly, I went towards the Swamiji.

"Swamiji, this biting cold! This pitch black darkness, this rain, and the storm! Are we to get petrified right here? Are we fated to die like this?" I said to him plaintively, almost in tears.

He rolled the scroll, and put it in his bag, and drawing a stump of a candle stick and lit it up. Its light spread in the room, casting over shadows on the wall. The frame was flickering in the wind and our shadows on the wall were also tremulous.

Swamiji rubbed my face with his hand and said, "What are you afraid of? All is false, an illusion".

What was illusion, I did not take him in.

"This night, this darkness, this cold, all such things are dreams".

But I feel all of this to be real". I really felt surprised.

"How does this matter?" Swamiji said with a mild laugh.

"Doesn't all that we see in dreams look real?"

"Yes, it does," I gave my assent in a nod.

"In the same manner, this room, these windows without glass panes, this rain and this biting wind are illusory like a dream. As you get up in the morning, these hills, this journey, and the fellow travellers will no longer be with you".

He got up and slipped his feet into the shoes. He opened the door and probably went to make water. I too, got up, but soon returned to my place. Swamiji's words gave me much consolation, and by and by, the weight of the fear began to lift from my heart. In fact, fear is not from without in man's surroundings, but within his mind. What is needed is to keep a balance within.

While I was reflecting over this, Makhan moved his head out of the blanket and asked, "What was he telling you? All this is a dream?" I nodded in assent.

"You should have asked him who it is who dreams. He? You? Or all of us together dream a common dream?"

He again tucked himself completely under the blanket and slept. I was left all alone. Meanwhile, the candle was out with a gust of wind and I was overtaken by awe. The awesome scene of the hill came again before my eyes, and I, too, slipped under the blanket and tried to sleep. But who could sleep under the stress of anxiety? I got up and lit a cigarette.

"Would that it were a dream". I began to reflect with myself. "But this it were" doesn't mean anything. It is doubtlessly a dream. What Swamiji said is not wrong. If it is not a dream, what else is it then? Take this very Makhan and the Swamiji, to wit, whenever did I know them uptil now? But my world now is confined to these
two persons alone. Then as I reach home tomorrow, or as I wake up tomorrow, as the Swamiji would like to put it, how shall they exist for me?"

I touched my left arm with the lighted cigarette, I did really feel a burning sensation .. But what does mere sensation matter? We can feel anything, we can sense dryness for what is wet, or vise versa. What is apparent is not in fact real.

I gave a nudge to Makhan and he got up. I asked him, "Makhan, can you say what reality is?"

"The reality is that we are cowards". He was as if ready with an answer. "Do you know why the driver decided to stay here for the night? He stayed here because he shall get a haltage, he will earn money, yes. It matters little to him that we get congealed with cold; only his self interests matter with him. He will enjoy himself. What is really deplorable is that we stood merely helpless before him".

"What if it is only a dream? What have you to stay to it?" But he was pat with an answer to this question also, "Let us agree to it be even a dream, but had we all joined our voices. We would by now have been in our cozy beds at our respective homes. This dream would not have turned out at a bad one for us!"

I got all the more lost. "It is possible that we are cowards, as he puts it, or that it turns out only a dream on walking, as Swamiji would have it, these mountains, this rain, this biting cold, and this wind will be no more there, but it is long before it will be morning ... It is night yet. Presently, it is dark and cold. And of those two, there, one has tucked himself under the blanket suddenly in a huff, and the other is impervious to cold, and he does not still return from the open outside.

Source: A Book of Kashmiri Short Stories
Introduction and Translation from the Kashmiri by M. Siddiq Beig
PEN productions, Srinagar, 1997

 

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