The Sun was shining bright, forcing the dark grey clouds to run for cover thus lifting their shadow from the meadow that sprawled around the hostel. The darkness that had spread all across was suddenly wiped away, waking up the soft green grass that glistened in the morning dew as the touch of the first rays kissed the blue, yellow and purple wild flowers making them blush and spread their fragrance around
The meadow had never looked as beautiful as it did this morning, thought Rukhsana as she combed her long tresses standing by the window. She allowed her gaze to travel as far as it would dare to go, making her feel the pasture stretched till the horizon just like the ones back at home. The thought of home, brought a tear to her eye. Quickly she wiped it away; the last thing she wanted was to have Mansi her roommate see her cry. She had seen enough of it already.
But Mansi had been busy since morning packing her bags. She scampered around the room, hunting for the slipper she seemed to have lost months before and her favourite pearl earring which had disappeared from her shelf the previous evening.
“How on earth do you expect to find your things in this mess?” called out Rukhsana looking around her.
The room was an unusual sight with half of it being spick and span with everything in order while the other half seemed to be ravaged by a tornado. The bed could not been seen under the humongous pile of clothes that perennially stayed piled on it; the table and chair were filled with books that threatened to topple over at any moment. The floor was littered with wedges, heels and pumps of which Rukhsana had lost count months before. The dressing table was covered with cosmetics and accessories that seemed to be there more for display than actual use. That Mansi kept adding to the museum was something she had never understood.
“I have to find them, they are my absolute favourite, how can I go home without them” wailed Mansi making her roommate roll her eyes. Everything that got lost soon enough became Mansi’s favourite.
Quietly Rukhsana slipped out, wading through the melee that had taken birth across rooms outside and in the corridors. She pulled her dupatta close to her throat, stifling a sob as she made her way through the commotion. Girls were running across rooms, packing their bags and exchanging addresses.
“Ruks, are you done with your packing? When do you leave” a random voice which she thought belonged to Hetal called out. She nodded vigorously murmuring a vague reply and opened the main door of the hostel to get away from the happiness and the excitement that smothered her within the four walls.
“You know, I am so looking forward to the silence and solitude that awaits me in the hills. I find the city so boring. It would be so much fun to spend an entire weekend at a hill station with friends” she heard a voice as she made her way towards the meadow.
“Silence….Boring…” the words triggered off the memories that she tried so hard to stifle. Everyday.
Silence had always been deathly for her and her family. The uncertainty that it brought along had strangled whatever little peace they had every single day.
Solitude. There had been more than enough of it where she came from, the home she missed, and the village she loved more than anything else. Days and days of solitude could be found in their isolated land, because that was all that they had to give them company; to suffocate them much more than the lack of food and water could possibly do.
Boring…their life was anything but that. The crash and crackle of gunfire kept them on their toes, making them play hide and seek with their own lives. One wrong hiding place and pellets of bullets could shower over them. She had seen it happen to her cousin Ibrahim right in front of her eyes. All they could do when there was firing was sit in their hiding places, usually their thatched roof huts and pray. Pray until silence took over; the same deathly silence that made them wonder if a tempest was waiting for darkness to fall; waiting to strike when they fell into a disturbed sleep. They would gladly take boredom any day, but they were never fortunate enough to experience it.
Friends…she had no idea what that meant until she had come to Delhi for her college education. All she had known through her life till then were enemies. Foes who lurked in the shadows and opened fire the moment they got a chance. Not caring if it were a child that got caught in their fire; all they cared were for its identity to be destroyed.
Favourites…nobody in her village of two hundred and fifty had known what it was like to own more than a pair of torn shoes. She looked down at her own Kolhapuri Chappals and winced remembering the day she had bought them with the little money her Abu had given her. Slipping them on for the first time, all the while aware that her Abu would walk bare foot for a few months in order to let her cover hers.
Going home…she had kept a straight face and murmured a reply back in the corridor. How could she tell them what it meant to go home for her? Unlike the girls who were busy waiting for their trains and buses to take them home to a summer vacation full of birthday parties, shopping, movies and eating out, home for her was her thatched roof hut, the framed photos of her brother Rahim and her cousin Ibrahim, the constant shelling along the barbed wires which surrounded her village and the crouching under the charpai each time there was a new bout of firing regardless of day or night.
Partying…she had never known what it meant. Their village plunged into darkness every night, a single light burning could spell disaster for them. They could not even enjoy a meal under the starlit sky, what if a stray bullet made it their last supper?
A nippy wind enveloped around her making her wrap her dupatta around her head, reminding her of the hijab she wore back at home. She was fortunate to have parents who had a forward outlook towards life, who had taken the tough decision of battling against all odds to have her study in the city, who had asked her to be one among the others and experience what they would never be able to- Freedom.
The main doors opened, and the girls poured out, waving out madly as each made way to their own destination. She suddenly felt a movement that made her turn around. Mansi stood behind with her suitcase, ready to go home.
“Why aren’t you ready yet? We will be late for the train” she said, perching herself beside Rukhsana.
“Train… but I never go anywhere… I always stay here… you know that” said Rukhsana looking confused.
“Not this year…nor next…not till I am in your life. I cannot take you to Urusa even if I wanted to… but I can take you home…my home. Your tickets have been booked, and I have worked with the Principal to inform your Abu”
Rukshana did not know how to react. She turned around and hugged her friend; the meadow rustling in the background as if breaking into a song and dance; the sound of artillery that had thudded through her mind, slowly fading away.
Along the LOC, Urusa is a village closest to the border on the Indian side. Cut off from the rest of the world, there are no buses or any form of transport that can connect it to the closest villages/towns Uri and Baramullah anymore.