Roads turned into mirrors when the fresh March rains poured their reflection in them. The colour red riling out of the red light of her school-bus dispersed and dazzled such that I was reminded of Messih’s blood; that sacramental blood which would have oozed out from the wounds of Messih at the time of crucifixion. A cool gust of air whiffed and I sensed in my existence the twinge of Messih’s wounds and the flow of thoughts drifted me away to the edges. Balram was constantly telling me about the Dargah which I had come to visit. But, after seeing that innocent girl, I have no idea when I got absorbed in Messih’s thoughts.
“Are you listening Casper?” questioned Balram.
“Yes, yes!” I answered.
“This is the place where Christ is buried but, these local people don’t believe in this – saaley,” said Balram.
I was taken aback at his use of the word saaley. I wanted to tell him that even we Christians do not believe in it. But, my eyes at once caught hold of his army uniform and I kept silent. He kept on muttering.
“They don’t let any firangi enter the Dargah. They say that these firangis search for Christ there and if they do succeed in finding him they will make this place a part of their own.”
“Ha! Ha!” he laughed, “Kashmir will always remain a part of India” and with that he braced his gun.
Balram was never like this. He was my classmate in Delhi Missionary School. His father was an army person but he was not quite inspired by army schooling, so he had admitted Balram in our missionary school. We used to sit on the same bench and even my friendship with him started because of Messih. After seeing the cross held round my neck, he stated that he loved Christ. I knew exactly that he was saying all this just to start a conversation. But, when he said that he liked him because of his mysterious nature, I had to question him, “why?”. And that conversation, since then, hasn’t ended.
But, the Balram of these days is not what he used to be. I still remember him in the school uniform with sleepy morning eyes. Quite innocent was he then, but now quite hard, quite rigid. After completing his matriculation, he admitted himself in some army school and thereafter joined the army. Those days we used to talk on phone. He had changed a lot during that period. But I have also changed, that’s what Balram says. My interest was to be a historian, but now I am a teacher in my missionary school. My interest and inclination towards the sacred persona of Messih increased and I kept on searching him as I reached matriculation. From the last two three years I became quite interested in the literature of a particular kind. This search for the Messiahship of Messih has brought me to Kashmir. Actually, these are the books which tell us that after the crucifixion when Messih resurrected, he moved away from Europe to India and spent his last days in Kashmir, and that his tomb is still here in Khanyar. And I was exactly standing there, just a road away from his tomb.
I had to bear a lot while coming here. No one was allowing me to go to Kashmir, neither my family nor the school committee. I persuaded the school committee by saying that I am doing some research on Messih and the family by reiterating that Balram is posted there, so no need to fear about anything. Only then have I been able to come here to this sacred land which my Messih has walked upon. This land and the people of this land, for me, are sacred. That is why I always get angry whenever Balram abuses Kashmir or its people.
When I reached Kashmir and met Balram, I told him that I want to visit that tomb in Khanyar. Balram already knew the place. He was posted there two months back and then one day he took me there and showed me the mazaar, which was more or less a tomb. But, something quite strange happened there. For a period of two three years I kept thinking, what could have Messih been doing in a place like Kashmir and I wasn’t for even a single moment able to imagine him crucified on the cross. But, on that day when I went to visit his tomb, that innocent girl waiting for her school bus at once reminded me of Maryam, and when she boarded the bus, I have no idea when exactly the red light of the bus prompted me to think about Messih’s blood and his wounds. The tomb which I was so eager to visit from the last two years lay before my eyes, but my heart rested somewhere else. Either it was Satan who was distracting me or that innocent girl had come to me as Messih’s message, I thought.
I told Balram that I will come again here and because now I know the way, I’ll come again. I noted the time, it was 8:10. That means I have to be here at 8, I told myself. Next day, I reached exactly at 8 and saw that seraphic girl waiting for her school bus. Today, I truly felt her innocence and the sanctity of her existence. If I believed in reincarnation she would definitely be the sacred Maryam. I decided to cross the road but my whole being shivered. I changed the road and went back to my room.
My room was in the nearby mohalla of Kathi Darwaza. It was a small room. Balram had requested me to stay with him in his army camp but, after a night’s stay there, I felt suffocated because of the people there and also because of their grumblings. That very night I told myself that neither have I anything to do with the situation of Kashmir nor with its conflict. Moreover, I did not want to involve myself either in the affairs of the army or in Kashmir’s Azaadi. My purpose was to search for Messih and its climax lay in that mazaar. Once I visit the mazaar I am done. At that moment, I decided that I will rent a small room for the next few more days and then leave for home. The people of our church at Dalgate helped me in getting this room. That night I contemplated a lot about that girl and her sacred thoughts lulled me to sleep.
Next morning I woke up and decided that I will definitely talk to her today. I left the room with the maiden ray of the morning. The surrounding mosques echoed with a lot of rhythmic voices which were soothing my ears a lot. When I reached Khanyar, my eyes, for the first time caught hold of the martyr’s graveyard there. My mind was about to involve itself with Balram’s statements and those Kashmiri graves when I stopped myself at once and went straight towards the mazaar. There was no one there at that time. The squat iron gate was closed. I knocked and an old man smilingly came, opened the door and went back inside. My heart throbbed with beats. The mazaar was duly preserved by the local people. I was shivering as I went in. Inside there, I saw a long grave with a chaadar on it. I kissed the grave and suddenly a deluge of tears poured out, the source of which I myself was unaware of. Coming out from there after an hour, I noticed that the wetness of my tears has drenched the whole earth. It was raining. I stopped near the bus stop. It was not 8 yet, a few minutes still remained. Rain drops were thumping my cheeks and I felt turning sacred. At once I saw the girl standing in front of me. Fear tricken, I tightly grasped the cross in my hand.
“My name is Maryam,” she pronounced.
After hearing this, the ground beneath my feet slid and I was about to collapse had not the lightning struck so hard in the sky.
“Hello!” I replied and resented myself for using such a trivial word to address the sacred Maryam with. But . . . she cannot be the Maryam. How can I believe in another life? What was happening to my faith?
“You are Casper na!” I was about to die with fear after hearing this but, in a civil manner I replied, “Yes, I am – but how do you know?”
“Messih told me that you would come – but you would be so late, I didn’t know that.”
Astonished, I kept listening. I could not understand what she was saying. I asked her, “Messih told you? What?”
“I see Messih, he communicates with me. He told me that a wayfarer who had come on my birth will come to meet me in search of my death. Do tell him.”
“To tell what?”
Meanwhile, her school bus arrived and while leaving she uttered, “He will meet you in the same manner as you have imagined him.”
She boarded the bus while saying this and I kept searching forMessih in the redness of her school bus, whom I could not find. I was quite amazed and worried too. What was that girl saying? If she really sees Messih, what is that which he is trying to communicate? I have always imagined him in pain. Is he still suffering? I have always imagined him on the rood, is he still carrying it? What was he trying to say?
I was in a deep inquietude and confliction. I went back to my room but could not find peace there either. I went straight to Balram’s camp and found that he was posted in some different area now. I did not know what to do. I thought about meeting Maryam and then again thought that whatever she had to say, she has already. Whatever there was, it was all in those words of Messih. Those words of Messih were sesame full of meaning, of wisdom but I lacked the word with which to open it. I booked my ticket and came back to Delhi.
I could not find peace in Delhi either. That sentence of Messih which the sacred mouth of Maryam hummed out kept bashing me from the inside. I repeatedly kept thinking about the meaning of that sentence. What was Messih actually trying to tell me? But . . . after some days I saw a dream. I saw Maryam telling me, “I am alive, won’t you come to meet me?” I woke up disturbed and the very next morning went back to Kashmir.
Two months had passed away. Here in Kashmir, even the hot June air carries within itself the fragrance of winter. It was all green. Life was rejuvenating everywhere. I called Balram, and came to know that he was again posted in Khanyar. I felt happy and straight away went to his camp. When I reached I saw Balram lying injured. I feared a lot after seeing him but he consoled me not to worry. His camp was attacked some days back and a bullet grazed him closely, he fell off and broke his bone.
“Then?” I inquired.
“Then nothing – they were hiding in the nearby mohalla. Caught all of them saaley. And this time they crossed the limits, used children to exchange and pass on the guns.” I was annoyed at Balram’s use of the word saaley and after that whatever he informed me about I listened to nothing. I rested myself and tried to sleep. The secret of Messih’s message shall unravel tomorrow. I was quite sure that Maryam held another message. I desperately waited for the next morning.
Next morning I dressed myself and went to the bus stop. But, Maryam did not come. At 8:10 her school bus, without waiting for her, without stopping and without displaying the red light passed away from me. I waited there till 9 AM. And when she did not show up, I straightaway went towards Messih’s mazaar. Passing from there, I reached the nearby mohalla and inquired from some shopkeepers about the girl who daily waits here for her school bus. They all, with a dolorous face, told me the way to her home. I reached and opened the door and saw a crowd of people there. I blenched. I mustered some courage and went inside. There I saw a woman beating her chest and crying – in the same way as any mother cries after losing her child. I shivered and asked a nearby man, “What has happened?”
He grouched, perhaps at my use of Urdu because everyone there was speaking in Kashmiri. Then, after sometime he said, “The same thing that happens in Kashmir repeatedly, they took her girl and didn’t even hand down the corpse back.”
I shuddered as if a bomb exploded in my head. Shiveringly I asked, “Maryam?” The man almost weepingly answered, “Yes.” I stood like a statue there. I could not even feel my feet. I felt as if with the sliding of the ground beneath, my feet also slid away with it. I left the house in the dark shadows of the cries of Maryam’s mother and went straight back to Balram’s camp. I could not understand anything. I was at once reminded of Balram’s statement about the attack when I saw him. In a hollering voice I inquired, “What have you done to the girl?”
Balram was quite amazed at hearing this. For the first time, maybe, in the course of our friendship had I raised my voice in front of him.
Shakingly he replied, “Which girl?”
“You . . . how do you know her name?”
In a gust of anger I took hold of his collar and asked, “What have you done to Maryam.”
“I . . . I did nothing. She was with the terrorists.”
After that I saw Balram holding his cheek. I do not remember when in anger had I slapped him.
I screamed, “Tell me what you have done? . . . where is she? . . . Tell me?”
“She died.” In a hesitant voice Balram replied.
“No! . . . She is alive.” I bewailed, “I know she is alive. She told me so.
Balram tell me where is she?”
“Casper! I am telling you the truth. She died.”
This statement suffocated me and I came out breaking the barbed wires of the camp. But, those wires had caught hold of my body and were quickly piercing my soul, wounding me. A piece of wire stuck my head and slowly started gnawing my mind. My existence was flagellating me from the inside and I could feel the weight of thousand crucifixes on my shoulders. Dragging the crucifixes I reached Messih’s mazaar. Sitting there by the shadow of the wall, I saw the wall bespattered with blood. Is this my blood or Messih’s? I kept thinking. As I was deliberating upon this riddle, a shopkeeper angrily came at me and said, “Haven’t you brought the camera with you. What will you publish in newspaper tomorrow? Yes, it’s her blood, those kaminey, they kicked her innocent head right here. You people don’t even spare a little girl.” And with tears in his eyes he went away.
I saw the stains of blood on the wall. It was exactly in the shape of a crucifix. I put on that crucifix too and went back to the camp. Balram startled, after seeing me, and grasped his gun. I was quite amazed. I took hold of his collar and asked, “where is her body and why didn’t her family get it?”
Balram strongly grasped his gun and replied, “I’ll tell you on the condition that you won’t share it with anyone.” I promised.
“If we give them the body back, it will result in a huge uproar. People will rip us. That’s why we have told them she’s in custody.”
“What have you done to her?” I asked.
“Arrey baba! We buried her properly.”
“Casper, look, I can’t tell you that.”
I eased my grasp on his collar and requested him to tell me for the sake of our friendship, I have to go to her. He understood the pain in my eyes and replied, “But Casper, you too, for the sake of our friendship, don’t let anybody know about this. There are many more like this . . . if you let anybody know about this, it will ruin me.”
I promised again and he revealed the location to me.
They had buried Maryam far away. When I reached there I saw a deserted ground. Here and there lay sepulchers bearing no name. It was almost impossible to find Maryam here. It was at this juncture that I heard a noise of somebody digging. I followed the noise. Nearby, I saw a corpse in a shroud and somebody digging the grave. His naked back was bruised with flagellated marks. I walked towards him and when he turned I saw a weak old man. His hair and beard were dust ridden and his teeth full of blood. After seeing him I could only utter, “O, Messih!”
He looked at me and said, “So late!”
“But Messih . . . what is this . . . you here and in this condition.”
His face as hard as stone.
“But you are a messiah . . . and messiahship is your . . .”
I was yet to complete my sentence that he raised his spade and started digging the earth saying, “My messiahship has been murdered . . . my work, now, is just to bury.”
*English translation of an unpublished Urdu short story "Ibn-e-Mariam Hua Karey Koi" by Muzaffar Karim, translated by Mubashir Karim.
Muzaffar Karim is from Jammu and Kashmir. He recently completed his Ph.D. in Philosophy from JNU, New Delhi and is currently working as Assistant Professor in Kashmir University (South Campus).
Mubashir Karim hails from Srinagar part of Jammu and Kashmir. He is currently pursuing his M.Phil. in English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.