“We Survived”: A Letter to J

Through this letter addressed to J, Saba informs the larger audience how a Kashmiri carries the pain and suffering of home everywhere. 

Dear J.,


I hope this finds you well. I had been thinking of writing to you for a while but have been procrastinating, partly out of emotional lethargy and partly because I am learning the tricks of the trade now. As you had remarked half seriously, I, like everyone else, am "pretending to be busy" at last.


I know you would be closely following the recent happenings in Kashmir. To sum it pithily and wryly, "But for your conscience? Ay, sir; where lies that?" I am reminded of the hauntingly beautiful picture of home that you had sent me during your time there.


It's been six days (and counting) since I last heard from my family. To say that I am in agony seems almost selfish and petty given the shock and horror people back home are facing. Besides, haven't I complained about the air wearing down my lungs, caged in my home on countless occasions before?

Being away from all that destructive madness, I had imagined creating a false sense of security for myself, hoping to have left all that pain and suffering behind.

And yet I find myself fully consumed by the same fire of emotions so many miles away. I vacillate between blinding rage to placid numbness to stoic defeat to an urgent, pressing desire to act. And so I wring my hands, scratch my head, pace feverishly or hold my sinking stomach in turns.

I know I am not alone in this and so I seek compatriots. I surround myself with people that are just as ravaged by it, who feel the same pain, just as acutely, in speech and in silence. Wenij chum phataan, I tell a friend. I do not wish to translate this in any other language, no matter how vivid the vocabulary. I sing my pain, I lament, and I rock myself to ease the misery. From the patiently listening cab driver from Ghana, to the kind and discerning security guard of our library, to random strangers on the streets, I bare my heart lest it implodes. The lump in the throat remains, defiant and unbudging.

In a desperate bid to make sense of the world I come from as it is has been snapped loose at its end, waiting to be unraveled, and the world I currently inhabit, I find myself gasping for air yet again. The carcass is being pecked at and the onlookers clasp their hands in wild glee. Vultures in waiting!

"We have seen worse," my brother admonishingly reminds me. 'This is no time to be a victim. Show some grit and carry on," he says. 

I am reminded of the floods of 2014. In the wee hours of September 5, 2014, the raging river deciding to break into our homes, inundated our painstakingly crafted nests, washing over our delicately held together lives, adding Nature's unleashed fury onto our already full plate of woes. And just when I slip into the darkest depths of despair, I am reminded of this eighty year old woman, who just within days of spending a cold traumatic night with her frail husband on the Zero bridge, walks many miles up a mountain top, finds a stranger, jogs her memory to recall her son's phone number, steadies her hand and dials, only to allay his fears by uttering these words.

"Jan, lagya balai. Aes chi seri theek."

We survived