Dec 10, 2023
Dec 10, 2023
After some delay at 9:30 the bus began making its way toward Anantnag. I got a place on a seat behind the driver. The bus stopped at Dal Gate where a twenty-two or twenty-three year old woman got on with her little girl ho looked to be two years of age. The child was holding a packet of potato chips.
She looked from the front to the back of the bus and said to her little girl, ‘There is no seat vacant.” Indeed there was no empty seat. There were even one or two travelers standing.
She sat on the bonnet (engine cover) on which someone else was already seated. She had no other choice but to sit on the bonnet because nobody gave up their seat for her.
Time was when no-one would let women or girls remain standing in a bus. But things are different now. People are educated now. They know their rights. They know that in a democratic system, men and women have the same rights. She felt the same way.
She sat on the bonnet as if she were comfortably sitting on a (regular) seat. Her serious demeanour was not able to conceal her delicacy and high-born background. From time to time I stole glances at her face, as if I wanted to make her acquaintance.
When our glances met I would look away. It seemed to me as if she was a character from a story who somehow got lost among ordinary people.
The conductor took her money. She was going to Awantipore.
Awantipore? Who would she be going to meet there? Did she have a job there? But what kind of job?
Her light make-up, the arch of her eyebrows, the light pink colour of her face, (partly her own and partly from powder), the light mascara around her eyes...It seemed that she belonged to a family in which a daughter-in-law would have little to do other than dressing up and sitting around looking pretty. Her husband probably is working in some high-level post and despite being well-educated she must have decided not to work.
I was thinking these thoughts when all of a sudden there was some kind of hulla-baloo. Just as the bus was approaching Batwara many large stones were thrown at it. Some windows broke and rocks came inside the bus. The driver applied the brakes. The woman was thrown down from the bonnet.
Suddenly there was more noise. The driver kept the bus moving ahead. Half the people are telling him, "Stop!" and half are telling him, "Go!" Some passengers got hurt. The woman was hit on her shoulder by a stone and was wounded. She got cuts in several places with pieces of glass.
I sort of stood up and gave her room near me to sit down. The man on my right also got up from his seat and told me to sit at his place. Maybe because he saw that I was bleeding too from my left temple where splinters of glass had struck my face.
I sat down again. I took out a handkerchief and wiped away the blood. The young man took a kerchief out of his pocket and began to wipe the blood from the cuts on her face with it. I did the same.
Over her left eyebrow there was a long cut from a stone. On her right cheek, too, and by her ear as well. Blood was coming from all three places.
I took a blank piece of paper out of my bag and tore it into smaller pieces which I applied to the spots where she was bleeding. The man to my right moistened a piece of paper with spittle and put it on the wound over.
She said, "This shoulder hurts a lot." I massaged her shoulder. The shoulder of her jumper was also stained with blood. Her shoulder must have been hurt inside by a piece of stone. I kept massaging her shoulder for quite a while.
I wondered what was it that had happened like this all of a sudden.
I hoped it wasn't bad luck brought to her by my earlier gaze. While massaging her shoulder I asked, "Does your shoulder still hurt?"
Tears came to her eyes and she began quietly crying. Now I felt even worse. To console her my young neighbor was saying, "Don't worry! You know we are your brothers. Muslims and Pandits we are all the same. You know, we will protect you with our lives."
Hearing him say these words tears came to my eyes, too. I dabbed at her tears with the clean side of my handkerchief. By now it was completely smeared with blood. I kept looking for a clean spot on it and kept wiping away her tears.
I began saying to her, "Don't worry, don't worry ..." Other than this I couldn't say anything. Did I believe that now no more stones would be thrown at the bus? As for her she was in something like a state of shock. She told the young man to sit again in his original place near the window. There was not enough space. He sat leaning against the window.
In a journey lasting only forty minutes how close to one-another we had all come. Carefully feeling for them with my fingers, I was plucking the little bits of broken glass out of her little girl's hair. She too was running her fingers through her daughter's hair. The girl was sitting in her lap shocked and terrified. She still had the packet of potato chips in her hand. She offered it to me. Kissing her face I said, "You have them."
The bus reached Awantipore. She got down with the girl. She was unable to look back. I kept looking out the window. She got down and the bus left. I remembered the cuts on my face and kept rubbing at them with my handkerchief.
I sat there with my eyes closed for a long time and kept thinking. Did my gaze bring her bad luck?
(Original in Kashmiri. Translated by the author with Peter Hook)
More by : Prof. Omkar Koul