It was another day of my childhood. I ran out of the door of our compound into what was a never-ending grassland. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d heard my cousin calling me out by ringing his cycle bell.
As I came out, he called me from the street a little far away. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Today, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll ride my cycle on the road,Ã¢â‚¬Â he shouted, waving at me, Ã¢â‚¬Å“And not on the grassÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ Too many trees there for a good ride. And the grass drags your speed you know. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll know when you learn cycling.Ã¢â‚¬Â Big brother would speak like an expert. Ã¢â‚¬Å“All you have to do right now is to watch me speed up. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll show you the dust IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m gonna raise. Like a car!Ã¢â‚¬Â As he rode past me, I saw some dust trailing behind the wheels and I shouted, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Dust! ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like a real car!Ã¢â‚¬Â
During those times, when I used to come out of the compound of my house, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d step into an endless grove. It was a vast orchard, the end of which was out of sight; perhaps even out of the imagination of a child that I was. With all densely grown up trees — apple, pear, almond, walnut, peach, what not — that covered everything that was visible, it seemed as if even the sunlight would fail to penetrate and touch the ground beneath.
At a distant spot, a brick-house could be seen through the gaps between the barks of the trees. And itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tin roof was visible through the holes between the leaves. It was the only inhabitance to meet the eyes. But unfortunately it belonged to the guard. He was the one person who stood between us and the tempting fruits.
But the mother of all fears was the two-storey mud-house just inside the orchard. The children believed that it was haunted, haunted by a ghost, who lived there and came out only in the night. We called him Waaiwopph. God knows where the name came from! The mud-house was originally thought to belong to the previous guard, who was mercilessly thrown out by the Waaiwopph. Some kids had seen him one night, wearing a white robe and a skull cap. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d seen him only once, in a nightmare. He didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have a cap!
There was one more view of this sight, a different scene altogether! And that was from our rooftopÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
You could see all the tree tops close together, spread out like a green carpet on a vast area bound only on the far edge by tall, slender trees, and dotted in between by the graceful Chinars. These formed an endless line, which was actually the shore of the world famous signature of this city of Srinagar, the Dal. Through the line of those trees, at some spots, you could see the silver shine — the serene waters of the Dal, dazzling under the sun. At some spots, you could see the colour of the wood of the house-boats. At times youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d spot the shrine of Hazratbal. Then further still, beyond the Boulevard, the small mountain ranges backed by the mighty Himalayas would kiss the bright blue sky from the top, forming in a perfect compliment, a horizon straight from a classical painting.
But that was quite a long time backÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ in the middle of 1980sÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m quite older now. But more than myself, my dwelling wears a worn out, heaving lookÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
The orchard is no longer there. Some years back, it was partitioned. Partitioned endlessly. Barbed wires in every direction came up to demarcate each individual property that was sold. The trees were chopped down one by one. Leaving the interiors lay naked. Now the sun would shine as if to poke fun at the bare ground below.
For nearly two decades, my neighbours were a million trees. Now buildings sprouted at every other step. Every wrong foot. Then there are these lanes and by lanes with walls high and ugly, a legacy of these violent years. And the grassy paths that once existed have turned into dusty tracks.
Talk about that other view, from the topÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ The green blanket has been replaced by a canopy of tinned roofs — coloured, patchy, rusty, hideous. The Dal might still be there somewhere. But tomorrowÃ¢â‚¬Â¦? Seventy-five square kilometers some centuries back. Twenty-five a few decades back. And barely twelve today. This Dal!
Yes, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m quite older now.
Today. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s another day. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not a child anymore. As I step out of the door of my compound, I see a huge wall right in front, almost like a slap on my face. Behind me, the small garden seems like a piece of heaven. Still, I walk towards the street outside. I see a car at a distance speeding towards me. As it passes me by, I lose my sight in the thick cloud of dust trailing behind it, and I close my eyes. I hold my breath, cover my face with both my palms and turn around. I clear the lump in my throat and get back inside to heave a sigh.
In my little piece of heaven left over, I sit quietly.
Photo:Ã‚Â Dal Lake