I walked past the Indian picket. It was about noon. No one was in sight. Perhaps they were fast asleep or relaxing. They could not imagine that any mother’s son would dare cross the border in broad daylight. Bathed in sweat, I raced like a train. My brother’s face danced before my eyes. The messenger had said that his condition was critical. In that habitation on the Neelam River bank, he could call no one his own.
I lived on the other bank and bore the stamp of India on my brow while he, right across the narrow river , had Pakistan carved on his. The messenger’s words were, ‘ He only mutters your name in delirium.’ How could I check myself after such news? After all it was a bond of blood.
I had reached the Athmuqam Bridge. His hut lay on the bank right ahead. It would take me just five minutes to get there. Like a thief , I stole a glance left and right, clenched my fists and darted across. Barely had I run a few steps when there was a loud shout—‘Halt !’ I stood, paralysed. I looked up and saw them —two towering soldiers, rifles ready, stradling the bridge and heading my way.
They read the stamp on my brow and one of the two spoke, ‘Indian!’
The other pronounced ‘ Arrest him.’
‘ No, no, sir , I am not an Indian. Neither am I a Pakistani. I am only a Kashmiri. Do you see sir, that log hut at Keran? That is my home. And you see that log hut on the other bank? That is where my brother lives. He is very ill and has no one but God to call his own over there. Please, sir, give me just half an hour— I need only to ask him how he is, get him some medicine, a drink of water , may be.’
A rifle butt hit my neck and the earth shook under my feet. They dragged me to their bunker. More soldiers—they also read the tell-tale and declared, ‘ Indian. An enemy spy.’ And then began the torture. I was told that I must confess straightaway that I was an Indian spy and an enemy of Pakistan.
What was I supposed to confess? That I was my brother’s enemy?
I was taken to the headquarter, adjacent to my brother’s hut. Again I pleaded with them. ‘ Please sir, my brother is in a hut next door. He is seriously ill, sir. Please let me go to him, hand cuffed as I am—just to ask him how he is.’
But they would not listen. They peeled of my nails, threw salt on the wounds and I fell unconscious. Next I found my brother lying alongside, gasping for breath, begging for water and I , menacled and bound in chains. No sign of water any where. The sharp point of a handcuff pierced my left arm and blood poured out. I cupped my right hand, collected the liquid and stretched it towards my brother to quench his thirst. The chains binding my hand did not let it reach his parched lips. At last, a desperate cry for water , a hiccup, and then the death rattle. I screamed—‘ It is all over, finished, the human mind, its thinking—which breaks God’s kingdom into fragments and calls a brother his own brother’s enemy.’
I woke up with a start and saw tears flowing from the eyes of the mustachioed soldiers. They asked me to look out of the window and I saw it—my brother’s shrouded body placed in a coffin.
‘ Let me go—let me see my brother’s face—offer a last prayer for him—that’s my brother, do you know? ‘
They said that they knew very well that the dead man was my brother but they could not let me participate in his burial rites. ‘ We are helpless,’ they concluded.
‘Seek permission from your officers, please,’ I begged.
‘ They too are helpless,’ they said.
From the officers’ officers then,’ I pleaded.
‘ They too are helpless,’ was the reply.
Who is it that can help? Who has the power ?’ I asked.
That is something we do not know.’
Translated from kashmiri by Neerja Mattoo.