An old man met a young man while walking on the Bund. Old man inquired about the time from him. As they walked a few steps, old man asked, “What is your name?”
“My name is Furkan- Furkan Shah.”
“Do you know Zoi?” asked Furkan, a 20-year-old student.
“No, what is it?” old man replied.
“Let’s sit somewhere for a while and I will tell you about the Zoi,” Furkan said with a smile.
They sat on the banks of Jehlum, at the Bund, near Lambert Lane. Old man with sunken eyes, wrinkled face, was confused. He was thinking what the Zoi is. He was lost in what the young man is going to say. Wearing a brown colour Tweed Pheran- a cloak, he sat with Furkan on the stairs which ends down at the water of the river. Furkan was wearing a black Polo jacket and had a backpack with him. He was stills holding that smile. An excitement was brewing on his face. After he had read a news story “Police Files Sedition Case against BOSE” in a newspaper, he was restless to share his thoughts with someone.
A cold evening. Sun was setting behind the foot bridge and then vanished at the roof tops of old houses in Goni Khan Market. Mist was mating the air. The people walking on the Bund have a tinge of red on their ears. Their nose tips too had the tinge. Everyone walking on the Bund had their hands in their pockets. Some had their arms inside their Pherans. Just near the ruins of an old building near Lambert Lane, rag pickers were fanning a fire pot. It had burning charcoal in it.
The smoke from the pot passed through the stairs where Furkan and old man sat. As Furkan sat a few minutes after the old man spoke, “So tell me what the Zoi you were talking about is?”
“Yes, I will,” replied Furkan.
“Well, you might know it through its history. Children read about it in their books at primary level. It is an Urdu alphabet. We can name many things starting from it. It sounds as Zo-oeyy.”
“So what, I know all this. I have gone to primary school too. I have read it when I was child. We used to learn it by heart like Zoi se Zuroof,” Old man interrupted.
No. No. Listen to me! Your primary has changed. In those days, it had no side-effects. Now learning it by heart has consequences. You know we are living in Kashmir, the beautiful valley which has been heaven on earth. I am sure you know that too. You might know better than me as you have lived more than me. But the person for whom you used to sing, Alli Karri Wagan Karri Bab Karri Lolo, left many Brinjals and Gourds, here in Kashmir, before he left to rest on the banks of Dal Lake under the shade of Chinars. It has been decades that we have been eating those vegetables. They always taste bitter. They have given names to those vegetables like PSA, DAA, AFSPA, and much more. The latest one is sedition. I am sure they used lot of manure to grow this vegetable. It seems costly. But you know India is a developing country. They can import vegetables from anywhere. They can buy anything!
“Yes I know, I listened to BBC last night,” old man added.
Yes you are right. Most of these vegetables are grown in India and then send to Kashmir. Many people who asked for their rights were forced to eat these vegetables. And they fell sick. Some are recovering and some couldn’t survive. Some are still lying under soil at different places. They make tulip gardens over that mixture of bones and soil. Some of them even live in those symbols of memory. You see we are getting developed. Isn’t it development that we make luxurious mansions over cemeteries?
Anyways, let me come back to the Zoi. Yes I was talking about Zoi. This Zoi has changed. During your days in primary school, Zoi would have been in books like Zoi se Zuroof, as you said. The change is that Zaalim replaced the Zuroof. You know why that happened?
You learned Zoi se Zuroof by heart. We holding those Zuroof’s but they filled them with vegetables. People had tongues to talk but now they can’t talk. Nobody is allowed to talk. They fill our mouths with vegetables. I am not scared that I am talking to you. I am in a process of overthrowing roots of these vegetable plants. Every day they are given those bitter vegetables by Zaalim. Now it has become Zoi se Zaalim by heart. So remember it is Zoi se Zaalim!
Zuroof is an Urdu word which means utensils. Alli Karri Wagan Karri Bab Karri Lolo: “This or that, Father will do.”
Note: The piece is a work of fiction. Author can be found at @FahadShah_