Y A R B A L
t had snowed incessantly for the past four days and there was no let-up in the fall that left everyone shivering in the valley. The populace was holed up in their homes and kangris were heating up the pherans from the inside as the temperature dropped to Minus 4 on the outside. This was the first snowfall of the season and it occurred right on X-Mas eve and continued until everyone got blown up with its intensity. Mahikak was a pious man, but he loved to have his Roganjosh every once in a while and this time around he saw no way the shops would open to refresh his stock. Even he had not opened his cloth shop in the last two days as access to it was blocked with piled up snow. Everyone was claiming the snow pile was more than six feet high and it would take a long time for it to melt or be moved. And that was possible only when the municipal corporation would wake up to the requirement. The vegetable seller in the neighborhood had some stock of potatoes that he gave to everyone asking for it but at a much inflated price. He had to survive. There were no vegetables to be found elsewhere in the market and it came to opening up the moong dal containers or the rajmah or dried vegies that some had stored for just this crises. No one was venturing outside the homes as it was either slippery or plain muddy where the snow had melted.
Towards the close of the month the sky suddenly cleared and the landscape was bathed in bright sunlight. The effect was so intense that if you looked at the snow carpet on the ground the reflected sunlight blinded the eyes. It was time to clear the snow from the paths leading in and out from homes as people got busy with their spades or whatever was handy to tackle the situation. Some had even to clear their rooftops as the accumulated snow would be too heavy to restrain the roof from caving in. Mahikak eagerly awaited the market opening so that he could at least get his rations. He had given up on his son helping out in times of crisis and knew that if he had to eat he better go and get himself whatever was available. All these days as it snowed he found only his son going out in the middle of the day towards the yarbal and spend time at the river bank looking out at the freezing waters in some kind of a trance. He would return eventually with a scowl on his face and pick up an argument with his younger sibling. He wondered what was wrong with his son who was of late showing signs of depression.
Shibanji was in his last teens and would perhaps celebrate his birthday in a couple of months to enter his twentieth year of life. He was appearing for his graduation exams in April and was doing his best to cram up all that he could during the winter vacation. He was not very ambitious and knew that even if he passed in high grades he would still end up working along with his father at the shop at Habba Kadal selling dress material and saris. But there was a much bigger problem with him right now and he did not know how to deal with it. He had fallen in love. It just happened accidentally one day in early summer when he had come to the yarbal to take a bath. That was his usual practice but this time around he found out a pair of eyes looking piercingly at him from the ghat downstream from him. Not only were the eyes beautiful, the face holding these was even more appealing and there was a perpetual smile on it that made his heart flutter. He had heard about tales of love from his friends and the phrase head over heels was only understood by him now that he was experiencing it himself. The problem with it was that he had never met the girl in person, something strange since she was living in the neighborhood and he did not know who she was. He only saw her at the yarbal once in a while. He made discreet enquiries from friends in the locality and found out that the girl had recently shifted here from Sopore where her parents lived and this was her matamal. She was in the city when she got admitted to the Women’s College in a degree course. He also learnt that her name was Sheila.
For a few weeks he did not know how to approach her and one day he got the idea to make a start. He made a paper boat and on it he wrote in bold letters the common phrase “I love U” and made the boat slide downstream carefully and watched in amazement as it was collected by the girl. She opened the paper and after seeing what was in there she giggled and ran up the stairs of the ghat. Since that day he made many more boats and each carried a different phrase for his love. Many times over she could not collect the boat and it flowed downstream. His missives were never reciprocated in writing as it would perhaps be difficult for a similar paper boat to move upstream from where she stood but there was a response she gave him through her smile and usual appearances at the ghat. He had now become desperate as the falling snow had made it difficult for him to see her at the usual place and his mood had turned brusque.
Mahikak opened his shop two days after the new calendar year started when snow was cleared from the roads and it was a little over two years now that the country’s economy had slightly recovered after the Chinese aggression in 1962. He was looking forward to expanding his business and introduce men’s suit clothing in his shop after having dealt with women’s dress material and saris for almost two decades. The new venture would require more hands and he was eager to induct his son into business soon after he finished his exams in April of this year. He planned to renovate his shop and restock for the Spring Season that would finally fulfil his dreams of getting him into the business fold. He planned to celebrate the occasion and invite all his near and dear ones to a feast at his humble abode. He was in fact already going through the motions of the invite in his head and wondered what he should include in the menu for a Luncheon. He wondered why Kashmiris had a penchant to eat so many varieties of meat at the same time. He had a weakness for consuming mutton but the basic ingredient served in so many different ways was, according to him, a conflict of flavors for the taste buds to comprehend. He thought it would be prudent to restrict the mutton dishes to a maximum of two instead of over a dozen delicacies that could be fashioned out of the meat, for the aroma to take effect.
Habba Kadal was the meeting point for all the youngsters in town and by evening all of them would meet here and discuss everything under the sun. From academics to politics and from love stories to break-ups and fashions and formats were discussed and analyzed. Shibanji was a mute spectator of the happenings around and he was not an active participant in gossip but he did catch up on the latest stories doing the round. He was basically a shy person but when the name of Sheila cropped up his attitude became a bit rigid and he was suddenly more attentive to details. He soon realized the guys were talking about some other Sheila and he took a sigh of relief. He had done well in his exams and was eagerly waiting for the results to be declared. He continued to watch his paper boats being gobbled up by his friend as it coursed on the waves towards her. The only thing that troubled him was the constant reminder by his father that he join the shop soon and assist him in the daily chores. He continued to delay the process until he firmed up his own mind and give a direction to his thoughts about his future. But he did notice the changes his father was making at the shop for his ultimate induction into the business.
Shibanji was by nature a sensitive person and despite the fact that he was desperate to meet the girl of his dreams he was treading cautiously so that he does not in any way offend her sensibility. He used to discreetly follow her when she was on way to the college and became slightly bold only when he found that the chance sightings of him did not offend her at all. He approached her only when he felt sure his advances would not be spurned and when he gained enough confidence he made his first move and came closer to her with that boyish smile that ensured he was accepted. It took him some time to say the sacred words “I love U” and found her responding with enthusiasm. This went on for some time and the meetings became regular. He did not take up the assignment at the shop that his father offered him and was seriously looking at the possibility of making a career in the civil services. He had made preliminary enquiries and had submitted applications for jobs at a few known organizations and was hopeful to be selected despite the fact that he had just a second class degree that would not take him any far.
When the summer was closing and the fall season started his mood suddenly dampened when he did not see his love girl for many days. He used to go to the yarbal every day and at all times to just get a glimpse of her but returned without having any sightings. He tried making enquiries in the neighborhood but found no clues of what happened to Sheila. Many days later as he was on way home he found a small girl standing at the corner of the gali leading to his house who handed over a marriage invitation card to him which he accepted and opened up only after reaching his room. His body shivered convulsively when he found that his Sheila was getting married to some unknown guy and the ceremony was being held at Sopore the following week.
Many years later in 2011 at Nagrota, in the outskirts of Jammu, a J&K Roadways Tourist bus on its way from Srinagar crushed an old man who died instantly. The poor old man was crossing the road. There were no caring hands to cremate the remains and mourn his demise. Nobody knew who he really was and the few people who had in some way interacted with him over a couple of decades knew only this much that he was not sane enough to have cared for himself. When the state authorities intervened to make a report of his death and searched his one-room rented lodging did they find an aged hand-made decorated piece of paper glued to the wall that read:
SHIBAN LOVES SHEILA”.
On the same day that Shibanji died, an old woman named Sheila missed her step while de-boarding a local bus at Jammu, fractured her skull and died on way to the hospital.
Shri B.L. Dhar was born and brought up at Srinagar. After completing his Master’s Degree in Mathematics he ventured out of the state and found a job in the Civil Aviation Department joining as a Gazetted Officer. His area of activity was at Delhi and Mumbai International airports. He was selected to undergo training at the school of aviation; Luxembourg under the UNDP program and later posted at the Corporate Headquarters in New Delhi. He had in the meantime joined the newly formed PSU, Airports Authority of India, from where he retired as a General Manager in 2000. He has written innumerable articles about aviation that was published in the house magazine. He is now settled in Delhi and keeps his interest alive in writing..
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This story has brought back the momories of Habba Kadal and Srinagar. It was one of the main meeting points in Srinagar. All roads would end up there. The story has a strong message for young generation. Love is not selfish. You can be in love without being together. Thank you sir for this "YARBAL"
Added By Chander Kaul
Yet another masterpiece from the master of short stories. I never seen Kashmir but I felt the drama of love taking shape at the ghats of the "yarbal". Ending was a bit sad though.
Added By Gaurav Gaurav