Flurry showers of snow were peacefully carpeting the entire city of Srinagar. An uneasy calm overthrew the buzzing of summer lutes in our north-most princely state. Songs of sparrows seemed to disappear into a void. There was silence. Just silence.
Mouji cleaned the steamy window with the curled end of her shawl and turned my head to face it. That gloomy vision of snow brought back to me the memories of Noori, myself and Hajira Jan frolicking in the snow, making snowmen and throwing snowballs at each other, when I was able to move like all the other girls. These exhilarating memories touched my heart, but just these memories touched me. Not my hands. My body was in eternal sleep. Eight years back, the doctors had declared to my parents that I was paralysed. These eight years had passed like ruthless time crawls over a burning barren desert. Mouji caressed my hair gently and hummed, “Zeba Jan, my lovely daughter, one day you will be fine and you will play with me on that snow, like all the other children. Look at yourself, you are splendid with beauty and with each day that passes you are becoming even more ravishing. Zeba Jan, apple of my heart, I myself envy you sometimes for your divine beauty. Soon enough you will get up on your own, and a charming suitor, an inamorato, will come to steal you away from me.” All the while, as she spoke, her warm tears splashed at my forehead, jolting my lashes. “My beautiful lady”, she continued “Your Uncle Habib Hoja told me that he met Eli the healer, this morning, at womb of Mount Solomon, where Eli seemed to be in conversation with the birds. Habib Hoja has told him about your suffering and Jan meri Eli has agreed to see you very soon”
Eli the healer, as everyone called him was a medical doctor by profession, but seemed less of it. In the early 1930’s Eli was honoured by the King of State to head the General Hospital but he turned down the position without a reason for it. Rumour had it, that Eli talked to the unseen and needed time for his unearthly and metaphysical encounters. He was famous for his sharp memory and would remember the entire medical history of a patient even if he had seen him way before ten years. He would examine a patient repeatedly by himself. Eli was a recluse but he was also the most punctual and dedicated doctor of the hospital. He always tried to treat patients without drugs and if a patient deceased under his care, Eli would disappear from the hospital for days together. It was said that he wandered around to unknown places, mostly, the womb of mount Solomon and the Nigeen Lake.
Mouji kept telling me about the healing powers of Eli, and I knew she was trying to instil hope in me. She spieled, “Have you not heard of Eli healing a lady who came in search of him from the far away land of Andalusia with her husband. They say, in the first meeting the couple told him about the cancer that lady was suffering from and how vexatious it was to fight the cancer after all the drugs had stopped working. Eli the healer, listened patiently to them and suddenly looked into the eyes of lady with his piercing gaze, he then stood up and without even looking at her hands, took off the Tourmaline ring she wore, and commanded them to throw the ring into Arabian Sea, from where the stone comes. The couple left and did as he said. It was after fifteen months that the couple visited Srinagar again and told Eli how the lady was recovering gradually. They also donated him money worth two silken Hamadan carpets, which Eli refused to accept, but at the insistence of the couple, he guided them to distribute the money amongst children affected by the War against the reign of the King. I have all my hopes, my charming apple, that you too with the power of your will and our love, will soon be rid of this bed” Mouji kept speaking and patting me gently, until I resigned to sleep.
I longed each day and night to visit Eli the healer and one freezing morning, to my numb excitement, Uncle Habib Hoja visited us, carving his way through dunes of snow. Mouji greeted him and made some Saffron Kehwa for him, as he told her to make arrangements for carrying me to Eli’s house. Eli had agreed to see me on the next Friday. My hopes ascended to a pinnacle, I wanted to rise up and hug Mouji, but it was just a distant dream to move. Those five days of waiting to see Eli, appeared far longer than all the eight years of my paralysis. Every minute was like a month and every hour heavier than a decade. The night before Friday, with all my veiled excitement, I wasn’t able to put even an ounce of sleep to my eyes. Mouji fed me in the morning and dressed me up in a beautiful dress that she had sown for me with her own hands. Uncle Habib Hoja, Hajira and Noori carried me to a horse buggy. My head was laid on Mouji’s shoulder and we were on our way to Eli’s house. The buggy kept skidding and slipping a little, but I enjoyed this ride to the depth. It was after five years that I left my house, earlier they took me to Abba’s funeral, who was martyred for rebelling against the king. We moved along River Jhelum to reach Eli’s house in the old city. Habib knocked the barky door and Maqbool, the servant of Eli, greeted us and took us to Eli’s chamber. The chamber was full of thick smoke, there was dull glassware, whittled stones, dusty vases, ragged paintings, old rugs and to top it all, there were books, yellow massive books as if written by the hand. The servant told us to wait till Eli finishes his prayer, which he did at unusual times and in unusual ways. I was bursting with a brew of excitement and unknown fear as the thick thudding steps began approaching the chamber. Eli the healer came in. He was dressed in a heavy black leather coat, maroon-white tie, sharp creased pants and his famous Karakul cap. He said nothing and sat comfortably in his armchair. Mouji greeted him and narrated to him the incident that got me crippled. Eli was silent and looked huffish. He did not say a single word but seemed to be listening to the details of my medical history with rapt attention and alacrity. He finally stood up and came to me. He kept the pulp of his fingers on my pulse and looked out to the sky. Suddenly, he dropped my hand and stood looking deeply into my eyes for a full minute. It was as if I was going to die with the intense stare of his green spiking pupils. He closed his eyes and left the room immediately. Mouji, Habib Hoja and me, we all stood perplexed. After a while Maqbool came into the room and quipped, “Eli is not feeling well and wants all of you to go away this time, but do come back on the next Friday”.
Mouji and Habib Hoja spoke in a bleakly depressed voice, as we rode back to our house. It seemed that they were losing hope. The way Eli rushed back after looking into my eyes made it appear more disastrous than worse. Nights passed and there was an unending confrontation between hope and despair in me. There were voices and arguments between the power of desire and fear of helplessness in me. Each time I tried to put sleep to my eyes; the visions of misery threw me up. For the last eight years my physical suffering had also cremated my hope. I was numb and had resigned myself to the dictates of destiny. But this time the defeat in the tearful eyes of Mouji spiked a zeal inside of me, to fight back all that had chained me; and for the first time I challenged the destiny to rewrite it myself. I strove every single moment to fight against the despondency in unison with Eli’s healing wit, without letting my destiny choose for me. I tried to kill the monster that sat on my chest, crippled me and above all had accommodated me to paralysis peacefully. I strived to release myself from the djinns of mental inhibition in me that often haunt us throughout our lives. All I visualized that week was myself getting up on my own. I annihilated any feeling of suffering that started to bud in me, with full enthusiasm, right up to my throat, to help myself with the power of my intention. I was hankering to see Eli again, this time with a strong intention and unreasoned happiness.
It was the Friday morning, the streets were full of mist and there was somewhat slushy snow on the roads that day. There was a strange feeling of wellbeing in me. The tick-tock of buggy was like a beautiful piece of country music to my ears. I listened to it keenly, with a furiously beating heart, all the way to Eli’s house. It took us by a surprise when we disembarked the cart that Eli was strolling back and forth in his lawn. He seemed restless and walked towards us when he saw us entering through the gate of his house. He spoke up for the first time, greeting Mouji and Habib Hoja in a heavy husky voice and looked at me with a smile on his face. Eli appeared perky. He led us to his chamber and called the servant Maqbool to make hot Nunchai for Mouji and Habib Hoja. He kept talking cheerfully to all of us for a while and after some time of blithe exchange Eli pleaded “I will have to ask you two to leave this chamber for now” and then turning to Maqbool he said, “Bring to me my glass and a glass of water, and hold on, take good care of the guests.” Maqbool brought in the glasses and Eli dictated once again, “Make sure no one disturbs me now.”
Eli locked both the doors from inside, he also closed the windows, and nothing but silence prevailed. He brought his chair to a touching distance from my bed and turned my head to face him. He made himself comfortable on the chair, lit his cigar, and turned on old Sufi ensemble music on his gramophone, while holding my pulse under his fingers. He began staring into my eyes and I noticed that these eyes of Eli were far different from the ones that greeted me with a smile. Eli started drinking his glass and without a blink he kept staring into my eyes. They pierced me deep into my heart. He quaffed his drink and puffed the smoke right onto my face. The way he was gazing at me made my heart skip beats and I was beginning to feel breathless. Something was amiss. I wanted Mouji to come in and sit by my side, but in vain. His eyes looked more sloshed as he was crushing the burning end of his cigar in the ashtray, without taking off his eyes from mine. He loosened his neck tie, and opened the collar button of his shirt. His grotesque antics made me totally befuddled and I just wanted to call out to my people. I started sweating, though it was the peak of winter. He stood up and moved more towards me, his face was a breath away from mine. His commanding gazes were creating chaos inside of me. He stood there for a while. And then, shaking my life upside down, his hands started fondling my thighs. Eli looked intoxicated. Tears started flowing unabated from my eyes, down the nape of my neck into a void. But he did not stop. His hands, those poisonous hands went on to fondle whole of my body. I professed that it was the last day for me on the earth, all the morality that my father had infused into me was being lost. My soul was pleading for someone to stop by, for someone to know of my plight and save me. His hands came right up to my head and he snatched off my scarf. I lost the count of sweat and tears. I prayed for my death. I prayed that I die before anything happens to me. Eli seemed as insane as a street vagrant. Eli went further. He pulled off my pyjamas and threw them back onto the chair. Everything before my eyes blackened out, I was meeting my death, and the angel of death was being a stoic healer. I tried to bawl out loud for help, but no, I was just a mute spectator to my own apocalypse. I trembled like a sparrow in the mouth of a street dog. Eli did not have a trace of compassion for me, for my helplessness and continued his plunder. I wanted to scratch myself, pull my hair and kill myself before him. And in the midst of it, he suddenly disrobed me off my frock. There I was lying bare and denuded on his bed. The heart inside of my chest was beating like a drum machine. I knew I was near my end. I struggled to save my honour, get up and kill Eli and myself. I strove to put a piece of cloth on myself and then die peacefully. Eli stared at my naked body, with his drunken eyes. I died a thousand deaths. I trembled so hard that I could hear the shaking glassware on the table, despite the music. All I wanted was to screech hysterically and kill myself. It was right at that time when ensemble music faded that he splashed the water from the glass on my face. I heard a moan and I passed out.
The fine chirpy songs of parakeets scratched sleep from my heavy eyes but I never wanted to open my eyes again. My head was heavy. But after I heard Mouji call my name, I arduously tried to open my eyes to see her beautiful face. She seemed exhilarated with happiness and had a glowing smile on her face that was dearer to me than any treasure of the heavens. I also heard sound from the corner of room and I turned my head to see Hajira Jan and Noori giggling and hugging each other. I looked back to Mouji’s youthful face and suddenly I realized that I had turned my neck on my own. I was moving my hands and feet on my own. I touched my face for the first time in eight years. I was hysteric to see my limbs obeying at my will, but all I wanted to know was what happened to me after I passed out at the hands of Eli. Mouji lilted, “Eli came out of the room, glittering with happiness and took us into the chamber. He told us that you had cried and moved your legs just before passing out. He had wrapped you under a shawl and commanded me to redress you. He then had a Nunchai with us and told us to wait until he finishes his prayers, again, at a very unusual time. Eli also escorted us right here upto our house and prescribed you some medicines. He assured that you will regain most of your strength back in the coming six months.”
I never got to see Eli again. Whenever I wanted to see him and thank him he was busy curing his patients and one day I heard that Eli had left Srinagar to find cure for the cancer he was suffering from. Had there been no messiah like Eli in my life, I would have never given birth to you two, the light of my eyes. I would never have been able to recite my story, myself.
Mouji– Mother in Kashmiri.
Nunchai– Kashmiri salt tea.
Kehwa– Elaichi tea without milk.
Hamadan– An Iranian carpet design often made in Kashmir.