Ahmed tried to capture the picturesque scenery through his Canon DSLR camera, however everything looked hazy and out of focus, or was it just his teary eyes! Only he knew what he felt inside his heart, at this moment, in front of the Dal lake in Kashmir, standing along the empty pier, the ‘shikara’ (boat) tied to the end of it. The sun had not yet come up in this quiet and lazy winter morning. He had stealthily sneaked out of his house, in his dad’s old wooden boat, to feel the freshness at the dawn. Even though it had been almost two decades that he was away from home, the known smell of the fresh morning air, made him selfishly nostalgic. The pink lotuses on the not-so-blue Dal lake, the grey sky, the infinite horizon, the fishing net curled up inside the boat and the strange silence around him, made him feel at home.
As a child, he often went out with his dad, who was a fisherman at dawn and a tourist guide by the day. Ahmed was a happy kid and loved meeting tourists from all over the world, while his dad took them around the ‘heaven on earth’, with a gleaming pride and a modest smile. His mother was a beautiful woman who looked after the needs of him, his brother and his father. She loved Ahmed and taught him to be kind. Ahmed also enjoyed playing with his little brother Faruk. Life was simple yet good, until that evil moment changed it all.
Little Ahmed and his dad rushed home after fishing, as they heard the treacherous news of terrorist attack in their area. As five-year-old Ahmed ran and pushed open the main door of his house, he saw his mom and two-year-old brother reeked in blood, lying on the floor and still. Ahmed did not know what to do and was trembling from inside. The furniture was all broken and scattered and there was a strange smell everywhere. Broken pieces of glass and blood was all over the wooden floor. He saw holes all over the walls, similar to the ones on his mother and brother’s body. His dad immediately covered his eyes with his cold and shaky hands and held him tight. Unable to fathom what had happened, Ahmed shook off his father’s hands and ran to his mother, and started shaking her body to wake her up. His mother’s warm body felt as cold as the fear inside him. Then he ran towards his brother who was lying on his tummy, his clothes drenched in blood and his body ice cold. When neither of them woke up, Ahmed turned and looked at his father with teary eyes, hoping his father can do some miracle to wake them up!
The incident left its deep mark on both Ahmed and his dad. In two years’ time, his dad suddenly looked very old, all his black hair turned grey, he walked slowly while he stooped a bit and the talkative tourist guide hardly spoke a word through the day. Ahmed had nightmares all through the night and the emptiness of the house overshadowed the desolation of his life. He contemplated whether he was lucky or unlucky that day.
Ahmed left Kashmir three years after that incident. They had distant relatives in New Delhi, and Ahmed stayed with them. He completed his high school and eventually graduated in Photography. Often in the cold nights in Delhi, he missed his mother’s warmth and his brother’s giggles. He was regularly in touch with his father, who had lost all zest in life. Soon his camera became his best friend and he bagged an internship with National Geographic magazine. He travelled many countries and loved seeing the world from inside his lenses, he felt safe that way. When his editor asked him to go to Kashmir to cover a story, he agreed immediately.
After two decades as Ahmed tried to click this beautiful scenery, he imagined his mother, little brother Faruk, his father and him sitting together in the small boat and looking happily at the camera, smiling away and saying “cheese”!