Kamran woke up peacefully after a dream with a kaleidoscope of scenes of his parents caring for him, his family playing cricket together when they were children and their desire to be free and become rich: a nostalgic dream. The radiance on his face was not because he had shaved this morning but because he was happy and his vacations were only a few weeks away, which meant he would be travelling to his homeland soon. Moreover, he had received a call from his father about his family’s welfare after many months, and his father had told him it was safe to visit Kashmir.
He got ready and didn’t feel like riding his bike today, so he boarded a local bus to college. After finishing teaching, he tried to see his colleague, Harriet, but she had already left. He called Haroon and asked if he can come to his restaurant, and Haroon’s sweet words added to his happiness. Meanwhile, he saw someone approach him.
The person introduced himself as Professor George, Haroon’s friend. After greetings, George told him that he taught Politics and International Relations and wondered if they could discuss the happenings in Kashmir; he mentioned he was writing an article on British interests in South Asia and how solving Kashmir’s issue can bring peace to the region. Kamran promised they would do that next time as he was leaving to meet Haroon.
“Good. Actually, I was also going to see him. Let’s go together,” George offered.
Kamran felt nervous while waiting a few minutes for George to get his motorbike, but when the biker wearing a helmet stopped in front of him, he controlled his uneasiness, thinking that he’d be alright, and they left.
After some fifteen minutes, the motorcycle skidded away and was hit by a car following them, forcing the bike to collide with a sidewall on the road.
On the back seat and without a helmet, Kamran was first hit on his back, and then his head smashed on the road. For a moment, there was a deafening silence. The traffic police marked the site. Kamran and George were carried away in an ambulance. While at the hospital, after doctors examined them, George was unnerved for Kamran, though his own right leg and left arm were fractured. Kamran was kept in ICU; he was in a coma.
Before his friends, colleagues, and other people who knew him could reach him at the hospital, the doctors declared Kamran dead.
No one blamed George for Kamran’s death except George himself. Everyone else said it was Kamran’s fate; Kamran’s kismet had made him come from Kashmir to London.
George and Haroon were talking about Kamran in the hospital where George was recovering:
“What did I do?! I am so sorry, Haroon.”
“It was an accident. Don’t think much about it.”
“I can’t, dear Haroon. Please tell me more about him.”
“Let me try. I didn’t understand why Kamran decided to share his personal matters with me. He indeed opened up with me at our first meeting. We immediately became great friends. But he had so many other friends as well. Harriet truly loved him. Kamran didn’t confide in me directly about his love for a Kashmiri girl, but the vast portion of his journal, which I carry with me, is filled with the love poems he wrote for some Seerat. Like this:
‘Seerat came to me like a cold wind,
Stirring my bones, sending me shivers.
You’re my reveries, my sustenance, and my nights.
I envision battered porches,
Our drenched epitaphs;
In our sweet sacred memory.’
“I think Kamran thought I understood his struggle and his fear of death. I’m trying my best to get a visa to go to Kashmir, but I’m afraid I cannot visit his family. Though I’ve lived in London for decades, my Pakistani identity hasn’t left me. After his death, I think I understand him better now. I wish I could tell his family and his beloved how much he loved them. He once told me humorously: ‘If I die here, my family will never forgive me. Do you know why? Because even my death will be a mystery to them.’
“I don’t know how to convince his family that he died while saving their dream: of living a better life. But how his family will react when they hear about his death bothers me the most. His family must be expecting a better life with him. Thank God he had transferred all his savings to them before his death. I am waiting for normalcy to return to Kashmir so that I can call his family and share this sad news with them. Also, I’ll keep trying for a visa to meet his family and the girl he loved.”
“His family still doesn’t know about his death! That’s not fair, Haroon. Would they ever forgive me?”
“George, that’s making me feel so bad. All communication is barred in Kashmir. I have to wait. The Indian embassy could easily find a way to contact Kamran’s family, but I don’t want that. Also, because I know Kamran didn’t want to give any trouble to his family.”
“I understand India has revoked some special status of Kashmir. It’s bad. They should at least allow them basic human rights.”
“I don’t really know. I don’t think the internet can be restored there soon. I want to talk to them on the phone, so I am waiting for normalcy to return there.”
“But how did you become his friend? I guess he came here to eat at your restaurant—was that it?”
“No. Kamran knew about me from our familiar friend, Christopher, who loves to eat South Asian food at my restaurant. Some months before, Chris told me:’ a professor from your country needs your help understanding his dreams.’ Later I learned that he was not from my country but from Indian-controlled Kashmir. Considering me a Pakistani, Kamran once told me that we think exactly the same for Kashmiris as you Englishmen think about us; for you, we belong not to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, or Afghanistan (and the like) but to the Third World. Likewise, Pakistanis and Indians have stereotypes about Kashmiris.
Kamran felt nervous while waiting a few minutes for George to get his motorbike, but when the biker wearing a helmet stopped in front of him, he controlled his uneasiness, thinking that he’d be alright
“Let me read you a page from his diary, which he wrote once after having a bad dream.”
“Please go on.”
Haroon grabbed the diary and began reading:
Confounded, I woke up in the middle of the night. I goggle at a wall clock hanging in my room but not looking for the time. Am I lost in the dream? Though I don’t remember most of the dreams I see, this one felt real, as if I'd lived it. Come on. You are alive. Let me write about this horrible dream. Wait. What do I remember other than my death?
George stopped Haroon, and he requested him if he could see the journal himself. Haroon handed it over to him.
Looking at the first pages, George said: “his rough handwriting and the overuse of short letters and symbols do not convey much. The pages of his journal resemble a notebook of a college boy who, to record all the essential points of a lecture, writes hastily in half-words and codes.”
“Yes, George. The lines Kamran had inscribed on the cover page of his diary show his handwriting was not bad:
‘My logic is simple: do not explain yourself to those who presume they know whatever you are planning in your mind and are unremittingly looking for your slip-ups; instead, let them wonder at their own unthinking.’
“Have you read all of it?” George asked.
“Yes, I had to know every detail about him, he was so interesting.”
“What more do you know about him?”
“He was living alone, in this diverse culture, here in London, for the first time. He had trained himself to live an independent life: an existence he had imagined right from his school days, but he was not happy with his staying alone anymore. He drowned in the void created by his new reality and existential threats.
“Also, after completing his BA in a local college in Kashmir, he tried for foreign scholarships and got an award for a Master’s here at King’s. It was not easy to get what he wanted, especially since he was living in a war zone, but all those impediments made him strong, and he reassured himself that he would overcome everything.”
“After finishing his doctorate, he got a job at your college. He was kind of a famous man in his home country but not that important to Londoners. It appeared at first that he had only a few English friends and was also not well-known to many diaspora people. But no, he had many good friends here in London too. His hard work was very evident in earning him his present position.
“Once he told me about your college staff and how the head was so judgemental. Because he was from the Third World, he was asked to teach postcolonial literature, particularly the Caribbean, though he did not specialise in this subject. He would’ve liked to teach the Modern English novel, poetry, or postmodern theory. These small prejudices he encountered made him feel that he was, after all, a non-native. He had his own opinion of life and other important things associated with it—religion, identity, philosophy, culture, the dispute over his homeland Kashmir, and so on. While teaching postcolonial literature, he had a chance to meet some of the famous theorists of this genre, for example, Homi K Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak, and others, including Aijaz Ahmad, Abdul Razzak Gurnah, Samir Amin and others. He told me he formally met Edward Said during his last visit to London. He had his own understanding and versions of most of their theories, which he wanted to put into a book.”
“You seem to have been people with two opposite ways of thinking. How did he come to you?”
“I never knew that an academician who surely must have been well-versed in modern psychology—and who should have discussed his dreams with a psychoanalyst—would have liked to explain his dreams from a man quite the opposite to his way of thinking. I was not an academic, even with a degree in Anthropology and Psychology. And I had always been drawn to thinking individuals. I felt thrilled when Chris told me his friend wanted to see me. Not because he would know me as a dream interpreter, which I always loved to be called (because I inherited that name from my father), but because he was from my world. Despite all the odds, we surely had something in common, and it is always great to meet people who can understand you better. I forgot what I was trying to finish when I got a call about him, that he was here, and I went down to see him. There he was—a well-maintained man in a clean suit, probably about 5.9", with a little beard and a grim-smiling face, a mole on the right side of his cheek below the dimple. His distinctive good looks were exactly what I had heard about concerning the beauty of people from Kashmir. Although he mentioned that he would turn 35 this December, he looked no more than 28. I received him, we exchanged smiles after greeting each other, and soon we sat I ordered two coffees, but he said he preferred tea. I enthusiastically initiated a talk in Urdu: Pardes me apni zubaan main baat karne ka apna he maza hai.”
“I agree he was very good looking. I guess that is Pakistani language?”
“Yes, it is Urdu. I mean it is a pleasure to speak in your mother tongue when you are in a foreign land.”
“Ah, I see. Did he speak your language?”
“Yes. He told me, ‘You feel at home. I know Urdu, but it is not my first language, though it is our official language, and because of the presence of Indians and Bollywood and Pakistani soap operas almost everyone in Kashmir, whether literate or illiterate, understands and speaks it’, he responded candidly and joined me in exchanging facts about our countries. He was a man of principles. He was definitely friendly, but he was not easy to understand at first.”
“I would like to know more about Kashmir. There is Indian-controlled Kashmir as well as Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, right?”
“Yes. In a war with India, Pakistan liberated some part of Kashmir.”
“You mean that is free from India?”
“But how is it liberated when Pakistan controls it? Occupying people and their lands were once the primary concern of our people,” retorted Haroon’s English friend amusingly.
“No. We helped them to live freely, and the main part of Kashmir is illegally occupied by Indians. The heart of every Pakistani beats for Kashmiris.”
“Because those people were supposed to be part of our land. You are aware of the Two-Nation theory. Indians occupy that land by force. You can see the brutality of Indian rule and the daily anti-India protests and killings in Kashmir.”
“I am aware of that and wanted to discuss it with Kamran, as you know. It is depressing to see what is happening in that part of the world. The world is watching, but no one cares. The powerful nations could have helped Kashmiris if they had promised them something in return, otherwise they don't care. Last time, you told me that you have hired some people from Kashmir.”
“God is with them. Yes, those are from Azad (Free) Kashmir, and Kamran was from Indian-occupied Kashmir.”
“If any god exists, why doesn’t he help the helpless? Anyway, you have a great interest in Kamran’s country.”
“I thought maybe after the accident you have started to believe in God, but no”, Haroon said laughingly.
“I am saving god or whoever it is for you. So when Kamran came to see you what came about at that moment?”
“He told me that some horrible dreams were disturbing him again and again. He had seen his family in Kashmir, who were forced to vacate their house, and now they lived a miserable life. At times he saw a violent group of people running after him, and he couldn’t save his breath. He had seen strange gatherings of people on a roadside in another dream. Another time he had seen his house catching fire, and he noticed the broken windows. He had seen that his father called his number in London and his cleaner told his father that he was dead. He had seen his head cut down in many of his dreams. In another dream, the last one, he told me about before his death, was that he was living with his family in Kashmir, and a blast killed all of them.”
“What did you get from his dreams?”
“I refused to answer him straight away and requested him to give me some time to fully understand them. He gave me his book of poetry before leaving, and later I found he forgot his diary. I didn’t have any intention of peeking into his private diary, but when I spoke to him, via Chris, he said he left his journal for me to read it. I was surprised, and I couldn’t wait to read about him,” Haroon collected the diary again from the table.
“Has he mentioned anything from his childhood?”
“The journal starts with a record from the middle of his life when he was preparing to come here. I had thought that he had written only his nightmares in symbols and codes, but I was wrong.
Although there are complete sentences too, those sentences are written objectively, as if he was well aware that he was writing his personal diary, too, for the public.”
“I see. Interesting.”
“I had to struggle to understand his writing; I got to feel Kashmir while looking at some pictures and poetry in his diary. Look, George. See these passages about the beauty of the landscapes, and everyday sufferings of ordinary people and the conditions of life in that occupied land. Also, there’s a mention of his beloved in Kashmir through a letter attached to a page.”
‘Love has no possibility or impossibility; love is beyond everything. I will answer your mail, not with a letter, but when we are together. I am not sure if my love is worth waiting for, but I will wait for you all my life.’
“While thinking about him, I recall an eerie dream by someone who came to me last year. That person had seen a couple arguing that they couldn’t hear each other in this noisy world. In the dream, they try to escape the material world, and while doing so, they put their fingers in each other’s ears so they can only hear themselves. At first, Kamran’s dreams were intriguing, and I thought they were a death warning, a reflection of his relationship with Kashmir or his worry for his family.”
“It must be because he was not in touch with his family,” said George.
“Maybe. When we met last time, Kamran told me that the situation was horrible in his homeland. He told me that he was in touch with some Kashmiris on the social media who were trying to contact some helpline numbers in Kashmir. They gave him a contact number of a police station in his area in Kashmir. He told me he tries at least ten times every day to call on that number, but the call was not going through.”
“Maybe that’s why he was so worried?” George added.
Haroon continued: “He had had terrible dreams before hearing about the tense situation in his homeland. I tried to learn about the important happenings in his life, which was impossible merely from reading his diary, so I preferred to meet him in person. Again and again.
“Anyway, I will check on you again soon. Take some rest.”
George requested if he could read Kamran’s journal, and Haroon happily dropped it on the table before leaving.
Harriet said: “Last night, before sleep could’ve silenced me or made me fly into his dreams, like every other night, I envisioned how to propose to him—Kamran. I wanted to confess my love for him. I feel that true love for him, which demands nothing in return, love which creates more space to fill itself, something eternal that extinguishes all other worries of life, even when he is not with us anymore. The feeling that he wouldn’t accept my love made me sleepless. In restlessness, I while away the time to check if I could watch something online. There was nothing that could divert my attention. Meanwhile, I opened the mailbox and was surprised to see his mail. Thrilled, I immediately opened it.
“My excitement disappeared soon when I read it. I understood there was something severe, latent in his email. I re-read it. It deeply moved me. It was like Kamran’s last message, like his swan song; it revealed that he knew he would die soon. The beginning of that email—‘I was looking for someone who knows how it is to feel like dying in the heart of life, where all the achievements, struggles, and everything concerning existence counts for nothing’—still echoes in my head.’”
At his funeral, Chris told me that he had received a similar email, and then Haroon informed us that Kamran had sent that email to all of his friends.”
Hearing Harriet’s thoughts, still obsessed with Kamran’s death, her mother tried to alleviate her concerns: “Harriet, my darling, come here. We have to accept the fact that life isn’t just. We all have plans for a better future, which exist only in our dreams, to escape from our realities.”
Her mother would have added more if the time was right—“Life isn’t only about one person. You’re young. I am sure another special man is waiting to enter your life. Kamran would want you to live a happy life. I am not asking you to forget Kamran, but you have to find other means to be happy. I am sure you will be alright. Move on.”
The theatres, art galleries, and concert halls on South Bank were reverberating with people. Haroon was the first to reach the place they promised to meet. Kamran and Chris came on the Tube. They greeted each other and went on to a restaurant.
“Isn’t there something strange in the air today? Spring-madness? It is as if Earth flaunts itself in surprise. Markets whizz, all your smiles are different, and your dresses, hairstyles, faces, and manners are fresh. Or, this is only the reflection of a rather new-fangled me?” Kamran stated comically.
Look, George. See these passages about the beauty of the landscapes, and everyday sufferings of ordinary people and the conditions of life in that occupied land
They all laughed.
“So, how’s the situation now? Did you hear from your family?” Haroon enquired.
“No, yar. Nothing yet.” Kamran answered with a sigh.
“Who exactly is in your family?” asked Chris.
“I have my parents and two younger brothers. I wish they could be here, I want them to feel this liberty of freedom.”
Someone’s hands behind him covered his wet eyes.
“Hey, Harriet, you. What are you doing here? Come join us.”
“I recognised you from the back. I was wondering about you. Are you all alright? Did I made a mistake to come here?”
“No, no, it’s alright. I am well and happy to see you.” Kamran put his bag on his legs and emptied a chair to let her sit down. He ordered a coffee for her and introduced Chris and Haroon to her and her to them.
Harriet noticed Kamran’s smile creating dimples on his cheeks and sat behind Haroon and Chris, and they began talking about their routine life. She was so sorry about what was happening in Kashmir. She added that that there was a sit-in for Kashmir in the afternoon. They all promised to join.
Haroon added: “Some Indian came to eat at my restaurant yesternight, a Hindu. He told me: ‘Kashmiris are being hoodwinked by their leaders, they follow a blind dream. All the resistance leaders play with the lives of youngsters by showing them the dream of merger with Pakistan or Independent Kashmir, which in reality is impossible. Those leaders have kept their children away from it, most of them are living outside Kashmir, and they get money from different sources. He said that with the removal of Article 370, the problem of Kashmir no longer exists.’”
Kamran specified every individual’s own version of the truth: “I simply think about my people as subjects, not as citizens; both Pakistan and India are mishandling the issue, and so are the leaders in Kashmir, both mainstream as well as the Resistance front-runners. For them, Kashmir is just a place they want to own, but for common Kashmiris, it’s their home, and everyone desires their home to be safe; otherwise, it’s no home. I think after the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the situation could further exacerbate and make it difficult for the people to breathe.”
It was getting late, and they promised to meet the following weekend. Kamran’s eyes kept looking at Chris and Haroon and then at Harriet as if it was the last time he would see them.
After reaching home, Kamran marked an entry in his journal:
‘The shifting moods of the seasons resemble life: we don’t know what to transport in the next hour. This slapstick of Nature has ulterior motives. However, we are so engrossed in our lives that the enigma of life is a cheap thing to ponder.
‘With this endless night:
The soft voices curved thunder;
The missing, the dead, the living
—came to nothing.’
Muddasir Ramzan, an emerging writer and researcher, received his PhD in English from Aligarh Muslim University, India. His doctoral thesis focused on the contemporary realities of Muslims and recent developments in postcolonialism and Islam. His research and creative work have appeared in the Journal of Postcolonial Writing, scrutiny2, Women’s Studies, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Himal Southasian, Outlook India, The Hindu, Critical Muslim (UK), and other publications.
Zara Asgher is a visual artist and educator from Lahore, Pakistan, currently living and practicing in Finland. She graduated from the National College of Arts, Lahore, in 2011 and was awarded the prize for the 10 Best Works of the Young Artists Exhibition, Day After Tomorrow in 2012, by the Punjab Arts Council, Pakistan. Asgher has participated in group shows nationally and internationally. She was awarded a full scholarship to pursue an M.A. in Nordic Visual Studies
and Art Education at Aalto University, Finland. She has worked on art educational programmes
with the Espoo Museum of Modern Art and the Finnish Museum of Photography.