Three days of agony

As I started to mount the camera on the tripod, her eyes had already

tears brimming. I looked on, unable to say anything to her, tried to calm

her down. But that did not happen with me. The burdened soul had

so much inside to tell, mention of the word “yateem” had her in tears

while we introduced ourselves. I felt helpless and guilty of choosing

female orphans as subjects for our documentary.

As she struggled to pass the words through the tears, I had no idea

what I was doing. The frame was still the first one; the camera was still

shaky on the tripod. I zoomed in and out, put the headphones on, and

remained unmoved till she was finished.

“I cannot say anything more”

This was our third day of shooting in Wachi area of Shopian. While we

entered Sumaya’s home . She was not there. After some time she came

and showed us to a dimly lit room, painted green with hanging

calendar’s, Holy Kaaba adoring them. For some moments we were

silent with her, broken as the front door creaked, an old woman

entered. Thought it would be her mother, no, she was her

grandmother. She had lost her father when she was a child and slowly

the harsh realities of life were unfolding to her. Her two uncles had

married and moved on with their lives, so her grandmother moved with

one of them. They were left to live on their own. With no source of

income, her mother worked as a laborer. Making it possible for her to

study, yet she had left.

She not only mourned her father’s death, she mourned the failure of

people she expected to help them, mourned the hypocrisy of her

neighbors. She mourned the death of the society, she belonged to. A

local NGO had offered to help her by giving her a shop in the village,

after completing formalities for months proving she was an orphan and

deserving. For this

“I ask them will they do same for their daughter’s. On one side they

invoke religion and ask women to be in their houses and on the other


We came back walking over the bank of the stream; she accompanied

us to the road. While walking with us, the villagers asked her about us,

what were we doing there? That was the thing she was fed up of,

“Everyone thinks that, you have given me money.”

Like her grandmother, who fought with the two over accepting money,

thinking it was only her son who was killed. She had been taking all the

things anyone would give them. Anyone visiting their house, no sooner

he/she walks in, her grandmother would follow, to look what the

person will offer, even if the visitor intends something else.

She felt silenced in her own home, worrying how she is going to be

married by her mother, when her uncles and the society collectively

had turned their back on them.

Her cries still echo in my ears and the guilt still scratches my heart. The

guilt of making the inanimate camera someone’s consoler and making

her trust the black device to share the story only her mother and father

could feel. Perhaps the guilt protrudes with the selfishness of using her

tragedy, when I could have easily avoided that.

The sunset, happy as the shooting was over and the freedom of home.

But that was not to be, my thoughts marooned through everything that

had happened in those three days.

The yellow leaves fluttered, the cool gentle breeze had ripped through

the foliage, making most trees naked from the first time we visited

this village for research. A meandering road north of District Shopian

crossing the Nalla Ranbiara leads us to the top of a hill, with mosaic pine

trees bordering the village, Tharun.

Passing through an alley with boulders, the fallen leaves of the walnut

tree hiding them, a humming noise come from a house with scattered

logs of wood decayed in the premise, upper storey without the

windows and roof. We have started our first day. The rays of sun made

the glossy white layer on the roof to trickle down as drops of water

falling on the wooden porch, those scattered on collusion with the

surface in all directions in little droplets, making the whole porch wet.

As we enter we are welcomed into a room, walls echoing our words

and the quilts fluttering. We are with Zamrooda. She seems to be an

ordinary girl, yes for you and me, but her work for the orphan girls of

her village makes her extraordinary for them. She has united about

twenty-five of them in her home. Most have left their studies with the

changing circumstances in their homes. They learn tailoring in her

home apart from learning The Holy Quran.

The tailoring machines wobbled on the rectangular tables, the clothes

placed on the window sill. A voice distinguishable from outside is of

Chaspeeda. Thirteen years of age. Her head covered in the scarf, having

lunch in the courtyard. Her father too fell to the “unidentified” ones.

One night they took him in front of her and from then on she has been

waiting for him to buy her things she sees in others hands. She has

joined third standard in school, but she has to continue with the same

old bag. With the same routine of seeing her home without a father.

“Who will buy me a new bag now?”

The village has turned into the “Village of Orphans”, the ones those had

joined tailoring, most of them were present. Each one having a story to

tell. A story of lost parents, story of struggle, and a story of silence in

their homes. Facing camera, they at once refused. Even after having

said yes before. They could hide their faces with the scarves before the

camera, but still refused. Somehow we made one , two, three… to face

the camera with scarves on their faces. But initial stuttering turned into

silence within no time. How could they share and trust the ones they

were only seeing for the second time. This was our first day, returned

with ten minutes of footage, Chaspeeda’s five minutes and the

combined five minutes of the other seven.

In recent past. there has been a surge in the establishment of

orphanages across the valley. A great attempt comparing the lives of

orphans outside. I had a chance of visiting one with my classmates in

2012, what I took from there is still with me and perhaps that thing

inside the reason behind choosing orphans as the subjects for

documentary. On second day we were in Gulshan-e- Banat Chadoora.

Everything like home yet devoid of something indescribable that would

qualify it as home. We became witness to courage, that inspires them

to cherish those dreams again, that were a distant possibility in past. To

a feeling of who they are and to a pride of what their parents had done.

There was only one side of the story. Were we intentionally kept from

the other side or not, or is there only one side of the story?

This was not as torturing as other the two days, there was no guilt, yet

inside I thought why we were preying on them and that still continues.

In those three days there were two sides of the story yet that for me

was incomplete. Not because we had not listened to everything and

they had not told us everything. But because I simply had no courage to

take complete stories with me and so should be the documentary,

incomplete. Which has been scratching me with the guilt that perhaps I

would take with me for the rest of my life.

Published in The Vox Kashmir.



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