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.