Legend has it that a long, long time ago—centuries, no, millennia ago— Kashmir was a place of Magic. Some might say that it still is; that the soaring mountains, the majestic Dal Lake, the lofty Chinars, the exquisite Saffron inside beautiful violet crocuses, and everything else about Kashmir is just … magical. Beautiful and breathtaking as they might be, they are just the remnants of the magic that once thrived in Kashmir—souvenirs and mementos of the past.
With time, people started overusing Kashmir’s magic. Their needs grew and so did their demands. People from the outside world also started coming to Kashmir and using its natural and delicate magic. This increased the ever-growing burden and pressure on magic.
Magic, like most other resources, has its limits; and when these limits are crossed, things get messed up. That’s exactly what happened. The magic started getting exhausted like a candle becoming smaller and smaller and smaller till it finally burns out. Yet, some believe that it didn’t burn out completely, that it was still there—just confined and concealed—confined to a certain region and concealed by certain people who feared its extinction. Who are these people? Well, nobody knows. They say that it is somewhere far far away, hidden from the rest of the world.
Jibran knew this story well. All the people in his village did. Ever since he turned four and his father first narrated the story to him, he has wished that magic still existed. The story stayed with him even after his father didn’t. That’s how it always is— memories stay with us forever, even when people in them are long gone—even though we know that the person is never coming back, we live in their memory and they live in ours.
He was sixteen now and still wondered about the story. Though the people said that he ‘ought to realize his duties rather than daydreaming all the time’, he didn’t stop dreaming about magic and wishing it existed. He wondered about it as he sat on a small boulder on a mountain far from his village and watched the lush green grass. The summer sun shone over his head as he jumped from the boulder and walked towards the huge, sparkling waterfall that descended from the high rocks above. He sat near the waterfall, cupped the water in his hands, and drank it. He’d have to leave for his village soon if he wanted to reach by sunset.
He sighed. Soon he’d have to return home— to a people long broken, to an orphanage where he was ill-treated, to poverty, to sleeping on an empty stomach. ‘Shelter’ would be the right word for where he would have to return; forever since his parents died, he hasn’t known a ‘home’. He wished he could stay here longer, away from pain and sorrow and misery, and sighed again. Then he laid back in the grass, hands pillowing his head and legs spread out, till the musical gushing of the waterfall lulled him to sleep.
When he woke up, the first thing he knew was that he was in big trouble. He took in the setting sun and realized that there was no way he could reach his village before nightfall. Now he was worried, he knew that no one from his orphanage would come looking for him—they’d be happy to save one meal—and the mountains were dangerous at night and he was all alone. He was clueless; he had no idea what he should do next. He tore at his locks in his state of bewilderment and cursed himself for sleeping beside the waterfall. At the thought of the waterfall, the absence of its soothing tune clicked.
He quickly turned, half out of curiosity and half out of concern, and gasped at what he saw: the water wasn’t falling to the ground—as it is supposed to, you know, in a water ‘fall’— but it had halted mid-air; five or six feet above the ground, as if held by some invisible barrier. But what was beyond was even more surprising; a dark opening that somehow seemed to lead to the interior of the mountain, or so he thought.
Jibran just stood there, aghast, watching in wonder what stood in front of him. Then, just like that, he walked towards the opening. It was as if something pulled at him, something that he couldn’t quite describe … like a promise of happiness or a wave of hope or a cry for help … something magical. One look at the final rays of the sun and then he went into the mountain.
The path was straight and the tunnel was dark, yet he kept walking and walking and walking till his feet hurt and he debated going back, but that little voice in him kept telling him to go on. When he almost decided that he would go back, he saw a flicker of light. He ran towards it till he could see an opening with torches placed on either side and beyond that, a starry night.
When he emerged through the opening, his jaw dropped open. What lay in front of him stole the breath from his lungs…
*To be continued
Saaeed Bazilah Kirmani