There was a small village in Northern Kashmir named Breswana. The village was situated almost on the edge of civilization, and preserved that innocence that only lack of exposure to urban life can bring.
A few years ago, the national highway had recently been diverted to within a mile of Breswana, and the villagers did not fail to understand the significance. Suddenly, there was a quick and easy way to sell their crops and other surplus goods. Opportunistic tradesmen set up shops selling anything from cigarettes and groceries to handicrafts and family heirlooms. A few of the educated folk cunningly set up illegal electricity connections and for the first time the villagers had the luxury of electricity to help in their household chores.
The village advanced quickly, and before long they had telephones, televisions, electric heaters, even internet connections. The boosted sales of crops also brought in a flood of wealth for the farmers, there being a huge demand for fresh organic food amongst the “environmental activists” in the surrounding urban populace.
One such farmer was Naazo Begum, a middle aged woman with a gentle but careworn face. A hard life had scarred her and she looked much older than she was, but in her eyes the feistiness of youth was not yet lost. This was not a woman who had given up her dreams… yet.
Naazo had one daughter, no sons. Something everyone in the village except herself seemed to regret.
She named her daughter Haya, a beautiful name to crown the princess of her house. Haya was to be educated, cultured and not denied any opportunities, Naazo decided. Haya’s father had passed away shortly after her birth due to a misdiagnosis by the village doctor. But it had not dealt a huge impact to their lifestyle. The crops grew the same, whether his hand or Naazo’s harvested them, and it was one less mouth to feed. Naazo repeatedly admonished herself when she caught herself thinking this way.
Without a father to maintain discipline, Naazo had to cover both sides of parenting, and as is usually the way in these cases, she erred on the side of caution. Haya loved her mother dearly, but it was always interspersed with a bit of fear. She longed for the day she would leave for college and be able to experience the world for herself. She read avidly books of world history, travelers and revolutionaries. The world was, to her eyes, a terrible place, but a place worth seeing nonetheless, and she wished to embark on her own personal journey and then maybe write about it someday.
Such dreams lay harvesting in the heart of this green young girl in the corner of the small village of Breswana. She sat in her bedroom, typing away at her laptop. She was required to write an essay for her entrance exam to the Jammu University. She had spent weeks working on this essay, perfecting it.
If Haya had been a little world wise, she would have known that Jammu University did not have the highest standards for English Literature entrance tests. She would have realized that proper grammar and punctuation and even half decent content would be more than enough to get her the course she wanted. She would have known that her language skills had been honed to near perfection by her voracious reading and constant, obsessive practice of public speaking in front of her bedroom mirror.
But Haya had seen the world only in books. In reality, she had never left the district. Her school lay in a small town 20 kilometres from her house, accessible by bus. That was the farthest Haya had been from home. She had never come into contact with students from the urban schools and did not know how she stood in comparison to them. Her village elders laughed and mocked her when she spoke in English, her fellow students ostracized her for the same. Haya had no standard to measure up against.
In her head, she was still miles behind every student from Jammu. She would have to give 100% and then some, only to have a hope to overtake some lazy stragglers amongst the students of the city schools. There was no margin for error.
And so she worked away on her Fujitsu laptop. A second hand laptop gifted to her by her uncle on her 18th birthday. It was her most prized possession. She sat on the laptop non stop, using it so much, its battery had long since ceased to work. It depended solely on the power connection now. She would type away all day, writing stories, poems, letters to imaginary friends.
And now it contained her most precious piece of writing, the essay for the entrance test. It was Haya’s only ticket out of there and she did not intend to take any chances. For weeks she obsessed over it, editing, rewriting, scrapping, building it up again. Now finally, it seemed to her to be of some worth.
She allowed her heart to hope that it just might be good enough.
“Haya, come out here for a moment, I need some help stacking the wheat.”
Haya clicked her tongue with impatience, she hated being interrupted while writing. And today was the final day of submission for the essay. The essay had in actuality been completed days ago, but Haya postponed sending it, dreading the reply from the University that would kill her dreams. Today, it could be put off no longer. Today it must be sent. Today…
“Haya! I called you once already. Come fast, your mother is tired.”
Haya let out a long sigh, and walked out to the field. She hated working there, but her mother was getting old, and Haya was a kindly soul.
“Sorry, Ammi, I was working on my essay.”
“Arey, the essay will take care of itself, help your old mother first.”
And so Haya set to work. Soon, in the rhythm of things, she began to hum a tune. Moving her feet to the music, she hummed louder and louder until…
The sound came from behind the house. It was not an unusual sound, but today it struck fear into the very deepest depths of Haya’s soul.
It was the sound of the transformer bursting.
She dropped the wheat right there and sprinted into the house, straight into her bedroom.
She took a couple of steps inside and then stopped short. Her laptop was off. The battery, used so extensively, rarely lasted longer than a couple of seconds.
Haya refused to panic. She grabbed the laptop and the charger, stuffed them in her bag, ran all the way to the bus stop. Calling her friend in the nearby town on the way, she decided to rush to her house and send the essay from there before the deadline passed.
The bus seemed to take an eternity to arrive, and crawled along at a leisurely pace. The driver singing heartily about his unrequited love. The cheery tone of the song was unnerving and Haya found herself getting more and more flustered. On reaching the town, Haya sprinted all the way to her friend’s house, banged on their front door, hurriedly apologized and greeted her friends parents and rushed inside to connect her laptop.
Windows is starting.
Every second seemed to drain the energy and hope out of her.
Windows is logging on.
“Not long now, “ thought Haya.
She was logged in, but she could immediately see something was wrong. Her desktop seemed almost empty. Her files were missing.
She frantically searched the whole computer, opening folders with gay abandon, but to no avail.
Her poems, letters, stories were all gone. But she didn’t give them a second thought. She had eyes only for that spot on the desktop where her essay used to be. Her mother’s eyes twinkled on the desktop at just that spot. They seemed to laugh at her, laughing at the absurdity of her hope. Laughing at the folly of her attempt to escape. Those eyes represented fate smiling at the naiveté of human folk, thinking they can lift themselves and better their lives.
She had no escape.
On her way back, Haya considered her future. Her only chance had been college. She had such wonderful hopes. A degree, a job, a secure, independent life. A possibility of life away from Breswana.
She might just have fulfilled what her mother wished her to.
But now it was lost. Her next chance would come after a whole year. She was not sure she could stand another year in Breswana. She was not sure she could stand anything.
She walked home in a daze, ignoring her mother’s concerned queries. She walked into her parents’ bedroom. Opened the drawer, seeing her fathers old revolver…