Erase away all fatigue,
Take away the filth
Let the New Year shine
With glorious joyous blithe
People join the hymn, sing the Tagore Song, they embrace each other with affectionate hugs and respectful bows. Today is the first day of the Bengali New Year. Our New Year -1424. Temple bells chime, the fragrance of incense and flowers fill the air. A young girl comes to me to offer the blessing elixir, an auspicious concoction of sweet yogurt and honey after the homage ritual.
I startled, awaken from my imagination. I was meandering in another world.
Far away, in a remote village in Kashmir, India, a little girl, eight years old was hopping, skipping down the pebbled hilly path. Her fuchsia colored frock with golden flowers was worn on top of a long salwar, it had a matching oorni that she was supposed to wear like a headscarf, but it was a windy day, so she wrapped it around her waist. Her pigtails swung as she pranced.
She was supposed to take care of the cattle and she’s usually good at them. But the donkeys have their own silly ways and often went to the other side giving her trouble.
Little Asifa, a typical eight-year-old girl was curious. When she heard the bells tolling from the Pashupathi Nath temple her head got tilted, she found that they sound different from the ones her cattle made from turning their heads.
One day she tagged along with her friend to that Hindu temple. Shubha, her friend carried hibiscus and white gardenias in a brass plate with some yellow laddu sweets to offer to the God.
“Umm,, smells good.” Asifa commented. “ Don’t you do that!” Shubha had brushed her away, “It’s for the God.” “But the God can’t smell. He is all stone, isn’t he?” She wondered with her big dark eyes. Asifa remembered the look the priest gave her, the man in a saffron robe with a red streak on his forehead.
Asifa’s mother shrieked when she told her that story. “ What business do you have to go there? It’s your fault. Why did you follow Shubha to their Hindu temple? Don’t you know that we are not Hindus like them, we are Muslims.” That day Asifa had decided that she would not tell every little thing to ma anymore.
The butterflies that are rust and ochre, and the ones that are teal and turquoise with indigo strikes did take her to incredible places to reveal a world of treasures inside the forest. And Asifa could not resist that. Even though these were daring adventures she could not turn her face from them.
“ How come Asifa does not go to school?” Shubha’s mother asked Asifa’s mother one day.
“She’s a little different, you know, different from my boys, a bit naive, immature…too young, you know…so my husband thinks… give her another year. Maybe next year..” she replied, adding, "besides, she is my youngest, my baby. Her two brothers go to school, but she stays at home and helps me here. She does a lot though. Milks the cows in the morning, tends the cattle..
She’s my doll…such a joy. When her anklets jingle I feel so happy..she is home. A girl..” she waves her palm in the air, “is different..you know.” Asifa’s mother confides to her neighbor.
Shubha’s mother was the only neighbor who talked to her, accepted the food she’d offer. None of the two dozen other Hindu families that live in this tiny village did. Were they jealous of the fact that Asifa’s father owns all this land, bought it with his own money when they relocated from Kargil, and built this pucca brick house with his own two hands?
The boys came back from school and Asifa’s mother was feeding them hot rotis fresh from the chulli though her mind was restless. Like a buzzing fly, it was irritated, anxious, Why is Asifa not home yet?
“ Did anybody see her? “ she asked every passerby, standing in front of the door. She sat out on a stool at the door finishing up the embroidery on Asifa’s kurta, the one she’d be wearing for her aunt’s wedding next month. How excited Asifa’d feel to see it all finished today she thought. The girl had been asking that every day after her chores. Asifa’s mother tore the last bit of thread with her teeth and shoved the work away. She cupped her fingers on her forehead to see if she could see Asifa’s little body running down the hill.
The day was foggy, this January afternoon. The gray solemn sky was indifferent, the sun scurrying to dip and hide its face fast behind the snowcapped mountains of the Himalayas.The animals returned home chiming their bells. But where is my little Asifa?
The next few days were beyond description.
Asifa’s body was found in the bushes, dead. Police dogs located the temple. Further probing the puzzle was solved regarding the people who had abducted her. She had been seduced with drugs for several days, gang-raped in that temple, and finally was killed with a stone.
I say this all in one breath because I could not imagine that. It was all information that was bombarded to me from the media. As I write this my eyes blur with tears.
My eyes blur with tears because the neighbors and the whole nation take it as a political issue and in the name of religion people are actually defending the culprits.
Even the Hindu neighbors of her village didn’t let her family bury her body in that village, so her family had to take her eight kilometers away from her home.
My eyes blur, I choke with emotion as I cup my hand to receive the blessing elixir from another eight-year-old girl today. The girl got a bit perplexed to find me in tears in such a joyous occasion.