by Dawood Ibrahim Siddiqui
(Srinagar, J&K, India)
Centuries ago, when Kashmir was a peaceful land, lived a family of six daughters, a loving mother and a hardworking father.
Their days were spent in merrymaking and their nights were filled with peaceful sleep. For these children, their home was their world. They knew very little about the world outside their door. These little souls had no idea about the horrible road their life was going to take.
It all started when one fateful day their parents left home to visit a relative living in a village nearby. They were supposed to return by sunset, which they never did. The lonely children were up all night waiting for the return of their parents with misty eyes. The next morning, they started a search for them. The search lasted for many days but bore no fruit. No stone was left unturned by them. They couldn’t find any comet tail which would lead them to their parents. Misery filled their life as the void left by their parents haunted them.
Little did the uncomprehending little children know that their life was going to get worse.
Days turned into months and before long spring had arrived. Migratory birds had returned and so did the greenery. Flowers were in their full bloom when one fine morning, an old woman knocked at their door introduced herself as their aunt.
Initially, there was a suspicion about her identity, but gradually the suspicion turned into acceptance for she turned out to be a very kind and a loving woman. But there was something strange about her. She had an unkempt appearance. Her eyes had a greenish tint and her hair was as long as princess Rapunzel.
Her skin was cold and her face was as pale as pale can be. The old woman was accompanied by her five sons who were of the same age and built as the girls.
Life went on smoothly for the children. The old woman took good care of them and their needs. At nights she sang lullaby’s to them and during days she played ‘saz loung” with them. They felt comfortable in her company and were thankful to Allah for her company. But their joy wasn’t going to last long.
On an eventful night, when the moon decided to cancel her appearance and the stars decided to forfeit the sky, a horrible thing happened to the children. They gathered for dinner and when the dinner was served they noticed that the youngest sister was absent. They tried to locate her, but to no avail. She had been with them throughout the day but now, she was nowhere to be found. They looked for her everywhere but like their quest for their parents this search also proved futile. Their aunt tried to console them and offered them food.
Reluctantly they agreed.
The food was too extravagant for the occasion. But there was something else that was horrific about the food. They had been served with a human. Some were served with hands and some got feet. Some had ears on their plates and some had fingers. One of them even got a nose. This is when truth hit them like a thunderbolt. What they were served was nothing but the remains of their own little sister. They were numb with shock. Life had gone from bad to worse, from a joyous dream to a nightmare. They had lost their parents and now they had to do without their youngest sister. That night all they did was cry. They cried a river. The old woman was not actually a woman but a witch. They all feared for their life and for each other.
It was during this night of sadness that the elder sister noticed something strange. The boys were sleeping under a distinctly white blanket and the girls had got a black one. This was strange as all they had was red blankets. The elder sister noticed that and swapped the blankets with a hope of changing their misfortune.
Next morning, when they woke up, they were glad just to be alive and breathing. But the house had a deserted look to it. The boys were nowhere to be seen and the old witch was sitting outside under a chinar tree looking completely disheveled. She was muttering gibberish to herself. Seeing the band of sisters, her face turned pink with puzzlement. There was a sign of her human nature.
The appearance of the sisters made her realize her mistake. In the darkness of the night, the witch had made a mistake and the mistake was too huge even for her inhuman nature. The reality dawned on her. She had eaten her own children. Seeing at her tattered condition, the elder sister came forward to help and de-stress her. She offered to make her hair like she used to do in sunny days. The witch had turned too obese overnight and was not in a position to even lift herself up.
Quietly the girl went about her job and started tying her long locks around the tree. Meanwhile, she signaled to her sisters to run as fast and as far as they could. Then the elder sister also ran away from the witch. Sensing the danger, the witch tried to run after them but the tree held her back. With one quick pull, she mustered all her energy, uprooted the tree and started chasing them. But the weight of the tree was too much even for a witch of her strength. It imbalanced her and she fell into a river off a cliff, never to be seen again.