Srinagar, the small city had always mourned in winters. When the world was still enjoying the sun, people in this city continued to be snow covered in woolen fuchsia coats, fur mufflers, and gloves of warmly knit designs. A lifestyle that was yet to be explored by a lot of different tourists and many a times by its own people. It was magical, conceived from white snow, and political conspiracies.
Elif wondered at her favorite window in her house in South Kashmir watching the icicles hanging from the rooftop. She thought of her childhood, when her mother would caress her to sleep, saving young Elif from chilblains.
Even last winter, she had made a trip in her own backyard. As soon as she stepped out, she would enter igloos, caves, Kangris, and other household things made out of snow. Everything was still due to the harsh and severe snow. Elif recollected how she would weave stories in her backyard, the place reverberating with loud laughter, enveloping the whole house. Born in a Muslim family, educated in a Catholic Convent school, she knew the importance of snow and the festival that came with it.
Elif often thought of her time in snow-land as dystopia. Srinagar was still harboring wars, which resulted in killings, murders, and deaths. Yet oddly, winters also lagged behind the fast world that was always in a competition of its own. Rapt in her own time and place, Elif wandered in her snow-land, building palaces of escape.
At present, Elif was spending most of her time reading and watching it snow. The icicles had become an extension of her imaginative world which had been carefully curated by political imbalances of the real world.
It was her neighbor who had taught her about the deep forest. On a winter morning like this one, so bleak and morose, Elif wore a woolen phiran, making her way out of the over-populated city. Yet, Elif till date had rejoiced of the day when she rolled out into small circles, leaping and bounding her way in the wild to encounter the witch known famously as Rantas.
The village was in an uproar! The hamlet had woken with new whims and whisperings. Elif had been missing. The quiet girl, the favorite of everyone was nowhere. Snow had led everyone to hide inside wooden houses burning charcoal for warmth. It was not new to go missing in this ghost town but definitely a scandal like this earmarked every other.
Where was Elif? Gone with a friend, some whispered. It quite began to look like wintry bazaars filled with brewing gossip and kehwa cups which relieved everyone from anxiety. Even the winds of the city blew with curiosity: Elif and a neighbor boy were missing.
Scandal reentered the newspapers. Everywhere, her absence was news. On trees, near ponds, humming loud voices of misery. It was curfew and phones were not in use, and people had nothing to say to each other, but the papers still buzzed.
Meanwhile, Elif had a new friend. In the deep forest, she was busy in conversations with a woman-like figure famously known to be non-human. Rantas had been living in the woods for a long time. She would only appear in snow. Despite her wildness which was non-confrontational to the elders of the city, she tried to be at peace with Elif. Rantas was omnipresent to the village in her own way. No one would dare talk about her, and none could challenge her ability of recreating terror. So naturally as snow reached them, they felt the shivers, as close to skin as their sweat. The haunted witch, invisible woman with dread-like hair, could easily be the attraction of such gatherings in snow-land.
That fateful day, when Elif went into the woods, she had met a sulking Rantas. Despite many warnings given to her in her childhood, Elif followed the witch into the dark. Rantas would tell Elif stories of her friends as afraid as the little girl was. In the village however, both of them were being hailed on loudspeakers, radios, and newspaper stories. Elif’s worried parents kept counting days and chanting with beads.
There was a crisis brewing in the village. Some believed the gossip. While the women said ‘There’s nothing like Rantas’, others either disagreed or kept silent. Hence, the village slept in the racy gossip about Elif. Snow froze even more but the panic in the village did not settle. Added to rumors about Rantas, speculations ranged from elopement and kidnapping. All options kept the village quite busy.
It had been a month since Elif’s disappearance. An anxious thought was weighing on everybody’s mind. The mayor had seen her with a boy of her age and that was settled for a reason. There were many Kangris kept inside the homes together in one corner out of the sight of witches like Rantas. Elif had however befriended Rantas. Whenever she would feel terror, she was caressed with love and care by Rantas. Over the months, Elif had grown to know Rantas from echoes in the silence of the forest.
Elif kept thinking about the years her city was in misery. The killings, disappearances, loot and horror would engulf evenings while a gloomy sky roared. It had been a difficult task to convince her parents that they should leave the city. Elif had failed and become estranged from her own family.
She had to take that first step. She couldn’t keep on watching icicles melt. The icicle to her was magic. Through its transparency, she looked at snow-land and entered where she was now: deep forest. She also saw massive trees of pine howling in the night. While the village remained in silence for a long time after the death of a young man, it was Elif planning her escape through to the other side of the icicle.
She had done it. She was in the deep forest. She was unaware of the real world which was settled on her death now. She tamed the wilderness. She knew azaadi would never come in snow and she knew she would waste her youth yearning for it. Red snow reminded her of her brother’s killing, aunt’s rape, and sister’s murder.
Completely oblivious about her image ruined in the village, she tamed herself into a wild beast. She became Rantas. Ate raw flesh, grew dreadlocks, long nails, hid under snow and howled. She became invisible to her own self.
It was finally time for festivities and celebrations. The village was decorated and in celebration. Many had forgotten Elif and she had grown from news to a popular myth. In the forest, Elif was on a journey. She kept moving when she heard the village singing. She asked every witch about her home and of the celebration in her home. She was answered in the negative. Rantas completely denied the information. Elif kept missing her home that winter, so, she wrote to her mother on red snow with blood of her own:
We are all Rantas. Tamed under the violence of the state My brother, aunt, sister not coming back Dead winter, bleak, mist of my memories Fade as I join to become Rantas of my miseries. I am the beast and power, Here I am in Azaadi of Rantas!
Very artistic,inspiring, successful story.
The end really touched.