Fresh from shaving, Bashir buttoned up his crisp shirt and straightened his collar. He’d have chai and then be off to Sopore’s Government Degree Boys College. After spending the past few years as an English lecturer at the new college in Udhampur down in Jammu, a treacherous day’s drive from Kashmir, he’d hoped for a transfer to Srinagar. Instead, he landed in his hometown. Today, they’d review Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott,” the boys reciting it aloud. Some mumbled, a few passionate students cried the verses. He explained the imagery, phrases, meter, until their confused looks turned into awe. The class laughed when one boy remarked: “Lancelot has ‘coal-black curls,’ just like Sir!” Bashir had memorised the poem years ago, at their age, delighting in the rhyme, even before he comprehended the meaning. “Whirls / churls” and “daffodilly / chilly” and “fear / near / ear / clear.”
It was these boys’ future they were trying to change. Bashir retrieved a packet from under his bed. He’d attend a secret meeting with a few Liberation Front recruits later in the day. He couldn’t believe it was in his hands. He wondered how he’d get through classes, impatient to show off his work. For weeks, he’d been drafting it. On the first page, was his bold, block lettering, “KASHMIR: A MANIFESTO FOR LIBERATION.” The movement, the revolution was leaping from his heart, from the page. Since his old friend Mansur had returned that spring from Pakistan, with a few other comrades, they’d spent the summer building cells. Mansur, who tasked Bashir with writing the English manifesto, called it Phase I. Like their brothers in Algeria, Vietnam, Cuba, Palestine, Congo, South Africa. They were next. Bashir concealed the papers in a copy of Astana, his mother’s Urdu magazine, and stuffed it into his bag. He couldn’t wait.
His father’s voice, calling his name, filtered from the namazkot. Bashir went upstairs. Taeth Sahib sat against the wall, his frail body drowning in his pheron cloak. With Bashir’s salary shouldering many household expenses, Taeth Sahib had relented in his requests for Bashir to perform pir duties. Their own silent agreement. For three generations, since moving from the capital, the scholar-healer family served followers in Sopore and pockets of northern Kashmir. Though among the literate few, their finances had fallen with Taeth Sahib’s illnesses, and they lost some murids over the years. They figured if his spiritual powers couldn’t cure himself, then they should look elsewhere. Some of Sopore’s wealthy apple-growers moved to pirs they believed would keep them prosperous.