Crossword Bookstore Kohima, 24th December 2014. 4:33PM
My love story with Farhan grew stronger only after he was shot dead.
And this is exactly the place where we met for the first time. Farhan was flipping through the pages of The Overcoat. He stood right at the furthest corner of the bookstore where the international collection is stacked. Time, seems to have whisked before I could even realize that Farhan is no more with me. And I stand here talking about the both of us, launching my book.
I have always dreamt to be a writer. Right from the very childhood I aspired to travel the world, see new places and write about them. However, never had I thought in my wildest imagination that my dream will come true so early. Yes, I wanted to write about the world and I have done it. My book is about Farhan Ali. My world.
I was a student of English at St. Joseph’s College, Kohima and Farhan was a LLB final year at the Kohima Law College. Tall, thin, wheatish skin with a soft stubble and thick hair, Farhan never was a stand-out personality. He was just another average looking boy. Perfectly average. And that made him so special. I used to drop by at the Crossword almost every day while walking back from the college. Most of the times I hoped around the international book section to keep a tab on the new releases. Never in the last few years had I seen a young man standing quietly at one end of the store lost in the pages of Nikolai Gogol. It was one July afternoon of 2011, I clearly remember. Everyone inside the bookstore were taking about the massive serial blast in Mumbai which took place the previous evening. Even the security person standing at the entry point of Crossword seemed to be an engrossed participant in the conversation criticizing the heinous terrorist attack. 26 killed and around 130 were injured. But Farhan was completely untouched from the miseries of the world. He had such peace on his face. He was wearing a white shirt, a pair of blue jeans and brown sandals. A green jute bag hung across his shoulder. He wore thick black framed glasses. And while focusing on something very minutely in the book, I saw Farhan pulling out the frame and biting one of its handles. His eyes, sometimes glowed with wonder. Farhan had a wide forehead. Nani told me, people with wide foreheads are extremely lucky. They get all they want in life. If Nani is to be believed, Farhan was one of the luckiest persons in this world because his forehead was really wide. His thick hair was dark brown, combed towards the back. I could easily tell how silky his hair was every time Farhan rolled his long artistic fingers over it, finger-combing them towards the back. His eyes were deep and expressive. I am not sure if he had noticed me ogling at him from the other corner of the bookstore behind the pages of my Dostoyevsky, but I could see him, see how intense his eyes were. There was an exceptional thirst of knowledge on his face, I observed. He was timelessly flipping through the pages of the book. The changing world around him could hardly impact his inner peace. And with every passing moment, Farhan was sinking in the pages of the book even more. The view of him biting his salmon pink lips, the little dimple on his right cheek through the stubble made him look extremely adorable and cute. He was absolutely charming. I could only think of rushing to him and complementing him for his flawlessly simple yet so elegant appearance. But I couldn’t. It’s little awkward for a girl to go up to a guy and praise him for the way he looks. I could not break the stereotype. I continued staring at the boy standing at the other corner lost in a collection of short stories.
I was in the second year of my graduation. Nineteen years old. I was from a typical Catholic Christian family. My father, worked as a manager at a tea estate in Dibrugarh and stayed there throughout the week and would only come to stay with us during the weekends. Our house at Kohima is near the Chandmari Taxi Stand, which, coincidentally is at a fifteen minute walking distance from the Kohima Law College, where Farhan studied and thirty minutes from this book store. I, my mom and my nani were the permanent residents of our house until dadda (my father) took voluntary retirement last year. We were a simple household with ordinary lifestyle. But the two extraordinary aspect to my ordinary living was my aspiration of being an author someday and Farhan Ali – the prince of my life. Farhan always wanted me to write about truth and justice, you know. He had shown me the right and wrong ways of life. Every time we spoke about my first book, he told me to write about the common people of the world. He wanted me to write about the street side barbecue seller at Nicaragua who dreamt of having his own restaurant some day or about the wage labourer at Kabul who struggled to meet his dailies in a family of five daughters, a wife and himself in just 300 Afghani per day, or to write about the French salad shop owner who is yet to confess her love for the Grenoble-Chambery young bus driver. Farhan always wanted me to write the untold stories, stories which no one else would write. All I wish Farhan was here today. I am pretty sure, he would have been proud of me. Proud of seeing her little Maggy writing the stories he wanted her to write. Farhan brought out the woman out of me. Even though he is not here now, I can still feel every bit of him right beside me when I talk about my book, when I talk about him, talk about us. Farhan is here, holding my hand and whispering in my ears “Babe, relax, everything will be fine. You’ve done a great job”
Our relationship was an extreme cliché. Young college girl falls for a shy lawyer and they start dating. This was us. Farhan was extremely nervous when I walked up to him and asked for a coffee after spying at him in the bookstore for almost a month. I still remember the way he was struggling to introduce himself. He was sweating, fumbling and staring at me like an alien. Farhan was perennially shy. I only got to know even Farhan knew I was noticing him once we went out for a dinner at the Ching Tsuong restaurant at Razhu Point on his birthday. We took a long walk that evening. Time had stopped and none of us cared to keep a track of it. It had rained in the morning, making the evening slightly chilly. Both of us could smell the wetness of the soil and looked at the raindrops slipping through the leaves of the roadside bamboo trees. “Look at them, they are so beautiful, drenched in love. They have forgotten time, their origin, their goal. They don’t know their destiny. They are just draped in each other,” I murmured to Farhan looking at the wet bamboo trees on the sidewalks of the Kohima-Mokokchung road. Farhan was wearing a pair of blue jeans and the semi-long black overcoat that I presented him in advance for his birthday. And I could suddenly feel my baby finger held by his, escaping the eyes of our consciousness. His finger was soft and thin. His touch sparked a lot of senses in me. He was warm and affectionate. It was the first time any man touched me. Someone touched not just my body but pierced deep inside my soul. One touch of Farhan and I was convinced, this is the man I want to spend my entire life with, in all miseries and in all glories. The evening started getting darker and within minutes it was pitch dark with very few people on the streets and more army patrolling vans. “They say we live in a disturbed land. I call it beautiful. The curved lanes, the tree line, the mist in the air and the smell of the fresh rain. Where is it disturbed, Maggy?” Farhan whispered, now gripping my palm tight. “Disturbed are people. Disturbed because, the people who call our land disturbed are the ones who’s disturbing us the most”, Farhan continued and I could feel his palm sweating and waiting for an approval. I wished the night never ended so that I could look at Farhan talking about the trees, the rain, the people and everything else while his hand kept me safe, unseen from the world in that dark night. He kept on talking about the books he has read, the movies he watched and the places he wanted to visit. In our long walk through the streets of Kohima that night, I discovered a different Farhan Ali altogether. We had almost reached the Tibetan market on the Mokokchung Road while suddenly Farhan released my hand and bent down to pick up something. “Why would you pick up a wet pamphlet?” I was surprised looking at Farhan picking up a KLO pamphlet. “Don’t you know this could be dangerous?” I was completely shocked seeing Farhan trying to soak the water from the pamphlet using his spotless white handkerchief. And after a brief pause, Farhan looked at me, smiled and said “Ephemeron! Another to my collection”. Epi, what? I exclaimed. “Ep-he-may-ron, are any transitory written or printed matter not meant to be retained or preserved,” Farhan explained to me adding another word to my vocabulary. “Then why would you keep something which is not supposed to be kept?” I was completely confused by then. “Look at this! Isn’t it beautiful? Such an amazing piece of art. I have a hobby of collecting pamphlets of all genre, of all time. Most people throw them away. They fail to understand the hidden art in it. Look at the design, the quality of the paper, the font…they can never be any less than a painting,” Farhan was still busy soaking the water from his recently acquired treasure. “But this is dangerous Farhan. Looking at the situation around us why would you keep something which you are not supposed to?” I clearly sounded little frightened. “Dangerous? People failing to maintain administration should not have a say on my hobbies, right? They should do what they are supposed to and not dictate people’s passion and love. And what I collect does not necessarily have anything to do with who I am. If numismatists are not robbers, philatelists are not post masters, phillumenists are not the ones burning people’s minds, then how can my collection of leaflets be dangerous? And if I were to become a rebel, I would have been one long back during my school days while I collected a Zapu Phizo ephemeron from the back shelves of the local library,” Farhan smiled. “I also have the leaflets of the Hornbill festival, opening of the new tribal restaurant near church road and the leaflet for the inauguration of state hospital. All of them”, he continued after a pause. For a moment I was so lost in Farhan’s eyes and his salmon pink lips mumbling the rights and the wrongs of the world that I could hardly feel my heartbeats. Farhan’s courage to have an opinion in this judgmental world touched me from within. Every moment, that night turned out to be the best moments of my life. I was sure my life couldn’t have been any better. Farhan, to me was extremely honest and he believed in what he did. His decisions about life were untamed. “You know what, I could never express this to anyone before. I never tried. Today, with you, I feel so free. I don’t need to pretend anything. I can just be myself and be with you. Be with you forever and even after that”, Farhan’s voice suddenly turned heavy and his hand was draped to mine, like the wet bamboo trees, only tighter this time. That night itself, I got married to Farhan. No, neither a social marriage nor a legal, but our souls were united. And they were united for life. I had a new name to myself. Margaret Farhan Ali Wanth. From then, Farhan always stayed within me.
Over the next one year and half Farhan and I were completely lost into each other. He told me all his little stories, made me read his secret diaries which he wrote since he was in fifth standard, told me how his ancestors moved from Chittagong to Kohima during the partition, told me how amazing a poet his dad is and all the insignificant aspects of his life which turned out to be of utmost significance to me. Farhan was a Rumi fan. He often messaged couplets before I went off to bed every night. Every night, mind you! It was the autumn of 2012 when both of us had escaped the chores of Kohima and trekked to the Japfu Peak where Farhan read me Leon’s Trotsky’s much celebrated History of the Russian Revolution. Farhan had deep interest in reading people’s struggle to establish order and equality. What they did, what they ate, the social structure and how they lived in them, in all ages. Farhan wanted to know them all. Probably that was one of the reasons for Farhan studying law. He wanted to bring justice to the deserved. Our book reading sessions at the deserted stairs of the Kohima War Cemetery would include Farhan reading out a piece from his favorite author, Nikolai Gogol followed by me reciting a Shelley. He taught me a lot of things, which, otherwise I wouldn’t have learnt, got me introduced to writers, I had never read, told me about people I had never heard of. Farhan was just more than a boyfriend. He was that burning firefly inside me.
Both of us belonged from different religious backgrounds and practices. But not even for one fraction of a second we questioned each other’s belief. I enjoyed Eid as much as he enjoyed my Christmas. Our parents were more than happy with us. Matter of fact dadda was less worried about me after he met Farhan. “This guy has a spark in him, he will go far”, that’s what dadda said after meeting Farhan for the first time. Both of us wanted to get married soon so that we could stay together, with each other. We estimated, by 2014 end, Farhan will be a regular law practitioner and I will be finishing off my post-graduation. We planned to get married by the summer of 2015. Our lives were as perfect as a Van Gogh’s, until that night when everything fell into pieces are our lives changed forever. Well my life changed and Farhan’s was taken.
7th July 2013, a Maoist militant group attacked Dumka, Chattisgarh, killing 5 civilians. Both Farhan and I were shocked reading about it in a local newspaper. The next morning Farhan was supposed to leave for Dimapur to take his father for a medical checkup at the CIHSR Hospital. The news of the Dumka attackers taking shelter at Kohima had spread like a bonfire. The Armed Forces soldiers broke into Farhan’s house at the middle of the night, pulled Farhan out by his collar, and kept on slapping him, stampeding his salmon pink lips, kicking his genitals and a hitting him with the wooden ends of their rifles. Farhan’s History of the Russian Revolution, his ephemerons, collection of newspaper cutouts along with Nikolai Gogol were dragged out to the common passage in their colony and burnt in public. It did not take much time for the armed forces to deduce Farhan was one of the militants who had attacked Dumka last afternoon. He was a Muslim and he read books on revolution and had a collection of leaflets. What could be a better mix to tag someone as a terrorist? The Armed Forces (Special Power) Act encouraged the army cadres to plunder Farhan’s house, break his bones and kill my dreams of having a happy life. Farhan was bleeding profusely from his nose and ears. His white pajama was drenched in blood. His salmon pink lips were bruised and his right dimple only stocked blood droplets rolling from his wide forehead. Farhan, indeed was the luckiest man on earth, then. They asked Farhan to run if he wanted to save his life. Farhan crawled, limped, walked and started running just to save his little life. He had no idea why the cadres were after him. All he knew was his run for life. No one uttered a single word, none protested. The neighbors stayed in shock seeing their beloved Farhu getting beaten up like a mad dog. They let Farhan run all the way till he reached NSF Martyr’s Park near the 29, National Highway, fell down and fainted. The cadres walked towards him. 10 rounds of bullets were shot on Farhan. On his eyes, his head, his forehead and his chest. My first love was lying on the streets of Kohima on 8th July 2013, drenched in blood while the army cadres celebrated their victory of killing a militant.
AFSPA killed my love, ended my life, and stabbed my dream of living in this world peacefully. On an average AFSPA kills ten common people daily across the seven north eastern states, Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir based on mere assumptions of prospective terrorism. My love story could have been different, with me and Farhan getting married and living happily ever after. Our story could at least have Farhan alive. AFSPA killed it. AFSPA killed my story and made me an author way before I was destined to become one.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for turning up today at the book launch. My book Forever and a day will always be a love story, but a rebellious love story. My book will keep on screaming till I get justice for Farhan, till I get justice for all the innocent lives dragged to the streets and killed by AFSPA, till the time they stop killing people and raping our innocence in the name of law! This will continue to be my love story, my protest against the system. I thank you again for being a part of my book, please go home safe, take care of yourself and keep a bit of Farhan with you…
Nail my poetry
Choke my throat,
Tie my hands, you cannot bind my soul
I shall write till you free the dove,
put down your guns
and melt in my love…
- Farhan Ali, 1988- 2013
Rajarshi Motilal writes on Indian Review. The best of Literature, fiction and poetry from around the world.