A brother is like your reflection in a mirror. And if it is your younger brother, then the situation is more emotional as he is a reflection of your inner self. Rubaan, my little brother, your absence Is killing me. Few lines from the insides of my heart to my real soulmate the brave, innocent, zestful, lovable brother Rubaan.
When anyone asks whether I have any siblings, I say I have a younger brother. Some people ask more questions about you. How old is he? What does he do? I answer: “Oh, he passed away.” Recently, someone asked why I say “have” and not “had”. It’s deliberate, I explain. I am a brother.
A risk-averse, boundary-abiding, 27-year-old big Brother. To be a Big Brother, you have to have a younger sibling, so...
But it has been a year since he left all of us. A year has passed since I have quarreled with my brother on silly things. A year has passed and nobody has asked me for any pocket money. A year has passed and nobody has worn my clothes - every time I left home, I used to put aside my clothes for you and on my return, I'd find them at the exact same place.
A year has passed and nobody has stolen my money from my pocket. A year has passed, nobody has checked my desktop or laptop, nobody argues with me, no one checks my bag, no one tells me by heart to take care of myself, no one is concerned about my dreams and goals now. Noone takes care of our home and the apple orchard, no one supports BABA in any work. A year has passed, no one has argued with Aaliya (little sister) about what to wear and whatnot. A year has passed, no one has help MAA. No one makes noise. It has been a year; nobody has taken his cricket kit to to and play on the field even, no one watches cricket either anymore. No one asked for a new MRF bat.
Dreams are shattered – but hopes are alive as they say Life-Goes-On.
In November this year, it had been some ten months since I answered the phone call that night only to find out that my little brother had passed away. I sat down to watch the fifth season of ‘Prison Break’, an American television series about two brothers and their struggle to survive. The first four seasons I watched with my younger brother Rubaan.
Then like a lot of young boys who believed in armed resistance rather than everything else, Rubaan left for the woods, picked up a gun and came home dead. In my story, Rubaan is my hero.
I still recall at the end of the fourth season of ‘Prison Break’ when the younger brother ‘Michael Schofield’ dies, I told Rubaan that he will resurrect in the following season. I was sure no story can go on without its hero. But Rubaan didn’t believe me then. It was March 2018. The months that followed saw Rubaan get pushed into a world from where he had little chance of return.
In July that year, Rubaan finally took the decision and joined the rebels to fight India. He was just 21. Being an elder brother, I did my best to bring him back.
But, after many efforts, I realized that Rubaan had chosen his path, and coming back for him was not an option anymore. I kept trying anyway. Like the elder brother “Linken Borros’ in that television series, I too couldn’t give up on my little brother.
Every night, I went to bed with fear and hope. Fear, that he might not come back, and hope that he will one day. But I knew very well, in the end, my fear will overcome my hope.
We were more than just siblings. Or that is what every sibling thinks, I guess. We grew up together in Nazneenpora, a small village surrounded by apple orchards and Indian army garrisons. I used to ask my Grandparents and Parents why our village was called so. They would tell me that Nazneen meant beloved and pora is for the area in local parlance.
In the early 1990s, hundreds of young boys from Nazneenpora and neighboring villages crossed over to Pakistan for arms training to fight India. They came back with a new beloved: AK-47 assault rifles.
As a child, I remember hearing stories from my father and uncles about young boys parading narrow village alleys with AK 47 rifles on their shoulders. I sometimes recall the description of their dreamy eyes that got shut before they could see the dawn of Azadi. Their eyes were no different from that of Rubaan’s, I believe.
To me, Rubaan was everything. We were more like best friends who could not manage to live without each other. When I was away in Chandigarh, it was Rubaan who took care of family chores and kept everyone happy - all in good humor. When he was around, my absence was never felt in family matters, as he was mature enough to take care of everything.
Before he became a militant, he was often pained by the ordeal of the subjugated and needy. It was perhaps in his nature to feel the pain of others.
I recall how he struggled for days to collect money for a young girl suffering from Lungs Diseases. It pained him a lot to see her in such a miserable state. The girl was a local rebel’s daughter. But I am sure he would have done the same for any ordinary girl too.
I am sure he didn’t choose the path of gun for all the clarity that it needs. In fact, Rubaan had no time to think as Indian soldiers were always on his tail. They didn’t let him live him in peace even when he was a nobody. I recall how one night in June 2017, Indian soldiers raided our house and beat me up in front of him. They then put a gun around Rubaan’s neck and clicked his pictures. I had never seen Rubaan so angry and helpless in his entire life, as he was when Indian soldiers beat me up. He couldn’t bear that sight. Long after my scars were gone, he carried them in his heart.
When he left, a part of me also left with him.
I recall once when we fought and my dad, as punishment, ordered us to stay away from each other. It was painful despite knowing that Rubaan slept in the next room, sound and healthy. After a few days, Rubaan quietly crept into my room and slipped next to me. It was really hard to part us, but not at the cruel hands of destiny.
Almost a year after Rubaan got killed in a gunfight with Indian soldiers in Budgam area, I sat down to watch the fifth season of the Prison Break. It was my first time to watch this series without Rubaan. In the very first three episodes, the main hero gets resurrected. His elder brother opens the grave only to find it empty. This particular scene where the elder brother opens the grave touched me. I began thinking of days that what if Rubaan was not in his grave. What if he too is somewhere safe like ‘Michael Schofield’- the protagonist of that American TV series? What if he has managed to fool us all and get out safely?
There were many what-ifs in my mind now. This thought got magnified as Rubaan’s memories began pinching.
In Mid November, Rubaan started to come in my father’s dream. He told him, "I am not feeling well in my grave. There is something that disturbs me in the grave."
My father did not react instantly. However, a few days later my mother narrated a similar dream. Then I too saw my brother in my dream and he told me to get him new clothes. He also told me that his right arm is wet in his grave and he is not feeling comfortable. It had been raining for a few days and Rubaan said the water was getting in his grave.
After such dreams became regular, we approached a few religious scholars who told us to wait rather than rush to open the grave.
On Nov 30th, I was supposed to visit my home in Nazneenpora but due to month ending (closing), I got busy with my job in Srinagar. That day I reached my rented apartment late at night. As I was tired, I tried to get some sleep. But I couldn’t, as I was feeling restless. To overcome it, I offered prayers. Finally, I went to sleep. Once again Rubaan came in my dreams. This time he was angry.
He said, “How many times I told you to get me new clothes. But you don’t. Now I will tell my father again.”
Next morning without breakfast, I started traveling back home. I visited home in Nazneenpora and straight away went to Rubaan’s grave. I felt that the grave is not in its position or the way it should have been.
I quickly rushed to our orchard where my father was working. I told him about my dream. After consulting religious scholars we decided to open the grave.
I quickly called Rubaan’s friends one-by-one, as I wanted them to be present. But they were not available on such short notice. The only one present was the one who had missed Rubaan’s funeral in January. Whenever he visited our house, he would regret not joining his funeral. He carried this regret since then in his heart. When I called him that day, he quickly rushed to my home. This was a rare chance for him to see his friend one last time.
Surrounded by friends and relatives, we finally opened Rubaan’s grave. To everyone’s surprise, Rubaan’s body was almost in the same condition, as it was buried some eleven months back. Even I could notice that his right arm still carried blood marks where he was hit by bullets.
We realized that everything he had told us in our dream was true. Rainwater was actually seeping into his grave. His body was wet from one side, as he had complained.
In the presence of religious scholars, family members, his friends, and elders we put a fresh shroud over his old one. Then my father suggested that we should bury him in our ancestral graveyard, just a few meters away. But, it was Rubaan’s wish to be buried next to his childhood friend – Farooq Ahmad Hurra; a rebel who got martyred two years before Rubaan. So we dug a new grave on the right side of his friend and laid him to rest there. Earlier he was buried to his left.
At around midnight we finally reached home. My restlessness was gone to an extent. But the pain of losing Rubaan was still there. It will never go away.
Since Rubaan is gone, my mother keeps an extra plate during each meal for him. It has become a routine. The plate reminds us of his absence. But it also helps us connect with him.
At last, I want to tell him,
I try to stay strong as you taught me. The hardest part of losing you was when life started to move forward. Having to realize that even I have to move forward and I had to learn how to live without you, having to realize that you won't be at my wedding and that my future children won’t grow up with you around. That you are not a phone call away. That people continued to ask "how is your Brother", not even like I didn't lose my everything too. That we won't grow old together.
I miss you more than words can explain - like there should be another word I can use because I miss you more than just miss you! I know Almighty Allah must have had a very special job that he needed you for. I believe that from heavens you're watching over us all. I wish you could have stayed here with us. The only thing that gets me through every day is that I know I will see you again.
Bro. I am sorry that it took me almost a year to have the strength to pen this all down. I love you, my angel. My brother. My best friend.