When I left my home Friday, August 2, my six-year-old daughter Nouma grabbed my backpack. “Where are you going? I will not let you go” she said. “It is Friday today”.
Friday is my weekly off.
I tried to convince her — I used a teacher-student corollary to make my point — that I need to go to office. She relented with a condition: “Mere liye Eid ka naya dress lana (Get a new dress for me for Eid)”.
Seeing her older sister, my youngest daughter Sameeha, two and a half years old, also grabbed my leg. “Mere liye sham ko iye cream lana (Get an ice cream for me in the evening).
She is too young to pronounce the word “ice cream” properly — although wise enough to know what pleasures it brings.
I promised both that I will return on Sunday with a new dress and ice cream.
Today is Eid. It has been 10 days since I left home last. I couldn’t buy a new dress for Nouma nor did I get ice cream for Sameeha. I couldn’t even call them and wish them on Eid.
On the morning of Sunday, August 4, I had sent them pictures of dresses and asked them to choose. They made their choice. I decided to go shopping that evening but the writing on every city wall was clear: the clampdown would come by midnight.
And it did. When I didn’t return home that evening, I got a call from my oldest daughter Dhuha, she is eight. “Baba, where are you?” she asked. “I am in office,” I replied. She hung up in anger.
We haven’t talked since.
My daughters would call me, at least, twice a day. But for the last seven days, I haven’t heard the word “Baba.”
I haven’t received a text from them asking for ice cream, water colours or a drawing book. I haven’t received a WhatsApp message from them with my pictures, funnily edited.
I live in Sopore, 50 km north of Srinagar. But these days it is a long journey. This week, once I took this journey, in the dead of night, to report on north Kashmir. I returned in a hurry before the break of dawn. It has been a tough week — looking for stories and then spending hours to try and find ways to send it to office in New Delhi. Each story is written on time but it goes out late.
It has been seven days and I don’t know anything about my daughters, I don’t know how they feel, I don’t know how they celebrated Eid or did they celebrate at all.
This is not the first time I have spent Eid in office and under curfew. Three years ago, Kashmir Valley was under a clampdown on Eid after the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani but days before Eid, I was able to get new dresses for them. That Eid, too, we spent the night and day in office. That day, too, the Internet was down, the cellphones were snapped but landline phones were working.
I remember calling Dhuha and Nouma — Sameeha wasn’t born then — and wishing them Eid Mubarak. The next day, when I reached home, they rushed towards me, they leapt in the air and they hugged me. I remember all that, a father does.
Today, when I return home, I don’t know how they will react — a hug like in 2016? Or a sulk? For not being able to get them a new dress or ice cream.
(Masood is Chief of Bureau, The Indian Express, Srinagar)