When Yusuf entered Makan Taintees for the third time, it was with no suitcase in his hands, no Jaleelah in the house and a camera crew behind him, filming every moment since his boarding of the airplane on Benazir Bhutto Airport, Islamabad.
Chachi Jaan greeted him, with hope in her eyes. With his arms around her shoulder, he walked upstairs to the terrace and sitting on the porch swing, he filmed his first full-length report of the situation.
The Hurriyet leaders had held a jalsa in Srinagar the night before where excerpts from Violet Viper’s Urdu version, Gulabi Saanp, that had appeared anonymously online a few days ago, had been read to the rumbling chants of Azadi.
The call to the RR headquarters had been made and the official statement from the military had been proclaimed that there was no Jaleelah Taheer Malik in custody of the RR and there was no record of her arrest in the past two weeks either.
The secretary general of the United Nations had retweeted the link to BBC’s Violet Vipers this morning, expressing the hope that the young activist mentioned therein would “reach her home safe and sound before the week was out”.
Today, in the evening, the reporter was scheduled to meet with Major Amit Khatri of the Rashtriya Rifles without the camera lens to intrude. Hopes were high about a peaceful resolution of the whole matter.
At 1pm, Yusuf and Chachi Jaan were sitting down in front of the old television in the lounge of Makan Taintees, with their plates of uneaten food in their hands, watching silently as Yusuf’s report was aired on multiple channels across Pakistan and both Kashmirs. Short clips of around 10 seconds were played by some foreign channels and his father called him from Islamabad to tell him some stills had been displayed during an Indian talk-show where an opposition leader from the Indian National Congress was being interviewed.
Watching the report on every channel as closely as if he were seeing it for the first time, he kept repeating to Chachi Jaan what a journalist had said to him a few days ago like it was a mantra.
“The game isn’t of emotions anymore. It is all about good PR and bad PR, and Violet Vipers is the best PR Jaleelah Malik could have gotten, Yusuf Sahib.”
Pens and papers couldn’t win wars, Amit Khatri had said. Yusuf shook his head slightly and thought, pens and papers can win the right sort of wars.
After lunch, a few members of the filming crew returned to talk to Yusuf about the timing of his second report that was scheduled to go on-air the next day with a summary of the meeting. A Kashmiri journalist, who had volunteered to prep Yusuf for his meeting with the RR officials in the evening arrived next. After they left, Sameer had arrived to show Yusuf a pamphlet they were going to distribute about Jaleelah’s disappearance in Kashmir University’s City Campus.
It was past 5pm by the time everybody had left. After receiving a call from his “mentor”, the old journalist, to remind him he had to be ready by 7pm for the meeting, Yusuf finally sat down, his head heavy with weariness. Chachi Jaan was bustling around the kitchen, putting food on a tray. Yusuf eyed it hungrily. “I’ll eat it right here, Chachi.”
“It’s for your Chacha Jaan,” she answered with a smile. “But help yourself, if you’re hungry.”
Yusuf swallowed the bitter taste that the mention of his uncle brought to his mouth and shook his head. “I’m not hungry, really.” He pressed the tip of his nose with his forefinger. “How is he?”
“He is fine,” Chachi Jaan said gloomily. “He just doesn’t want to come out in front of the camera crew.”
Chacha Jaan hadn’t left his bedroom since Yusuf’s arrival that morning, with a mere fifteen-minute notice that was given on a cab driver’s phone on the way to Chinkral from the airport.
“He keeps asking about Jaleelah.” She told nobody in particular, ladling out curry in a small bowl. “Keeps asking if you’ll bring her back.”
“I will.” Yusuf said at once, added in a low voice, “Without selling Kashmir for her.”
Chachi Jaan looked at him, then away. “He was - is - very afraid for her, Yusuf.”
“He doesn’t have to be, Chachi.” Yusuf shook his head. “I will meet Khatri tonight, and he will have no option but to free her by tomorrow.” He dragged the tray towards himself, picking up a slice of pickled mango and popping it into his mouth. “Maybe I’ll even return with her tonight!”
Chachi Jaan picked up the tray and there was a slight frown on her face.
“You stayed away too long, beta. You don’t quite understand Kashmir yet.”
Yusuf started to answer her when there was a loud knock on the front door.
“I’ll get it,” he told her and left the room. She’s old, he reminded herself. She can’t understand how it’ll work or why, but it will. Yusuf opened the door, promising himself (and Jaleelah) that it would work.
Imam Deen stood outside with a plain white envelope in his hand.
“They gave it for you, Yusuf Sahib.” He held it out. “Salam Aleikum.”
Yusuf took it from him, smiling darkly. “I wish I could open this on live television, Imam.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Yusuf baba.” Imam Deen looked over his shoulder nervously. “You mustn’t lose what little support you have inside the military.”
“Inside the military?” Yusuf looked at him. “Imam, these letters are threats from the military, not support.”
“Sahib,” Imam Deen looked at him, then shook his head. “You don’t understand, Sahib.”
Yusuf pursed his lips, suddenly feeling exasperated with Imam Deen. “Acha, I’ll see.” He closed the door.
Standing in the entrance hall, he slit open the envelope and pulled out the paper inside. Instead of a plain white one, it was a lined page, creased and hastily folded, with one edge rough and uneven. It had obviously been torn out of a notebook in a hurry.
On the topmost line, someone had scrawled in a less neat version of the familiar slanting handwriting:
“Doctor Taheer knows what will happen next.”
To be continued...