” Terror Strikes Again In The Valley ”
” Car Bomb Explodes Near……In The Valley”
” Terrorists Kidnap Four Foreign Tourists In The Valley’
The Valley is making headlines every day. It has always been written about but never this way.
This beautiful hill town or ” Valley,” as it has come to be called, has always inspired poets; writers of nature; naturalists; and has been the backdrop and location of many romantic stories and movies. It is a tourists’ paradise, not anymore. I used to call it ‘my’ valley. But it is not mine anymore.
Three decades ago, a young college girl visited the Valley for the first time. She never left. Here she had met a handsome, young Army officer who had recently been commissioned into the Army. He belonged to the Valley region and his family had been living there for years.
The days that followed could well have been out of a Mills & Boons novella. Their love bloomed and one could see this pretty, young thing with her tall, handsome Adonis taking long walks along the lake, or going on treks into the mountains. Often they would hire a Shikara – a flat-bottomed boat – and sit silently, holding hands, while they took in the exquisite beauty of the vast expanse of placid water, surrounded by verdant hills. The boatman would row the Shikara to Char Chinar, a little island with a small restaurant, in the middle of the lake. It got its name from the four (char) Chinar trees that grew on the island.
At the Char Chinar, they would alight and drink Kahwa, a delicately flavoured green tea with slivers of almonds in it.
They used to talk and laugh a lot. For her officer was not only a good conversationist but also had a great sense of humour. Their return from Char Chinar was always very romantic. The sun would be setting and the water of the lake reflected the hues of the burning sky. They would ask the boatman to sing a love song of the hills. And as the lilting melody wafted across the lake, their boat glided smoothly over the slowly darkening water.She always wanted that moment to stand still.
I feel a slight nudge. All of a sudden three decades has flown by. I am in the present, surrounded by people – Army officers, dignitaries from the Government, journalists. I must not let my mind wander. I have to concentrate and listen to the announcer. Yes, he is describing the heroic exploits of an officer as he faced a terrorist attack on an Army Base in the Valley region.
And then I step forward and walk to the podium to receive from the President, ” the highest gallantry award for bravery in peacetime, awarded to ……..posthumously.”
My officer of the Valley is no more.
The tears sting my eyes, threatening to overflow. I must not cry. The President is saying something, there are flashes as Press cameras click away. It’s all a blur. Then I lift my hands to take the medal and Citation and walk back. They made me practise this so it came automatically but so did the tears…They never made me practise holding them back.
A young, handsome officer opens his arms and holds me. He looks like his father. I lay my head on his shoulder.
The Valley had given and the Valley had taken……
I lift my head and look into the eyes of my son. How much was the Valley going to take before peace was restored…..I dared not even wonder.
(~Joy Clarkson 2006)