His La-La Land


Nakhshab Kirmani


 Medical humanitarian organization, MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders), conducted a research in collaboration with the Department of Psychology, Kashmir University and the Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (IMHANS). The report found that 45 percent of Kashmir’s adult population i.e 1.8 million adults, suffer from some form of mental distress and 93 percent have conflict related trauma.

The conflict in Kashmir has not even spared people with mental disabilities. Locally known as “maet”, they wander around but this unintended harm or no harm at all, too has made some of them to pay the cost. According to the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, security forces have shot dead at least 18 people with mental disabilities since 2003, either during search operations or as they wandered close to military camps.

Last year, a man with special needs was beaten up by angry mob in Sopore, on the suspicion that he was a braid chopper. Attempts also were made to set him on fire.



In the busy lanes of Srinagar where your ears are pierced by agonizingly shrill noises, I somehow managed to get on a bus and it ploughed its way ahead.

I managed to find a vacant seat by the window, and it was something I desperately needed at that moment. Looking through the window while travelling towards your destination provides you with an opportunity to ponder over or recall things. Or it may be that it is just a good feeling that you are close to fresh air, gushes of it slapping sweetly against your face.

So I promptly sat down, relaxed and with the feeling that I am not among the bunch of restless people on the road and I will reach my destination soon- that is if the driver manages to drive safely enough and does not ram the bus into something bigger than itself- road safety reminder. Anyway.

These thoughts swam in my mind as the driver slowed down and stopped the bus.  Well, nothing serious- it was the first stop the bus made since I had boarded it.

A man came aboard.


I did not think of it much and was ready to dive right back into my mind. But, it didn’t happen. My eyes followed this man and with no seat vacant, he stood beside my seat.

This man should have been just another passenger in the bus, but he wasn’t. There was something special, and this something special boarded the bus with him.

The man was in his late 50’s or early 60’s, dressed simply. He was not very tidy and he was carrying a bag on his shoulder. He was looking around as if he was searching for something.

I don’t know why but this man appeared different.

I looked through the window again, maybe for that moment there was an intense struggle going on in my mind. I had a list of things on my mind to think of, but this man was keeping me off the track. I felt an urge to look at him and to know why he appeared so different so that I could think about my own stuff.

Outside, noises of vehicles, conductors stealing the passengers off the roads, cart-vendors shouting at the peak of their voices cracked into my ears but inside, in the bus, calmness was breathing.

“Sir mai Shalteng puhancha,” the man suddenly shouted on his phone. He broke the placidity and silence knocked again. I kept wondering if I was the only one so attentive and so thoughtful for this man or was he receiving the same response from everyone. The passenger sitting beside me was a student reading some notes on Entomology. I do love insects but only when they maintain a distance from me. I slightly turned my head to check.

The  passengers were busy with their selves, some looking through the windows, maybe trying to forget their worries, maybe looking out to recall  some faded memories, some blank  but looking into the faces of others, some scrolling through their magical devices, signs of excitement, apprehension ,nervousness and weariness visible on their faces.

“2 crore log chattabal bhej diya…2 crore log chattabal bhej diya…2 crore log chattabal bhej diya,” the man kept shouting this over the phone. With doubt in my head and a sense of eeriness around, I looked at him and realized that there was no mobile in his hand, instead a red rectangular shaped box. I got numb, maybe because I had not seen anything like it before.

I turned my head to the opposite side, peeped through the window. May be I was trying to comprehend what I just saw.

“2 crore log Chattabal bhej diya…2 log Chattabal bhej diya…2 log Chattabal bhej diya,” he kept repeating these lines till the bus reached Bemina.

Passengers standing beside him were getting pissed off. “Yi kyazii kholwuan (why did you let him on the bus)?” growled a man at the bus conductor. Some passengers were so absorbed in their own minds that they hardly knew what was happening with this man.

An elderly woman instructed a girl to maintain distance from the man. “Roz path kun (stay away from him),”she said to girl with a cautionary look on her face.

“Mei chu Mufti Saebas samkhun aaz, aa Sir 2 crore log chattabal bhej diya…2 crore log chattabal bhej diya,” he kept saying without being bothered by how people were reacting.

At one point it was turning intolerable for me to hear the same line again and again- maybe 100 or more times. I wanted him to say something else now. It was so unexpected, a sudden shift from wanting to know the man and wanting him to stop repeating the lines.

He was quiet now like he never said anything.

More passengers boarded and deboarded, the bus conductor collected the fare (with a hope of getting some extra bucks on account of petrol price hike, I might add), but the man kept talking. “Challan se nikalwa diya Sir aap kahe to aapka bhi short karwadu ,” he shouted, this time at the peak of his pitch, like my wish got an instant answer but this time he freaked us out. The man observed the scared look on the faces of those surrounded by him and gave a smile, a huge one.

Maybe this was the thing, the special thing which he carried with himself, which boarded the bus with him – his smile!

I could see restlessness, tiredness and one or the other sort of failure on the faces around, but this man, to me, seemed the most composed and relaxed one.

His face was more than expressive, laden with grooves, some deep and some not, grayish beard and his popped out brown eyes spoke. His lips, though chapped had tales to tell and jumped like a curious child. He had sunken cheeks and slightly flared nostrils. His hands were wrinkled, scattered with lines and we wore cheap rings in two of his fingers. I could say his heart was on his face. He was like a care-free bird with I guess no planned destination, it was observed when the bus conductor asked him where he has to go and he said, “Yeti che nikh (wherever you will take me).”

This answer mesmerized me, I wished I could say the same to someone but I had a planned destination to reach to and I was bounded by time too.

He yawned and smiled. He may have walked a long distance, as it appeared by his untidy clothes and torn shoes. He must have been so tired but he had such a relaxed expression over his face that he could soothe all our restlessness with just a glimpse. He listened when the woman cautioned the girl of him, he listened to the man who got pissed off with him, but all he gave in return was a smile- pure, clean and honest. He didn’t care what people thought of him, he danced, glided with the sudden brakes, laughed, talked to his imaginary characters, briefed them about his present location at every stop, and maybe had a “2 crore wali deal” with them too. Maybe he had to go for some secret meeting with Mufti Sahab, maybe his imagination would grant him the favor too.

He was a full of life and his inner world was brighter than the darkness and cruelty of the outer world, maybe he became the best friend of his imaginary characters when he might have been pushed away by people. Maybe it was his way of finding escape from the judgmental world.

I had to get off the bus, but I was thinking of this man. What will he do now? Where will he go? Will more people judge him? Where is his family? And why is he on streets?

The man slowly slipped away from my thoughts. Perhaps we were too distracted by our own worries, our own destinations. I didn’t turn back to see him, maybe I was too concerned to not get hit by a vehicle but a different feeling swept across my mind, somewhere in my heart I envied the freedom and the carelessness of this man, somewhere maybe all the passengers on the bus envied him too but as it goes, we can’t afford to be like him. I crossed the road, on the other side of the road, feeling safe and on time, I thought to myself that he genuinely deserves a life, not on streets but in a place where he is loved, where someone is there to give him unconditional care and where he and his  imaginary friends  are safe.