Title

× Close
BOOK EXCERPT

‘The transistor’: A chilling short story from Kashmir

An excerpt from a collection of short fiction set in the state.

...After his migration, Rahmaan’s first letter, besides enquiries about Muhammad Yousuf’s and his family’s well-being and many other things, asked him if he wanted anything from Delhi. Yousuf read it many times over and then, alone in his room, before stowing it in his leather vanity box, he smelled the thin blue paper of the inland letter and touched the Urdu words written with a fountain pen.

In his reply, Muhammad Yousuf wrote:

“Everything is fine. Only the Army is advancing into the orchard, as you already know. I am worried about that. I don’t really need anything, but if you can send a good transistor I’ll be obliged. That is it. The one I have, the one you knew, is in bad shape. Naseema damaged it accidentally. Time and again I stuff something or the other in the battery slot to keep the batteries tightly connected. Even after repairing it twice, one or the other thing comes loose. Rest all is fine in the village...”

A fortnight later, a courier arrived at Muhammad Yousuf’s house.

He unboxed a small, bubble-wrapped transistor with its warranty card. It was a rectangular, vertically elongated, black case with two small twin grey dials on the top front. There was a tiny projection of a black antenna to its top left corner and an almost invisible metre-band strip fixed on the narrow left side. It was a transistor of a shape, colour and design he had never seen before. Yousuf filled its battery slot with new, slender batteries and turned it on. The sound it blared was loud and fresh.

It was just afternoon on a Friday. Wielding a claw hammer in his right hand, Muhammad Yousuf Dar was bending the nails on the barbed wire in his orchard. The surroundings echoed with Friday sermons blaring from all the mosques in the village. The twelve o’clock bulletin on Yousuf’s new transistor was already over and it was now just hissing in the crook of a young quince apple tree. His hands were soiled so he let it be.

As Yousuf walked towards the orchard well to wash his hands, he found Nazir Ahmad Malik standing on the dirt track outside the orchard, staring at him and the transistor. Malik was returning from his own orchard and heading to the Jamia Mosque for Friday prayers. Yousuf salaamed him and they exchanged pleasantries. Then, Malik moved on, every now and then turning to look back at Yousuf and his hissing transistor.

Once the Friday prayers were over, people burst out of the mosque door and began to huddle into small clusters on the main road. There were groups of children, adults, youths and old men – all gossiping. Nazir Ahmad Malik led his own group. As he saw Yousuf coming out of the mosque, Malik drove everyone’s attention towards him. All the old men scanned Yousuf furtively. “His brother has given him a walkie-talkie to spy on the freedom movement in the village. I saw it with my own eyes...he was trying out the signal with the Army near his orchard.” Everyone believed what Malik said when he described Yousuf’s transistor as a walkie-talkie. Malik looked sweet and composed, as always, with that smiling look on his face. Ignoring the fact that Yousuf had always stood by his own politics, the villagers instead easily connected the wrong dots.

From that Friday to the next, in the matter of a week, the whole of Daddgaam and several other adjoining villages were abuzz with news of Yousuf’s “walkie-talkie”.

Just after his sermon, Molvi Ali Muhammad Shah announced: “We have learnt that some unethical persons in our Daddgaam have been spying on the village. And they have been exchanging information regarding the resistance movement with the government forces through wireless sets. And yes, you heard it right: wireless sets. They have become informers and are betraying the great cause of freedom and Islam. And this announcement must serve as their last warning.”

The announcement was followed by a delay in the Friday prayers. Molvi Shah took ten more minutes to sermonise about “betrayal and its punishment in Islam”. Yousuf listened to the announcement in awe and with great interest. He was curious and puzzled, and he wondered who those informers could be. But everyone was covertly looking at him only. As Molvi Shah commenced the chute, the Arabic part of the sermon, Yousuf tried to guess. His eyes wandered along the rows of worshippers. He scanned Fayaz Ahmad Bhat, an infamous boy who, the village believed, indulged in drugs. Yousuf shook his head. No, it cannot be Fayaz; his brother Farooq sacrificed himself for the cause of freedom. Then on his left, Yousuf found Altaf Ahmad Malik, Nazir Ahmad Malik’s son, who, the people said, was the worst “loose character” in the entire village; who had been warned several times by the insurgents to stop stalking the village girls. No, it cannot be him either; it is not necessary that one who has a loose character would also be an informer. en Yousuf stopped looking around, folded his hands on his chest and concentrated on the khutba.

A few days later, Yousuf, as usual, was listening raptly to the 8:30 pm BBC bulletin in his kitchen.

With each bit of the news about human rights’ violations committed by the government forces in Kashmir, he would curse the forces under his breath. In a corner, Naseema was frying potatoes over a gas stove. Suddenly, there was a power cut. e children were writing their school homework. There came a loud bang on the main door. Yousuf and his family froze for a minute. Naseema and Yousuf looked at each other in wonder. They were not expecting any visitors at this hour, and definitely not knocking on the main door after the gate had been closed.

Then, there was another, louder knock. “It must be the Army. They are angry with me. As I’m trying to keep them away from Brother’s side of the orchard,” Yousuf whispered to Nausea. “Don’t worry. I will go and see.”

With his daring heart and shivering body, the transistor in his right hand—booming BBC, and a candle stub in the left, he went over to open the door. Yousuf placed the candle on top of the banister post opposite the main door and pulled down the bolt. In the dim candlelight, he saw three men. And before he could ask them who they were and what they wanted, they cocked their guns.

Excerpted with permission from “The Transistor” from the collection of short stories Scattered Souls, Shahnaz Bashir, HarperCollins India.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BULLETIN BY 

Making transportation more sustainable even with fuel-based automobiles

These innovations can reduce the pollution caused by vehicles.

According to the WHO’s Ambient Air Pollution Database released in 2016, ten of the twenty most polluted cities in the world are in India, with Gwalior and Ahmedabad occupying the second and third positions. Pollution levels are usually expressed in the levels of particulate matter (PM) in the air. This refers to microscopic matter that is a mixture of smoke, metals, chemicals and dust suspended in the atmosphere that can affect human health. Particulate matter is easily inhaled, and can cause allergies and diseases such as asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Indian cities have some of the highest levels of PM10 (particles smaller than 10 micrometres in diameter) and PM2.5 particles (particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter). The finer the particulate matter, the deeper into your lungs it can penetrate causing more adverse effects. According to WHO, the safe limits for PM2.5 is 10 micrograms per cubic meter.

Emissions resulting from transportation is regarded as one of the major contributors to pollution levels, especially particulate matter. A study conducted by the Centre for Ecological Sciences of the Indian Institute of Science estimated that the transport sector constitutes 32% of Delhi’s emissions. It makes up 43% of Chennai’s emissions, and around 17% of Mumbai’s emissions.

Controlling emissions is a major task for cities and auto companies. The Indian government, to this end, has set emission standards for automobiles called the Bharat Stage emission standard, which mirrors European standards. This emission standard was first instituted in 1991 and has been regularly updated to follow European developments with a time lag of about 5 years. Bharat Stage IV emission norms have been the standard in 2010 in 13 major cities. To tackle air pollution that has intensified since then, the Indian government announced that Bharat Stage V norms would be skipped completely, and Stage VI norms would be adopted directly in 2020.

But sustainability in transport requires not only finding techniques to reduce the emissions from public and private transport but also developing components that are environment friendly. Car and auto component manufacturers have begun optimising products to be gentler on the environment and require lesser resources to manufacture, operate and maintain.

There are two important aspects of reducing emissions. The first is designing vehicles to consume less fuel. The second is making the emissions cleaner by reducing the toxic elements.

In auto exteriors, the focus is on developing light-weight but strong composite materials to replace metal. A McKinsey study estimates that plastic and carbon fibre can reduce weight by about 20% and 50% respectively. A lighter body reduces the engine effort and results in better fuel economy. Additionally, fuel efficiency can be increased by reducing the need for air conditioning which puts additional load on the vehicle engine thereby increasing fuel consumption. Automotive coatings (paints) and sheets provide better insulation, keep the vehicle cool and reduce the use of air conditioning.

Most emissions are the result of inefficient engines. Perhaps the most significant innovations in making automobiles and mass transport systems more eco-friendly are being done in the engine. Innovations include products like fuel additives, which improve engine performance, resist corrosion and reduce fuel consumption while offering a great driving experience, and catalytic converters that reduce toxic emissions by converting them to less harmful output such as carbon dioxide, Nitrogen and water. Some of these catalytic converters are now capable of eliminating over 90 percent of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.

All of these are significant measures to bring the negative impacts of vehicular pollution under control. With over 2 million vehicles being produced in India in 2015 alone and the moving to BS VI emission standards, constant innovation is imperative.

Beyond this, in commercial as well as passenger vehicles, companies are innovating with components and processes to enable higher resource efficiency. Long-lasting paint coatings, made of eco-friendly materials that need to be refreshed less often are being developed. Companies are also innovating with an integrated coating process that enables carmakers to cut out an entire step of coating without compromising the colour result or the properties of the coating, saving time, materials and energy. Efforts are being made to make the interiors more sustainable. Parts like the instrument panel, dashboard, door side panels, seats, and locks can all be created with material like polyurethane plastic that is not only comfortable, durable and safe but also easily recyclable. Manufacturers are increasingly adopting polyurethane plastic like BASF’s Elastollan® for these very reasons.

From pioneering the development of catalytic converters in 1975 to innovating with integrated process technology for coatings, BASF has always been at the forefront of innovation when it comes to making transport solutions more sustainable. The company has already developed the technology to handle the move of emissions standards from BS IV to BS VI.

For the future, given the expected rise in the adoption of electric cars—an estimated 5~8 percent of car production is expected to be pure electric or plug-in electric vehicles by 2020—BASF is also developing materials that enable electric car batteries to last longer and achieve higher energy density, making electronic mobility more feasible. To learn more about how BASF is making transport more sustainable, see here.

Watch the video to see how automotive designers experimented with cutting edge materials from BASF to create an innovative concept car.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.

× Close