I dont know how many of you have heard of a mythical creature known as ‘Vaech’ as you were growing up. Probably your parents or grandparents would have told you about it trying to focus your attention onto it while they made you gulp your ‘Cerelac’ bowl. As a child I was narrated many mythical stories from almost everyone older than me. Of course most of these fairyland notions mitigated as I grew up and life now had its own monsters to deal with every working day. I am now almost 25 and would give up every tangible reality to go back in that childhood, where every unheard story would make your mind wander to be a protagonist in those happenings and every unseen creature would give you an eerie shiver. I almost always compare those whimsical demons conjured up by my parents and the real ones you face as an adult. Now that I remember, I certainly less feared the ‘Raantas’, ‘Waech’ and many other similar preposterous and spooky named monsters than the real world fancy ones much like the arch enemy, the office boss, the next door girlfriend, the percentage of marks, a career, a setback, a loss, a profit, a character et el. As a child I was atleast sure of the security and warmth my parents provided against their self made chimeras and now as an adult I am left to defend myself on my own. I am not to be treated as a pessimist here, for I am just longing for my childhood like everybody else.
All of these unnatural eerie beings have now long been vanished in my mind but for one – the ‘Vaech’. Till date I am still aware with stories of its existence and the theatricals surrounding its power. I first heard about It from my late grandmother and often relate her memories with the stories she used to tell. She described It as creature possessing a ‘’sone sinz tuep’’ (a golden cap) and often appearing in midnight winters outside the window yelling ‘’waaf waaf waa’’(two and a half cries to be precise). A man desirous of becoming rich should catch the Vaech, dispossess It of its ‘sone sinz tuep’, secure it under an earthen ware filled with oil, and ask the Vaech to go fetch water from a river in a woven basket if It needed the cap back. Ofcourse the woven basket would never be filled with water as it would leak out of the holes and thus the Vaech would tire to death eventually. The cap left behind would make the man rich.
Those cold winter mornings often filled with grief and amusement for me when my grandmother used to inform me of the visit of Vaech to our house the last night and I slept through it. I often used to be angry at her for not waking me up in the middle of night to see the Vaech. Life seemed to be in a hurry with me growing up and my grandmother passing away. No one now seemed interested to tell me about the Vaech or wake me up to see it disappear after its two and a half cries. I had almost forgotten it until the last winter when I was still awake past midnight at my home for obvious reasons. Stuck in the realistic and banal routines of life, I was too involved in myself to give a heed to anything fanciful. After almost two decades of coming to terms with the difference between reality and myths, I heard the same old cries of waaf waaf waa. My head started spinning all around in haze and those goosebumps decided to crawl out impromptu. I couldn’t handle myself literally and was spooked to death. I mustered courage to look out of the window in a half moonlit night and there it was – trotting along the fence of our house with the night’s veil to abet its grandeur and the dark shadow of its presence smothering me. In a moment’s notice, It took everything from me I had learned in those twenty long years. I had come to terms with the reality of things in life, abstained from wandering my mind in clouds of lies and myths and even had questioned its very existence. I didn’t have control over my emotions and I extemporaneously opened the window and yelled out as loud as I could at It. It was as if I was letting all the fear out and telling It that I wasn’t afraid anymore. The Vaech stood there looking at me for a moment as if it was smiling at me with that evil grin and then jumped off and vanished in the cover of dark. From what I could get the best, It was a quadruped creature with a long tail and the body-build in between that of a cat and a monkey. It was both exuberant and dismaying to see It with my eyes. I was exuberated to finally see my hero and dismayed at the same time to unravel a veiled mystery which was better off concealed.
A few days back, yes in the month of April, I was attending the mundane task of sitting in the garden park of my home with the morning sun shining not so brightly due to overnight clouds. As my home is located on the edges of my village with nothing but mustard fields to surround us for miles, I find it quite peaceful and serene to just sit and enjoy whatever sunlight reaches us and not muse about a single thing. The last thing I could expect out of the blues was a cry of ‘’waaf’’. Yet again I was bemused at these audio frequencies ringing my ear and I jumped out of my chair to look outside the fence. To come this close to me in the odd daylight and reveal itself by crying out loud were not the actions of my hero. Yet only It could have achieved this feat, for it was not fearful of a coward like me. I yet again couldn’t believe my eyes as they sat upon the open-chested, feline like creature sitting there camouflaged in the mustard fields looking directly at me. The odds were in my favour as the daylight seconds the weak-hearted and I took a leap out and ran after It. I really don’t know the reason why I was running after it but I guess I could have beaten Usain Bolt in this very run. Maybe it was a childhood dream and I ran to chase my dream or maybe I was nuts as to what exactly I thought I could achieve doing so. I couldn’t have just leapt and caught my dream in a moment. That would have been a shame for my hero. It was eventually supposed to outrun me and prove its worth of a praise of decades. For a frame of ten seconds, I was set free by this very wild creature. I ran without a thought about anything in the whole world. I felt I touched the air while my feet were skipping past mud.
I feel I have shown much courage to write and share this experience with you. I am not concerned if someone terms my words as inane and fatuous. To me the ‘Vaech’ is an integral part of the endangered kashmiri culture where children were taught by their parents and grandparents to face the real world by introducing them to fairy worlds. ‘Kashmiri’ was the language children were introduced to growing up. The same culture is dwindling now with the so called ‘’educated’’ people behaving much more asinine than the illiterate ones. Kashmiri language is seen as an impediment in progress and treated with despise. Those fairy tales and folklore are replaced by the otherwise despised Indian culture which in turn is a progeny of the western culture. I was though amazed to see some Indian television advertisements singing “ hukus bukus telli wann cze kus” proudly instead of us kashmiris even refraining to it within ourselves.