Autumn in Bloom: When Army took me as a human shield

autumn

By  WASIM KHALID

In autumn when life dies a slow, painful death, two white flowers bloom in a graveyard near my home. Every year, they sprout their way through wilted leaves of walnut, chinar, poplar, all kinds of trees in the graveyard. They always appear at the same place, on the graves of two unidentified men.

I always liked autumn and the slowness it brings into our lives; its power to strip the nature, to infuse varied hues in our surroundings and the chill which announces the demise of scorching summer heat, bringing a promise of the coming life when the cold and cloudy nights die of their own bitterness, in spring, soounth.

I live deep inside the Rawalpora localtiy, on the fringes of the Srinagar city, the summer capital of Indian administered Kashmir. The two flowers in the graveyard always attracted my attention. I would often think why they came to life in the midst of dying surroundings? Why only two flowers? Who are beneath those graves? I had developed a strange sense of belongingness to them.

I remember when it all happened. Those horrible images flash before my eyes like the scene from an old black and white movie, repeated again and again on TV.

It was the autumn of 1997. At 9 in the morning, I left home for school. It was the final day of exams. It was a time when I and my friends would leave home early in the morning; our cheeks and ears auburn, our finger tips cold, our noses dripping in the piercing autumn chill.

On normal days, upon returning home from school, I used to climb to the patio on the first floor, sit down on a mat, holding a book in my hands and pretend to read. Instead of studying, I watched children, my friends, playing in an open field which was our playground. I would get tempted.

On that day when our exams were going to end, I was bubbling with excitement. I knew it was the day of freedom. I would soon rejoin my gang. At school, I breathed furiously into my hands to warm up. Then I wrote answers, swiftly, and finished much ahead of the allocated time. The return journey was a lonely affair, almost melancholic. Alone in each step I took towards home, I felt half-relaxed, half-melancholic. On normal days, school friends would join me. We used to leave school like flocks of making merry sheep grazing in the mountains. Now I was dragging my feet with the burden of loneliness and a bag full of notebooks. I passed shops where I purchased candies, past dust-laden shutters and billboards, past crows and pigeons perched on the naked electric wires running from one pole to another. I wondered why birds never got electrocuted.

I reached a ‘security’ bunker on the bridge of a highway near my home, the lifeline of the India’s military apparatus in Kashmir. I looked for my friend. He was an Army trooper who always wore an olive bullet-proof vest, which would give a bulky look to his otherwise bony frame. Whenever he grinned, I always noticed his white teeth betraying his black complexion. He would buy me ice creams and toffees. He was a good friend, unlike his colleagues who beat up pedestrians and commuters while frisking them on the bridge.

On that day, I didn’t see him.

I continued to walk till I crossed the bridge which runs over a shallow water stream. I walked on the path along the banks of the stream. Our locality comprised of eight clustered houses. Most of them were old fashioned and modest, constructed in mid-forties and sixties. Resting ideally on an elevated patch of land, our locality overlooked vast fields and various kinds of trees in them.

Through a thick groves of poplar and kikar trees, I got the first glimpse of home. I could make out mother wearing a head scarf and a sleeveless jersey sitting on the verandah. She liked the autumn sun, but she never sat idle. She would sift unwanted corns from rice and pulses. Now she was slicing vegetables that would be dried under sun and cooked in winter.

When I reached, she turned her affectionate gaze at me and said: “So you are back. I think my son is hungry. And tired too?” I changed clothes and got down. Mother had kept the lunch ready. She sat by my side in the kitchen as I started to eat. We remained quiet.

Suddenly, a sound of gunshots shattered the momentarily silence between us. Then a volley of bullets rang in the air. I saw mother’s face. She had turned blue out of fear. I became scared too on seeing her. The sound was coming from the fields. Mother, out of curiosity as well as fear, I think, hurried to a neighbor’s house to know what actually had happened. Before going, she instructed me “not to move an inch” out of the kitchen.

But each gunshot made me inquisitive. I was liking the adventure. Ignoring mother’s command. I mustered courage and slipped outside, walking on crouched knees like a duck in order to reach a lone, wooden granary bordering the rice fields. I hid myself there. Later, I walked stealthily to the front room of the granary which faced the fields to know what exactly was going on.

A figure, the size of my index finger from where I was looking, was enveloped in a low lying blue haze in the fields. The figure started running towards the plum orchards. Before it could reach there, the figure turned back and shouted, seemingly, at the soldiers. I could barely understand what was going on. I tried to listen carefully but another round of gunshots pierced the air and the figure disappeared in the haze.

The firing stopped. I scurried towards a house located close to the granary. In the courtyard, pale-faced women were huddled in a corner. They gave me frantic looks when I entered. I felt like an unwelcome visitor, but they knew me. They could not turn me back. Even if they would have done so, I would have refused. After all, it was a battle for survival. I assumed it would be safe to sit among women in case the soldiers searched our locality. For us, the word “soldier” was self-explanatory; it instilled a sense of dread among us. Barely moments had passed when a column of soldiers arrived. Their first target was the same house where I was embedded among the female folk. The troops ordered males to separate themselves from females.

I did not leave the company of women. I was a child, or so I thought.

The only “man” in the house was Ramzan. He often worked in the field where the figure was lying. He would smoke hookah there, till the field, prune the grass and beat the paddy. He was indefatigable. A man with strong features; muscular, dark skinned, wide jaws, sunken eyes and a piercing gaze. He was less talkative and more strenuous.

But a soldier located me. He pointed his SLR gun at me and ordered: “You, stand up!”

On this, an old woman got up and put up a resistance, reminding the trooper that I was a child, but her argument failed to impress him. “He is big enough to qualify for a grown-up. Both of you, come with us,” he ordered.

It was later that I understood what was going on. The troopers had not come to search houses, as they usually did. They had come to arrange human shields to protect themselves from the motionless figure lying in the field. Ramzan and I were asked to go to the spot. Ramzan looked injured. He looked back several times in the journey and each time he saw armed soldiers following us.

The troops stopped and pointed towards a body. They asked us to go close and ascertain whether the “dog” was alive. I thought it was the last day of my life. What if he was alive? Will he shoot us? Was he waiting for us to blow himself up? Are we going to die?

A cold shiver ran through my spine. My legs trembled and I looked behind; the soldiers had taken position behind a mound of soil with their guns pointing at us. With reluctant steps, Ramzan and I walkedtowards the man. The figure which had appeared the size of an index finger from the granary was a tall, young man with cropped beard. He was wearing a traditional khan suit and an arsenal of ammunition was tied to his chest. A Kalashnikov rifle lay besides him. He was cold. His head was almost split into two. Some of his teeth were lying on the ground. Bullets had bored through his legs too and blood oozing out of his body had streamed into the field.

“Is he dead,” a soldier shouted.

“Yes,” I replied.

On this, one of the soldiers drew nearer and asked us to take out the dead man’s new pair of sports shoes. Then another came and demanded his watch. They also forced us to search his pockets for money. They took away shoes, money, watch and other belongings. The dead man had torn several INR 500 notes into small pieces. Few tattered notes with embossed image of India’s father of the nation, MK Gandhi, were covered in congealed blood and scattered on the ground.

The soldiers shared the ‘war booty’ and handed over a cotton sheet to us with instructions that the dead man be immediately taken to a nearby ground. We obeyed. They followed us. It was the same ground where I wanted to play with my friends on that day. Instead of a cricket frenzied crowd, it now hosted few mourners. A police pickup truck arrived later and took away the dead man.

The soldiers freed both of us but I was enslaved forever. I thought about the unknown man; his bullet-ridden body, his torn head and the soldiers who robbed him. When I reached home, an unusual joy returned to mother’s gloomy face. I got a scolding, but I could sense that she was happy for the fact I had returned alive and unhurt.

It was later that I came to know that the two men had actually died in an encounter. The soldiers had laid siege around a locality in Gulzarpora, some half-a-kilometer away from our home. . One insurgent was killed there. The other had successfully broken the cordon, crossed an irrigation canal, ran through orchards and negotiated thorny bushes on his way, but he was trapped as more contingents were called in from the side to where he was running.

He was finally killed in the fields behind the granary.

Evening approached. The two, unidentified bodies of ‘mujahids’ were handed over to elders of our locality for burial. We fell into grief. Women wailed and beat their chests. Hundreds of people from far off places arrived in our small locality. They had come to offer funeral prayers of the ‘shohada’, the martyrs, who died for ‘Azaadi’, freedom. I had never seen such a large funeral procession in our locality, neither did I experience it afterwards. I was baffled. I could not understand our connection with the dead men. Surely there must have been something that had brought so many people and so much grief to our locality.

Both the bodies were taken to the graveyard. People volunteered to dig the graves. I stood there among the myriad mourners, watching their sad faces, as the dead were laid to rest. I watched synchronized lips of people reciting special prayers for the shohada. I stood there, till water was sprinkled and the graves were plastered with mud.

Days passed. I left school, high school, then college and finally university. I noticed the two white flowers growing on the graves during the last weeks of autumn. Every day, I would walk on the lone path bordering the graveyard, visiting the memories of the two men buried there. It would make me sad. I would ask myself why they died and what for? I wanted to get rid of the pain inflicted by my memory. I wanted to unburden my heart. I wanted to open up the “storehouse of memories’ to “bring them back to life”. I never found the vent.

The fear of losing an essential part of my life, the burden of memory and the events that shaped me into what I am, kept haunting me for some time, till I decided to write.

We have left our old home five years ago but the grave and the flowers are inscribed on my memory. I could not see them as often as I did except on one occasion. It was a fine Eid morning, on November 17, 2010. I was pressed by mother to offer ‘fateh’ at the graves of our ancestors in the graveyard. It was a sacred day, she said, and I was unwilling to go, like always, but the graves and the budding flowers struck my mind once again. The autumn was in its last days and my inquisitiveness, rather than God’s fear, induced me to visit the graveyard.

I walked again on the narrow dusty path from where, through the mesh of poplar trees, I once saw, as a child, mother, preparing vegetables for sun-drying. The sky was azure. Each occasional drift of breeze brought bring down corpses of red, brown, orange and crimson-colored leaves on the path. Nature was stripping the tall poplars and mighty chinars. When I entered the graveyard, the leaves crushed beneath my feet. The rusty smell of leaves had dispersed in the air. I searched for the two flowers. I could not locate them. I scraped the leaves on two graves with my hands. The flowers were there; their green stems forcing their way out of the foliage. All these years, I had locked the secret of the two flowers in my heart. Now I had decided to come out of this thoughtful silence.

I asked grandmother about the two white flowers. She was comfortably sitting in the hamaam on a white numde. Her hair was covered with a white cloak and she was reading Quran. I knew I would get a scolding for not offering prayers regularly, but she was soft to me on that day. It was Eid, perhaps. I asked her about the two white flowers, about the two graves of unidentified men. I asked her why the flowers on the graves bloomed in autumn. I told her it looked strange to me.

“Why? It’s not,” she replied nonchalantly, fixing her gaze on me, “whenever a man dies for a good cause, his spirit gets transferred into a charming bird or a beautiful flower.”

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“When the army men hanged my panties, bras with the wall hooks, littered my sanitary pads…”

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Sara Ahmad (name changed) is a scholar from South Kashmir’s Shopian district. She is currently studying at one of the Universities in Kashmir. Here she writes about her harrowing experience in the year 2006 when she felt disgraced after Indian soldiers littered her undergarments and sanitary pads in her room-her little universe- in a bid to teach her a lesson. She is yet to overcome the trauma she faced as a teenager girl..

 

Sara Ahmad

I would always wake up early in the morning to prepare for my competitive exams in the year 2006. I would leave the bed every morning at 6 am.

Before opening books, I would lazily stand near the window of my room to see what was happenings outside. My eyes would look at the apple orchards. Then they would flit towards the gurgling stream which looked like a snake crawling through lush green landscape and beyond towards the mighty mountains of Pir Panchaal range. The azure skies would add to the beauty.

Then, I was just 17.

The very sight of this marvelous landscape would instill hope in me. It would revitalize me to take on the challenges of the world.

I would sit in my room from dawn to dusk, taking intermittent breaks, reading the boring physics formulas, trying my hand at the diagrams depicting human digestive system, and remembering the chemistry problems. The little room, whose walls were painted in blue color, also possessed a wooden wardrobe with a big mirror fitted in the middle of it. It would hide my little secrets.

Whenever books would become boring, I would sit before the mirror of the wardrobe. I would look at my face in the mirror. I would try cosmetics on my face. I would make my face look funny by applying colorful make-up . Sometimes I would like to look beautiful. I would laugh at myself in the mirror. The sweet nothings of a young girl would amuse me. In those years, this room was my little universe.

On the morning of July 2006, something was terribly going to change me. It would be the day when I would realize what it means for a young girl like me to be a “woman” in the Kashmir conflict.

I was born and bred in a little village located in South Kashmir’s Shopian area. It is my home.

The weather was mild and the sun had just shone behind the glossy mountains which shined like a hot red coin. I was in the deep sleep when suddenly  mother knocked at the door of my room.

Mother banged the door many times with her closed fists. It would be an indication that something bad was coming. I was yet to recover from the yawning and the sleep when I jumped out of the bed. I opened the door. She looked worried and in hurry.

“The army had cordoned off the village,” the mother told me. I would see the anxiety in her eyes. “Do one thing… Wear a Pheran (a loose Kashmiri gown)”.

The mother told me to wear the Pheran – the loose Kashmiri outfit- for one reason; it had deep pockets. Her suggestion was out of fear that military might steal valuables from the house. Her caution had some substance. I had heard many stories earlier in the neighborhood when the soldiers would enter the house for searches and finally end up in stealing the costly ornaments.

Apart from gold rings and jewellery, I put my cheap ear-rings and chains into the pockets of my Pheran. It was summer. I was feeling a bit suffocated in the outfit as Kashmiris usually wear it during winters to beat the cold and keep the body warm.

Finally the gun wielding soldiers, wearing black bandannas on their heads and dressed in olive fatigue, arrived at our house. Our male members were ordered to leave the residence. My father and two elder brothers had no option, but to leave mother and me alone.  Along with the male members of our neighbors, the military shoved them to a nearby open ground for identification parade to ascertain whether they were affiliated with militant outfits or not.

I took a seat near the window of a poorly lit room of our house. This place belonged to my grandmother. The opening looked into the courtyard of our house. It was strategic position from where one could keep an eye on people who would enter or leave the house surrounded by four walls. My grandmother, a prophetic figure with wrinkled face and broad forehead, would drape her head in white scarf and sit there. Her eyes would always monitor the domestic happenings. She would act like a supervisor, instructing me, mother, brothers and the father to do this or that thing. She had passed just a year ago.

I must tell you, when I sat there, her memories came rushing into my mind.   She was my first inspiration. She was an iron lady. Despite her body had lost the ability to do work, her ability to fight to survive would always surprise me.  Her courage would inspire  me. I wanted to live and move ahead.

Suddenly, the army men barged into our courtyard. They were accompanied by two local boys. It was a ritual for army men to use the locals as human shields whenever they would lay the siege of villages. Those boys finally led them inside the house. I was scared since I thought if, god forbid, the fight would break out between rebels and the army men, these boys would be the first causality. Then, and now as well there is no difference between a local and an armed rebel for army men.

The moment boys and military men entered the house, eyes would talk. The two boys gave an expression that they were helpless. They communicated to me through their eyes that the army men wanted to search the house. We understood the language of eyes. We have no option but to allow them inside.

Wearing dust laden jackboots, the army men barged into  grandmother’s room. I was standing just outside the room door. I would see everything they were doing right out there.

All of a sudden, I noticed that one of the army men started pushing down the books which were neatly kept on an over-head shelf. The books were mostly related to Islamic theology. The holy Quran was also kept there.

I just felt enraged. I thought what was the reason for the army men to push down the books from the shelf? Were they just doing it to irritate us? Or were they looking for something serious? Later I would sense that they just wanted  to annoy us.

I shot back at the soldier, “We cannot hide anything in the book. Do you think we can hide ammunition there”.

He would not reply. He would keep on desecrating the religious scriptures.

I could not hold back. I told him angrily, “Stop this nonsense. What will you get from doing this”?

The soldier stopped throwing down books. He stared angrily at me with open wide eyes. I felt sacred. It sent cold shivers down my spine.

Unable to hold back, my mom scolded me for entering into altercation with the soldier. She knew the repercussions would be anything from molestation to the death. After God, the solider laden with gun was the most powerful creature in Kashmir. He still is. My mother had a fair idea of his power and intentions.

Leaving the grandmothers room, they frisked every room one by one. Lastly, they entered into my room, my little universe.

Soon after searching the house, the soldiers left. One of them, whom I had an altercation, constantly stared at me. The revenge was visible in his eyes. I thought he would kill me.

When the soldiers left the house, I entered into my room.

I pushed the door open. I was shocked. My heart started pounding and I was almost fainted.

I found out the soldiers and his accomplices have hung my bras with the wall hooks and the hooks used for hanging clothes. They have taken all my bras out of the wardrobe and some were kept hanging with the ceiling fan, some others with the iron roads used for curtain hangings. They have also hanged my panties all over the room wherever they could find wall hooks.  I found sanitary pads littered over the floor. I could not believe it. I felt so disgraced that for some time I was unable to think.

I discovered soldiers have broken my golden ring gifted to me by my uncle when I passed the matriculation exam. They have deformed it, but had not stolen. Next to it was my broken reading spec. All my exam books were torn apart. Indian soldiers have taken out all the clothes from my wardrobe and trampled them beneath their dusty jack boots. They have smashed the cosmetics on the shelf.

I could sense they have fairly good idea about the women’s world. They would have since they had been given the power by the Indian state to enter every home at will. They have slid open the drawers to take out the secrets of a girl which she hardly reveal even to her closest friends. I felt so disgraced when I saw my bras, panties and sanitary pads hanging and littered in the room. I felt somebody had attempted to rape me. I broke down. I wept and wept. I had never felt so helpless before the state violence. The idea of being enslaved and helpless was as clear to me as the blue sky that day.

The humiliation which I felt that day continues to haunt me. It haunts me now as well. Sometimes, when I suddenly wake up in the middle of night, I start weeping.

This was just a one experience which I narrated here as to what it means to be a women in war ravaged Kashmir. I always felt that the state violence on women has been the least talked about thing in Kashmir. Behind those walls, when the women would be alone to face the soldiers, it would be the females who would suffer. The violence was visible in the gaze of soldier, in his talk, in his conduct, in everything what he did. Being a woman on right side of politics is not an easy thing in occupation.

Despite facing such harrowing experience at the hands of insolent Indian soldiers, the spirit to live has not died.

Whenever this shocking incident strikes my mind, I remember the courage of my grandmother. I remember how she struggled to live and face the adversaries. She taught me courage was the first step towards freedom.

Edited by Wasim Khalid

For feedback you can email at memorykashmir@gmail.com

@copyrights with Kashmir Memory

 

Srinagar – The City of Sadness

Wasim Khalid

Srinagar is mourning. It is not the first time. It won’t be the last. I have grown up seeing its grief. The city always appears sad to me. I have heard it was a magical city which attracted travelers from the East and the West. It was a confluence of cultures. The Jehlum River and the glittering water streams of the city had enthralled emperors. From the skies, clouds hanging over this city look like soft cotton balls; a chain of balls merging and separating as if they were children playing hide-and-seek in the sky; the changing colors of the city, crimson near the greyish-blue mountains fading to show tiny stars in black rekindling hope.

Hope nurtures freedom; the freedom to do things at will. Those impressions of freedoms are embossed in arts, architecture and aesthetics of our shrines, gardens, poets, intellectuals and the fine heritage houses in the city. How can we forget crafts? Shawls and handicrafts which brought Europe to Srinagar.

Srinagar or Shahr-e-Srinagar became synonymous with Kashmir, cashmere, kaschemere ….. Even imagining those times would make me happy.

Srinagar came into existence more than two and half century before Christ was born. America was not born then. Our city’s existence in the subcontinent, far-east and far-west, had a significance of its own on the map. Those were glorious times.

But Srinagar is now a sad city.

I remember in 1992 when I clutched the hand of my father to reach school. People had gathered in small groups, as if worried, on the way looking at those plumes of smoke rising and curling into the sky. It smelled of arsenic and gunpowder. The smoke enveloped the sky – clouds of sadness loomed over Srinagar. Rains of blood would drain its streets. It would turn into a grieving city.

The sadness continued till I grew up. It was the sadness of being fettered. Many a times, like a character in comic books, I would imagine holding a broom stick to brush aside the cloud bearing sadness in the sky. I wanted to see the world beyond them. The sadness persists everywhere. You could find it in the people’s laughing, talking and thinking. I wanted to unshackle this sadness. It was a feeling as if you have been put in a small room filled with smoke. You may have moments of comfortable breathings through small windows, but the smoke would ultimately wage a war on you.

Walking in the city during my college days, I would often look at half burnt buildings in Lal Chowk. They would stand like bombed structures depicting images from a war zone. Srinagar was at war. Sadness ruled its streets, its alleys, its buildings, its gardens, its fauna and its people. Sadness occupied and occupies the very essence of city.

During those days, I was unable to comprehend the reasons behind this sadness. I was more concerned to get out of this claustrophobia which entangled my very existence. This sadness challenged the existence of Srinagar and its inhabitants too.

In pursuit of ‘happiness’, I would prefer to stroll on the walkways, the Bund alongside Jehlum, looking at people. I would try to find happiness on their faces. I would always find them engrossed in their own world, hurried, worried, scared, brooding – sad faces. Not once, I would do it often. I do it now as well.

This sadness of Srinagar resembles the ‘Huzn’ (spiritual loss and grief) of Orhan Pamuk when he writes about his beloved city – Istanbul. Like Kashmiris, he too saw the residents of Istanbul getting reflected in that ‘Huzn’.

“To feel this Huzn is to see the scenes, evoke the memories, in which the city itself becomes the very illustration, the very essence of Huzn,” Pamuk wrote.

Our sadness is not Melancholy. You could be melancholic without being sad. Sadness signifies emotional loss, pain and helplessness. We suffer from all the three.

I wanted to explore this sadness as captured by others. Particularly in the Islamic context which strongly objects to hopelessness and sadness. I have seen Masjids and Shrines acting as counseling centers for sadness. Young and old assembling in those places, secluded, engage in meditation in the spiritual environs, attain salvation and get relieved. I abandoned the idea later only to experience the raw sadness of this city as I feel.

I have seen the sadness of defiance in Srinagar. In 2008, 2009, 2010. Angry people hitting the streets, holding green flags emblazoned with crescent, their chests bulging with vigor, making circles to perform a Ragda dance, shouting “We want Freedom”.

It would often confuse me. How could sad, broken, hopeless people be so defiant? Then I realized the defiance stemmed from the longing for hope, like the sun trying hard to pierce through dark, winter clouds.

I vividly remember in 2010 a police officer telling me that they were ordered to “break the back” of Srinagar – the nerve center of Kashmir which had risen against the sadness. He was instructed to crush the mutual bond where community base support kept the six month political uprising alive. Milkman carrying milk were beaten till their bones crushed, their milk spilled in drains carrying filth, and so the babies and adults cry for the want of milk. Vegetables were confiscated from grocers to crush them under the gigantic tires of military trucks. It was simple. Make living difficult. People would break to enter again in the lap of sadness. The aim was to create hopelessness by suppressing aspirations under olive jackboots.

But we always have been the best in our worst times. I have seen people eagerly working to support each other. Deep in our hearts, we always hated the creator of sadness. We have no faith in him. We have to be self-reliant. We long to be free.

Attempts were made to purge Srinagar of sadness by decimating its symbols. The crumbling walls of half-burnt buildings bordering the roads in the city center were reconstructed. Glossy and some ugly malls sprung up like mushrooms. Not to forget beautification of military bunkers. The clock tower housing a bunker in its basement which since college days remained for us the flag of “hope” was given a make-over. It was built in red bricks and wood. The clock did not turn back. Its needles stuck as they had been. Some structures damaged by gun powder were reconstructed. The rusted sheets covering the brick and mortar buildings were painted. Colors were applied to dangling wooden structures of sadness to look Srinagar “happy”. It was like you put a patient with heart ailment in a big house, give him all the comforts, except medicine. Then repeat to him, “You are happy”.

It would make me flustered. How could sadness be buried? I knew money could buy paints and colors, but not sad eyes and expressions of inhabitants of Srinagar. The shopkeeper, street vendors, money exchangers, shoppers and passer-byes – all are sad. Just look into their faces. Feel the sadness hanging heavy in the air. Even the corruption and creation of new elite, erstwhile benefactors of sadness, even could not wipe out the sadness of the city.

“Yahan tou sab theek hai (Here everything is fine),” I heard tourists and outsiders who would visit Srinagar often retort. “Log tou khush hai (people are happy)”.

Armed with media machines and money, this happiness narrative became stronger. I would often think as to why Srinagar had to always prove it is sad?

I always realized this sadness has clogged the sub-conscious of a Kashmiri. It is a perennial dizziness which hangs in your mind. It was the sadness Amir Bashir attempted to show in his film “Harud”. The sadness of ominous presence of occupation symbolized by concertina wires, bunkers, military man and jackboots continues to play in the mind of protagonists. They want to unshackle their whole being from the prison of psychology which squeezes them.

This sadness coming from such symbols of occupation plays a substantial part in our and our city’s grief. The pain coming out of this sadness is unbearable. If you want to feel the abstract pain of this sadness gripping our minds and bodies, you have to be born in this city; you have to grow and live with this sadness in Srinagar. It is not ‘alienation’. Neither is it ‘grievance’.

The nights in Srinagar have always been more killing and sad. How often during most of the year I have found this city sad. In cold wintry nights, I have seen houses and buildings standing like ghosts; my only companion would be my shadow under the moonlit skies and packs of dogs eating filth near garbage dumps. Those dark summer nights, the silence of houses, as if they had met the messenger of death; the silence of roads and even the silence of gun-toting phantoms of occupation. The only life would be of those occasionally whizzing cars which would beam flashlights on dust laden roads. Srinagar looks condemned and sad to me.

This sadness has not stopped people in Srinagar from living their normal lives. They go to schools, colleges, universities, do their business and work, fell in love, marry, sing lullabies to their babies, feel the pain of loss and happiness, go to picnics, and watch films. But they are unable to unshackle themselves from the world of ineffable sadness which plays in their subconscious mind and is visible on their faces, their eyes and their expressions.

It does not mean that people don’t celebrate sadness. Srinagar proudly celebrates deaths, it celebrates resilience and it celebrates resistance to cosmetic happiness. As Pamuk wrote, “The Huzn the people absorbed with pride and share as community”.

During the recent floods described as ‘extreme of the extreme’, Kashmiris, as a community, celebrated the resilience and resistance against the hopelessness. I knew people who have deep-seated hatred for the structure of occupation – the merchants of hopelessness – would never wait for them to come to their rescue. How can Srinagar accept the murderer of its freedom to rescue her out of the raging waters? For years, the murderers, crushing the sentiments under their jackboots, worked tirelessly to spread hopelessness. How can they become a ray of hope to save lives? Srinagar has already seen death and destruction. It has learned to live with death and hopelessness. The existential threat to their very being has taught them how to survive.

As a community, Kashmiris came together to provide succor to its own people. I have seen people making innovations to float on water to retrieve people trapped in homes. They did it. The Jehlum waters would testify to that. The floods even could not break the resilience. I have never seen such a feeling of belongingness to their land and people among fellow Kashmiris. I have always longed for it. The state structure, watered by money and resources from the occupier, could not withstand the fury. The resilience of sadness did.

I have never experienced Srinagar as sad as I have seen it after floods. First time after years, I got the postcard picture of sadness I possess in my memory since childhood. City has been turned into a big junkyard. Clouds of dust have enveloped the entire city including those painted structures, new buildings and ‘clock tower of happiness’. Mounds of garbage, stench, dead animals, mud cakes and clogged water lie everywhere. Residents and shopkeepers bring out their mud strewn clothes, groceries, books and shoes, and stuffing them on roadsides. Not to speak of collapsed houses and damaged bund as it has been bombed to Stone Age. Everybody looks sad, battered and broken. But nobody seemed to be hopeless.

“This was in our fate,” almost everybody says, “we would come out. We always have.”

I know Srinagar would come out of devastation caused by the Jehlum -the lifeline of the city and the Kashmir Valley. I know they have resisted the sadness. I know they have lived through this sadness when the gods sent blood instead of rains. They had lived. They would live with sheer dint of their resilience.

Like people sometimes, Jehlum too gets enraged over this sadness. In its belly, it has stored the secrets of the sadness. Tortured bodies were dumped into it. Carcasses of young men would be dug out by the sand diggers from its bottoms who would be still alive in the memories of their relatives while crossing the river in boats. People say Jehlum is always calm. I say it is sad.

I have always wanted to get rid of the sadness hanging in my head. I always wanted to unfree myself of this noose. Sometimes I would go outside Kashmir for long vacations to breathe in ‘free air’. Later I managed to get a job in Delhi. I worked for more than a year. But the sadness of Srinagar continued to play in my mind. The longing to live in sadness in Kashmir continued. It happened with all Kashmiris whom I spoke to.

A Kashmiri photographer friend sporting a stub with a bald head and pointed nose would often meet at Connaught Place to discuss the idea of clicking portraits of Kashmiris who want to go back to their native place. He would get surprised to know that the majority of Kashmiris want to go back. An observation he could not relate to the people pouring from Indian states that come to Delhi and settle down there. He wants to capture the sadness and longing on their faces which a Kashmiri only can capture. He knows the internal war of sadness.

I have always felt this sadness has to do lot more with addiction to Srinagar. We can’t run away from it. We have grown up in this sadness. We live this sadness. We love this sadness. We want to unshackle from this sadness. We express it in our dreams, in exile, in our day-to-day talks, in our subconscious and in our homes. Srinagar, with its sad beauty, has always been an unexplained longing for us.

Many poems of famous Kashmiri poet, Agha Shahid Ali, have revolved around Srinagar where he praises it, mourns it, longs for it and remembered its nostalgia. At some places, Srinagar for him too becomes synonymous to Kashmir. At some places, his words grieve for the sad city. But he knows the resilience of this city.

We shall meet again, in Srinagar,

by the gates of the Villa of Peace,

our hands blossoming into fists

till the soldiers return the keys

and disappear. Again we’ll enter

our last world, the first that vanished

in our absence from the broken city.

We’ll tear our shirts for tourniquets

and bind the open thorns, warm the ivy

into roses. Quick, by the pomegranate–

the bird will say–Humankind can bear

everything…..

Srinagar will bear everything what it has lost. This sadness will live with a longing for hope and freedom – the fundamental right of a human being. We will live with this sadness, challenge it, negotiate it and resist it. Our elders did it. We are doing it too, and our future generations will follow us. I know the liveliness of Srinagar lies in its sadness.

Tab-e-mahryen, abandoned wazwan & other tales from flood

Wasim khalid

Calamities bring sadness. But there is humor in tragedy. Disaster is a great leveler. It treats everybody equally, irrespective of their social status, and when it comes to rituals like marriage.

In myriad stories of pain and sufferings, there are moments when you both laugh and empathize with your own self, being the victim and a human being who has to report the stories of human beings affected by a disaster. Wading through flood waters topped with floating trash, I listened to many stories of people from the rich and poor neighborhoods of Srinagar.

Sometimes the people would narrate stories which would simultaneously make me laugh and sad; those awkward moments when flood water entered the rooms as marriages were being solemnized, or of those looking for places to answer the nature’s call when two of their three storied homes were submerged for four days in a row.

All such stories threw open to me the fragility of human race. The evolution of man, the creation of rituals, the setting of moralities, the creation of being mannered and sacredness of a place. Calamities violate these man-made boundaries. They bring us close to the days of Adam and Eve. It reinforces us to recall the distance a man has travelled since then. And what went wrong!

Helplessness, not money, not happiness, brings you close to nature. It explains the meaning of selflessness, selfishness and liberation as well. Here are some stories from the streets of Srinagar where a million people turned to each other for survival, triumphing over one of the worst disasters that have hit the region.

The Missing Bride

In the pre-dawn hours, a groom wearing a long white coat with maroon turban appeared in Shaheed Gunj locality to have a wedding feast and take the bride along with him. The wedding party was leisurely squatting around the Tramis (a large copper plate which allows four persons to have their feast together) and munching the delicacies of Wazwan on the first storey of bride’s home.

As the fourth dish was being served, the water abruptly seeped through door gaps of ground floor. It spread over the floor, creating panic among the hosts and the guests.

The water level rose, rose and rose.

The groom, his brigade of relatives and friends, hurriedly stood up and left the dinner mid-way. They grabbed their shoes and everybody started running to save their lives.

The groom ran in one direction, his father in another, bride somewhere else. Disciplined guests and hosts turned into a mob. Chaos ruled.

After four days, the tired groom, his glossy clothes wet and splashed with mud, managed to reach his house located in an uptown locality of Srinagar. When he saw his father, his face radiated with smile.

“Mahren Kate Baba (Where is the bride),” the groom told his father.

The father paused.

“Hatha Tate Tchel Sarie Zoo Bachavith (Everybody ran for life there),” he replied.

“Totie Wan (please tell me),” the son insisted.

“Hatha Mein Cha Pai. Kouse Balaie Gae Agade (I have no idea where she is),” father shouted, much to the consternation of his deprived son.

Bride in Tub

‘M’ had made lot of preparations for the wedding day. She had always thought to leave her home as a bride wearing colorful dresses in a big luxurious car. She was a simple and innocent girl. Her charismatic smile would make people mad. A curl of hair on her forehead would add grace to her beauty.

All along her years, she had waited for the day of marriage; the day when she would leave her home for grooms house in her costly attire. The day came during one of the recent days of ravaging floods.

Sadly, soon as the groom finished the wedding dinner at ‘M’s house in uptown locality, the streets and alleys were filled with mud water on which a sheet of garbage was floating. M who was wearing the wedding dress, something which she had dreamed of for years, was asked to change her clothes.

As M came out wearing an old pair of kurta and pyajama, there was another surprise for her – a small tin tub was to take her to the groom’s home instead of a big spacious car. M was asked to cram herself inside the tub. Few people lifted the tub while walking through the waist deep water till they reached the dry road. Hurriedly, the groom and bride were pushed inside an unknown car so that they can evade the flood.

After this incident, M is being remembered as Tub Mahryen (Tub Bride) in the locality.

Running Groom

I met him on the sixth day of the flood at uptown locality of Natipora.

Wearing a checkered shirt and neat pants, he seemed to be completely out of sync with the flood-ravaged surroundings. Passing vehicle blew dust storms. Narrow streets stank. Mud cakes and slush were lying all around in the area.

Giving me a wry smile, he raised his eyebrows, “Kia Waney, Mye Kroukh Khander Ze Doh Bronh Yele Sahlaab Aao (I was married two days before the flood struck Srinagar)”.

As the groom brought the bride to his Rambagh residence, the nearby Doodh-Ganga stream breached its embankment, submerging parts of the locality, the lone orthopedic hospital and parts of Barzulla hemming the rivulet.

“I took the bride and some guests to a safer house in Barzulla. By then, the flood has subsided,” he said.

“As the rain kept pounding the roofs, we decided to invite the bride’s relatives for fir saal on Saturday evening.”

The grooms’ side arranged for the wazwan now. The kebabs were ready, so was the tabak maaz and other dishes. Fewer guests had turned up on that rainy evening when the drains began to emit fountains of dirty water.

The guests panicked but wazas (cooks) were the first escapees, leaving behind their kebabs and other dishes.

The groom took 35 children, women and bride to the then perceived safer locale of Hyderpora near Tengpora bridge. Reluctantly, he had embraced the role of a savior.

Sadly, as the dawn approached, the water which had kept the entire Srinagar awake, began to rise there as well, inundating the palatial houses and glossy showrooms.

“I ran towards Hyderpora flyover with the brigade of children, men and women,” the groom said, “we went to a relative’s house. His third floor was over crowded with guests. More began to come later.”

“Sorie Draav Naste Kyen (Everything got ruined).”

Mysterious Plastic Tanks

Near Safakadal bridge, scores of people were trying to catch the flood “booties” flowing along with the gushing waters of Jehlum. The river waters would bring logs, fridges, TVs, wood, poplars, timber and corrugated tin sheets. It was sixth or seventh day since the flood had struck.

Suddenly, three plastic tanks generally used to store water flowing in the river. They became center of attraction as everybody ran to catch hold of the tanks using long wood stick, hooked iron rods or ropes tied to hooks.

Two tanks were floating almost in the middle of river; one was close to the river bank. People tried to catch the two but they failed. One person was able to cling to the third one with the help of his iron rod. The mysterious plastic tank was heavier than usual. More people came for help and somehow managed to get it closer to the banks.

The onlookers and catchers were curious to know the cause of tank’s extra weight. After all, it was a precious catch that had come after toiling hard. As they removed the lid off the tank to unravel the mystery, a stomach churning stench came out which confused the spectators.

“It is filled with faeces,” one person shouted, “throw it back into the river.”

The plastic bags tied at the top came down with water too. Crowd presumed they might be filled with some costly items. One person caught hold of a bag and in a hurry opened it.

“It contains human feces,” he screamed.

“Ye Na Kahn Yem Lefafe Ya Bag Rateuv (No one should catch these bags)”.

A few days later, I talked to a survivor who came out of his inundated home in Karan Nagar.

When the flood submerged his two storied house, he climbed to the third story and was there for a week.

“The bathrooms on ground and first floor were inundated,” he told me, “the only space to pee was either a tank or a plastic bag. People chose one among the two.

Cows on Loudspeakers

In the poor neighborhood of Padshahi Bagh, the night of September 6 presented a typical Hollywood flick based on 2012 – end of the world. The surging waters showed no mercy, smashing houses, cowsheds, garages and vehicles. The violent waters even washed away livestock, humans and dogs.

Few days after the flood, a woman told me her cow and a calf were washed away in floods. She was wailing over the loss. Miraculously, just moments after the loss, two cows arrived in the courtyard of her home from unknown location; their eyes were open and their tongues were dangling out of corners of their mouths.

The woman is now owner of two new cows.

On the same day, as the water kept rising, the first priority of the residents was to save their cows and calves.

The water filled the two storied houses. Residents were finding it difficult to locate a high rising place for themselves and livestock. The high mosque in the locality was the only such structure. It was gloomy all around. Cows and humans were screaming for help as the flood water kept pounding everything. The inhabitants herded the cows to the first floor of the mosque.

The cows did not stop. Suddenly, due to commotion, the loudspeaker of the mosque started functioning. It was too frightening for residents. The loudspeaker multiplied the intensity of cows’ wails. The water kept rising and it flooded the first floor of the mosque. The residents, already scared by flood, wailing and screaming, had no time to decide the escape strategy.

They filled the sandbags and placed them on the staircase of the mosque leading to first floor to give it a shape of walking ramp. One by one, they held the ropes and took cows on the first floor. But the wailing of cows continued even as they were shifted to safer place. The residents took shelter on the second floor. Both humans and cows kept praying for their safety.

Ringing Door Bells

M Ahmad had just offered his morning prayers when the door bell rang on September 7 in the elite Shivpora locality of Srinagar. The ring did not stop.

“Asalamualikum. Barai Mehrabaani Darwaza Kholey (Greetings, please open the door),” the bell shouted.

Ahmad, an aged man wearing a traditional Kurta and Pyjama first thought it was the milkman. Then he thought there was some emergency. The doorbell was continuously pressing to open the message.

“Awus Ha. Ekeis Minutes Kar Qaraar I am coming. Please stop ringing)” Ahmad shouted back.

As he slowly walked towards the door, the bell continued to relay the message.

“Zahrbad Chui. Woutus Ha (Curses. I am coming),” Ahmad said as he reached the door.

The moment he opened the door, the water came gushing in.

The Gold Bag

When the water began flooding the streets in uptown Tulsi Bagh locality on the morning of September 7, the panicked residents began to flee. A woman shrouded in a black cloak from head to feet crossed an inundated street to scale a nearby wall towards Amar Singh College, knowing the water had not just reached there.

The woman, in her mid-forties with a hooked nose, was carrying a big black bag. She had kept it close to her chest like a baby in her mother’s lap. The woman could not scale the wall. A 10-year-old-boy was standing next to her. She asked him to hold the bag and tried again.

As she succeeded, the boy was unable to lift the bag and hand it over to the relieved woman, despite repeated attempts. This made the woman nervous.

“Hata Ath Manz Ha Chui Mye Jaadad, Ye Diu Waapas (It contains my gold jewelery. Return it),” she screamed in a fit of rage.

The boy was confused.

“Hata Ath Manz Ha Chui Mye Jaadad, Ye Diu Waapas,” she shouted again.

Aspiring Groom on a Rescue Mission

My friend, sporting a stub, came from Middle East, 10 days after the deluge turned the Srinagar city into a large lake. He was getting married in October. He had dreamed of becoming a groom since his childhood. Now, he was preparing to get his bride from an uptown elite locality of Srinagar.

However, he had never thought that he would become a savior to salvage her bags and suitcases of her fiancee after water flooded their home. After reaching Srinagar, he took a team of volunteers along with a boat and reached the home of his fiancee, only to find it abandoned and submerged in six feet deep water.

As he waded and entered the iron gates of her fiancee’s home, two woman sitting near the window of the first floor of their house spoke to him.

“Kehen Rooudukh Ne. Yemene Ous Khandaer (They lost everything. Their daughter was getting married).”

“Mein Che Pai (I know),” my friend replied gently.

A friend accompanying the rescue party joined the conversation.

“Yohie Gove Mahraaz (He is the groom),” he said.

The two ladies were dumbstruck.

“Walie Chai Kappa Chauyu (Come, have a cup of tea),” the ladies said.

“Bae Kunisaat (Next time),” the aspiring groom responded.

kanehama-Condemned to fate

This afternoon I along with 21 others reached Kanehama- a village in the outer skirts of Srinagar- as a part of rescue team. The flood water has receded, but it was still up to the waist height.

From there we waded through the muddy waters towards Bongam with our raft boat,.

As we proceeded, the streets were extremely stinking. The unbearable smell was coming from hundreds of dead chicken floating on the flood waters. They have died after flood struck the eleven poultry farms located in the area.

Perhaps, the floods came with such a speed that it might have not given owner enough time to retrieve them to safer place.

We made a way through mushy waters by pushing the dead chickens aside. Pushing the raft further, we saw people hungry. I mean starving.

Nobody had come to their rescue. It has been eight days since floods struck.
The residents have no lightening arrangement, no food, no medicines, leave aside any mention of army and NDRF- who have suddenly become saviours of Kashmir.

We distributed food among the residents. The dogs were not barking but lazily screaming . We threw away crumbs of bread towards them. They jumped in the water, on the small dry pavements, at dry patches, quickly nibbling and becoming silent.

Everybody seemed to have been condemned there.

The stink was making our stay unbearable.

The people were shocked to see us. They said nobody had come in their village with relief or goods. We were in a dire need of it.

“We heard this relief and foods are for rich people in Rajbagh and Jawahir nagar only,” the people shouted.

We rescued 21 families in our raft boat. We handed them over to the relief committee centre run by Masjid intezyamya at Kanipora- a locality hemming the village on western side.

When we were coming back, we saw an aged couple sitting in the second story of their house. They were aged between 60 and 70. They wanted some insulin injection. We did not inquire about the other members of the family.

After we gave them the medicine, they asked us to leave since they feared we would catch diseases which have plagued the water.

People told us we were the first to reach the place. The aged told they were condemned to fate since they were living in a hamlet.

On way, we saw a baby girl whose face has swollen due to allergy. Another was suffering from diarrohea.

On above the sky, I watched eagles waltzing in the air.

This experince was narrated to me on September 12 evening by a rescuer Mudasir Ali

‘Kuka…..Wane cha Zulm’?

(Kuka…Is there oppression in Kashmir now?)

 

 

Wasim Khalid

Recently, I watched a red-color car struggling to get through the snow-ridden road opposite to the gate of our home. The driver, with the bald head and our neighbor, found it extremely difficult to control the steering of the skidding car. He had to park the car inside the garage, few meters away.

He was soon calling the onlookers like me and two other persons for help. Together we pushed the car. The submerged wheels were soon out of the deep watery snow until the driver stopped the car at his garage.

It was after a long time I had seen my neighbor- a bank associate these days. He seemed to be living an extremely busy life. It was not always like that.

The accidental meeting in the snow at once brought back those childhood memories. The winter and lazy days were enough to recapitulate those precious moments.  

It was the time when owner of this car- Kuka- used to be an unemployed man. He was in his mid 20’s.  I guess, I was in the primary school then. It was sometime in the mid 90’s.

Kuka was fast losing his hair. The fear of getting bald always haunted him. He never wanted to be called a bald-headed bachelor.  That’s why he would use variety of oil preparations to salvage whatever grew on his head.

Being the only graduate in our locale, he had once offered free tuition to two students. Both were brothers. The duo did not belong to the poor family. They could have afforded pricey tutor as their father was a rich man. But their parsimonious father would always want them to feed cattle, milk cows and do domestic work. No spending on education.

Since it used to be winters, which means long School vacations, Kuka tempted the father by saying he would give his sons free tution at his home every evening. The scrooge father agreed readily.

Kuka was not a kind of person who would offer charity to people. Behind this generosity, lay an interest: Save his hair fall.

Kuka’s younger brother was my tutor. That’s how I remained a witness to Kuka’s schemes. He would ask the two brothers- younger and elder- to come on alternate evenings for tuitions. After he would finish their classes, he would hand over the bottle filled with some oil to one of the brothers and ask them to rinse on his head. During the process as his face would turn red due to excessive tel maalish (Oil massage), he used to talk at length of those news paper ads, doctors and oil varieties he had tried to save his hair loss. So far nothing had worked in his favor.

Kuka also talked about the conflict. He would say “Kate chu zulm” (Where is the oppression?). “Yem shor karan, temen loukan che yeh dawa” (Those people who make noise for them (killing, detentions and beating by Indian troops) it is a medicine). “Yethapaet cha yem ratan” (Otherwise they wont harm you).

Despite using every medicine, natural and chemical, consulting doctors, he failed to stop his hair fall.

Those days winter months meant plenty of spare time. Hence, days were spent mostly playing cricket at a nearby open field called Taing– a Kashmiri word for a raised mass of land. The snow on Taing was a perfect place to slide. Rikine, we would call it.

I was a kid and like others I along with few other bunch of my friends were too small to bowl or bat. We would be only assigned duties to get the ball when somebody would hit boundaries beyond the tall poplars ringing the field.

As we would run here and there, joyful of playing with elders, we would often listen to the talks of grown ups, not about cricket, mostly about the daily conflict. Firing. Encounter. Killings. Crackdown. Raids. Protests.

Soon, these talks would turn into full fledged verbal brawls when Kuka would enter into a debate. He would never buy the argument that there was repression. That people demanding Azaadi, according to him, were not on the right path.

Kate Chu Zulm,” he would often repeat. “Yeme che yethe louk”.

Nobody could convince Kuka. He was unflinching.

But Kuka was not alone. His cousin Yaseena, who used to be one of the players too would chip in and take his side. He too would blame Kashmiris for all the “mess”.

Both of them, Kuka and Yaseena, have taken oath to go against the public tide. They would often confront the word Zulm (Opression by Indian army and police) spoken by players, elders and people from neighboring areas by saying “Kate Chu Zulm”. Their, third cousin, Fayaz would often confront them. He had always plausible arguments.

“One day you would realize it,” Fayaz would often tell the two. “Azaadi is a popular call. We would get it. Inshallah”.

Our area witnessed numerous raids, crackdowns, firing incidents. The people would be often hauled by Indian troops outside homes during night and days.  Despite suffering so much, nothing would budge them from their stand of point.

During evenings, the elders of the areas would often gather at Taing– which was dotted by plum trees. It was a favorite evening gossip place. The grown up boys would sit with them. We would maintain a distance. We would eavesdrop most of the times. The conflict gossips would overshadow everything. The elders would talk of Indian Zulm, killings, renegades, raids etc.

Kuka would often intervene by saying “kate chu Zulm”. His cousin Yaseena too would follow the same line. It would always annoy the elders who would respond by the silence. It would make them angry, and disappointment them. Their eyes spoke everything.   

Kuka was stubborn on his stand, unlike his weak physique. He had a slender body. A long curved nose and thin hair on his head.

He was known for prolonging debates, talk, or anything. A kind of person who would drag the debate till other people would get silenced. Either by getting fed up with Kuka’s never-to-end arguments, or just to end the debate.

Kuka was wily, having some traits of a politician as well. He would stoke fight between two friends to settle his scores with one among them. He would use deception and flattery to pursue his interests in the locale or elsewhere.

Few years passed, we too started playing cricket. We would bowl and also bat. Not like past where we would play as 12th member of the team. Fayaz, Yaseen and Kuka other elders too would participate.

In the meantime like other elder boys, Kuka vigorously pursued to get his job. He left the idea of higher studies. After twists and turns, he finally was able to get through the banking exam. He became a bank clerk.

A year or two might have passed, Kuka was less seen on Taing. He bought a white Maruti car- those days a luxury- by availing the low interest loan granted by the bank for its employees. As we would play on Taing, we would spot him whizzing on the road across the fields adjacent to our play ground.

Those days Kuka had lost almost all the hair above his temples. But he had grown long hair on both sides of his head, and then would oil comb them to cover the bald patches on his head.  

Owing to his partially bald head, and of his obdurate attitude, he earned a sobriquet-Rexene (Ragzene).

Whenever he would speed past the road, the Mohalla (Locale) children would raise slogans- Rexene..Rexene. 

One day Rexene went on an official work and had asked Fayaz to accompany him to Budgam—a neighboring province.

On return, Fayaz told me and other bunch of children in the playfield that ‘Rexene’ got stuck in the army convoy while driving back home.

In those days, like disciplined school boys, it was mandatory for civilians to stop their vehicles, and allow the army convoy to pass through first. Nobody could dare, even accidently, to venture or bump into the army vehicles. If you did, punishment would range from bamboo beating to detention. Invectives and expletives were part of the package.

“There was no space where he could have parked his car on the road. So he drove in between the army vehicles,” he said, as we listened intently. “After some time, an army man sitting at the rear end of the vehicle asked us to stop. Some troopers disembarked the army vehicle that was behind our car.”

Fayaz said they straightaway grabbed “Rexene” by the collar of his shirt. They slapped him several times while he was still stuck on the driving seat. Then they used gun butts. The duo was released after Rexene apologized.

“I remained silent. It was the need of hour. He was beaten till his face turned bloody. His ears were red and hot,” Fayaz told us. It did not end here. Fayaz, as always, had something funny in store.

“After some time, I mustered courage,” he said. “I asked Kuka, wane cha Zulm (Is there oppression in Kashmir)”. “Kuka’s reply was silence and stony look,” he said.

The moment he narrated this incident, all of us broke into a big laughter. Thereafter all the children and elder players who would come to field would taunt Kuka.

“Kuka wane cha Zulm”.

He would shrug his shoulders as nothing had happened. After sometime  he altogether stopped coming to Taing as he reportedly fell in love. Whenever we would see his white car passing through the distant road adjacent to the field, we would shout in one voice and then break in laughters- amazed and happy.

“Kuka wane cha Zulm”.

Few years after this incident, Kuka’s biggest supporter Yaseena was coming home after finishing his work in the Rawalpora locale. He was caught by the Indian army men who had raided ourlocale, claiming we have given refuge to a freedom fighter they were chasing.

The cordon began. All the male members of our locality were asked to come out of their homes. Yaseena was caught at the outer ring by Indian soldiers who had surrounded our place from all the sides.

That day only two or I guess three men were beaten. But  Yaseena was asked several questions.

“Where is the militant carrying Kalshinkov,” the soldiers had asked him.

“I don’t know. I was out to get fodder for cattle. How come I know,” he had replied.

The soldiers lost temper and ruthlessly beat Yaseena with the sticks and kicks. He too was beaten till his skin was peeled off his back.

Many people of our locality visited him after they came to know he was beaten up mindlessly by the Indian soldiers.

Next day, as I, my friends, and Fayaz went to the playfield. We were strolling and laughing. Without naming anyone we shouted “wane cha Zulm”. And as Yaseena arrived, we appeared to be serious and not actually attempting to taunt him. But looking at his swollen face, one of the friends shouted loudly, “Yete Kouta Zulm (How much oppression is here)”. And we laughed.

Yaseena gave a sad look at us, silent, and broken. We were struggling to stop the burst of laughter. I want to do it now..ha ha haaaaa

Today I realize that I have the same intensity to laugh again. Laugh again at a person who feels there is no Zulm in Kashmir.

 

 

 

  

  

 

Author can be contacted on wazkhalid@gmail.com

Of a Marriage, and Government Job

Wasim Khalid

Recently in Delhi I found my friend, whose name I would qualify with the word- S, worried. Angry. Frustrated.

I don’t want to keep his name a secret. S detailed out some interesting portion of his love story to me. He put a condition though- not to reveal it, his name, or girl’s name, anywhere, in any given circumstance.

The story had all the characters of love, affair and would –be-tragedy. As it ought to be-temptation- sometimes makes you to break the rules and promises.

So did I.

S, who often wears formal trousers, bright colored shirts, looks like a boy in his teens. His physical appearance is deceptive. It’s always.

Few years back, when he was approaching his mid -20’s, S fell in love with a girl. It was not the first time, he fell for somebody. He always did. But she was something special. He told me, she “resonated” in his heart, in beats, in his imagination- in his thinking.

The girl, who was doing M Phil in Kashmir University, too liked him. During summers, both met in university, sipping tea under shades of chinar. During winters they met rarely in partially lit restaurants in the vicinity of Srinagar.

As the years followed, the relationship too strengthened. They used to see each other four days a week. The phone bills too became hefty at the end of month.

The boy worked for two years in Kashmir. Later, in pursuit of a bright career, and good earnings, he moved to Delhi. Both of them remained in touch. S bought a new phone, a laptop and high speed internet connection. The mobile remained their favorite mode of communication.

‘S’, told me he has to pay a large chunk of money to telecom companies and had hearing problems due to over-usage of phone.

During his talked, S never missed to express how he relished those talks, those meetings, twists and turns of relations. The’ sweet nothing’s of love’.

S, told me all this while he had come to meet me at Lajpat Nagar in Delhi on cold November evening.

Later, he sat on the floor cross legged, rested his back and head on the white washed walls, lit a cigarette, and billowed out circles of smoke, with each puff.

“Why are you so sad?” I told him.

“Nothing,” S, murmured.

I insisted him to reveal.

“You know I wanted to marry the girl,” he fumbled.

“No problem you should,” I replied.

However there was a grave, grave, problem.

“The girl’s parents are not ready,” he declared. “They want a government employee as a groom”.

“What? You are drawing such a handsome salary. I guess it’s in 40’ k’s,” I said.

“They just want a sarkari naukriwala (govt employee). Even if its class 4 position,” S told me.

I got puzzled. “S” is in his late 20’s. I know when he will cross 30, his salary would be in 50’ks (thousand) and afterwards, more.

“Why they want government employee as a groom,” I said.

“May be job security. This f***g security has ruined my life since childhood,” he shot back.

“In Kashmir everybody has a besieged mentality. They want freedom, but want to remain slaves of the oppressive system. I can’t understand this unique logic,” S, attempted to explain to me.

After listening to him, I too was baffled. I gave a thought to the “insecurity” word. I thought that is why we store food in huge quantities. That is why on eid days we throng to markets like vultures, fearing the bakery and meat might be finished from the earth. That even we have a big house, accommodating only two people, we think of building another big house, before marriage. And so on. On. And on.

Later, ‘S’ butt the cigarette in the same cup in which I served him tea.

“So you are leaving to office,” I said.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Why don’t you elope with a girl if you love her so much,” I said while teasing him.

“She is ready,” he said as he moved towards the door. “I won’t do it. I have kept it up to my fate. It’s up to his parents. I just pray they change their mind”.

“Don’t dare to speak to anybody about the things which I told you,” he instructed me as he slammed the door and left.

“OK,” I replied.

(The article is part of a series- Delhi Musings. Author can be reached at wazkhalid@gmail.com)