Author: Saadut
•7:00 PM

Even during the peak of turmoil my college summer holidays brought me back to Kashmir, travelling long distances over countries notwithstanding. It was mid 90’s and this September day was one of the last days of my summer holidays in Srinagar : the restraints and restrictions put in place by the state did not leave much time for anybody, squeezing the day into a half day and extending the nights to overlapped mornings and evenings. The September sun still had the intensity of August, the bunkered roads led nowhere, and milestones had been since covered with barbed razor wires as if pointing to the fact that every road in Kashmir led to oblivion. Had it not been for the forces barricades driving could have been an ease those days, the traffic plying on Srinagar roads having been limited by the fright of occurrences. Dalgate turn around could be negotiated in seconds unlike the unending jams you see there nowadays, the few fruit sellers sitting on the cart edges towards the CD hospital ascent lay lazing with a hand fan, the houseboats on the left side had since been empty, devoid of guests. The wide open, uncluttered road gave enough view of the now unoccupied shops that had replaced the earlier Kashmir art galleries, once bustling with business and now lay barren, their mortar painted in dull melancholic gray. The only business here having survived the ravages of our conflict were the pharmacies and one among them was the famous pharmacy by the Dal lake turnaround catering to all yet none of our aliments: this conflict is a strange thing, creates new disorders and out of this misery creates opportunities for some.   The still waters of the Chinar Bagh Dal canal had turned pungent and foul with the uncontrolled weeds, which like the men in Khakis across Kashmir had taken a free run, invaded and permeated, taking over every bit of what they could. The mighty Chinars of the Chinar bagh shaded every part of the isles, camouflaging and cloaking the sunshine out: the Chinars in some ways acting like the state dominion who wanted every voice, every truth, every fact of this land to be hidden under a cloak, the shade of a powerful monstrous canopy concealing everything that was happening in Kashmir.

Just before Kohnakhan, coal blackish wood from a hotel attic hung like bats, the shutters to the first floor shops locked in rust and dust having overtaken its name boards: remnants of a burnt down building left to its own destiny very much like my motherland. The security camp ahead of it stared obnoxiously, the barricades manned by stone faced, emotionless faces in fatigues who would only communicate with that discordant whistle, the inharmonious whistle deciding the pace and halts of travelers on this road.  “Yes Major” “Saala Ahista Chalo” “Yes Major”, Kashmiri’s had mastered the art of pleasing the whistle solider, when you call this solider a Major he sure feels elevated. The tipsy turns and bends these security barricades offered had created master drivers out of Kashmir’s, driving license tests were no match for them.  Having crossed this frontier there was a bigger one waiting near a Nawpora hotel which had become a garrison of kinds, more driving and vocabulary skills were put to test here. 

As I neared Khanyar the road in front of me starting emptying even of the few souls I had seen till now, motionless window stills robbed of lively faces, the barber shop was half shuttered, the provision store unattended, and suddenly I had to screechingly brake hard in the middle of the road. A medium height, dark complexioned, pot bellied and thick eyebrow man in khaki was standing in front of me, his finger pointing at me communicating to come out of the car. The shadows of the buildings had overtaken their bunkers and I stood engulfed in motionless confusion, the other peering eyes from within the bunker were feasting on the despondency of their prey, compounding the fear that the enveloping dark of the setting sun was enforcing on me. “M***C*** neeche utroo”, I fumble and drag myself out “Sahab kya hua?” “M*** C*** yeh grenade kahan se hua” “Nahin pata Sahab”, a voice from within the bunker “Maar Dalo Saale Ko”. The dark complexioned, pot bellied raised his carbine pointing towards me; I forgot my verses, prayers failing my memory, I could only watch his finger reach the trigger, the dark shadows of these alleys creating the figures of death demons in front of me. As he tried to press the trigger, the gun (was it the magazine or the chamber) jammed, I got a few seconds more and as he was quick to start refitting the magazine my legs were already giving away, arms dangling as if already lifeless. ‘Foreign militant killed in crossfire’ would make news in some discreet corner of the newspaper tomorrow, I even don’t know what name they would give to me, or may be they spare me the label and just let me be one of the countless natives having been consumed in this inferno, be relegated to a small obituary in print and a life time agony burden for my family. I got blinded in my own wilt, quavering in parallel thoughts of this split second, and then suddenly I get blinded in light: I for once thought it was the angle of death but they were in reality the headlights of a marriage party Swaraj Mazda vehicle coming from the other side of Khanyar beaming on me head on. Could they be my savior angels? The dark complexioned, pot bellied sensed he got witnesses, he reflexes from among his thick eyebrows as an effect of this intrusion, hit me hard with his gun butt and as I fall vented out his anger on the car windshield: as the marriage party vehicle approaches closer I sense my chance, drag myself inside my car and in my desperation try to start a running car which I had not switched off and force my run. As I drove I don’t know how I managed to see from behind a broken windshield, the accelerator just did not seem to take enough of my push, I saw none of the road leading home, I could see nothing.  The pain in my chest from the gun butt blows seemed alien throughout the run for life drive.

The angles had spared me, the lights of faith and hope had overpowered the shadows of hopelessness and fear. I had been given one more chance that many of my fellow natives never got.

Next day I heard the news “minor blast near Khanyar, source unknown, none injured”.

(True Account)

30th May 2011
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