Author: Saadut
•7:21 PM

The cold breeze brought with it the savory of spring. The pleasant chill that tingled my body reminded me of our red nosed childhood spring days that started with early tuitions walk. I remembered Mushtaq who was an early riser and took on himself to touch base with me every morning and rally me to our common tuitions. I looked forward to the tuitions for the interesting talk we used to have on the way, the mimic of the teacher while he looked up to these tuitions for their educational value. We went to different schools but then school time was the only time we were not seen together. He came from a humble background and had inherited no negativity of those times. I often wondered how he could manage so much all in a day: studying for himself, teaching at kid’s tuitions for that extra financial stability, managing time for friends and prostrating before God. My efforts and daily achievable were meager before his, I always found wanting more time, more hours in a day. Our fishing expeditions to the Dal lake would get him the best of catch, I was left waiting for the angle and often missing the nudge of the fish. I never heard a political statement from him, often wondering if at all he was acquainted with this word. Everybody has a loud political opinion in Kashmir and even if he had one it was sealed within him. His favorite fragrance was musk and it identified him from quite a distance.
As I walked into this calm and solitude, I could feel the same musk fragrance near to his resting place: these graveyards always look serene and composed the souls having left their pain and affliction behind them. In our worldly races we always fight for mundane glisten often chasing mirages and in reality never ever achieving tranquility. It is only after shedding the body attire that the soul achieves sooth. As I sat there next to his resting place, the sun split into a hundred silhouettes through the covering trees, the leaves stopped their rustling and I lay undisturbed near my friend. I closed my eyes and soon was lost into timelessness, transported into sense of extrasensory perception. Mushtaq had sent me a much awaited letter which I began to read out to myself.

Dear __
I am sorry for having left you unannounced but then it came to me suddenly like that. When they got me down, the books in my hand were scattered all over, I had incomplete notes from the Professor in the bag, wonder what happened to them. Your book by Munro was interesting, pity that I could not finish it. The new bag that Dad had bought for me got holes all over it: you see they shot me from the back as I was coming out of college. If I say I am not missing the days we had together I had been lying. I have to confess that, when ever you cheated in cricket, you thought I did not notice but I pretended that I knew nothing. You may laugh at this but it was me that G… used to pass those smiles at, but I again did not want to annoy you as you were happy thinking that it was you who she smiled at. When I came here, in the initial days I used to sit alone and look out in the infinite spaces around, but then I found company here. Most of the people here from Kashmir are in my or younger age group. Age and time never passed us in heaven by so we never feel wanting of moments. I think the Kashmiri diaspora here is growing rapidly and every year we get new and younger people here.
Of the recent friends who came from Kashmir, I met Samir an 8 year old boy who had a toffee in his mouth when he came here. A cute little boy he is: says he was suffocated and strangulated by spiked boots and demons in fatigues near his home. He misses school and often thinks of his mother. There is no dearth of fruit here and we offered him many but he is looking for a particular pear, which unfortunately he has still not found here. Seems he left that pear behind at his home. At times I see him playing with Millat Ahmed (also 8 year old) who also came from Kashmir around the same time. Millat was critically attacked while playing in a field near his home and later succumbed.
We have a sister from Kashmir here, Rafiqa who often tells us about her cute little three daughters. She was sitting home when her body was pierced by a bullet. She is often worried about her kids, they are too small to take own care. Ishrat the eldest one would worry too much when Rafiqa was home, wonder what they must be going thru now. Her eyes are often lost in thought of her kids. Sister Mubena Akhtar (30 years) who was shot in the abdomen often consoles her and they get along very well here. But often they sit together in silence, in all probability worrying about their families down below : about the tempestuousness that their folks may have been subject to.
10 year old Asif was studying in 5th class when they aimed the bullet at him. He remembers his parents pleading with the faces in fatigues to let him reach hospital, but they did not relent. His body gave away after much blood had been lost, his mothers hope giving way to agonizing despair.  He worries about his mother whose tears would not dry, cannot forget her cries that pierce him even after coming here. He misses her embrace, her hug. He had promised her to work hard in this class, often wonders how much of syllabi his friends have covered now. He is often seen with Irshad Ahmed (11 year old) who came here due to pellet injuries. They tell me these pellets are new guns used by the men in uniform. I earlier knew we could only get shot and killed by bullets, but seem times are changing there. The weapons may have changed but the target has not.
Fida Nabi of 20 years is a handsome young lad, could have been a model down there. He makes us all smile with his anecdotes, but at time he prefers to sit alone often thinking of his Nawabazar friends. In solicitude he talks of his mother and brother whom he loved very much. He was aimed at outside his home and says even his funeral was delayed. When he was there he always used to pray for those rested in EidGah finding solace in walking around the silence of these graves : watching the flowers and blossom of the toil of these sleeping children of my homeland, little did he know he would join them soon. His dreams were woven around his mother and her smiles, around the love bonds of his family. He often misses the lap of his mother where he would rest his head after a tired day. At times he walks alone in the garden here and we prefer not to disturb.
Our friend Fayaz Ahmed Wani 24 years, does not talk much. He is often lost in his thoughts, looks into an oblivion of flash backs. He was shot in a lane near his home. He often recalls of the desecration that his corpse was subject to and the abuse and humiliation his father faced while carrying the corpse. He idolizes his father who did not abandon son’s corpse when the uniformed men came charging at the funeral and committed sacrilege to it. Whenever we go for a stroll, he is sitting in the corner of this garden distinctly silentious. He often worries about the future of his family down below, down there he had been able to get a job after much difficulty and now that earning source for his family had evaporated with his leaving.
My friend Tufail is a wonderful lad. We often discuss a lot of things. He is very intelligent and seems to be interested in science subjects and keeps asking me questions about it. He would have made a wonderful professional out there, had it not been for the aim of that uniformed demon who hit him with his projectile on the head. On some occasions I see him walking silently in the other terraces of this garden: he misses his Dad. He was the only son of his parents and is really concerned about their loneliness. Sometimes I too join him in his walks and feel him conversing silently with his folks down below.  I have forgotten my own sorrow overwhelmed by the colossal pain of these humble souls.

Ahh I could have written more about my friends but seems I need to go back to them. See I have been here for quite long, they came here only recently and are occasionally still held up in the stillness of time, worrying about their folks down below, and their pain weighing on my friends here every time.

P:S Can the triggers controlling my homeland manage not to send any more of these kids here. How many of them can we console here and how many more of their tears will drown this place. Their coming here creates two voids ; one within us where we get drained out of soul energy listening to their heart piercing tales and the second  down there within their families who lose their world and are subject to unimaginable hopelessness and despair. We could all do without these voids.

Your friend

(This blog dedicated to my friend Mushtaq Ahmed Baba who was killed by  ITBP bullets many years back while coming out of his classes)

1st April 2011
Author: Saadut
•11:55 PM

Mahmud was our domestic help and the children would love him for his occasional gaffe. He would rarely smile wide open lest his irregular teeth lay exposed by his expressions. Once in a while his simple utterances would be the reason for the children gang laughs. His routine was comically regimental, a mix of timing adherence with flip-flop confidence. Those days a color TV was a rarity in our area often imported from Arab lands by Kashmiri pilgrims or expats. The imported VCR and  TV had attained a status symbol back then. DD was the evening magnet and full families would stick to around the color box for the evening broadcasts. Mahmud was one big TV enthusiast and would ensure to finish all his domestic jobs well before the evenings. The Sunday movie would especially make him glued to his seat, you could not expect him to connect to the real world then. He came from a village in Bandipora (north Kashmir) and back home he would weave stories out of the movies with a modified script and replay them to his domestic audience. 

 I was in very early school and just remember cricket broadcast from outside India giving DD programs a run for their timings and viewership. My life was still limited to the joys of evolving from the primary school level, unaware of what the sport meant for my elder cousins. I remember my elder cousins used to talk cricket in groups, many of them speaking seemingly alien words for me, they having mesmerized the detailed statistics of cricket stars. I understand then their discussions were country and team & country neutral, team shirt colour fanatism and the 'war cries’' associated now with cricket had not been not invented yet. 

On a sunny April day an eerie silence had taken over the house: in the drawing room Dad, my two cousins and Mahmud were sitting on their edges. All eyes were glued to the screen watching some India Pak sports encounter. My cousin would occasionally come out the figures (that later in life I understood was the jargon of the permutation combination analysis).  All this was Greek to me then, but nevertheless I too joined the cricket watching family. Till the last moments of the match I understand many of nails had been bitten off: and then the final ball turned the match head on. I watched in bewilderment not at the post Miandad six result of the match but the sobs of Mahmud that soon got everybody's attention away from the match. What the heck ! He started crying for the loss of a cricket match by India. I could not believe it. Meanwhile in the other of our room one of my cousins was offering prayers.  I stood astonished as I still had not been indoctrinated in the loyalties of the sport of any side. Mahmud never even understood the basics of cricket: I hardly believe he had ever held a bat in his hand all his life, but his India love was the reason for his heart break caused by Sharjah. Soon after the match Mahmud left for his village and did not return for next three days. Mom had to bear the brunt of the Sharjah sixer by losing the domestic help for good part of the week. In the following days the match became the center of discussion for everybody, Mahmuds heart break fleeing northwards with him.

After Mahmud had rejoined the family, he had gained more respect with me and Mom. He soon overcame Chetan Sharma’s folly and got back into the rhythm. Later on I learnt Mahmud for many years had made it a point to attend the 15th august parade at the Bakhsi Stadium in Srinagar. He would not miss the 26th January parade telecast from New Delhi, and if electricity played spoilsport he would frown for the whole day. His distant allegiance and amorousness for India nourished a desire in him to see the land for himself. Late 80’s one winter Uncle offered to take him along on a trip to Delhi. A casual offer was seized by Mahmud as a God send opportunity. Uncle used to have his business dealings in Delhi so spend some time of the year at his Delhi residence. Nobody wanted to play spoilsport so his travel was arranged for. Since by that time I had already moved to boarding, I could not see him leave on his journey but I hear that his excitement had elevated him to ebullience. Longing to be back home on holidays, the yearning for visiting Mum and Dad was coupled by my wanting to hear & see Mahmud after his short of month sojourn, to hear from him his Delhi tales which I expected him to narrate with a modified screenplay as he used to subject the stories of those Hindi movies watched back home. 

Back home on my holidays I encountered a sobered Mahmud so quite within himself.  Any mention of Delhi would evoke a fake smile, trying to portray more and hide less but succeeding in doing the invert. I gave him time to himself and did not force my questions on him: although I was missing the much anticipated tales of this traveler. It was after slow and subtle persuasion did he narrate the unmodified and factual travelogue. In Delhi uncle afforded him have plenty free time and often Uncles domestic help there would act as Mahmud’s Delhi guide. His Delhi visit had forced an identity dilemma on him, his fluctuating between an existing Kashmiri identity and wanting to identify with his Indian dream. The shopkeeper at Chandni Chowk had squealed “saala Kashmiri yeh Pakistan nahin’ , the policeman at the Fatehpuri gates had quizzed him endlessly and ended with a tenner, his  attire had been subject to stares, his dialect had been tagged as buffoonery there. I listened to these familiar concerns, not unusual encounters for most of the Kashmiri’s then and out there. But for him this was like a jolt: and more was to come. In Delhi he had expressed his longing for the Vale and Uncle was to arrange for his return. Mahmud was arranged for travel with a fellow Kashmir who worked for Uncle. In those days Punjab was still under the influence of insurgency and the blood gore there had not yet ended. During the Delhi Jammu train journey as the train entered Punjab, Mahmud was confronted in the train by the local Punjab Police men, two of whom were on a spirited night high. Mahmud was asked ‘Kashmiri ha kya?’, an affirmative got him quizzed in detailed and some reaction from Mahmud got him stripped of all his pockets. As a follow-up he was left with a swollen face and a bruised body. The gifts that he had bought for his family from Delhi lay scattered and vandalized; his dream of India lay shattered.  Nobody in the train compartment came to his rescue, and he could see the disconnect of being a Kashmiri here. The tag of a Kashmiri now seemed to be a burden for him in India, a burden which he never would want to do away with. I wanted to understand his emotions and his anger but could not do any justice to them. I left him to be with his self. Mahmud had left some of his ardency and sentiment for India beyond the Banihal tunnel, some of it he retained : the idea of India in him was not so easily to let go.

Nineties saw the rise of popular insurgency in Kashmir. The trance of death and agony had started to cast its spell in the valley, flames of pain touching every soul, everybody. And the fuel for this blaze had been steadily built by the political adventurism of New Delhi in Kashmir since long. Mahmud wanted to leave for his village; Dad gave a serious thought and allowed him. We were to drop him there and as soon as Mahmud felt he would come back. His village in Bandipora was postcard picturesque; overlooking lofty mountains covered all green, natures’ bounties all around. The fresh air and calm here incensed of life unlike the dust filled, noise dipped trail of our cities.

The years of turmoil and turbulence witnessed blood reddened waltz of relentless distress in Kashmir. The ‘dervish’s song’ was now full of wails and sob, singing mourn. I left for my travels in farther lands to learn and develop for life ahead. Many years later when I came back, the grief, the heartache and the torment of my motherland had only increased. With every life having become a saga of sufferings in Kashmir, everybody had lost track of everybody else, each trying to shield and save of whatever had remained of their own self and family. Although Dad had been trying to keeping track of Mahmud in the initial years of the turmoil, it had been now quite long time since we heard from Mahmud. During one of my vacation visits to Kashmir I volunteered to find out about his well being and drove up north to Mahmud’s village to look for him: call it inquisition or call it a heartfelt longing. 

His village approach seemed now to be winding through treacherous roads frequently barricaded by soldiers in fatigues, the length of the distances had now increased manifold: the same pathways that used to be once enchanting were now barbed or overlooked by fearful watch towers, death having paraded by these towering guns on these roads repeatedly. I found Mahmud alike person out of his house, sitting on the edge of his land gazing endlessly at the mountains. His appearance had changed to disheveled and deranged. He looked at me, stared for a while then embraced me tightly, and then the moisture crept steadily into his eyes. His emotions stung a needle right through me. My eyes gave away, I could not hold them. His frame had grown frail and skeletal: it is painful to see the person who you grew up watching strong, determined and enduring: weakened beyond thought and cognition. That part of the day with him seemed to last till eternity, his silence speaking louder than any conversation. As the day edged to a close I bid my adieu to him, dragging my feet away, and driving out incurious to the treachery of the barricades that would encounter me again back home on this road. I could again see Mahmud endlessly gazing at the now green less mountains vanadalised by the aliens in uniform with generous help of their few local accomplishes who had reportedly been created as a faceless state army in non fatigues.  Gazing at the empty and numb mountains Mahmud was still searching for his son who had been taken in a nocturnal flight by the same fatigued aliens, perhaps now incognito buried in a nameless obscure grave somewhere in the bosom of Kashmir, he was searching for his wife who died of heart break afflicted by the pain of losing her only. Mahmud always wanted to bring up his son well, taught him and early on dreamt big for him, he wished to one day watch his son walk past the 15th August parade that Mahmud would never miss to watch while at our place. The son would not disappoint his father and never did, would have carried on the faith of Mahmud towards a country so alien and so distant now. A country that had the blood of Mahmud’s certitude and belief on its sleeve, which all these years could not wash off the blood stains of countless innocents from its hands: a country that refused to hear the wails of this nation. 

Mahmud's immense pain had remolded his soul and his answer seeking efforts  for the 'why and where of his son's fate' had debilitated and exhausted his body. He had seen the real face of a country that he had once adored: not in Delhi but in Kashmir. The disguise of his once ardor-ed and adored country had since been unmasked and bared, the harsh light of actuality bringing out their real face here. Mahmud had dropped part of his conviction years ago near Banihal, now the empty mountains and the burden of an obscure, nameless grave somewhere in our trigger decimated & forsaken land had transformed his faith in totality.

He had been converted; by the reality of Kashmir.

27th March 2011