Author: Saadut
•9:27 PM

I joined this school after having come back from my boarding and took to higher classes here. In my new school, ‘D’ and I studied in the same class, even while he was almost one year older than me. I never knew if ‘D’ had ‘studied hard’ for two years in the same class some year, or if I had been admitted to elementary school one year earlier than him. But during my few years in the new school we were more of classmates than any close friends. I often sat in the second row of the right flank; he would sit in the last rows of the left flank of our class that was nicknamed the backend ‘gossip area’.

In those days when cars were not too common a middle class possession, distances often were walk-able, same distances nowadays having strangely become too tedious for human walk. By those standards, he lived not far from my home and back then we would often walk the lanes of his burg. Those days possession of a VCR & a color TV (and a car) were signs of the affluent middle class, it was these movie watching occasions that bought ‘D’ to my home a couple of times. Movie tapes would be fetched on rent from video libraries near M.A Road or Khanyar, 10 Rs for 24 hours (25 Rs for new movies).

His measured smile was peculiar, two dimples on a widened jaw that had a longish chin popping out, as if ready to drop on cue. I never went to his house; he would never invite and I would never dare break his reluctance. But we did walk his courtyard many a times so I knew what his house looked like from outside; an old three story building in tones of fading brick that always smelled of lentils and composed moisture, and probably housed more than two families. The eerie silence here was occasionally broken by a shrill cry, a name call from within the house for someone inside, unseen. Some windows of his house never opened up even on a warm sunny day, as if shut in reluctance. Everything external, even the air and light, seemed unwanted and unwelcome in this structure of almost 8 rooms and an attic (presuming 1st and 2nd floor had four rooms each). The courtyard was unkempt, wild weeds on the edges, drawn and barren centre created by beaten paths and creepers on an old mud boundary wall, which felt like crumbling anytime. A clothesline extended over a side verandah on the second floor, both ends tied on two sides of a rusty old iron grille, where bird droppings had etched patterns so old that they now seemed designs of inception over this grille. The corrugated roof dropped in a square composition, like each drooping edge had lowered its gaze brooding over those never opening windows and flutter’less curtains behind them, those would have ached standing so stiff for so long.  Some sheets of tin roof bared, weathered rust like markers of passing seasons, resembling the unkempt and beaten courtyard that nobody seemed to care about.

The last visit from ‘D’ to my home came in the fall of 1989, school exams were over and results were still awaited. His family I knew, had been migrated to Jammu every winter, but this time he had planned to leave from Bangalore early (the very next day), to plan for professional admissions. I admired his farsightedness, while I was still unclear about my own future plans. Realizing destiny was preparing to split all of our classmates, pushing them on different courses, we chatted for almost two hours. As he was about to leave, a parting gift he pointed to the life-size George Michael poster on my wall, blue sweatshirt with a popping white polo collar, arms crossed and long hair. The same year I had been introduced to ‘Wham’ (formed by George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley) music and these cassettes would always shuffle in my walkman, already added to the favorite list with me. This poster was among my prized possessions, I even had once tried to (sheepishly) replicate his blue sweatshirt and white polo collar combination with almost an identical hairdo, so much for teen crushes! But also realizing this was parting time with ’D’, I extended to carefully peel off my prized possession from the walls, roll it up along with a cassette of ‘Wham Hits’ to give away. I walked him up the gate, pressed my hand warmly against his and bid my farewell on an autumn evening that was retiring on a strangely peaceful yet clueless city.

Almost three months later, long after his family had migrated for winters, Kashmir started to turn very cold. Right after the Rubiya Syed kidnapping and release, military camps started sprouting up across the valley. With the onset of 1990 January, the air got depressingly suffocating, a relentless cycle of curfews and crackdowns in force. The state extended and flexed its armed might, people protested and the state killed.  Popular resistance in Kashmir had already taken roots after the massively rigged elections of 1987 and the torture of political workers that followed, but was still at a nascent scale. Right after Jagmohan took over as Governor of the state, the full force of a military machine was unleashed on commoners, as if per plan. It was during the curfewed night of 19th January that most Pandits in Srinagar had migrated in buses provided by the state government, which was followed by massive searches and harassment of Muslim habitations of central Srinagar on 20th January night. When people protested the harassment and molestation by Indian forces, protestors were fired upon resulting in the Gawkadal massacre of 21st January followed by the Alamgari Bazaar massacre on 22nd January and Handwara massacre on 25th January. What followed in later years was unimaginable mayhem and genocide. 

An overbearing sense of fear and anger hung like a glistening sword across the city; I was not allowed to venture out of home for days together. On one of the last days of January, when the feeble sun was trying to break over winter frost and overnight freeze had made treading on sunless streets very dangerous, I walked with my friends towards the water channels that connected the twin lakes and where vegetable sellers assembled early morning, paths that were to take me right across ‘D’’s home. By the serpentine bend of a downhill road, a left bend started with a green domed mosque and ended down below near an old dilapidated temple with no caretaker. On the right bend few paces ahead, a long queue of military trucks with paramilitaries who had taken over some of the Pandit houses and were erecting fortifications there. I took a detour via narrow lanes on my right, walking down old stone steps that turned into a maze of more lanes in this old habitation and opened up further ahead at ‘D’’s cluster. I stopped for a brief, looking up at his house that had been long empty now, its inhabitants having left in hopes of a return coming spring. Then walked away in these empty streets that only days back were teeming with laughter and life, alongside old windows that had been fastened in a hurry, doors bolted hesitantly on a fearful curfewed night.  Days later ‘D’s house also had been taken over by Indian paramilitaries who now extended their camp to the empty streets that I had walked on days ago, the bolted doors now bastioned and this military camp now ruling over vast areas in its vicinity. In latter days the unkempt, barren and drab courtyard of ‘D’ became an infamous detention centre and his house a torture facility. One of our common acquaintances was a lean meek boy from the interior areas of Dal Lake, who bowled exceptionally well and would send a chill down any local batsman with his spell. ‘D’ had tried to befriend this silent boy many a times, but I knew ‘D’ was more terrified of facing to bat against him than of wanting to be his friend. By the summer of 1990 the tall, frail boy had been picked up by these paramilitaries in a random crackdown, taken to this detention centre, tortured at ‘D’’s home, never to return back. I always shuddered at the thought of those windows at ‘D’’s home, which were shut permanently in denial of light or breath; how would they have contained within these walls the dying cries of these tortured young men! Would the corrugated drooping roof have shed more tears of morning dew over a blood dripping torturous shrieks of the night? 

The decades of conflict in Kashmir were a living hell for its inhabitants, where survival was a matter of luck and fate. The military state was (and is) unrelenting in its oppression, those who fled saved their lives.

A few years ago a familiar face strikes me on Indian media; it was ‘D’ and he had not changed much, all these years. I sat on my knees to trying to comprehend what he was saying, his narration of events that Indians was so raptly paying attention to “we were hounded in the night of January 1990, armed militants attacked our home with help from locals. Our family fled in desperation and behind us our house was burnt.” Shocked and appalled at his lies, I recognize the face but couldn’t recognize the person behind these words. I sat transfixed at the images that were being drawn by him, created and portrayed so confidently.

Weeks later I crawled on to the internet social media and found him reading the same story scripts to a glued audience. There were moments when his young face, that dropped in dimples when it smiled, flashed before me, but those moments paled before the sternly propagating ‘victim image’ he had put on and the evil monsters he had painted us all. Hear that he had been frequently visiting Kashmir for the past many years, always welcomed and hosted by the same locals that he paints evil radicals and terrorists once out of Kashmir.

There is no doubt that people suffered during the past decades in Kashmir, people from all communities and divides, but to build on this suffering and weave stories on to it was ludicrous. Tragedies know no religion, neither do conflicts choose victims by creed, but politics does decide which of and in what form these stories are read, believed and empathized with. 


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On December 26, 2013 at 4:13 PM , Slave Of Almighty Allah said...

That's shocking, puts a big question mark on similar other Pandit exodus stories. What on earth did actually lead to their exodus? The more I try to dig into this, the more I'm left confused.