In Kashmir, every home has a story to tell. The telling is not even needed sometimes. A missing father or son, a raped sister or mother is enough to fill in the blanks. Mostly, they are the same stories. Sometimes you are surprised. I wasn’t here during the peak stages of the struggle, but I have heard a lot of firsthand accounts from many, ranging from my own father to even the grocer around the corner! But the most interesting, harrowing and stunning story till date has been that of my father. I call it so because had this incident taken another direction, this story would have remained untold, amongst the innumerable others.
My father is a doctor and being the only residing doctor of Barzula area, which in those days was crawling with militants, he was often taken by the CRPF and militants both to check their sick comrades. He tells me of incidents when the CRPF would blindfold him, take him to a no-man’s land and order him to check the wounded and the next day militants would show up and take him to another unknown place (of course blind-folded) to check one of them up. “It was exactly the same routine”, he tells me in a reminiscing trance, “except of course for the vehicles used”. He wasn’t happy with him “being manipulated and bullied into doing these things”, but one swoosh of the Kalashnikov (which he calls the ‘magic wand’) and the job would be done! My mother sometimes voices out her emotions too. She talks about the dreadful periods when my father was away with either of the two. “I used to mumble with the beads all the time, when he was taken”, she says in a broken voice. “One day these CRPF would drop him back off and I would say Shukur Khodaysund (Thank God), and the other day these Mujahedeen would come and take him and all my worries would return”, she remembers with a furrow on her forehead.
Those days, in the early 90s my father was supervising the construction of our house in Barzula, while living on rent (kiraay) somewhere nearby. I can imagine a younger him, giving orders to the masons in the days of hyped-militancy, a stern man that he was. His relatives looked up to him; ‘“wwwoooofshhh He is standing up on his own legs, and that too in these days”, the neighbors used to say. “None of these chickens tried to help me that day”, he strikes his hand on the carpet of our drawing room, taking me and my brother by surprise. Then he narrates the story again for the umpteenth time, with the incongruous calmness of a dervish on his slightly wrinkled face.
On one cloudy afternoon, when there was a gun-battle in old Barzula, one of the militants, wearing a cream colored khan-dress, being chased by the Indian forces came running towards our house (my almost –never-to-be-home!) and disappeared in some lanes. On the same day, at the very same moment, a man supervising the construction of his house too was wearing a cream colored khan –dress. “Mix the cement correctly” or “why is this piece broken,” I imagine my father would have been saying when an angry looking Indian forces came towards him, caught him by his collar, and called “mill gaya saala” (I found the bastard). Within moments half a dozen Indian forces’ jawaans assembled around him, as if answering to a muezzins call, and started to beat him. “Where did you hide your gun”, one of them shouted at him, pulling at my father’s hair. The officer slapped him twice. “I am just a doctor,” my father quickly said, trying to fight an urge to slap back. “All you bastards are the same,” shouted the army personnel back at him. He was taken, being beaten by the butts of the ‘magic wands’, blood scattered all over his kameez. He says that while passing the house he and my mother were staying on rent in, he shouted “hooow, be haa nyoohoes”, (… they took me) obviously meaning it to be heard by my mother. She says she heard nothing of the sort, and taunts that he has a ‘habit of shouting unnecessarily and when required, doesn’t’! Hilarious as it may sound, my fathers ‘habit’ (if it exists), saved my mother some useless effort that day. “I even saw these people on my way”, he says, pointing towards our neighbors. “I gave them a begging look, but they didn’t even look at me”, he adds angrily. He was taken to a nearby bunker, where he was beaten for half an hour, as the BSF (probably), completely believed that he was the militant. One of his teeth broke during the process. My father doesn’t remember when he said his presumable final silent prayer; was it when he was being taken, or when one of the jawaans shouted “maar do saaley ko”, and three Kalashnikovs were raised at him. But he still remembers those prayers. “God, if you are there, save me”.
You have a tough time, thinking about anything, at the exact moments when you know that you might be dead the next. They say, the body loses some grams at the exact moment of one’s death. Some people call it the ‘weight of the soul’. Whatever it is, is it enough to compensate all the moments of joy and love spent by someone; the sparkles of happiness and togetherness; the bliss of life, and all the lives connected to one? Some grams. Some grams. I have had dreams and have imagined what thoughts might have crossed my father’s mind in those exact moments. Sometimes it is him thinking about what his wife would do without him?, or what his newborn son would tell his classmates about his father in the future?. But that is thinking too romantically about it all.
God proved His existence to him that day. Some BSF personnel brought a mukhbir. “It’s amazing how ones life could completely be saved just by someone moving his head in negation”, my father tells me. My mother wipes a tear.
Everything turned out fine eventually, except for some more beatings by the Indian forces for ‘him not being the militant they had thought he was’! My father was lucky, not to be harassed by them in the future. But fortunately, the story always remained, narrated again and again by him whenever someone died from a bullet wound in the valley. And now, every time I return back home, an image forms in my mind. I have tried to sketch it many times, but I’m not a very good artist, unfortunately. Slight drizzling, a person knelt down, clothes painted in blood, face swollen up, and some BSF folks pointing guns at him. That’s the image of Baba my mind conjures, whenever I look at the bunkers around my home. That’s the image of any Kashmiri in my mind. Because everyone has a similar story. Known, unknown. Some are told, but most, unfortunately, remain untold.
Photograph from firstname.lastname@example.org, published under a creative commons license