As I begin to write, I remember Robert Frost’s poem – The Road Not Taken – which mainly represents individualism and nonconformity says in the last stanza:
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
The poem was published in 1916, but much before its publication, Frost sent a copy of the poem to his friend, Philip Edward Thomas, a British poet and novelist. It is believed that Frost wrote this poem, taunting his friend’s deep-rooted indecisiveness. Subsequently, Thomas took the poem personally and it led him to World War-I.
Two years later, he was killed in the second battle of Arras. Was Frost responsible for his death?
The spree of killings is prevalent in Kashmir. Every time a rebel is martyred, these lines flicker through my head. But this time, the death is not of any other young boy from Kashmir, but of Basit Mir – a young boy, whom I have seen growing up next to me in the hinterlands of Khanabal.
The memory goes back to 2011, I was a second-year student in the college and Basit would have been in eighth or ninth standard. A flamboyant boy, full of energy and aspirations, quintessential of every ambitious person of his age. He accompanied me to the gym, and I remember talking to him all the while, “So, Basit, what do you want to be as a grown up?”
“A rapper”, he would say. I was bemused by his reply, but that didn’t stop me from having a typical dismissive Kashmiri laugh. “Don’t you think it is difficult and also wrong. I mean we are Muslims, and we are supposed to aspire for only halal things.”
Those days Yo Yo Honey Singh was in-vogue, but I choose to play Linkin Park on my mobile phone while sermonizing him about making right career choices. On our way back home, we would sit near Pushwara bridge for an hour. He was serious about his aspirations to become a rapper, he told me about the academy he had enrolled in and about the revulsion it invited from his parents and relatives alike. I found myself joining their league and what followed was a blend of realism and idealism in my limited experience as a 20-year-old.
I somehow convinced him to give up the music and to pursue something serious and valuable to society.
Basit lives few furlongs from my home and our ways would intersect more than once in a day, but I never had had any conversation after the one. I graduated from college and came to Srinagar for higher studies. After a gap of four years, I had a conversation him for the second time in 2015, when Basit was appearing in his 12th board exams. He would visit our home for academic guidance by my elder brother in English grammar.
The similar question of future aspirations rose again, a grown-up Basit said, “graduation, I think.”
“That’s cool,” and I gave him a furtive smile, which was, of course, followed by teasing for his younger aspirations to become a musician. He smirked and said, “Umar bai lakcharas che insaan beakal asaan” (you are not serious about the stuff when you are young). That was the last time I had an interaction with Basit. I mostly stayed away in Delhi.
I did see Basit a few times, but he wasn’t the same person. He displayed a burly, formidable exuberance, lending the gravitas to his persona far exceeding his age. I did inquire about him from his friends and came to know that he is pursuing his college with humanities.
On 7 August this year, the pictures of young Basit holding a gun surfaced on Facebook. I was struck. How, when, why?
The questions punched me in my face. “You are a Kashmiri aren’t you and you should always remind yourself that you live in a prison without a trial. The only way out is rebellion.”
Basit had his turn, he broke his prison cell and ran.
The memories took me back to my conversations with him. Did I push him towards it? I thought, recalling the time when I told him to do something valuable for the society.
It is happening all over – our younglings and old together – are being pushed towards it. Occupation is brutal. It suffocates you. I consoled myself with these words.
Then I thought, what if Basit had become a musician? What would have been his story? Or should I think, can we, as Kashmiris, afford this luxury? After all, we live in a cantonment with its gates closed from decades.
Friday morning, 23 November, today, after 3 months and 17 days, my little friend Basit Mir along with his 5 other companions was martyred.
All I can think is – Did I kill him?