Zahoor Lone would talk with the eloquence of a poet and describe the details of love and loss, pain and separation.
“We did not meet in a bazaar,” he said in an audio message as he described his meeting with Rozy, the woman whom he had married when both of them were teenagers.
“We did not meet in a bungalow decorated with velvet and marbles,” he said. “We met at a desolate place.”
Lone was a marked man and his death was a matter of time. Rozy had her own vow; to die before he dies.
Lone and Rozy talked the entire night. He saw her giving up on life; her frail heart burdened. “I knew… she would die. I had seen it coming.” He then walked her back on a cold December night. It was their last meeting and their death wishes were about to be fulfilled.
Two days later, Lone’s premonition turned into an irreversible reality when Rozy collapsed at her home. Since Lone had disappeared into the militant underground – forty days ago – she had been refusing meals and confined herself to the room where she spent nights awake and in agony.
Rozy was dead; her heart had failed her.
There were suggestions for Rozy’s quick funeral but her 13-year-old son Saqib wanted mourners to wait. He was sure his father would make it home for a final goodbye.
To make it home, Lone had to make a tough choice which could have left him dead too. There was a possibility that his home was under watch of the counter-insurgency machinery’s informer network and his presence could have sparked an instant gunfight.
Lone, however, had made his choice as he emerged from the night’s darkness, a rifle in his hand, and walked past the crowd of mourners who had gathered in the compound of his house in Inder village of southern Kashmir’s Pulwama district. He was accompanied by five more militants.
He touched Rozy’s cold face and broke down. He then made a promise too. “Leave under God’s protection, I’m also coming after you,” he said.
Lone then stood at a distance and watched her being buried. He then vanished back into the night from where he had briefly returned.
The audio message released by Lone a few hours after his wife’s death was a eulogy, the only way of narrating what had led to her death and his state of helplessness. “If I was allowed, I would have cried tears of blood,” he said. “Everyone has to drink from the cup of death.”
Lone’s family had seen the two of them together over the years, never staying away from each other. For them, the couple was a real life representation of “Laila Majnu”, two mythical lovers famous in the Muslim world for their tragic love story.
“They loved each other more than Laila and Majnu did,” Kulsuma Akhter, Lone’s 58-year-old mother, said.
Lone and Rozy, their family said, were a perfect couple. Their children had never seen their parents arguing over anything, unlike what they had seen in other families. When one of them cracked a joke, the other one always laughed, said Saqib. “They never complained to each other of anything.”
From choosing clothes for her husband everyday to waiting for his return after work to eat with him at midnight, Rozy did all of it. “She never failed to wait for him,” said Saqib.
A promise fulfilled
In 2004, Lone’s elder brother, Nisar Ahmad, was killed in a gunfight in Bellow village of Pulwama. He was 25 and was killed three months after his release from Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu.
For long after his death, the government forces kept coming back to Akhter’s house and Lone was detained time and again, she said. “Sometimes he would be taken to the police station in Pulwama and sometimes somewhere else. In 2017, he was charged with PSA and was later taken to Kathua jail,” Akhter said
On the night of his arrest in 2017, the government forces had cordoned Inder village and Lone’s house was raided. “Mummy kept looking for him everywhere. Finally, we got to know that he was booked under PSA and was in Kathua jail,” Saqib recalled.
Lone remained under detention without trial for two years and was released in 2019. “When he came back from jail, he kept saying that it was better to die rather than going back to that jail again,” he said. “Papa had been tortured there badly.”
Lone then migrated to Srinagar to escape the repeat of detentions. “We were very happy when we shifted there. He admitted me to a new school and he started working there,” Saqib said.
It was in Srinagar, however, that Lone’s fate would change forever even as it remains unclear whether he became a militant by choice or by accident. The events narrated by his teenage son show signs of both.
A young man knocked on the door of their rented home on 1 November last year and introduced Saifullah Mir. “We would leave immediately,” the man promised to Lone, who was in the middle of shifting his rented accommodation from Mochwa neighbourhood to Rangreth.
Lone left Saqib at home, along with the young man and Mir, and went to complete the shift.
A few minutes later the whole area was cordoned and Mir – who was the field operations’ commander of Hizbul Mujahideen – was killed in a gunfight. Lone, however, never returned.
The family came to know of his whereabouts on 21 November when he released his first audio as a militant. “Papa knew that since Dr. Saifullah had died at his house, he wouldn’t be spared either. He was scared … so he became a militant,” Saqib said
Rozy was dead for six days when Lone was wounded in a brief shootout in southern Anantnag district. He was admitted to a hospital where he died on the next day – seven days after Rozy’s death.
“I kept thinking that maybe now the police would let him go since he was injured and mummy had died. I was waiting for him to return home now,” Saqib said.