From Zero Bridge
a shadow chased by searchlights is running
away to find its body.On the edge
of the Cantonment,where Gupkar Road ends,
it shrinks almost into nothing,is
nothing by Interrogation gates
so it can slip,unseen,into the cells:
Drippings from a suspended burning tire
Are filling on the back of the prisoner,
the naked boy screaming,”I know nothing.”
~Agha Shahid Ali,I see Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight.
When Abu saw him get a vessel down off the shelf and keep it beneath the spout of the samovar,his eyes opened wide,cheeks raised and he grabbed him by the wrist.
“Look at my son!How intelligent!Ahmed is going to be an engineer,”he turned to his wife,Shehzadi.
Ahmed would wake up early in the morning,go for Namaz and help his mother in chores till the baker was complete with bread.
From milkman to mechanic,he had become everyone’s favourite.Abu had bought him a cycle after he had topped all the schools of his town in the board exams.And the job he loved to do before getting prepared for the school was to wake Saeed,his elder brother up by throwing water on his face.
He was the cutest,finest thing the town had ever seen.
By 1986,the atmosphere of tension had gripped the valley.Maqbool Bhat had already been hanged in 1984.The youth particularly,from every faction were the immediate preys of the violence.
It was the year Ahmed turned nineteen.It was also a violent political period in Kashmir.But the people decided to fight an electoral battle to resolve the Kashmir issue through peaceful means.
Ahmed voted for MUF(Muslim United Front) which was formed to represent the sentiments of the Muslims.MUF was gaining immense support in the valley and the administration at Delhi was alarmed by the kind of support.As a consequence,election rigging was seen.The losing candidates were declared winners and the MUF leaders who won with a huge majority were arrested and put behind bars.Yasin Malik,a young leader from downtown Srinagar had become a rebel hero in the eyes of Ahmed.
The leaders gave a call for armed revolt and violence had to be fought with violence.
4.Winter1989 and After:
The guns ever roared and Srinagar turned into a war zone.Thousands of boys had already crossed the border to undergo arms training.Sometimes,the civilians,including the children were caught in cross-firing and it was not wise to send them to schools and colleges.
Ahmed never left home after he heard about Fayaz,a butcher,who had been hammered on his balls in a torture centre.He would sometimes visit Jehlum in the morning with a newspaper in his hand and read the stories of women who had been desperately waiting for their missing husbands,mothers who died on their way to the borders in search of their sons.He would get angry and pained by the activities the uniformed men had been doing but all he could do was weep and weep.He found solace in weeping.
In the weeks that followed,Ahmed never left home.Most of the time,he shut himself away in the bedroom so that army men cannot spot him.No one was spared.
It was also a usual thing for the army to go for night raids.
One Thursday night,Ahmed’s street was cordoned off.Disturbance was felt alround as newly wed couples,ailing,old men and women were forced to move out of their houses.When the army did not find anything,they decided to take some of the elders of the area with them.Abu was also taken away.Ammi pleaded before the army men not to take him away.
“He is innocent.We do not know anyone;We do not have links,”she cried.
Even Ahmed offered himself to be taken away instead but there was no one who could listen to their cries.
Days passed,weeks passed and months even,Abu never returned.
Ammi was missing him a lot.But waiting was the act she found most torturous and the painful longing which penetrated her heart deeply:It was like a huge blow damaging her into two pieces and at the same time like a needle piercing her chest.
She was yearning for a day to be with her husband.Amid happiness.Amid sorrows.Together.
From peon to Prime Minister,she knocked everyone’s door,but Abu was not coming back.
Ammi would discuss with the kids the tough times she and Abu had gone through in their life:
How they had met on the eve of Eid,the hardships she had faced when Abu had gone to Nagpur to do his M.Sc. in Zoology.He had also worked as a part-timer in a rubber factory in Nagpur.How much willing he was to do his research in Ornithology after getting inspired from the works of Dr.Saalim Ali.She had also written him a lot of letters through Nazir,a cousin,after her in-laws would illtreat her because of the time Abu gave to his passion.
“Your father was least bothered about any job or salary.He was a cool soul,”she told them.
But Ammi was not the part of that cool soul now.She was only a woman whose husband was missing but not known to be dead;she was a half-widow.
Ammi developed an acute disease:she developed severe anxiety;decrease in emotional responsiveness;it was impossible for her to experience pleasure in enjoyable activities and it was hard for her to visit the places or fields she had visited with Abu.Saeed had to take her to a psychiatrist every three days.A psychiatrist would come to the district hospital on Sundays only.So,Saeed had to start working somewhere.
He started working with a mechanic in a workshop where he had to clean huge trucks and buses which degraded his health too.Every penny he earned went into the welfare of the duo.
The doctors admitted that Ammi was not going to sustain anymore.
Kashmir had already received the first snowfall of the season when Ammi fell terribly ill.The intense cold of chillai-kalan had thwarted the motion of her legs and she was turned into a useless,motionless thing.But Saeed was there for her care and Ahmed was busy doing his diploma in a state-funded college.
Saeed was leaning across the white-washed walls of the district hospital,looking through the window.He was gazing at the snowflakes and there was no one visible in the dark except a street-vendor who had lit the kondul of a kangri on his cart.The doctors were taking a lot of time to check Ammi.
Saeed was sailing through the times Ammi had faced when Abu had been in Nagpur,the hard times,the wonderful times,the note of five Rupees which she used to save for his krack-jack biscuit.
Meanwhile,the doctor came to him with his head down and his eyelids half way down,visible through his glasses which reflected something untoward had happened.The doctor kept his head down and raised his right hand up to his lips,made some movements and said,”Sorry Saeed beta,sorry.”
Saeed held his nerve and muttered helpless words,”Khudaya,ye kya koruth!”(Oh God!What have you done!).
6.Four days later:
It was Riyaz’s(Ahmed’s childhood friend) idea to cross the borders.Ahmed was taken into a group where he was nobody,a serial number with an AK-47 rifle with hundreds of others,faceless,nameless,anonymous.He received his basic training in Mirpur,PaK and then crossed out to Kashmir,where his outfit was assigned to camp in Srinagar.On his way,he watched many of his comrades slip on the dangerous mountains and never recover.He saw numerous human body parts and vultures feeding on some.He progressed without looking back to those who were tiring or falling prey to vultures and jackals.
It was the season Saeed chose for his marriage.Ahmed was invited through a letter but he could not join the ceremony.
Saeed was harassed by police and other agencies on a daily basis and had to report before the officials on Mondays and Fridays.
One night Ahmed decided to visit his home and have words with Saeed and bhabhi.When he entered into the house,all he could find was a woman,disappointed and hurt with her head down on a cushion.She was Bhabhi,Saeed’s wife.
“Life has been hard here,brother.Saeed has to report to the police officials sporadically.Sometimes,he is kept there for days.There is no money,no income.Nothing except pain.Yesterday a party had come which gets funds from some agencies.They registered our name too.They told that we will be given some money in the coming days,”she said.
Saeed had been tortured even.His left hand had also been damaged in Papa-2.
“Saeed wears a spectacle now.His eyes have also been damaged,”Bhabhi kept narrating the tales.
Saeed had told her that even the children were not spared in Papa-2.
Bhabhi had sold her jewellery as well and the cycle of Ahmed,Abu’s solely gift had also been sold.
Saeed was still languishing somewhere which forced Ahmed to stay in the house for few more days.
There was no food and the party which had registered their name for funds also did not come.
One night,a car came to their house and threw something huge in the orchard.Ahmed scared at first and opened the bag carefully only to find the dead body of Saeed.He was in a collapsed condition:spectacles split apart,his nose cut apart and the body too,which was cut very deep.He was declared to be killed by unidentified gunmen.
Ahmed forget even his weapon and wanted to bury him in the night only.But,people from neighbouring areas came to offer his Namaz-e-jinaaza which blocked his way.To his ownself,he was a normal person now,digging the grave for his dead brother.
But in no time,the area was cordoned-off and the wistful blue eyes of Ahmed were tied with a black knot only to be opened inPapa-2.