The Ghost

​An eerie silence had dulled the spirit of the evening. Noor was engaged in his efforts trying to figure out the possibilities of the case he had been fighting for almost three years. He was a lawyer and was valued in his society for the dedication he had put towards his profession. Elderly people looked upon him as a polite and virtuous personality for his conduct and work, and young boys in the society took him as their inspiration for the justice he had been doing towards his line of work. After tiring out, he lit a cigarette and made up his mind to leave for home. He packed his black leather bag with all the important papers and went to switch off the record player but hesitated for the want of listening to the unfinished couplet that was still playing out:

“Kaa’ve val gach shaam tschayan naeri maa

Braand-e-kaeni aush waan lekhi afsaan myoun.”

(O crow! Come and dwell into the evening shadow, she might show herself

My beloved will write my story with the blood of her eyes.)

The record player was the gift of his life. He recalled how he had met his lover for the first time after passing his matriculation exams. She had been very shy and had hesitated in presenting the lovely gift. It had been newly wrapped and she had forgotten to remove the label of the famous gift seller of Srinagar ‘Nishat Gifts’ she had bought it from. They had embraced each other for the first time and had also grasped each other’s hands till evening. It was raining and they had been lucky to catch sight of the unique rainbow overlooking the mountains surrounding Dal Lake.

Noor did not remember much of the life that had passed in all its usual deed. He failed to recall something that had been haunting him for several years now.

Hard work and humility- together had made him look much older than he was. He did not get time to trim his beard and mostly forgot to maintain himself. He took less care of the person that had grown in him.

Kashmir had already received the first snowfall of the season and market was already shut. A strange silence had masked the roads and there was no one visible in the dark. As he stepped his right foot outside the gate, his sight straightaway fell on the second storey of the district hospital and by his right side an abandoned cart laid. The vendor had a connection with his memory. He raked his brain to recollect that part of his memory that had made him what he was.                                                      Confusion and fantasy always run together. They are like pain and fear. They never let us rest. They make us imagine and travel across worlds we have never seen. They frustrate us at the same time. The street wore a deserted look. Everything around was white. When a car would pass by the road, the snowflakes looked dazzling in their vivacity.

 He sat down and lit another cigarette. He spread his index finger and thumb over his mouth and began to think of the night that had taken away his mother from him. He had spent that night leaning against the whitewashed window of the hospital. He had waited the whole night, praying for the recovery of his mother. She had lost her emotional responsiveness after the sudden disappearance of her husband. And at the arrival of winter that year, she had developed arthritis. When in a state of waiting, Noor had witnessed so many happenings around the street. He had seen a queue of boys, waiting for their turn to come and grab their share of the French fries the street vendor was famous for. He had also relived the time he used to sit in the queue. Such was the demand for his delicious French fries that one had to wait for fifteen minutes to get his turn.The boys of Srinagar called him ‘Lala’ with love. Not many knew the whereabouts of Lala. Some believed that he was a Nepali. The art in his hands had bowled over the Srinagar boys. When the crowd had diminished, he had seen Lala, sitting alone, across the cart. Then all of a sudden, a group of people had come to him and one of them banged him on his head. Noor had not seen anyone except a notorious man working as a major in the Indian military. 

The major was a familiar face who had been active around the streets of Srinagar for many years. People looked upon him scornfully for his bad conduct with the citizens. After watching the humiliation of Lala at the hands of military, he had tried to go down and rescue him but Dr Jan, his mother’s consultant, had grabbed him from behind, giving a miserable look. Dr Jan had not said anything to him. He had put his index finger between his teeth, chewing it intermittently for a minute or two and muttered helplessly, “Sorry Noor beta, sorry my son.”

A doomsday had befallen Noor and he had rushed in the night only to his brother’s college where he was pursuing engineering.

As he stood up after recollecting whole of his memories, he lit another cigarette. His face wore a tired smile and he began heading towards his home. The solution was at hand now. Lala, a Nepali to some, a French fries maker to some, a Bihari to some and simply Lala to some had not gone astray. He had been killed by Avtar Singh, the notorious major of the Indian military.

The following morning, before leaving for court, Noor began to look for papers and extracted the demise date from his mother’s death certificate. It added to the substance of his proof. The complexity was over. The case Noor had been fighting in the court of law for years now had already gotten an implied decision. People had come from far off places to watch the proceedings.

Each one had listened intently to the words of the judge:                                    “The nightmare for all of us is over today. Lala, the cart vendor did not disappear. He was killed by Major Avtar for gaining cash rewards and promotions. Killing of Lala has opened chapter today to the numerous disappearances that have taken place during the conflict in here. The killings of foreigners and locals and later their dubbing as militants is a slow genocide happening in Kashmir. Human Rights Watch should take a keen interest in this grave concern for humanity. I hereby give the Indian military a time of one week which is a privilege provided to the soldiers working in conflicted areas. I also congratulate Mr Noor Baba for his dedication and hardwork over the years. He’s set an example for all of us today. Wemust draw inspiration from such brave people.”

And the court room reverberated with chants, “Noor Sahab- Zindabad, Long live- Noor Saheb.” Noor returned home early that day. 

The evening back home was lively. A fresh breeze hit the windows occasionally and they were all busy in preparations for the supper.

When everyone finished their meals and went to their beds, a knock on the front door awakened his daughter from sleep. She rushed to her father’s room and informed him. He took her in his arms, patted her on the back and placed her into the bed again. When he opened the main door of his house, his eyes straightaway fell on a brownish yellow vehicle, implying that it was a military jeep. He took his right foot out and two men seemed to be guarding him from the borderings.

Noor’s doubts were cleared just as they were about to reach the army station. The armored car was damaged on the sides after facing several public attacks in the past. It was not fair to travel in a broken vehicle for carrying out an encounter. Major Avtar had pointed out to his driver before they set out this evening. The driver had paid no attention after knocking back few pegs of rum. Major Avtar did not know of anything called patience. He asked his driver to stop on the bridge that connected Raj Bagh with the city centre. The driver had heated argument with the major after he had reminded him of the plan they had made in the camp. “Stick to the plans, sir,” he murmured.

Major did not want to waste any time. He dragged Noor out of the car and started to thrash him with the butt of his rifle. He wanted to kill him. As dawn drew close, Major wanted to finish the job as early as he could. He asked Noor of anything he could do for him. What a pitiless pity!

Noor’s struggle throughout his life had made him a complete man. He stood firm and did not falter.He grumbled in a broken, tired and yet energetic voice, “I do not need your mercy. God gives and takes away life.”

He took a pen and his small diary from the right sided pocket of his kameez and wrote his final words to his wife. He handed it over to Major and requested him to deliver it to his wife. The following morning, Noor’s wife rushed to her brother’s house and informed them about Noor’s abduction. They went to the police station, registered a missing report and went here and there, wandering and wondering.                               The sky looked deep red in the evening when she returned home. When she stepped inside the yard, she saw a number of people gathered there amid shouts and wails. She was unable to understand this rapid change of milieu and nobody could gather courage to disclose the calamity that had swept over her. She opened the entrance to the backyard only to find Noor lying dead in a pool of blood. She collapsed and fell on the floor.

Major was reminded of Noor’s request in the afternoon. When he opened the letter, he could read:.                            “Jaana, Beloved, you should not stoop low in life after my departure. Remember always that hope sustains people. When I was a young boy, my father disappeared in the raids, my mother fell to arthritis. I had to work in a rubber factory in India for several years. I worked so that my brother could study. Hard work gave me a chance in life and I started to study again. With endurance and hope, God endowed me with so many good things. Life is a struggle, remember. To succeed in a process of revolution, we have to give every kind of sacrifice. I am not the only one. Do good things to people. Yours and yours, Noor.”

When Major turned over the page, he found that Noor had also quoted Rumi, “Away…beyond all concepts of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”.                             After reading the letter, Major grew restless and began to reason. He thought of Noor, his wife and daughter. He began to think of his own wife, his own daughter. He suddenly found wisdom in the words of his enemy. The restlessness grew more after he thought of delivering the letter to Noor’s wife. He had an inkling that something dangerous would happen and he began to think of the consequences.Whenever he wanted to dump the diary, his body gave strange appearances. He began to realize the fear that had already stormed inside his body. It all started getting terrible and a jinn(ghost) took possession of him.This demanded no delineation to the other members of the camp. They all witnessed it daily with their own eyes: Major crumpling abruptly, his eyes rising and falling, his head moving back and forth in a continuous manner, his body attaining the shape of a snake, his nails stretching, his teeth getting golden, his arms elongating, the blood coming out of his eyes before falling off hisbody on ground. Major badly wanted to leave. He did not want to do this job anymore. He wanted to get away with the ghost and meet his family. He booked tickets for a direct flight to California and started to live away from people.                                          The California house had a nice, large yard, and an established garden with a swimming pool. But that all looked empty. Sometimes, a giant lady would appear before him and slap him for hours on both sides of the face. At times, he would sleep on his bed in the night and find himself lying in the bathroom next morning. Sometimes, a brunette with large nails would throw him down from the flat. His children would swell and attain the shape of Noor’s daughter before him. He could not survive it and killed all of them- one after the other. One night, his wife came to him in the shape of Noor, screaming aloud, humming the quote of Rumi, scribbled on the back page of the Noor’s diary.      He wailed and wailed and was regretful of what he had done in his life. He was left with two bullets in the end and shot one at his wife and the other at his own head.                                         

 Divine justice!

“…take no life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.”~Al-Quran(6:151)>”

Note:The story is dedicated to Advocate Jalil Andrabi, who was murdered by Major Avtar Singh,a major working in the Indian military.

Published here : |Kashmir Life
(Aarif Muzafar Rather is a non-conformist, man of letters, pursuing bachelors in law from Central University of Kashmir.)


The Pursuit

The sound of the train was driving me forward. I moved aimlessly, leaving behind a past which was eloquent in its own way. The signs of my early arrival were well before me as the sun stood midway in the sky, hiding behind the clouds from time to time, while moving on in its natural motion. I knew at that point how long I had to wait till the departure of the evening train to North of Kashmir. She would travel in that evening train back home after she was finished with her college. 6 p.m. in the evening.
The thought came to me when I decided to take nap in an open field near the railway track. The idea seduced me. I wanted to comprehend, understand the very meaning it could possibly have for me. God bless people who are in their early-twenties! It is an age of madness and no one can perhaps cure madness except the powerful emotion called love. The entire universe should conspire against the madness it pours into the souls of the troubled. But then, I thought,” It happens, every once in a while.”

The thought hit me again, and this time, it hit me with detachment. I felt terrified at the subtleties of the weather. It was always a reminder of feelings of cheerfulness and if one allowed, it would grow as a symbol of anything that was cheerful. Happiness could be seen on the faces of people who were not truly happy.

I lit a cigarette, adorning the colors of nature in all their intensity. The clouds in the sky, hanging in different shapes, looked like a bulk of human emotions, desperate to make downpour like the eyes of a human being, always desperate to shed tears. How did the downpour of sky take place? Was it really like the heaviness carried by a human heart? Did sky really take such a burden? Did sky really weep? The place looked like an abandoned valley where a human eye met the end point of joy and beauty. With the panorama of the lens of my eyes, a cover of willows could be seen with no end. All green. It tempted. It was a poet’s treasure. But alas, I could never find that poet in me.

With the exhaustion in my eyes carried by the strokes of nicotine, I tried to draw the face of my woman. I took my index finger into the air, trying to draw her face, her smile, her eyes, the way she walked, the way her hair danced and reflected the sunshine to light my world. I tried to draw this all with the blood of my eyes. But then,” Funny how even the dearest face will fade away in time.”

The hour hand of the watch was close to 6 when the thought of heading towards the railway station came to me. I took my backpack on my shoulders like an old man carrying the load of his day’s hard work. I drew my feet forward, making lazy movements, like a lost traveler. From a distance I could see the woman of my dreams. Through the clouded labyrinth of people, she looked isolated. The scene before my eyes was nothing compared to the confident man I had wished to be. I walked in the motion of an old man, trying to defeat every trace of the density that the air offered. She walked in a miles speed, never to look behind. I walked. She raced.

The train pulled to move forward, giving a last chance to the commuters to take their places inside. I looked upon a window where she had taken her place. She had cupped her face into her hands. A tired day, perhaps, I thought. I kept looking upon the window. “That’s all I could do.”


© Aarif Muzafar Rather

Glorifying the Adverse

Simplifying the ‘Collaborators’ debate.
When I was a kid, a group of boys amongst a great lot was selected to present morning prayer in our school. The boys were always reluctant to stand up and recite the prayers but with the eyes of teachers focused on them, they would do it. They would pretend to be cool and energetic, overcome every hint of laziness they carried. Their faces showed it all. To save everyone from the wrath of teachers, they sacrificed their shy and lazy nature. 

“Writing is prayer,” wrote Franz Kafka. The most pejorative element of writing is the haste any thinker puts into operation. Emotions, thoughts, conceit, anger, prejudice- put together may advance the nastiest blow to the field of literature. In literature, we humanize things. We do not judge, we put forward perspectives. A real writer while drawing ink on paper forgets his religion, ego, and even gender. The quest is not for the enforcement and glorification of the writer’s own beliefs but for the resolve of the greater cause of humanity.

After the selection of Kashmiris in the Indian Administrative Service, a hot debate is on table in Kashmir. It is easy to tag anyone a collaborator and unemployed youth in the valley can be seen defining ways for new boys to follow in order to pursue their careers. In the discussions around social media and newspapers in Kashmir, most people are belligerent. The saner voices lose their sanity in the hullabaloo of distracted narcissism.

Personal choice is an utmost fraction of the concept of freedom. We choose our food, we choose our rulers, we choose our dress, and we choose our most cherished goals. But how to choose our profession and what to choose as our profession: Should that be a matter of question? Kashmir is the unkind place on earth. Through the chaos of occupation, state structure, societal structure, a loosely defined morality, there is not as much of opportunity for the youth. The debate, however, is whether choosing administration as profession in Kashmir is an act of collaboration. The ordinary argument is that the IAS/KAS officers are the builders of occupational structures of India in Kashmir. By that count, almost all the population in Kashmir is ‘collaborator’. A teacher working in a government school, a professor working in a university (state or central), an ordinary government officer, and a person working in media, etc; how do we define their status? Do they also qualify to be traitors? Plus, the MLA working in the assembly whom we choose as our ruler, how do we rate him in the scale of traitors? Have we ever bothered to question the integrity of ‘our leaders’ who sell us fake promises while in power and keep us in the paranoia of Kashmiri Nationalism while in opposition. We never question the ‘embodiment of lies’ they have made out of the power structure in Kashmir. Introspect you must. The boys qualifying for different opportunities are not traitors. Traitors are those who sell us fake promises and yet we vote them to power. Therefore, this is to the saner minds: Cracking IAS/KAS is not an act of collaboration. It is simply about choosing a profession.

While the debate was on, Shah Faesal, a Kashmiri medico turned administrator wrote an article ‘Till Azadi Comes’ carried by The Indian Express some days ago. Seemingly, the article was a result of the ‘pejorative element of writing’ I have discussed above in this piece. He writes, “Resistance is not politics. It is not war. It is not about writing poetry…It is about living with grace and dignity, preserving heritage, eliminating corruption, about reporting truth…” But I tell him: Resistance is politics. It is war. It is about writing poetry. It is that chant, the memory that will never fade away- Asi yaar deti na, lakchaar deti na, dildaar deti na, teli kyazi yeni-Azadi. Yes, resistance is about writing poetry. If resistance is about living with grace and dignity, have not we lost that dignity a long ago? Has not our dignity been put to challenge time and again? If resistance is about preserving culture, are not we the worst victims of cultural aggression caught between the ghosts of ‘Indianisation’ and ‘Pakistanisation’? Remind you, corruption has been put into our blood and it may take decades to recover and the organization will never work in Kashmir. They are occupied minds all set to take chances, “caught between the horrors of armed conflict and the unpleasantness of elitism”. The truth has been distorted by the same state structure, time and again; the recent case being that of the Handwara girl. Lastly, it is a matter of great curiosity how the author defends his statement, “Qualifying for the civil services is also an act of resistance.” It will be immature to interpret this statement, but as a matter of sense, he may be talking of the resistance an officer may take on while fighting corruption and nepotism. But is not honesty a basic principle of life, which every person, employed or not, should follow. Why do we need to glorify civil services this way?

P.S: Narratives may differ but reality can never be suppressed. We do not need to alter the Kashmir narrative while defending our position. A person chooses his profession simply as an act of choice.


Kashmir – My Symphony 

Aarif Muzafar Rather

She ached over the summer, her voice lingering with desperation, asking me in a languid note,” When are we going to defeat ‘The Stone Age’?”

I became her militant poet, alchemizing my words into verses, imitating my favourite poets. My voice sprung with hope, retorting back in a militant voice:
When the times are black and the people tire

When the days are morbid and the people tire

When the chains get heavy and the people tire

When the power structure gets over one’s head and the people tire

When the storm is over the head and the people tire

When the people are tired, they rise

When they rise, they croon the songs of freedom

When they rise, the celebration of freedom is nigh

Just another summer, in this inhuman world- as we made our way to the busy autumn- we drew the certain:

The graveyards filled with the nameless, young men and children, those eyes of stones blinding the young men of their vision, the passion of our mothers reverberating the streets with the calls for freedom and what not.
“What else did it take people to bring about revolution?” she asked in a tone of overwhelming contradictions.

It felt to me like I was short of words, having no real face to face the reality before me. I wanted to gather my response, put into words my real state of facts and let her know that I had no hope of making her understand. I responded tenderly, “It takes character to bring about revolution.”

“What if they break our character too, like they broke our will?”

“Beloved Kashmir, character is not broken. It’s not to be crucified. The character is our identity. No matter what they do, they can’t break our identity. It will not be broken by blinding our youth. No matter how heavy the chains are and how long the walls of prisons are, we will write our identity with the blood of our hearts. In the prevalence of enormity, your character radiates. It burns with an undying passion.”

“But why did Shabir, the lecturer, have to die?”

“They were dearest to God and died defenceless. When desperation burns, look up into the sky, the stars there are our defenceless youth. They shine there with the brightest of hopes for us.”

“Was Yasmeen, the young girl, dearest to God too?”

“Indeed, our young women will show us light to the truth. They are the dearest children of God and are conspiring to find a better future for our homeland. They are the pictures of our resilience and epitomes of a truth that the world is blind to see.”

“But I keep thinking of a little boy with blinded eyes who has so much potential to be an Olympic shooter. Tell me, for God’s sake, is he the child of a different god. So many like him, I see every day, dying thousand times a day, were they children of a different god? Why did not God love them and take them to his own kingdom?”

I stayed silent, gentle at my own place, searching for words in the sky. The sky deepened leaving me sighing with a lonely sort of feeling. Again and again I begged for answers but there was none.

Link :

Sombre Memories, Melancholic Thoughts

Aarif Muzafar Rather
The idea hit the absent tracts of my mind while I walked along the riverside: 
Public parks are like chronicles of things from which people derive their ancestry. They are a cradle to our melancholic existence.
The more I walked along the Jhelum bund, the more absorbed I felt in the times past. We were alone then. Two young people in love.

I imagined myself as a kindergarten child counting seconds of her recovery over her agony from reading a passage from The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk. We followed the articulation of the passages like two young travellers following a boulevard in the night that leads them nowhere. Kemal, the narrator, who is in love with Fusun, a beautiful shop girl, and is going to be married to the aristocratic Sibel, is in conversation with his father when his father narrates to him the story of his unrequited love. Just when we were about to reach the end of the passage, we both sighed, muttering on a hurtful note,“How terrifying life can be, how empty it all is!” until we found the same expression written at the end of the passage. We felt both surprised and hurtful until she muttered in a beautifully low voice that touched the corridors of my heart, “The language of love and sorrow, my dear, is the same to all the humankind.”

On our days in general, we would cross the footbridge near the historic SP Museum, enter our world of melancholy and feel overjoyed while walking under the shades of beautiful Chinars. It’s peculiarly beautiful how the two places look entirely different, separated only by a bridge. If one looks at the two places keenly, the one on the side of the museum is open or common, unbearable in summers and winters both, busied by a nonstop traffic and sorrowfully made ugly by the perils of unpleasant occupation.

The other side of the world is indescribable in the language of a poet. There is peace, wonder, love, enthusiasm, and above all melancholy. The shades of the Chinars make way to Peerzoo, the place Agha Shahid Ali had walked in his youth. I thought at times how he would have walked the road, lost in his own aura, smoking some different kind of a cigarette brand while sitting on a secret bund. Perhaps he had written his lament on Rizwan on the same bund; who knows! But it is certain that his fragrance still holds the place in a promise of hope.

On any dull day in my life, I would lay my hand on Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. While living in my dormitory I would enquire from literary zealots if they had read the book but every time I did the same it turned out to be a wasteful exercise. I so much wanted someone to discuss with me Toru Watanabe’s love for Naoko, the two characters in the novel. In this wasteful exercise, I would imagine myself as Toru and envy him so much that I took pleasure in naming places in Srinagar after those in the novel.

Certain places are unique without knowing why. I would call my woman during any time in the day, take her around the bund road and sit near the Lala Sheikh restaurant till she covered her face and made herself into a boy and enter the small café to drag hard on cigarettes between sips of tea. This always applied to any journey of Naoko and Toru. A few footsteps away, one could get the best coffee in the world and sip the same on ridges made above the bund while songs of Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan kept playing inside small cafes. This always made us feel like sitting on some peak on a large Japanese building as two young people. Alone. Far away from the world.

Every story has an end, but dear reader, my story has no end. This is no memoir, but a fiction. OK. We parted. But this won’t do. Let me finish it my way:

I visit the Jhelum bund sporadically, I visit the Jhelum park too. I sit across the bridge near RajBagh. The bridge too is a river now. Days are dull facts. Night is a countdown timer. Sky above is a blanket of black clouds. My life is taking path of all the beautiful novels. But I see the fragrance of hope while walking along the bund. I see Agha Shahid Ali talking to me, repeating the Persian phrase, “This too shall pass.” I imagine him repeating in his own aura, “This too shall pass.”

Link here:

Waiting- A Fable

By : Aarif Muzafar Rather

I waited there- staring at the moon. It looked brimming blue making the dullest of things in its way bright and lively. It made slow movements that I could never read. I stared. I waited.
I counted stars over my head, making myself believe what was happening by the other side of the park would soon be over. I counted. I waited.
And then she stood up defeating the crowd in her way. Through the clouded labyrinth I spotted the woman with long hair. I gazed at her red leather coat, fascinated at the squares stitched on it. She spotted me at times, throwing her gaze here and there. She cupped her face into her soft hands, making her hair fall down in distress. I could feel her convincing someone. I watched. I waited.
I turned to the riverside, evading the sight of people who were unknown to me. The street beside looked deserted and the walls of the shops were lit by cars passing by intermittently. I fixed my sight on the mundane surroundings as if listening to a fairy tale. I waited.
I was sure enough to persuade myself that I wanted her. The silence around my eyes only grew heavier in the thought of winning her against all the odds. There she was. The girl wearing the red leather coat. I watched her from a distance.
Jhelum Park? Why did she choose evening time to meet people? And why this place? I could not focus on things and my heart grew heavier in the thought of having a conversation with her.
Meanwhile, a car passed by the road playing a Jim Morrison song:

“On our moonlight drive, baby

Moonlight drive.”

The music went on playing:

“Come on, baby, gonna take a little ride

Down, down by the ocean side

Gonna get real close

Get real tight

Baby gonna drown tonight

Goin’ down, down, down.”

A departing metaphor-

“We all wait for people, wanting to make them understand us or make ourselves understand them, love us, cure us of all the ills. But alas…!,” I thought to myself.
I thought again, letting my desperation tumble:
That girl wearing the red leather coat. I want to dissolve myself into the pores of her skin, burn myself in the desire of my passion for her. Bath myself with the sweat of her body. Die in my love for her. Love her down. Deep down. Down to her bones. To the soul. Ashes to ashes.
I wandered. I wondered. I waited.
I could see her walk away behind the large tree situated right to the mosque. I lit a cigarette, dragging hard on it, counting every puff like a child counting stones in her kindergarten to remember numbers. I counted again. I waited.
From a distance, I could see the crowd diminish. She looked at me and I stood there, waiting, wanting to hear from her.
To my fantasy, she was a lifelong companion, a person who had been with me for ages. But alas…!
Now when she was finished with the people, I stood on my chair, wanting to hear from her. I gazed again, at the squares stitched on her red leather coat. She came closer and I got up breaking my silence. I muttered in a soft voice:
“Can I wait for you tomorrow again? Here at this place.”

She smiled, curled her hair with both the hands and walked away. I stood there waiting.

©Aarif Muzafar Rather

Pic and publishing link: Jajeer Talkies website.

Cover pic, Foot Bridge, Srinagar : ©Aarif Muzafar Rather

The Living Kashmir

The Living Kashmir

Aarif Muzafar Rather

A Memory
I was born in a state of cold war in Kashmir: the late nineties. It followed the infamous early nineties, the most turbulent period in the history of Kashmir. When I was a two-year-old baby, as my mother tells me, I became exposed to a curious case of depression. I did not cry, like normal babies do. I hardly made facial movements and was labeled a sensitive, unsocial, depressed boy at such an early age. I was looked after by a doctor in Jammu later and-as my mother tells me-a certain woman, who was related to us by my maternal grandfather’s side, used to accompany us to Jammu. She was the mother of Masarat Alam Bhat, an epitome of struggle for freedom in Kashmir, and a living presence of the state of youth in the conflict-ridden valley. In the Kot Bhalwal jail, where he was kept under detention, we used to look through a hole made across the wall of the prison and catch his glimpse. We used to stay silent while looking at each other, because we understood our grief through this silence. We heard the silence. We adorned it as the limit of our thoughts. The silence that shattered us. We just felt it. Pain it was. A lot of pain.
Almost two decades have passed since and Masarat today is under detention in the same Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu. The legal fraternity in Kashmir has always challenged his “illegal detention” and the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir has called for the quashing of his detention order several times in the past. But every time the High Court does so, he is slapped with a Public Safety Act by the government which prevents his release.

Lost Life and Lost Dreams
As a witness to the cold war, I saw Ikhwanis (pro-government militia) threaten my father every day, take money, and demand whatever they wished for. I heard about the Kargil War being fought somewhere around the hills of Kargil but hardly saw any Kashmiri take concern about it. It was normal: The war was not ours!
Amid all this chaos, I grew up enthusiastic about cricket. I watched my uncle play cricket all day long. He would hammer bowlers and tell me later that he drew inspiration from Saeed Anwar, a Pakistani cricketer, who would destroy the Indian bowling line-up almost every time there was an India-Pakistan contest. In the evening discussions, at the shop fronts in our village, I would hear everyday people saying, “What a great cricketer Zafar Mir (name changed) is!” This took away all my attention and I began to see myself as a cricketer. I wanted to play like a passionate young man whose first love would always be cricket. This all changed when my uncle took me to a Sufi singers’ gathering in Srinagar. On our return, he told me things that find relevance in today’s Kashmir as well. He told me,”My son, there is no future for cricket in Kashmir. Don’t waste yourself.” The words did not carry strength then and it was just a simple ruling that made me morose for the years that followed.

King can do no wrong
Last month in North Kashmir’s Handwara, a schoolgirl was allegedly molested by soldiers of 21 Rashtriya Rifles. People came out of their houses, protesting the alleged molestation and in retaliation, five people were killed in the collective action of Police and Army, including a promising cricketer.
Overnight the girl’s statement was recorded and spread over social networking sites by some anonymous source. In her statement, the girl denied any hint of molestation. After that, the girl remained in police custody and was hardly allowed to meet lawyers and other independent boards. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court later directed the police to report as to what authority the girl was kept under “illegal detention”. While her police custody continued, her mother revealed that the statement of the girl was recorded under coercion. Almost a month has passed since and the girl and her father are still under detention. The minor girl is caught between the ghost of state machinery and the muddle of societal structure. In the middle of all these restrictions on her body and state of mind, she vows to fight for justice.
For Kashmiris, the Handwara incident is now a memory. They won’t ask you to provide justice to the families of people killed in the incident because in the extended timeline of killings, rapes, tortures, loots, and every damn thing through all these years, justice has never been delivered. ‘Justice’ is just an overused word for them and it exists nowhere. As the old saying goes,” King can do no wrong.”

A Cricketer Killed
Nayeem Bhat was on his way to home after giving camera to his brother. He was shot in the abdomen by the police. Nayeem’s life was cricket and he had wished to play competitive cricket throughout his life. He was a close friend of Parvez Rasool, the only Kashmiri cricketer who plays in the Indian Premiere League. His story became parallel to the stories of thousands of Kashmiris. He was killed like them; made into them: A personification of unaccomplished dreams.

Is Nayeem the only one!?
While Kashmir was mourning the death of Nayeem Bhat, Indian politicians and media turned soft on this. They reported Nayeem’s death without bias, which has otherwise been their practice. But it was not enough for a Kashmiri because there are hundreds of such heroes we have lost in the similar circumstances and where media has protected the arbitrary government actions. Mudasir Ahmad Kachroo, a young footballer, was killed in the 2010 uprising when he was hit in the chest by a teargas canister hit by police in Sopore. Mudasir had represented the valley in different football teams. The story for which I decided to write this article and forms its essential part is untold yet. It is the story of Sajad Ahmad Shah, a young cricketer from Maisuma in the Srinagar City who was killed in the uprising against the Indian rule on 4th of April, 1989.

Sajad Ahmad Shah- A story of Unaccomplished Dreams
Reportage is not easy in Kashmir. One gets to face difficulties of every possible nature. And if you are not a journalist like me, then it is way too tough because people won’t believe you. They take Kashmir to be an industry; a money making industry. Being the unseen targets of violence, their understanding is blameless: “One man’s loss is another man’s profit.”
As I headed towards Sajad’s home, I was received by a woman on the front door. There were no men in their house and she gave me address to the shop of Shabir Ahmad Shah (Sajad’s brother). Shabir is a retired bank employee and runs a shop in Maisuma. I was delighted by his virtuous nature. It all went like a one-way conversation and he answered all the questions I could possibly have asked.
“It was Tuesday. 4th of April, 1989. We closed our shop around 11:30 am because of some disturbance in the city. I asked Muna (Sajad’s nickname) to deposit money in a bank near Jahangir Hotel. He came back home and had lunch. Our mother herself made him eat some morsels of rice in the end so that she was satisfied by his having eaten his meals.”
Of course, there can be no greater satisfaction for a mother than to feed her child with her own hands.
“We asked him earlier to not move out as there were apprehensions of larger disturbances in the valley. I was employed at Batamaloo branch of Jammu and Kashmir Bank those days. Around 1:15 pm in the day, Muna was not present at home. My mother asked me to look for him but I could not find him anywhere. I went to KMD bus yard by foot and heard three bullets fired near Budshah Chowk in the city centre. I became frightened and looked through an alley. I could see a silent brigade of soldiers roving across the street. There was a noise on the other side of the road and I found one of my neighbors there. He was perhaps known to the fact that Muna had been hit and asked me to follow him. When I entered the crowd and saw the body, it was gloom. I was no more in my senses and we headed towards SMHS hospital. They denied us any entry and we learnt later that Muna had already been dead. His body was taken by police. I went to Police Control Room, Batamaloo but they did not handover his corpse to us. Later, Watali, who represented the PCR Batamaloo, asked me to wait till the crowd was dispersed.”
As I listened to him patiently, I could see numbness in his eyes. They turned heavy by the thought of a painful, three-decade-old memory. Sajad was just a memory now.
“Sajad was passionate about cricket. He played in the C.K Naidu tournament and helped Jammu and Kashmir win a match by hitting a last ball six over Chetan Sharma. He hit an unbeaten 87 runs that day. Javed Miandad did it some years later to the same bowler. He was a complete all-rounder and one of the strong contenders to make it to the Indian Team. When he was not listed in any teams later and was made to face gross discrimination, he was enraged. Vivek Razdan was taken into the Indian Team in the same year but Sajad’s performance was never rewarded. It left him dejected.”
I asked him if cricket was a new thing to the family as a whole as it must have been a novel thing those days.
“Sajad did it all by himself. We did every possible thing for him to make him realize his dream.”
Shabir also told me about the memories with his late mother.
“As power shortage was a norm those days (today even, it is the same), Sajad had asked for a TV which could run on batteries. As our parents had decided to go to Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage the following year, they returned with the TV, only to fulfill a dead son’s wish. The TV is in his old room now where we have kept his trophies.”
Sajad was active about the politics as well and had given full support to the Muslim United Front in the 1987 rigged elections. He was also a JKLF sympathizer. As Shabir told me about the lack of electricity those days, I found it deeply relevant in today’s Kashmir as well- while I am arranging this story and punching the keys of my laptop, it’s 2:30 in the night and there is no electricity in my hostel. I extend the prospect of my eyes and I can see mountains overlooking Srinagar lit by powerful lamps. It’s for army bunkers. They need it more than I need it. It’s occupation.
Sajad’s parents died briefly after performing Hajj. His mother fell to a fatal injury on head which she suffered while mourning at Sajad’s death.
As I thanked Shabir and decided to head towards home, I was faced with thoughts of dejection. I was despondent. Am I still the jugular vein of dead men? Whose integral part am I? The opportunistic countries which never respected our culture and always harmed the mandate of a free and dignified Kashmir. In Kashmir, we call their policies as the ‘cycle of killings’. Some name it the ‘structure of violence’. Through our bloodstained memories, we see ourselves as the victims of cultural aggression. Our dignity and identity have been put to an unfathomable challenge, and after the suffering of almost six decades, the voice is defiant: Resolve Kashmir and stay in peace!

(Aarif Muzafar Rather is a freelance writer based in Kashmir. He is pursuing bachelors in Law from Central University of Kashmir.)
This story appeared in The Quint