How a gunfight destroyed my best friend’s home

On June 29, when counter-insurgents arrived in Pulwama’s Thamuna area, they ended the gunfight on the usual note: by razing the residence to ground. But in that combat, the author’s best friend lost her home. In bits and pieces, she tries to detail the horror here.

It took me a while to realise that I’m at a safer place after waking up from a terrifying nightmare at 2 in the night. Just 2 km away from the gunfight site, I was shaking inside my house. The rattling fireworks were haunting, and reverberating in my hometown for the last 14 hours.

That night of June 30 had brought home the horrors of the nocturnal assault, increasingly becoming a new normal in our part of the world.

The silence in my room suddenly made the night scary and stirred a sense of fear and panic in me. For the first time in my adulthood, I was in the grip of such fear. Air reeked of pungent teargas smell, stirring more and more fear in me. The choking-fume made me realise the tragedy that happened in real.

With the stroke of the first light, I was going to witness devastation — the house of my best friend being razed to the ground in the gunfight.

I recall the last blast happening exactly at 11:30 pm. The intensity of the blast was such that the whole house jolted. With shivering hands, I dialled the number of my cousin who lives near my friend’s house – the one where the insurgents were suspected to be trapped. She told me that anything can happen.

They had put off the lights. All the family members had assembled in one room and were hearing the explosions. The heavy firing seemed to them as loud as though the army was directly firing on their main gate.

Few hours earlier in the afternoon, in lunch hours, I was at my university, chatting with few friends when suddenly a friend came into the classroom and informed me about the gunfight in my hometown, Pulwama.

Shocked, I called my mother. When she didn’t pick up, I called my friend Shifa (not her real name). She answered, only to petrify me.

“It’s our house which has been actually cordoned off,” she said.

“What?” I shouted. “How? When? Why…”

In a murmuring voice, she said that the armed forces just smashed the window panes of the first floor of her house.

“Now,” she said, shivering, “they’re firing sound shells and pellets inside.”

Even before I could react, she hung up.

Later that day, while travelling in a Taxi, I heard a passenger talking about the gunfight in my hometown. “There’re two sisters trapped in the house,” they said. “They’re refusing to come out of their home.”

Hearing that, I wanted to cry, in a cab full of strangers.

In that nervy state, I reminded myself of the last conversation with my friend. Somehow, I didn’t want to believe what my co-passengers were talking.

In that mad hour, I could only remind myself of my friend, once telling me: I don’t fear death but I just fear the gunfire sounds.

Recalling that made me even more uneasy and turned the 45-minute journey between my university and home as an unending passage.

As the cab paced on, I recalled the morning conversation with Shifa.

We both had discussed and shared the pictures of our dresses. I sent her the picture of my Mehandi, as it was the Menzraat of my cousin. We both had made plans of celebrating.

At 5 pm that day, as I reached my locality, it was crowded with people talking about the gunfight. I heard that several civilians on way to the gunfight site were showered and stopped with pellet burst. Many were left injured.

On my way to home, I was endlessly calling Shifa. She wasn’t answering. In that anxious state, I assumed that I had lost my friend.

Back home, I got to know that along with her sister, Shifa was safe, and was told that insurgents were trapped in their house as the gunfight had begun.

Next day, amid heavy downpour, people thronged Thamuna — the place where the gunfight had finished just three hours before. The forces had just left after making destruction and desolation.

Speculations were running wild, as I walked with my mother and one of our neighbours towards my friend’s place. The road was damp and black. The burning tires, pieces of bricks and the stones were lying strewn on the roads. The residue of pepper shells, bullet cartridges were scattered on the road.

While reaching close to Shifa’s place, I saw a crowd of people assembled on the road. My fear turned into a reality when I saw the tall standing house razed to the ground. I just couldn’t believe that only a few days ago, I was inside that blasted house, making wedding plans with my friend. Shifa had showed me the things they had bought for her elder sister, who’s going to be married soon.

As people walked through the ruins of the house, I straightaway went to another house where Shifa and her family are staying now.

Women were sitting in the lobby, some of them crying. In the right corner of the same room, Shifa was talking to someone. With heavy steps, I went and embraced her. Tears rolled down from her eyes.

“They killed them,” she told me, crying. “I don’t care about my house, but they killed a civilian, too.” In that gunfight, one insurgent was killed, while two others managed to escape the cordon.

Narrating the whole scene to me, my best friend said, she still couldn’t believe that she’s alive.

“The army showered bullets on our house and barely cared that we were inside,” she continued in a sobbing voice.

That day, on June 29, Pulwama’s Thamuna was cordoned off at around 1pm. The area sheltering newly constructed houses, was silent and still. There were hardly any men around.

In that hush hour, Shifa’s mother, Hameeda peeped through the window and saw the gun-cocked troops rushing on the road. The apple orchards were already packed with jackboots. An army column came and knocked the door of Farooq Ahmad, Shifa’s neighbour. The counter-insurgents, as per the family, directed him and his daughter to accompany them to Shifa’s house—where they suspected the presence of insurgents.

When Farooq entered into the house and asked my friend’s family to leave, they refused to come out initially. Only after Farooq’s repeated requests, Hameeda and other two members including her brother, walked out. In that rush moment, she lost touch with her daughters.

In a panic state, she was asked to make an announcement on loudspeaker to ask her daughters to come out of the house. But even after raising a heartfelt cry, nobody walked out of the main gate. Then, Hameeda began pleading, crying. Still no one came.

Meanwhile, the counter-insurgents started breaking the window panes of the first floor of the two-storey, newly constructed house. They fired pellets and volley of bullets inside and the gunfight raged.

Inside the house, Shifa and her to-be-bride sibling was offering nimaaz. The moment the firing was directed on the house, all of them laid down on the ground.

“Every time they fired a bullet,” Shifa told me, “I was stunned that why no bullet was touching us. At a time hundred bullets pierced the ceiling of our room.”

In another room, the three insurgents were putting up what appeared to Shifa as their ‘last fight’. She heard them, shouting, “Allah u Akbar’’. One of them recited the Quranic verses, she said.

Then, the insurgents requested the sister-duo to move from the house because they thought death was imminent now. “They termed us brave and made dua for us,” Shifa said.

Before walking out of the house packed with wedding items and three insurgents, the to-be-bride did the unthinkable.

“Suddenly my sister emptied her locker from her wedding clothes and sandals, to hide the insurgents,” Shifa recalled. But realising that it was too little and too late, her sister slowly went into another room and took two Qurans from a shelf.

Shifa looked at the insurgents one last time. “They were smiling,” she said.

Then the sisters left the room and made their path towards the main gate, leaving behind the soon-to-be blasted house packed with memories, wedding items and the three insurgents.


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