It was one of those long dry, chilly wintry nights. I had just finished reading Amar Chitra Katha, a comic book featuring one of those noble Indian kings. As I was about to start acting like a noble Indian prince myself, suddenly a bone chilling gunshot rang through the air. ‘What the hell,’ my dad blurted out.
Little did we know, then, that it was the beginning of a bloody campaign that continues to this day, and shows no signs of stopping.
In my typical Kashmiri way, I feigned ignorance and lay down in bed promising myself that sleep would overcome all these violent noises and a Kashmiri child’s world would once again become peaceful.
I tried my best to sleep but couldn’t. I thought about playing some sleepy melody, but couldn’t. It would mean being happy in an hour of grief for all Kashmiris.
As no possible position in the bed or a particular dispensation of my heavy laeff, quilt, was going to be of any help, I decided to count the gunshots and see if I could differentiate the sounds of different types of guns without actually ever having seen a modern gun in reality (except my uncle’s double-barreled vintage pellet gun which took 303 Kartoos and was used to bring down flying ducks).
The gunshots sounded the same but the place kept changing into something demonic. Never in my life, up until then, had I ever come across and noted words like Kalashnikov or SLR. I had not even in my wildest dreams thought that the Kashmiris having been so grossly robbed of their childhood would one day accept it as normal day to day life.
In the constant din of those satanic sounds, I finally fell asleep. Next day, I woke up only to find that we were under a crackdown and would have to go without food or water for up to a few hours and if necessary a few days.
My mother asked me to have breakfast in 5 minutes and go to the toilet quickly before venturing out to stand in a queue for an identification parade.
They would order all the males out and would get very angry if they found anyone not following their orders. I dutifully drank my tea and ate a homemade chapatti because we couldn’t get Kashmiri bread that morning due to the crackdown.
“We Kashmiris have been cursed,” my grandmother sitting in her usual kitchen corner exclaimed. “It’s our own deeds that have brought us towards a never ending misery.”
With a heavy heart, I finished my breakfast and stepped out to be the part of the first crackdown.
A burly Sikh military man got hold of my adolescent shoulders and asked me to face a Jeep some meters away. I followed his orders like a robot and looked towards the olive green vehicle.
All I could see was someone peeping through a one-eyed curtain of sorts from deep within the vehicle. I wondered why this person wanted to look at me through a peep-hole in a vehicle. With this thought on my mind, the military man ordered me to walk a hundred meters straight and then sit with the other people who had already not been positively identified.
I was sitting on the roadside with all these young guys, with my Pheran wound tightly around me when a military vehicle drove right up to where we were sitting. An officer inside the vehicle asked my dad’s cousin who was in high school at that time to get into the vehicle as he wanted to have a chat with him.
For a second I rose up to tell the officer that my cousin was innocent and hated shaving his beard off, but all the commandos guarding the vehicle pointed their automatic rifles at me and started abusing me in their language. My cousin got up and walked into the vehicle which then drove away.
I saw him a fortnight later when after having received a hefty bribe from us, they released him. He was shattered, totally broken, both physically as well as mentally. I had for the first time in my small life lost forever the little respect that I had for these gun-toting people.
As I cried that day and have continued to cry so many other times from then on, my story of a lost childhood robbed of its innocence is being repeated when many moons down the lane, my young 6-year-old kid spoke to me over the internet and made a mention of Azaadi.
She does not even know what this word means, but in her beautiful-innocent-pure-fairytale world, she understands that something is wrong. She has somehow figured out that when people say it, they’re saying it with the vigor and innocence that only a child’s pure conscience can understand.
My younger daughter who is just 20 months old tries to copy the elder one but cannot. Not being able to imitate irritates her so much as she desperately wants to communicate. She understands everything but just can’t convert her thoughts into speech. Little does she know that in Kashmir silence is golden.
The author is an MD doctor, and alumnus of the SKIMS medical College, Bemina. This memory was written a few years back .
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