Pero yo ya no soy yo,
Ni mi casa es yo mi casa.
But now I am no longer I,
Nor is my house any longer my house.
~ Federico Garcia Lorca
Memories, by and large, are fleeting. But some memories remain forever, deep down into your conscience. These grow roots into the nooks and crevices of one’s essence. And these memories won’t let you sleep until you let them out.
One such memory is keeping me awake for too long now.
That day, the horizon was a languid red, and the Azaan from the minarets of a mosque sounded a forlorn cry of melancholy.
A denunciation rather than an act of gratitude to The Almighty.
Darkness had subtly started to dissolve the light of the day, but the piercing sound of bullets and ground-shaking blasts were still heard.
Three rebels were believed to be inside a newly built two-storey house.
A carpenter was heard saying that he was yet to receive his remuneration from the owner for making the wide-arched windows
for the house, which, by then, were burning in blue and red flames, that rose beyond the serrated eaves of the roof.
It was Friday, and the mosque was crowded with people, nudging each other to make some room.
The Imaam must have been halfway through the hour-and-a-half long sermon when a young man forced open the window, screaming, “offer the prayers quick. A gunfight has started in the area.”
As soon as the prayer was offered, people straightaway headed for the gunfight site which was about 600 meters from the mosque. The green foliage of the apple orchards wafted the thick spirals of dark smoke, testifying to the desolation nearby, guided us to the location.
Despite living here, I had never witnessed a gunfight before. But here I was, an eyewitness to the death of fear in the valley. To everything, I had only heard of and never seen. Young boys facing death, or rather embracing it now, to save the trapped militants, pelting stones only a few feet away from the forces who retaliated.
No, ‘retaliate’ must not be the appropriate word. It would mean a balance of power on two sides when in fact, a stone too is paid back with a bullet.
I was taken aback by the fearlessness of the people, but nothing astonished me as much as the resistance and spirit of young girls and women around.
A spectacle that left me dumbfounded.
Hundreds of women were filling up plastic crates with stones and bricks and others carried them to the boys. In a systemic manner, some of them would break down the bricks into smaller fist-sized pieces, some filled the crates, while others would carry them to the site where boys faced the forces.
I saw a mother furiously crushing the bricks and carrying them to her son. Later, in the evening, both of them showed their bruised and pellet-riddled bodies.
A new reality had been unfolding and playing itself out because of the the years of suffering. A reality that Indian politicians and news time demagogues are consciously oblivious to. The anger was visible and it manifested itself in every act, in each thump created by that mother who crushed the brick into pieces gnashing her teeth in lived rage, in every curse from the elders
watching around, in every stentorian slogan that thundered from the megaphones, in every stone which carried along with it the plain repudiation of Indian control.
The house was besieged at about quarter past one in the afternoon and bullets were fired even as the family members were still inside.
The woman homeowner later said that when a young rebel found her frightened, he hugged her to console her and said “mother, don’t be afraid. We won’t let anything bad happen to you and we promise you that if by the grace of The Almighty we get into Paradise in The Hereafter we won’t enter it until you are there.”
“You are more beloved to me than Paradise can ever be,” she had told him before leaving.
After an hour or two of a brief exchange of bullets, the house was sprinkled by gunpowder and set on fire by the armed forces.
But as the Maghrib prayers approached, bullets were still being fired from inside the house. Late in the evening a massive explosion was heard, and with that, the earth slipped from beneath the feet, windows rattled, and children cried.
A relative, who lives some ten kilometers from the site, called to inform that he had felt the earth shaking too.
By then, scores of young boys had been wounded, some critically. A fifteen year boy was killed when a bullet pierced his chest. The neighbours rushed him to the hospital, where his eyes were closed and he was declared dead. The doctor on duty, who declared him dead, was his father.
Do not try to fathom the feelings of a father working in a hospital, who has to declare his son dead. You cant. How do I even put this pain into words? The castle of this memory, well preserved, shakes when I enter this room.
The entire night, each second seemed like an eternity. Early in the morning, the next day, after offering the Fajr prayers, we went to see what had become of the house.
As per police reports, two rebels had escaped and one had been killed. In the place of the house, however, there was a large pile of mangled concrete, warped iron rods, burnt bricks and charred wood.
The slab that till yesterday marked the plain roof of the house was now a twisted mushroom cap sheltering under it the half-standing, bullet-riddled scorched walls, and a few remains of the burnt furniture.
Copper utensils were a melted rot and the sparkling glassware scattered into blackened shards like confetti at a funeral.
Everything, that till yesterday used to be a home was now a desolation.
A brutal reminder of our helplessness, of our identity under suppression. Yet it was just one day among thousands that mark our quotidian life.
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