Thursday, May 31, 2007
Silence on ground. Shutters down. Streets deserted. Security forces all around. Finger on trigger. Tense soldiers, suspicious of all. And People missing on the streets—sounds familiar, this scene. Yes, I am taking about Independence Day and what this day of 15th August means for a Kashmiri. I have an experience to narrate, only a year old. This Independence Day is the best time to narrate it, on its first anniversary. Flashback. Year 2006. August 15. I woke up late in the morning. There is an uncharacteristic silence around, I observe, broken from time to time by the chirping of birds. I hear my mother call out—it’s late, get up now. The milkman has not come today. Take this, my mother hands over the lota to get the milk from the nearby locality. And I am reluctantly off, wondering what happened to our punctual milkman today. As I come out of the gate, surprisingly there is no noise of traffic today coming from the nearby national highway. I walk slowly till I reach the end of a gali.I am surprised to see a soldier stationed so near to my home today. Something must have happened here. May be they are looking for someone to be taken along. May be they are conducting house to house searches. May be they have found some arms. May be they have spotted a gunman — these, and many other thoughts played on mind as I approached the soldier slowly. I am thinking of ignoring him on my way and pretend to not look at him, but he, how he can afford to ignore me. So he stops me. Kahan jana hai teray ko? he abruptly blocks by path as I am about to pass his way. Keeping the smile on, I lift up my lota and say in a polite voice, dood lana hai, I point towards the nearby locality, wahan say. Teray ko maloom nahi hai kya aaj koon sa din hai, he trying to make me understand. Nahi to, I say honestly trying hard to get him. And before I could think further, he says ‘aaj 15 August hai, Independence Day’. I still think he will allow me through as he explains in a polite tone. Before I can plead further to say ‘main javoon, he commands: Chal, wapas ja ghar and further instructs. Ghar say bahar nahi aana aaj. As I retract my steps back towards my home, the irony of what the soldier told me hits me hard. I mock at myself in soliloquy—Today is Independence Day, you fool. I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-C-E DAY! As I enter my home, my mother quietly takes the lota from my hand. She knows why I came back so quickly with empty lota. She doesn’t say anything but I ask her in an ironic tone. Why didn’t you tell me today was Independence Day? She replies after a thoughtful pause. You know it now --Waen lajee na payee, she adds in Kashmiri. Yes, indeed, I know it now. Meanwhile I sit down to switch on the TV. The Prime Minister is giving his Independence Day speech behind that bullet proof screen from the Red ford. I change the news channel to another, and he is everywhere, live. The whole nation is listening to him but I am not interested. I change the news channel to movie channels but there too they are only showing Independence Day special patriotic bollywood movies .I am not interested to watch these too. I switch off the TV and go to my room. And spend the entire Independence Day sleeping for hours together. Late afternoon I came out of my home and saw some people walking on the road. The tension had eased off, even birds had realized they can fly around freely with independence now. Perhaps the Independence Day here comes a day after Independence Day. In a way 16th August is 15th August in Kashmir when you can enjoy independence in real sense and go around freely without being asked why. Now coming back to this year, some haunting scenes from Sanjay Kak’s film on Kashmir (Jashn-e-Azadi-How we celebrate freedom) come to my mind. There is a scene in the film where the camera, mounted on a moving vehicle, frantically surveys the streets of lal chowk on Independence Day. But there are only deserted streets in sight and shops shut down. The camera brilliantly captures the silence of Independence Day celebrations on the deserted streets of lal chowk. In another scene the camera turns towards the Independence Day festivity around Ghanta ghar. Here, all the national media is stationed, all news cameras are mounted to show it live on their news channels with their correspondents saying’ ‘aap dekh saktay hai….you know what they say. The tricolor is proudly elevated to the top of Ghanta ghar while shutters are down and people missing. And the only people beneath it are those security forces, celebrating independence—their independence. I remember reading Sanjay Kaks interview some time back where he talked about his visit to Kashmir in 2003 and what he saw on the streets of Srinagar on Independence Day. “-…I came back a month latter; it just happened to be on 15th August, Indian independence day. That day, I walked out of my aunt’s home and walked around Srinagar, and it was the most chilling image of my whole life. At 10:30 in the morning, there was absolutely no one on the streets, not even security personnel. I walked for several hours. There was not a person on the street, only a sullen silence. I think the silence that day was integral to my thinking about a film on Kashmir.” Now coming back to my preparations for this year’s Independence Day. This year again I will be at home on the Independence Day. Again, like last year, I am not going to watch the Independence Day special programmes on the news channels. I am not going to watch Independence Day special Bollywood movies. I am also not listening to that expressionless newsreader (on DD kashir at 7pm) who plays the recorded videos of Independence Day celebrations dispatched from different districts of Srinagar by the reporters. And his boring voice puts me off. And sorry I am not listening to PMs Speech as well. One thing will change however from my last year’s celebration of Independence Day—I won’t go out in the morning to fetch milk on this Independence Day. Even if it means having a milk-less morning tea for one day. This time around I won’t make any mistake. This time I am fully aware of what to do on Independence Day. And I know a different soldier will return to my locality on Independence Day. He will again block my path if I come out of my home. And he may not be as polite as the last year’s soldier. He may not like to make me understand the importance of being at home on Independence Day. So I will be at home this Independence Day, resting, and in between I have some novels to read that are lying on my shelf waiting to be read. Although I have some ‘Independence Day special’ issues of magazines before me, but I am in no mood to read these stories of what India has achieved over the years and what it needs to do to become a global superpower. This Independence Day I am going to immerse myself in those stories of other lands where people are free, where there is no soldier after every kilometer, where a native is not asked for his identity by the settler. And where a common man does not have to bear the cost of a nation’s independence. I am going to have a nice time at home. After all every day is not an independence day. This kind of freedom can be found nowhere else. I have come a long way since the last years Independence Day. After innumerable searches, secrutinising of my identity card on numerous occasions ,and forced to come down from the vehicles in the run-up to this Independence Day—I am here, to celebrate Independence Day, at my home. And on the way I have come to realize this—things don’t change in Kashmir, day after day, year after year, and Independence Day after Independence Day. Situation does not change here for the common man; only politicians change (they change parties too), their statements change, and governments change. There is this expression in Urdu which aptly sums up how I feel about this Independence Day in Kashmir. Aiasee azadi aur kahan…. Wishing you a happy Independence Day.