Friday, November 7, 2008

A long, long drive to hospital, in curfew

My phone rings, around 3pm, on August 26th. “Your uncle had a heart attack. Come to SKIMS, Soura. He is in the emergency intensive cardiac care unit”, a voice hurriedly informs in a worrying tone. My first thought: I have to reach SKIMS, Soura as early as possible, somehow. And I have to tell this news to my parents in a calm, matured manner—and tell them that he is out of danger now although I know he isn’t. It’s a lie, I know that. But sometimes a lie is needed to convey a painful truth, especially when it is about your loved ones.
There is a problem: We can’t move out of our home. It is the third consecutive day of curfew. A strict curfew has been imposed in the entire valley to prevent people from coming out of their homes. Following many successful freedom marches wherein lakhs of people participated, the pro-freedom leaders had given a Lal Chwok chalo call. On 24th August people from all across the valley were expected to march to Lal Chowk. But the government came up with an antidote: A strict, indefinite curfew was imposed in the entire valley on 24th August to prevent people from marching towards Lal Chowk. From the morning, shoot at sight orders were in place in Srinagar. We come to know about it from Delhi based Indian news channels (the anchor said it so briefly, in a cold, casual manner). All local channels had been banned in the valley. And the local papers couldn’t be published.
A curfew is different from a hartal. Moving out this time means: the soldier on the street will shout at first, then threaten with his bamboo stick, and finally—if you still keep moving, unheeded to his repeated shouts—bullets will come your way. But then, we had to move out anyhow, and try to reach the hospital. When a loved one is struggling for his life in the hospital, you can’t stay at home. Even when there is curfew outside.

I leaf out a white page from an old, abandoned drawing book. EMERGENCY, I write in capital letters with a black sketch pen, and paste it on the front window of the car. This should help us with the soldiers outside, I tell myself. Outside, as we slowly, hesitantly drive our vehicle out on the road, an unmistakable curfew-silence rules the air. It’s palpable. One can hear the faintest of the noises in the air. A curfew silences the noise of everyday life on the streets, and instead, amplifies the silence, manifold. Except occasional army vehicles swiftly driving past us, the noise of our vehicle is the only thing breaking the enforced-silence of the curfew outside. My parents, accompanying me, are worried—about things ahead, and for the uncle in the hospital. And there is another cause of worry playing on our minds. We don’t have a curfew pass. And we know that can be fatal when you are moving out in a curfew. We know we will be asked for it by the gun wielding, bamboo stick holding soldiers patrolling everywhere on the streets. And that means, on our way to hospital, we will invite trouble in many forms: angry soldiers, shouts, threatening whistles, pointed guns, and, finally, bullets. A curfew-pass, my father tells me while we slowly drive on the deserted road, functions like an identity card during curfew. In fact a curfew pass is the identity card in curfew. If you don’t have it, you simply can’t move out; you better stay at home. But then we knew this, too: we had to move out this time even without a curfew pass- for my uncle who is in the hospital.
After driving a kilometer, near Sanat Nagar, some tense soldiers suddenly come in the middle of the road from the pavement where they were sitting till now. They come up to stop us, raising their bamboo sticks in the air, tightly holding on to their guns.
“Hay….kahan jana hai… curfew pass dikhav” (where are you going. Show us the curfew pass), shouts one of the soldier.
Hospital, I say, thinking on hearing this word they will let us go.
“Koan hai hospital main, patient kahan hai..”(Who’s in the hospital, where is the patient). The soldier searches for the patient in the car. But the patient is in the hospital.
“Patient hospital main hai.” The patient is in the hospital, I say
“Curfew pass kahan hai”. Where is your curfew pass, he again asks the question we dread the most.
Nahi hai..,(we don’t have it) I say the truth, emergency hai.
“Police station say lain gay. Wahan tak janay deejyay”. We will get it form the police station down the road. Allow us to reach there, I say.
Despite all my explanations, and despite answering all of their questions, the soldiers are unrelenting, unmoved.
Yeh kis nay izazat diya (who allowed you to paste this), says one of the soldier, pointing to the EMERGENCY paper pasted on the front window of the car.
“Emergency hai, I explained, wahe likha hai (that’s what is written on it)
Kud kaisay lagaya, kis nay ijazaat diya…han …(why did you write it yourself. Who gave you the permission…) His tone is increasingly becoming threatening. Seeing his anger rise, I keep quiet. Though, at that moment—for not allowing us to moving ahead despite all our explanations—I also felt anger rise inside me. But then, my anger was pointless: I couldn’t afford to show it. And unlike me, the soldier, besides his anger, had the gun. And I didn’t even have the curfew pass!
Without saying anything, the soldier turns his back towards our vehicle—the barricade intact, the soldiers unmoved to our repeated pleas.
“Wapas jav--go back, he orders from a distance. And then he looks the other way as if we are not there. But we stay there. We are silent. We can’t go back. We have to reach the hospital.
My mother pleads now, then my father—in front of the soldiers who are refusing to listen. I don’t want them to plead before these soldiers. Raham karo, hospital mae beemaar hai…( have mercy, our patient is serious in the hospital), my mother pleads. After repeated pleas of my parents, one of the soldiers, finally, tells his colleagues to let us go.
Janay do…let then go, he tells his fellow soldiers. lakin yahan say wapas nahi ana. But don’t come back from this side, he tells us.
We move on, thankful to this momentary sympathy of an occasionally sympathetic soldier on a curfewed day.
After covering some two kilometers, again, we are stopped. The same questions from the soldiers; the same answers from our side. And the same unconcerned, unmoved soldiers. And then, in the middle of all this uncertainty, a bearded Kashmir policeman appears from nowhere on the scene, and listens to us.
He lets us move ahead, somehow prevailing on the soldiers around. The soldiers don’t like his intervention. We like it very much.
The policeman tells us in Kashmiri that he is not sure if they will allow us to go beyond Rambagh. But you can try, he says. We drive on; we have no other choice.
We stop near Barzullah, to see if we can get a curfew pass from the police station. Inside, three police officers, sitting in a dimly lit room of the police station, are attending tense calls from the policemen out on the streets. They also answer frequent calls of their higher officers. We wait for them to take notice of us. They are not authorized to give us a curfew pass, a police officer informs us on asking. Only DC’s office can issue it, he says. That is a long distance away from here, we think, and on the way there are far too many soldiers, far too many barricades to stop us from reaching the hospital. To be on the safer side, we request them to give us some authority slip with a police station stamp. They write something on a piece of paper, put a police station stamp, and hand it over to us. But they are not sure if it will help us with the soldiers outside; neither are we.
You can take it but it doesn’t work with the soldiers down the road, a policeman frankly says. One police officer rues the fact that CRPF on the roads outside is not even listening to them, although they should, he says. They are supposed to follow and work under our rules but you see in Kashmir things are different, he says in helplessness. “I had an argument with the CRPF officer on the use of force by his men yesterday in Rambagh,” he further informs. “The area comes under our jurisdiction but they are terrorizing and beating up people at will,” he adds as we come out of the police station on the deserted road.
‘Don’t worry, we have something now, this should help us’, my father tells me while we drive away from the police station, towards Rambagh. And as we near the Rambagh bridge, again—as one policeman had earlier said—we are stopped. The same questions follow by a different set of soldiers. And as we feared, they dismiss the police station slip we were carrying. Nearby, an CRPF officer looks on disdainfully. One of the soldiers takes away the police station slip from us, and walks up to this CRPF officer to show him the slip. To our surprise, without moving from his position and after closely scrutinizing it, the CRPF officer tells his men to let us go. And then the same expected warning follows: don’t come back from this side, the officer shouts from a distance. Yes sir, I say and we drive on, relieved.
Finally, we reach the DC’s office to get that life saving piece of paper: a curfew pass. After waiting anxiously for a while in a long queue, we get it—a white paper; an official curfew pass. VALID FOR CURFEW PERIOD” is printed on it in black capital letters. The possession of curfew pass felt as if a life saving drug was handled over to us.
We drive on from the DCs office, towards SKIMS, Soura. We are stopped at many places, asked for the curfew pass, and we confidently show it to them from the window of the car. They would let us move ahead after closely scrutinizing it for a while.

Near Eidgah, we had to stop our vehicle. Something has happened down the road. There is tension in the air. Some noises come out from the houses nearby. The soldiers, carrying bamboo sticks in their hands, are all angry, all worked up, shouting. Some distance away, we can see a load carrier driver and a boy surrounded by the soldiers. They are shouting at him; he is showing them some paper. With a paper in one hand, the man is pleading before them to let him go. The soldiers ask him to come out of the load carrier. And then, without listening to any of his explanations, they start beating him with their long bamboo sticks. We are watching this from a distance, from inside our car. Alternately, every soldier hits one blow, on his legs, without respite. And every time a blow comes down on his legs, he bends a little, and tries to receive the blows on his hands. But the blows still come down on his legs. He winces in pain. He pleads. I could hear the sound of every blow—that sound when the wood strikes the human flesh and bone—as it came down on the legs of this middle aged man. He kept pleading before the soldiers, and showing them that piece of paper. But the blows kept coming.
The young boy accompanying him—probably his son—stood still and kept watching this spectacle from near the load carrier. He was silent, shocked, terrified. But he did not cry. Tears formed in his eyes but did not fall. He kept staring at the soldiers who were beating his father. How does it feel like seeing your father getting beaten in front of you? And how does it feel like when you can’t do anything about it, I asked myself. Safe, and from a distance, perhaps I could only imagine how it feels like. But the boy knows it. He saw it. It happened before his eyes. The boy kept looking at his humiliated, bruised father with disbelief. Suddenly a woman raised her voice a bit; she was watching this beating from the window of her house nearby. The soldiers got angry on this, and hurled some unmentionable abuses in the direction of that house. I will come to your home and break your bones if you don’t keep quiet, threatened one of the soldier, raising his bamboo stick towards that window.
After the beating, and after some abuses when the load carrier driver was finally let off by the soldiers, he ran to his vehicle, limping. He was struggling to start his load carrier. The terrified boy came out of the driver’s seat to enable his father to kick start it. The soldiers got angry on this and shouted at the boy, pushing him around, asking him to run away. The boy shouted back this time, “don’t you see he can’t start the vehicle”. And when his father was finally able to start the load carrier, I could see the boy, shocked out of his innocence, kept looking at his father. His father was silent though. He did not look at his son. They just drove away.
Now it was our turn.
The same soldiers came up to our vehicle and asked for the curfew pass. I had kept it ready in my hand, unfolded. I hand it over to them all the while fearing that they will ask us to come out of the vehicle now. But they closely looked at the curfew pass, one by one, searched our vehicle suspiciously, and then we were allowed to move ahead. I thought the load carrier driver who was beaten up, instead of a compulsory curfew pass, was showing the soldiers some other paper or a police slip. But that doesn’t work in curfew. But does that explain the beating?
Finally, after a long drive—It seemed a long, long drive—we reached SKIMS. Ahead of my parents, I rushed to the intensive cardiac care unit where my uncle—amidst a mesh of wires and life saving machines attached to his body—lay pale and weak on the bed, breathing with an oxygen mask. Some young doctors were constantly monitoring his condition. My mother placed a hand on his forehead; my father stood nearby. I took a young doctor aside, and asked him: how is his condition now? Is he out of danger? He smiled, and said: “you should thank god, your uncle is lucky to have reached hospital in time. Many such patients died on the way to hospital. Because of curfew, they couldn’t reach the hospital on time.”
I thanked the doctors, sat near my uncle, and looking at the even crests and troughs signifying normal heartbeat on the ECG monitor, I said a silent prayer.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Death of a young man

By Majid Maqbool

Twenty five year old Imtiyaz Ahmad, resident of Bemina Srinagar, left home at eight on that Saturday morning of July, and joined people outside protesting against the transfer of 800 Kanals of land by the government to the SASB. It was the third day of the 9 day long protests in the valley against the land transfer deal. On Friday, Imtiyaz had returned home, late. That day he was part of the defiant crowd that hoisted the green flag at the top of Gantaghar in Lal Chowk. At home, on that Friday evening, Imtiyaz was advised by his worried family: stay quiet now, and be at home from tomorrow. Don’t worry, I will be at home now, Imtiyaz had promised that to his family. But, on Saturday morning, he broke his overnight promise. Quietly, Imtiyaz left home, without informing any of his family members. At 11:30am Imtiyaz is shot at while protesting some kilometers away from his home. He receives two bullets in his lower abdomen, two kilometrers away from his home—in Chaene Muhalla area near Bemina crossing. At 12 am, the family is told: Imtiyaz has received bullets. And before Imtiyaz was taken to the hospital, he had bled profusely on the spot, left unattended for almost twenty minutes. Latter, after struggling for 6 hours in the operation theater, Imtiyaz breathed his last.
10 days after the 9 day uprising that shook the entire valley, I visit Imtiyaz’s home situated in Boatman colony near Bemina bye-pass. As I enquire about Imtiyaz’s home in the colony, people come up to me, and ask: “are you looking for that shaheed Imtiyaz’s home?” yes, I say. And then I am guided, by a chain of helpful people, to the turn of an alley where Imtiyaz’s one storey house lies first in a row of small houses. The home is at one corner, on one nondescript turn of the inner, dusty lanes of this bustling colony. It’s a small, one story house. It does not stand out from the rest of the similar looking houses crowing for space in this small lane. But, for the neighbors, Imtiyaz’s home is a different house now. It has acquired a different meaning: Imtiyaz no longer lives there.
I knock at their freshly-painted black gate, and wait for the response from the other side. It seems two young girls (Imtiyaz’s two sisters) are washing the pathway from the other side of the gate. I can hear the sweep of the brooms in their hands, the sister’s constant chatter, and water swashing and reaching to my feet outside the gate.
Is this Imtiyaz’s home? I ask, as if Imtiyaz will himself come out to meet me. I should have put shaheed before Imtiyaz, I tell myself. Suddenly, the sweeping and cleaning commotion comes to a halt on the other side of the gate. Imtiyaz’s sisters immediately readjust their scarves as they prepare to see who has come knocking on their door. One of the young girl—Imtiyaz’s younger sister—walks up to open the gate. Hesitantly, I tell her if I can come in. I am journalist and want to know more about Imtiyaz, I explain politely. She looks at her elder sister for approval. She nods. And then I am let in, and directed towards a small guest-room just kept open for me. It’s a humid summer morning of July, and it feels more humid inside this small room. The room has only two windows kept open, completely. It is lit with bright morning light directly coming in from the two opened windows. At one corner of the old wooden ceiling, a sparrow nest lies uninterrupted. May be they have kept the windows open to allow free passage of sparrows, I tell myself. Freedom is everything for the birds. And just then, a sparrow swiftly comes in from the window and disappears in the nest above, in one corner of the wooden ceiling.
As I sit in the room, Imtiyaz’z elder sister politely informs me that their father is not at home; and I will only be able to talk to their mother. After a while, Imtiyaz’s mother quietly steps in the room, looking distraught. She wears a look of perpetual grief. Her moist, grief stricken eyes constantly hover around as if searching for something very important she has just lost. She sits in one corner of the room, as if not wanting to talk to me; only to mourn, to herself. Unable to think of a question, I wait for her to speak. But she keeps quiet, only mumbling some incoherent lamentations in Kashmiri, mostly to herself, mostly about her son. Raising her tone of grief a bit, she curses the policeman and CRPF personnel who opened fire at her son that day. Sudden flashes of anger mix with her grief when she laments, raising both her hands, “May he die of bullets too, for killing my Imtiyaz. May he meet the same fate…” Here, her daughters interrupt, and bring her hands down, forcefully. “Don’t say this muaji; don’t curse them. Allah will ask them; they will be answerable for killing our Imtiyaz,” the sisters tell her, tears rushing into their eyes.
Unable to start a conversation, I ask for a glass of water to feel comfortable. Imtiyaz’s elder sister brings a glass of juice instead. But I would have still liked water. I take a sip from a glass-full of juice while Imtiyaz’s mother mourns some more to herself. She is inconsolable now; her mourning again lapses into incoherence mumbles as I take some more sips from the glass. The juice tastes like water.
I think of one question at last, hoping that this will make them to narrate the whole story:
How did it all happen? I finally ask.
Again, Imtiyaz’s mother doesn’t talk. But Imtiyaz’s elder sister, who is sitting close to her mother by now, begins talking. Her voice rings with fresh, youthful pain as she talks about her brother. It’s the pain of a young sister who knows what it means to lose an elder brother—the only breadwinner of their family. Their only source of income, she laments, was snatched from their family. (Imtiyaz was a driver)
Then, she puts before me some questions, whose answers, she says, they haven’t received yet. Without pausing, she asks:
“What was our fault? What was imtiyaz’s fault? Was he a terrorist who merited killing like this—on the roadside? Why was he shot at twice? Didn’t they think what they are doing before shooting him? What will we do now? How will we survive? And who will marry us off…who will bring back our brother…?”
For all their questions, I don’t have any answers. So I keep quiet. I listen.
The family has received some financial assistance, they inform me on asking. JKLF honored all the martyrs of the 9 day uprising by awarding the family a cash award of Rs 50,000. However money, for the family, is of no significance. Money, Imtiyaz’s sisters tell me, can’t replace a mother’s son, and their brother. We will return all the money and give more, the sisters say, breaking down, “if only they can bring back our Imtiyaz.” Money can bring some bread for the family, the sisters say, but can not bring back their only breadwinner —their brother, their Imtiyaz. “We don’t want any relief. We don’t want any money,” the sisters say in anger. “We only want to know why was our Imtiyaz killed.”
While Imtiyaz’s elder sister recalls her brother from her fresh memory, Imtiyaz’s younger sister also narrates some incidents of that day. She sits close to her elder sister, and begins talking just when her elder sister pauses. She connects the events of that day for me, occasionally contradicting her elder sister- to get the facts right. And in between, while she recounts her brother, tears fall from her eyes, too. And she also tells her mother—who continues to mourn silently in the corner of the room—not to weep. And Imtiyaz’s elder sister consoles both of them. Days of weeping has abnormally swollen their eyes.
Imtiyaz’s younger sister can’t stop thinking about her brother—and the way he was killed, on the roadside. “First he was fired at twice in Chenemuhalla area, and then thrown to the shoae (stinging nettle ) on the roadside”, she recounts. “For almost twenty minutes he was losing blood there, and no one came to his rescue. It was only when he raised his hands continuously that a nearby person saw him from the window of his home. And then he was taken to the hospital where he died 6 hours latter”
My brother was not a terrorist, Imtiyaz’s elder sister says, wiping her tears with one end of her scarf. “He had no gun in his hand. When he did not fire at the police and CRPF, why was he shot at?” She again asks after a brief pause, “We want to know—we want to know why was our Imtiyaz shot at. Why?”
Imtiyaz’s sisters also question the role of police that day: “When police had clear orders not to fire at the protesters that day, why did they fire at our brother?” He was the only one among the protesters who was fired at that day, the sisters further add. “And there has been no investigation into the murder of our brother till now.”
Their questions—and their grief—is unbearable and disturbing at times. I don’t want them to recount more of that day for me. It’s enough, I tell myself as I prepare to leave. I have no answers for all their unanswered questions. My being there—and asking more about Imtiyaz—only brings out more tears from their eyes as they remember him in grief. While I come out of the room, Imtiyaz’s mother and his two sisters stay there in the room. They are all weeping now. And as I leave them behind, I feel guilty of making them weep. I hear their sobs fading out as I step out of the gate.
My next destination: the place where Imtiyaz was shot at- chanemuhalla. After a brief, ten minute humid bus ride, I reach chanemuhalla area near Bemina crossing. From the nearby people I enquire about the exact place where Imtiyaz fell to bullets that day. A passerby points at a nearby shop. That shopkeeper was witness to the whole incident, he says. He will tell you everything about that day, he says before moving on.
The shopkeeper - a young man in his early twenties - wears a cheerful demeanor and has a ready smile on his lips. On enquiring about Imtiyaz and the spot where he lay in blood after being shot at that day, his smile disappears as he points his finger to a green spot some distance away from his shop, adjacent to a playing field. I ask him if he can accompany me to that spot. He agrees, and we slowly walk towards that direction. As we near it, he points to a specific area on one edge of the sports field, on the other side of a narrow drain, close to the barbed wire separating the field from the roadside. Here, he says, Imtiyaz was shot at, and lay in a pool of blood for almost twenty minutes that day. “It was only when he raised his hand repeatedly that someone saw him”, the shopkeeper says. “And then he was taken to the hospital, but it was too late by then.”
I ask the young shopkeeper: Who fired at Imtiyaz? They fired at him, he pauses before replying, “The CRPF and the Police. They fired two shots and Imtiyaz fell down…”
Meanwhile, a customer has come to his shop. He has to rush back to his shop, he says. He takes my leave. I thank him for accompanying me. And I stay there for a while, gazing that spot where Imtiyaz bled that day, and latter died. The small grassless patch—where Imtiyaz lay unattended for twenty minutes, in blood—stands out from the rest of the greener backdrop. This small patch evokes a strange feeling of human presence—and absence—in me. It is palpable. And I can feel it. As if it is saying—‘something happened here that day. Someone bled here; someone was killed here’
Beyond this patch, at the far end of the adjacent sports field, some kids are playing cricket. Suddenly, their noise grows louder and catches my attention for a while. A wicket has fallen. They are all celebrating, hugging each other. And as I leave the place, their happy noises fade out as Imtiyaz’s death comes back to haunt me.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Memories—of a football match

It is a hot Sunday afternoon of June 2. I am in Lal Chowk, sifting sports pages of Sunday newspapers for the IPL news. Latter today is the final match—between Rajasthan royals and Chennai super kings. A friend comes along, says there is an exciting football match going on in the polo ground. Let’s go see it, he says. Not that interested in football, I bring myself, reluctantly—to watch this pre-quarterfinal football match in progress between Delhi and J&K, in polo ground. For the first time, I will watch a live match, and be part of the home crowd. We are slowly walking towards the ground. And as we near it, a wave of noise, coming out from the ground, hits us. Thousands of people are inside the ground; thousands wanting to get in. Young and old, finding the entrance blocked, jump into the ground from all sides. Unable to control the crowd flow, the police give up, and look on as the crowd pours into the ground from all sides.
The game has already begun some twenty minutes before. Although J&K is leading 2-0, no one has left the ground. I have never seen such a huge crowd, never before been part of one, that too for a football match, that too in Kashmir. It seemed as if the entire city had come to watch this particular match. The stands are all packed, every inch occupied. People are sitting, standing—some on ground, some trying to sit, some barely able to stand, but all watching the action, and all eyes focused on the players. It is a hot afternoon, people are sweating but nobody is complaining. All eyes are set on the drama unfolding in the field.
Making our way through hundreds of people, I along with my friend spot an unlikely empty space. Surprised, we grab it before someone else does. It can accommodate one person but two of us somehow fit in. After a bit of shoving and pushing, we adjust ourselves, and get a view of the game in progress. We only manage to stand though, feeling the pressure of people behind us. People behind us sitting on the stands ask us to sit down or bend as we are blocking their view. But there is no space to sit. So we bend and come on our knees. It feels uncomfortable, but soon, as the match gathers momentum, we forget our discomfort. Delhi team is in red jersey; J&K in white, the younger next to me, without looking at me, informs me in a hurried tone.

Scanning the players of J&K team, I spot a player running in the field who looks familiar to me: handsome, well built, muscular with long, free flowing hair. When he runs close to our side of the stand, I immediately recognize him. Yes, he is that handsome sporty boy of my childhood days, I tell myself. He was not good at studies, I remember, but very good at sports. He was famous in our locality for his sporting skills. But the entire neighborhood thought he is wasting his time in sports. But he had other ideas in mind, and continued playing. I remember the advice of the elderly of my neighborhood: “Don’t be like him”, they would tell me. “He only plays whole day.” You study, they would often advise me. But today that boy has become a professional footballer. Today that boy is part of J&K football team playing in front of me. Today I am proud of him. Today he represents me in the field. Today I want to clap for him. Today—I want to be like him.

Out of the many noises and many names I could make out of the crowd, one stands out—Ishfaq! Ishfaq! A child sitting next to his father knows this player plays well, and claps for him. “Ishfaq! shabash Isfaq!”, he is urging him to score another goal. This kid has found his own sporting hero today. He is not Sachin. He is not Afridi. He is not on TV. He is in front of him. He is Ishfaq, the local boy. He has already scored one goal, in the third minute of the first half. I look out for him, and from the many players in white, I spot him busy, running, engrossed in his game. For me, from the stands—he is that number at the back of his white jersey.
The crowd is restless. The crowd noise grows from applause, to hoots and boos—and to occasional local banter, especially reserved for the Delhi players. A group of people from the stands have different nicknames for the Delhi players. They sound funny in Kashmiri. Some of us laugh on this. Someone from the stands comes up with a funny name for one of the tall Delhi player who is playing well, much to his displeasure—chota khali! Hey, chota khali!, come he shouts from the stand, repeatedly, for that player to hear. Everyone laughs on this except the players. And whenever any Delhi player comes close to the edge of the field, close to the crowd—first, boos come from the crowd, then those nicknames in Kashmiri, and then—the crowd breaks into laughter. The Delhi players seem to ignore all the noises meant for them from the crowd. Instead, they put on a serious look, and try concentrating on the game. The crowd cracks jokes in Kashmiri for the Delhi players. The crowd knows that they won’t understand any of them. The Delhi players don’t understand that the joke is on them. And this evokes more laughter from the crowd.
In contrast, every move of J&K players triggers waves of applause from the crowd. Every successful pass is clapped, every player cheered on. Whenever Delhi players bring the ball near the J&K goalpost, a sudden hush descends on the stands. But as soon as the J&K goalkeeper saves the goal, the silence is broken, the home crowd stands up, and claps, in unison. The whole atmosphere comes alive. Also, every fault from any of the home player only evokes angry shouts, at times even abuse from the home crowd, for the home players. If a J&K player falls down during the play, someone shouts in Kashmiri, “aeam ha loganay daamb…” And as soon as he gets up quickly, the crowd cheers him again. “Aaj delhi ko harana hai,” one man shouts from the stands behind me. The crowd is very particular about winning against Delhi. It is a question of prestige for the home crowd. It’s palpable. I can feel it: we must win; they must lose, at any cost. George Orwell wrote in his 1945 essay, The Sporting Spirit, wrote, “It is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this.”
In the middle of second half, Ishfaq, by now very popular in the crowd, is forwarded a brilliant pass by his teammate. He catches Delhi defense by surprise, and gracefully kicks the ball straight into the goalpost. Its goal! The crowd erupts. Arms up, Ishfaq runs to hug his teammates. People shout, clap and make all sorts of noises from the stands. The lead is now 3-0. I look behind and see a jubilant crowd drowned in celebration. But he crowd wants more goals. They want an emphatic victory for their home team; and an emphatic defeat for the rival team. So they make more noise. More applause for home players; more boos for the rival team. And after some time, the home crowd is obliged. Another goal is scored by the home team. This time the crowd goes mad, and happy loud noise crescendos as the game nears the end. J&K leads by 4-0. Delhi defeat is just moments away. After some minutes, the referee blows his final whistle. Home team wins, in front of jubilant home crowd. J&K creates history, qualifies for the quarterfinal of the Santosh Trophy after 22 years. The team does a victory lap, acknowledging the tremendous support of the home crowd. In return, the crowd gives a standing ovation. And for me Ishfaq, from now on, is more than just that number on his back. He is my hero, too.

Firecrackers burst at the far end of the ground. The resulting smoke hangs in the air. The ground presents some sort of a battle scene. Outside the ground some security personnel and a few Delhi supporters are engaged in conversation. We know what it is about. Disappointed, they are talking about what went wrong, why they lost. We observe this for a while but move on, feeling victorious. We have won, they have lost. The feeling sinks in. Walking out from the ground, thinking about the crowd, I felt it was more than just a game between two teams. And suddenly my friend, overwhelmed by the sight of this huge crowd, instinctively remarks, “We are a sports loving nation”. Nation—I repeat this word to myself, and keep walking. Today, Kashmir won against Delhi. That does not happen everyday. But that happened today, in polo ground.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Azi dies...

Azi is in pain, sad eyes, Swollen, shut
With grief for a Son languishing inside Tihar jail.
Azi wants to see her son, I read in the paper.
Air pipe attached to nose, she won’t breathe, refuses.
She needs assistance to breathe.
She needs more, her son—a reason to breathe.
One meeting - to add some life to her breathes.
Some moments - to reclaim a mother’s feeling.
Last wish, one meeting at least
Just one last time, just one more look,
Just his sight, just for a while, Just for azi,
for her swollen eyes, To subside, with her sons sight.
But, they won’t allow her to meet
They don’t open the prison gates.
Gates that open only to close, forever.
Gates that separate-- sons from mothers.
Sons from fathers; brothers from sisters.
But Mother, mother wants come in at least
And see her son from the prison bars
But they won’t even allow that
And Azi dies in the intervening night;
the news cries out the next day
Azi dies...Azi dies...
Azi breathes her last, before meeting her jailed son
Her last wish, unfulfilled
Her son, still in jail, unaware of mothers death.
A mother dies for her son across the prison gate.
Eyes closed now, forever shut like those prison gates.
They won’t open now to see her son free
But she will meet him above, in God’s kingdom.
Where there are no prison gates, no Tihar jail
Just Azi and her Son
Free to meet, Free to embrace

Agony of waiting

There is one thing that weighs heavily on a Kashmiri mind. That is, ‘wait’ - a prolonged agony. It is that restless state in which you see hope when there is none. You want the wait to end when it gets only longer. You wait for someone to come and end this wait when infact - nobody comes. Over all these years of violence and bloodshed, we have waited for peace. In return thousands of innocent Kashmiris rest in peace, inside graves, in oblivion. The rest of the people who survived are left without peace of mind. We wait for that peaceful life, that elusive peace of mind. Kashmiris are waiting for their problems to be solved by those who are part of the problem. Those who can solve Kashmir issue have only problems to offer. We are waiting for a solution but getting only sufferings in return. Till now the wait did not bear any fruit except- more wait?
Wait is a common thread that runs across day-to-day life in Kashmir. You wait for your near and dear one’s to return home safely. You wait when the curfew is imposed so that it is lifted. You wait for the encounter to end. You wait for hartals to end or begin. You wait till the security man frisks you to move on. Or if you happen to spot just a little more beard, then you have to wait more than the clean-shaven guys. You may think other wise, but your identity is suspect in their eyes. Your identity card will be scrutinized more closely. Even on streets you have to wait and give way to security vehicles. If you happen to be traveling by public transport and suddenly that dreaded ‘convoy’ happens to pass by. You are made to wait till all those army vehicles whiz past with armed men atop blowing threatening whistles.
Dare you come in between that convoy even by mistake, that may turn out to be the most fatal mistake. Wait and watch is all you can do. You can’t go ahead of these military vehicles; they have to be ahead of you, always. That’s the unwritten rule on our roads which every Kashmiri has to follow. Even our poor traffic policemen know it. They just look on, and wait, while these vehicles take over our roads.
First they are allowed to pass by and then our vehicles can move on. You see, Traffic rules are meant for public transport while security vehicles have their own rules. Actually they make all the rules and we are just supposed to follow them, not question them.
Here everybody seems to be in wait for somebody who can end this wait forever. For those who lost their loved ones, the wait is on for a peaceful tomorrow when no one is killed for being an innocent. Those whose sons disappeared in thin air are waiting with moist eyes for their return home. Their wait never seems to end. Theirs is a prolonged agony. They will wait for their dear ones as long as they breathe. Similarly our youth are waiting for a bright and prosperous future to live in. where they are no longer asked to produce identity cards in their own homeland by those who come from outside. The youth are waiting for a road ahead not a road that leads nowhere, a dead end. The youth are waiting for a tomorrow where they can realize their dreams. Not nightmares of today where shadow of guns looms large - on their dreams, on their future. Where only thing certain is the uncertain future. How long will this wait continue? Yet again, we will have to wait for this question to be answered.
People wait for those rare and endangered species - sincere and honest leaders. Leaders who can lead all of us out of this mess we are in. But till now they remain like fugitives -most wanted. The wait is getting only longer and painful. Although our so-called leaders and politicians would have us believe that they are the ones we were waiting for .That our wait is over as they have arrived to take care of us. We learn our lessons latter. Here we put our trust in them and there they betray our trust. It does not take much time. It is just a matter of time when they change their positions, statements, parties and what not. We realize in retrospect that they were actually waiting for power, while we waited for them.
They actually believe in serving their own interests rather than serving people. Of course they do serve their people but only their near and dear ones. Once we put our trust in them and let them call as our representatives. It is only then they begin to represent their own interests. Suddenly they become inaccessible to public, moving around in high security cavalcades. Once in power they are not supposed to meet people, people have to seek appointments to meet them.
Our leaders are least concerned about creating more leaders like leaders should. They are happy with only more and more followers who are supposed to follow them, blindly. Our leaders make promises that they cash upon latter for their benefit. What we realize latter is a lesson – politician’s make a lot of promises but they never keep them. Where are the visionary leaders? Where is the vision? Only power is in their vision, and that’s what they see. Our ‘leaders’ have nothing to offer except calls for those endless strikes and ‘hartals’. Our leaders have the sight but no vision to offer for the future. They can see for sure, but they don’t want to see the reality. They can see their own interests but not the interests of people.
Now we are waiting for intellectuals to make us understand this complex feeling of wait. But intellectuals of substance who can enjoy the trust of people, whom people can look up to and take pride in their scholarship, intellectuals who can fill the vacuum occupied by our politicians, not the ones whose scholarship is half-baked. Not those who can easily toe the official line in lieu of some reward or award. Not those who enjoy official patronage or use their intellect to get official positions. But intellectuals who can resist government favor from time to time, and question the official version for public benefit.
Intellectuals who are ready to suffer for people and articulate their pain and sufferings to the world. Intellectuals who are not afraid to tell the truth, and expose the lies of the powers that be. Intellectuals who don’t cry hoarse from rooftops, but are on the ground, hand in hand, with the common people. The intellectuals who are from the people, by the people and for the people - the public intellectuals. Intellectuals will not come from outside to fight for us nor can we expect them to. Intellectuals will not be revealed onto us; they will have to spring forth from the people. The sooner it happens, the better for us. The wait is on, for them.
We are caught in the complexity of this endless wait. Entangled in the present quagmire, waiting to be set free. What needs to be done to end this wait? Wait more or wait no more? When will we wake up to that dawn signaling the end of this wait? Woe subha kab ayae gee? -When will that dawn break? The dawn that will no longer be an illusion. The dawn that ushers a new beginning of peace and prosperity.
Hopes sustain life. We can Hope for that dawn to break soon. Hope.
Woe subha kabhi to ayae gee.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Seeing hope in hopelessness

Question: What is the future of Kashmir?
Answer: Good question.
When past was imperfect and present is tense, and when past was soaked in blood and present is baying for more blood, the question is what can you expect from the future? And what can you expect to see in future? I don’t have an answer except--hope. Hope of a better future, hope of a better Kashmir to live in. I am hopeful because hope means promise; because it is only hope that cheers you up amidst the despair of present hopelessness. I always hope, for a better tomorrow, even if people tell me that there is none. I am hopeful of a Kashmir that is bright and beautiful and peaceful even if I’ll not be there to see it. The present has nothing new to offer to the present generation except hope of a better future to live in. We can always hope. We can all hope. Perhaps, we can only hope. But it’s good to hope because hope looks towards future, emerges from the present, and forgets the painful past.
The only soothing word that provides solace amidst all the dispiriting words we live amongst—violence, conflict, armed forces, bunkers, hartals, guns, bullets, encounters and political uncertainty—is hope. Hope is like that soul in us that has not yet died, will never die, can’t be killed, escapes death and reminds us of life, ahead. Hope is like that invisible thread that pulls us all towards that promise of a better future, towards that thought of a better future. Hope has that inherent promise of being fulfilled in future. Hope lives in our hearts and reminds us to-- take heart; things will be better, soon. Keep hoping, hope says, but don’t sit idle, work on your dreams that you hope to realize one day. And if we look closely, there is hope even in hopelessness. Hope gives us sight when we are unable to see. Hope is blind man’s sight. Hope shows the vision when our sight is blocked. Hope provides wings when we are unable to walk. And then we fly and no longer walk. Hope even rises from hopes that are dashed to ground. Even from the ashes, new hopes emerge.
Another question: How long can we hope? Answer: don’t ask.
Because it doesn’t matter. Because we will still hope, keep hoping for that prosperous future no matter how long it takes to realize. We will continue to hope even if we know that there is no hope. Even if people tell us-there is no hope, stop hoping. But we hope. Hope against hope. We are hopeful. Hope after hope. We are hoping. One hope, another hope, many hopes. Hopes innumerable:
We hope Kashmir issue no longer remains an issue. We hope Kashmir dispute is solved, conflict resolved. We hope our voices are listened, cries heard, and aspirations met. Amidst violence we hope for peace to prevail. When we hear gunshots on the streets, we hope nobody is hurt, and people survive. And when somebody is wounded, we hope he doesn’t die. Amidst death we hope for life. And amidst that life before death, we hope for better life, for peace. Engulfed in the darkness of present, we hope for light to emerge, and show us a way forward. Amidst our leaders gone astray, we hope for leaders to emerge, and leadership to lead. Amidst many divisions, we hope for unity. Amidst wavering opinions, we hope for a firm stand. Amidst changing statements, we hope for a principle stand. Amidst the dilemmas of our belongingness, we hope to belong somewhere. On the path of destruction, we hope for progress. Amidst all of our collective melancholy, we hope for happiness to return. Amidst pain, we hope for joy to bring back cheer.
No matter how violent present is and how bleak future looks, we still hope, and continue to hope because that’s all we can do. Hope is that thing in our hands which no one can destroy. Hope is that possession of ours which no one can take away from us. Hope is an invisible thing but it is still there in our hearts and minds. Like a ray of light, hopes emerges and lights the path of a brighter tomorrow, for a better future. That ray of hope then turns into light, becomes a torch. That’s when hope becomes a reality of what we once hoped to live.
You can kill people but you cannot kill hope. You can pump bullets into people, make them bleed, spill their blood, but hope is impenetrable to bullets. And hope does not bleed like us; it only breeds more hopes. You can make people to disappear, jail them, torture them, make them week, but hope-- hope will still remain there, firm. And hope will triumph in the end. When nothing remains, hopes emerge. Hopes sustain life and sow the seeds of life that is ahead, that is better than the present. Hopes never rest except on more hopes. Hope is everything and often comes out of nothing. And when everything is lost, hope remains. And remember when hopes are lost, everything is lost. Everything.
Here, my words of hope-- come out of the present hopelessness, for a better future, for a better Kashmir, which I know is distant but not that far