- By: Lonesome Kashmiri
Warm summer night in Kashmir and I am lying down on the terrace of our house. I look up and see the dark sky filled with endless stars. There were so many of them decorating the sky, some of them twinkling as if telling me their secrets. I was talking to my sisters and cousins who were lying beside me and all of us trying to count the stars. I remember the giggling and the conspiratory whispers. All of us trying to be as quiet as we could so that the elders do not have a reason to shout at us. I remember the losing battle against the mosquitoes and I remember the dull light of a bulb at our neighbor’s house. I remember the cold breeze that whispered across my face. I remember the sweetness of flowers in the air. I remember the low sound of my father’s radio listening to BBC Urdu. I remember the occasional barking of a street dog at his imaginary enemies. I remember the melody of the stream besides my house. I remember the peace, the tranquility and the serenity of the dark night enclosing me in its embrace. At a distance I could see the fireflies dancing their mysterious dance. The silence of the night was shattered with hum of roaring vehicles along the road. All of a sudden the radio that my father was listening to was abruptly shut down. The Light bulb at my neighbor’s house was quickly turned off. Suddenly my father shouted at us to get back inside the house. All of the kids started quickly getting inside. The giggling and the whispers stopped. All of us filled with dread. My father asked my uncle to bolt and lock all the doors and windows. I went to my grandfather who sat me on his lap. The noise of the motor vehicles was coming closer and closer. The closer the noise sounded my heart automatically started beating faster. And then the noise stopped and again silence of the night was established. My father looked through a small gap in the window and tried to see in the darkness. His face was glued to the window and after a few minutes he said that an Army Convoy has just stopped near the Bus Stop. We knew that we have to keep quiet till these vehicles leave the village. The Army Convoy was a bad news and nobody could relax till they left. My father still looking through the window said that the army is getting down from the vehicles and are now coming towards the houses. Army getting down from their vehicles was an even bigger bad news. It meant that they had come for an arrest or to kill someone. I was truly afraid now and snuggled closer to my grandfather. I heard the sound of the boots in the silence of the night. The boots were sounding near and near. And then came the horrible knock on our door. I was petrified and I know other kids were terrified as well. My father told us to stay back and went to answer the door. On opening the door, hundreds of Army men were outside of our house. The conversation between the army men and my father was muted. After a while my father came back and told us that the army is asking for Abdul Samad’s house. And the army has asked him to go with them to their house. My father then went out again and again talked to the army commander. After a while the voices started getting louder and my father was refusing to go with them. My father told them that he was a senior officer in the government and the army cannot make him to come with them. Then my father came back inside the house and told us that the army is now going towards Abdul Samad’s house. Everyone around starting breathing normally again in the room. However the dread was still in the air and we knew that we cannot relax until the Army has gone from the village. All of us stared at each other without talking. With terror in the air all of us waited with bated breath. After a while we hear noises coming from neighboring houses. Suddenly there was crying and wailing which shattered the deathly silence of the night. At the same time we heard gun shots fired. And an agonized cry of an individual resonated throughout the neighborhood. Suddenly our neighbour shouted “Ayub Ha Korukh Shaheed” (They have martyred Ayub). I could not believe it, Ayub was only 21 and was a farmer by profession. He was the sole bread winner for his family. Then all hell broke loose and we ran outside. We saw Army running back towards their vehicles and some of the young men started throwing stones at them. My father asked the youngmen to stop it because the Army was a band of animals and they would not hesitate to kill more. Sensibility prevailed and the youth stopped. We ran towards Abdul Samad’s house and the scene I saw there would forever haunt me. I saw Shaheed Ayub’s mother holding her dead son in her arms in the moon light. She was completely silent and was staring at her son’s face without blinking. The blood was oozing from Shaheed Ayub’s wounds and was flowing on the ground. His young brother and his disabled father were trying very hard to silence their sobs but it was proving to be impossible. The neighbourhood women including my mother were crying with everyone in shock. After a while everyone seemed to have realized that indeed this tragedy has just happened. Then shock gave way to grief and not a single person was there whose face was not stained with tears. The children and the women could not stop crying. And the Night suddenly turned even darker and whole air was filled with pain. My father shouted at me and asked me to go back home. I looked at Young Shaheed Ayub’s face and that image is frozen in my memory for eternity. And that was the last time I saw him. While walking back towards my house at that time I did not realize that India had given me one more scar which would never heal. One more injury which could never be cured. One more tragedy which I would never forget and one more painful memory which will never be erased. Back at my house I sit by the window again. I look into the distance through the window at the fireflies that are unconcerned at the tragedy in the air. A child’s innocence was robbed and how I wished at that time it had never happened. I kept staring at the fireflies till the early dawn consumed them.