By Abir Bashir Bazaaz
The city is Curfewed for 17 days. There is no relaxation in the Curfew for 17 days in Downtown Srinagar, the nerve centre of the Kashmiri revolt. The Army is out in Kashmir, the schools, the hospitals turn into barracks and bazaars into battlefields.
Everybody blames the government. I blame myself. I cross many military checkpoints on the way to school after the curfew days, fearless, in identification with the men behind the sandbags. You carry your identification on you. India’s national emblem emblazoned on the ID card. Ashoka’s Lions – the symbol of India’s commitment to peace, the sole guarantee of your existence. There’s also the vague assurance: Truth alone shall prevail.
My grandmother blames Sheikh Abdullah for this permanent Revolution, the Inquilab. My mother is overanxious, all Srinagar mothers are overanxious: Hum Hindustan ka khate hain, Always. I listen to Radio Azad Kashmir. I fight with my mother. I change. Spring is the season of blood. The JKLF militants hide in sewers or shrines before the city opens its doors. Buddhist monks fleeing persecution had sought sanctuary in Srinagar. Now the JKLF marches to Chrar-e-Sharief. They vow liberation. They fail. No one, nothing can put into words the six months, and especially the first weeks, in Srinagar
In 1990, Things get worse. The Pandits leave Kashmir. Srinagar lays siege to Jammu and Delhi as refugees. I am no longer in Green Vale, my school. The Green Vale School is miniature Srinagar; the experimental school humbled by its rival – the Muslim Educational Trust. Green Vale is Albinioni’s adagio, the Romeo-Juliet Bridge in Sarajevo. We study the Ramayana in class. We speak of Yusuf’s Beauty and Yaqub’s Patience. Inallaha ma’al Sabireen. Allah is with the Patient.
I remember my Srinagar… Tushar loves Muslim mythology (Friday sermons to bribe Tushar), Deepu roots for Pakistan in the India-Pakistan hockey matches, Vivek’s father lend me the book on Dialectical Materialism and I lose my religion to Vishal’s 25-paisa Hindu roti, my Kashmiri Shaivism… the city of absences. I’m everything you lost. You won’t forgive me.
“Send him to Bombay with us. We can take care of him. He is quite talented. Yeh yahan is mahool mein kya karega” (What will he do in this chaotic environment?), The Principal tells my mother. I change my school. My new school is New Era, New Era Public School. We dodge grenades for years to meet friends at Hideout Café where I exchange Poetry for coffee and the azaadi.
I carry with myself is the moment when I kicked the barricade outside a military bunker.
There is no news of us in the world. People tune to BBC Urdu every evening at 8:30 & 11:00… we become the children of news. “Yeh BBC London hai” (This is BBC London)… we lower the volume so as not to attract any attention and huddle over the radio as if it’d tell our truth to us.
There is no electricity in Sarajevo, no electricity in Srinagar. Srinagar is deserted in winter. Blackouts. BBC London. No electricity for days. Before dying my grandmother looked out the window at the sky and said, “Now I want to be free”.
You can choose your target in Srinagar-Sarajevo, kill the son and then shoot the mother in the stomach so that she can watch him die before her own death. They keep firing to even kill two people you end up firing for minutes. It isn’t easy to kill people.
People hear shouts from interrogation centres. Landmines tore bodies to bits and pieces, severed the limbs and peeled off faces as if they were masks. Five thousand years of Srinagar is ruins, the shatter of shrapnel. The ruins of Beirut. The ruins of the spirit. The spirit is Sabra, the spirit is Shattila.
The relatives of nearly 2,000 people who disappeared are still tracing their loved ones. “Please tell us whether they are dead or alive”.
They destroyed the memorial that the children of the disappeared had built for their missing fathers. They write slogans with the barrels of their guns, the seven-year-old boy’s splattered brains their ink. The Sikh soldier confesses in the Crackdown… he pulls out this diary to read out names of localities where if attacked they must fire indiscriminately, to kill. “Here on the Airport Road we must be careful”.
In spring as the almond trees bloom, the war tourists come to Srinagar, Journalists from Delhi. They occupy the Ahdoos Hotel on river Jhelum in the restaurant at Ahdoos the air is thick with xenophobia that the journalists carry with them from Delhi. Loss and suffering, just like the global debt, are negotiable and for sale.
Welcome to Sarajevo.
The ubiquitous TATA bus transports dreams to Lal Chowk “ Apoor, apoor” (across, across the Jhelum) to Lal Chowk. Srinagar-Sarajevo is the city of Border Crossings. Crossing over is quite common. The bus crosses Miljacka-Jhelum to apoor apoor Lal Chowk. Cross over to Srinagar-Sarajevo. The Land of Forgetting, Paradise on Earth. And then the boys of the border crossings also get killed… 73 on 5 May 1991… People in Srinagar mourn them in colourful wedding tents.
This then is the Imaginary of my Srinagar,the houses abandoned by Kashmiri Pandits, Pir-e-Rishiyan Nund Rishi, Lalla Ded, Nagarjuna, Abhinavagupta, Left melancholy, the fetishism of Kashmiri nationalists, the hyacinth roofs, fin-de-siècle bricks, the Jewish faces (I too am a bit of a Jew), the Aryan noses, Lal Chowk and other squares, Hideout and other Cafés and saints’ shrines.
The Space in my city is a ribbon of bullets.
Hind Bookshop no longer exists and there are no books in Kashmir Bookshop. Lal Chowk is set ablaze. Palladium cinema is destroyed. Only the facade of the foyer is left…the broken wall frames the singed Srinagar sky as the screen of the Palladium’s past…countless Hindi films fade to flames. I see Dr. Guru’s dead body. There is a hole under his neck… tears flow… this must be madness. My friend, how can I share your grief? They shot Dr Guru in cold blood outside his hospital. We move out with the funeral, they shoot at the funeral procession… I lie buried under people bicycles people… La Illaha Illallaha Muhammada Rasul Allah… this is Death. I run. They killed everybody, they killed everybody…and they killed just one man… I follow him through blood on the road and hundreds of pairs of shoes the mourners left behind, as they ran from the funeral, victims of them firing… “Who remembers who killed whom?”… I turn to psychoanalysis and Buddhism.
Maybe in the words of Fawaz Turki, I am too young to be Kashmiri. I am running away.
How long do I run?