In the heart of Srinagar, in the winding streets of its downtown, the protesting stone-pelters—mostly school and college students—had organized themselves into small, compact units. When not busy clashing with the police and the paramilitary forces, they engaged in endless discussions. These were wide-ranging, from narratives of love affairs to the unravelling of the Kashmir problem and the search for a solution, as well as the comparing of notes on the various instruments and techniques of stone-pelting. As the curfew became stricter, the debates too bloomed.
On one of those curfew days, a new officer arrived to take charge of one of the countless paramilitary camps in the downtown. Shobha Rani was soon briefed about the geography and sociology of her operational area. This included acquainting her with the area’s prominent personalities—its main stone-pelters.
The arrival of this young and beautiful woman officer swelled the blood of the young stone-pelters, producing many conflicting emotions. She soon became the hot topic of their discussions.
A few revolutionaries held the opinion that taking on a woman was below their dignity. Some saw a deep conspiracy in the deployment of a lady officer. Still others were of the view that once they don a uniform, men—or women—are all the same. Yet another school of thought pitied India for sending women to fight its wars.
In the midst of these relentless debates, a very active stone-pelting unit, made up of five close friends, became victims of a strange dilemma.
One of the friends disclosed that he had been arrested by a weakness for Shobha Rani. Thereafter, one by one, the others too divulged that they had been afflicted by similar, unrequited love.
Events soon began to freeze up this group of five stone-pelting friends. In place of the sounds of bullets and the clatter of the teargas shells they now started to seek refuge in the melancholic songs of Mohammad Rafi. This change in their outlook could not go unnoticed. For this was a place where just the depth of a furrowed brow could let people distinguish between someone coming back from a meeting with a lover, or returning from a rendezvous with a spook. Now doubtful of their commitment, the shadows of the grapevine were briefly aflutter with whispers.
But nationalistic fervor and revolutionary zeal soon jolted the five friends out of their dormancy. Steeling their resolve, they once again became active participants in the street protests, gaining greater prominence than ever before.
However, as they threw stone after heavy stone, they were still weighed down by an overwhelming longing for the object of their love. It was as if the very image of her tresses had made a Medusa of her. They managed to encircle Shobha Rani more than once, but their limbs grew heavy, and simply refused to hurl stones at her.
Ultimately, they tried to end the dilemma of this extreme test of conflicting emotions.
They sent her a joint letter. Respected Shobha Rani jee, it said.
We Gudde, Rajje, Mithe, Gugge and Saebe do all love you.
We promise, that if you choose any one of us as your life-partner, we will give up stone-pelting.
But we have a condition too.
We will continue demanding Azadi.
From Until My Freedom has Come