“Crackdown ha gow nebir kin, daari darwaze kariw band”, a man runs up and downstairs and shuts down the doors and windows of his old, bullet-tattered house, from the bottom to the top floor.
“Army has cordoned off the area, shut down the doors and windows!”
Amidst 3 children, a sick wife and an old mother, the man was the elder of the house. Everyone looked forward to him and felt safe with him in the house.
The man, Altaf, was a carpenter by profession and lived in a crowded downtown locality. He didn’t own a workshop; after getting married at a very early stage in life his father had mysteriously gone missing, leaving him as the only working hand in the house. With three children, a wife and mother to look after, Altaf hired some tools from a shop and began looking for work in the neighborhood. He would walk hours in rain, snow as well as grilling heat and yell at the top of his lungs, “almaari sheran, darwaze sheran, daari sheran, sheeshe lagaan ho!” – “I fix cupboards! I fix doors! I fix windows, I fix broken windowpanes!”
He would sporadically find work and earn a meager amount of money, just enough to nurse the family and buy medicines for his ailing wife. He would run from pillar to post, whenever possible, to enquire about his disappeared father. Since the number of Mujahideen had multiplied in a very short time, and firings and grenade attacks on the indian forces was a common happening, he would sit at home, sometimes for days together, borrowing rice and milk from the neighbors, slipping through the backdoor and climbing over walls and roofs to reach Imran, the shopkeeper, at his home to buy food. Life was getting more and more difficult with each passing day.
Nafeesa, Zainab and Mohsin – his three children were, unfortunately, born in a time when the armed rebellion against the Occupation of India in Kashmir was at an all-time high. They never got to study in a school, or play outside without their mother calling out from her bed every two minutes, just to make sure they were all right. They would infrequently visit their aunt’s home nearby, escorted by their father, to play with their cousins and come back before dark, fearing getting caught in a crossfire or an undeclared curfew. Curfews and hartals had collapsed the economy completely and brought the people down to their knees. Some households would even cook decayed vegetables and eat foul breads, either because they didn’t have enough money or they would find it safer than risking getting shot by the armed hoodlums who would harass and terrorize them, pounding on their doors and windows every once in a while.
“ghair moina curfew ka elaan kiya jata hai, meherbani karke apne gharon se bahar mat aayiye, dekhte hi goli maarne ka hukm hai” – “An indefinite curfew has been declared, please don’t come out of your homes, we have ‘shoot at sight’ orders”. A loudspeaker mounted on a worn-out vehicle of J&K police announces, while the driver makes a quick run through the bylanes of the downtown making tricky maneuvers. Suddenly, a huge explosion tears through the lane, followed by sustained gunfire, cracking the windowpanes of Altaf’s house! “gypsy ha lagowukh garnade”- “The gypsy has been attacked with a grenade!” Altaf screams while running across the narrow gallery to see if everyone was ok, gets hold of his children and locks everyone inside a room.
Lying on a bed in the same room, Shamli – Altaf’s wife, sobs and huffs in pain because of her back and tells everyone to remain unobtrusive. The frightful sound of army boots trooping and stomping through the lane, the chains attached to their guns knocking against the gunmetal was a common occurrence, but equally frightful, every single time. “Military aayi, me basaan ais achow Bashirun!” – “The military has come, I think we should go over to Bashir’s home,” Altaf’s mother emphasizes with a nervous tone. He remains silent while staring at his wife unconsciously, lost somewhere in time.
Bashir Ahmed, Altaf’s next door neighbor and an employee of the state garage, the only close friend of Altaf, had been killed violently in the aftermath of a firing incident outside his office. It was stated that after Mujahideen opened fire on a police party outside the state garage, the army entered Bashir’s office in rage and pumped a volley of bullets into him. Altaf still remembered the color of blood on his white khandress on that fateful Friday afternoon, when he stood in renunciation while Bashir’s bullet-ridden body, that had just been carried from the state garage in Batamaloo to his home, being buried in a graveyard, with a tombstone stating Bashir’s martyrdom – “Shaheed Bashir Ahmed”. Coming back to senses and heaving a sigh, Altaf musters up courage and opens his window slightly, trying to assess the situation outside. As the window cracks open, an army personnel standing just outside his door hurls an abuse towards him and orders him to shut the window down while aiming a gun at him.
“hai amis tawan pyon! shuren chune dodh ti kiheen, me basaan curfew gachi sakht”- “God’s wrath be on him! We don’t even have milk for children, I think the curfew will be very strict”, Shamli – Altaf’s wife, exclaims. Altaf states the situation as unsafe. “pakiw angnas manz neriw”, “Come out to the backyard,” Altaf orders the children. He asks the old mother and Shamli to follow. Once in the backyard, Altaf squeezes through a hole in the wall and lands into Bashir’s clasped backyard. Shamli passes on the children and crosses along with her mother-in-law. Bashir’s three unmarried sisters, already terrified because of the crackdown, had locked themselves in a room, Altaf’s family being in the house with them made them feel a bit safer.
“Yaseena, military ha che aamich koche mainz, ais pazi nerun wain” – “Yaseen! The military is closing in on the lane now, we should leave”. An accomplice whispers into Yaseen Malik’s ear. A few blocks away from Altaf’s home, a group of top brass rebels of that time, honoring and commemorating Bashir’s martyrdom in a nearby field “Darbagh” on the same day, discussed among themselves. Darbagh had been a symbol of resistance ever since the beginning of armed rebellion in Kashmir. Every year on the 14th of August, Mujahideen outfitted in proper liveries or uniforms would hoist the Pakistani flag in this very ground, and the top commanders-in-chief of rebel fighting tanzeems would take salutes from their small armies.
Yaseen Malik, Javed Mir, Shabbir Shah, Hameed Sheikh, Mushtaq Kuttey, Puppa Chaan (alias) and Biel Goor (alias), among other mujahideen, were planning to leave Darbagh now, since the military had cordoned off the roads across the bridge. They decided to sneak out through the river. Upon reaching the bank, they discover Amme Goor (alias) the boatman, sleeping in his small boat (shikara), unaware of the situation that had developed after the grenade attack. Amme Goor agrees to row them across the river.
While the fighters continue to hold the army back in the lane, sending volleys of bullets toward them every now and then, the top fighters board the shikara to cross the river. Just across the lane, Altaf’s family, now hiding at Bashir’s home, see a speeding armored vehicle whizzing across the lane, bumping and scratching against the poles and walls of the narrow lane. The fighters run in different directions, leaving the leaders unprotected. Next thing, a very black, emotionless – peculiar face with a feel of plastic on it appears out of the armored vehicle stationary on the bridge, above the boat carrying the men across the river, along with a rocket launcher. He fires within a fraction of a second, making the little boat roll over and shatter into a thousand pieces. Half of the leaders die promptly, along with Mushtaq Kuttay, Hameed Sheikh and the boatman Amma Goor. The rest manage to swim out and escape with injuries.
The enormous sound of the blast rips through the locality. Low shrieks and wails would reach Altaf’s ears every now and then, and he would ponder over what had just happened. He decides to look out of the top floor window. Within the moment, another platoon sized party of army personnel whiz past Bashir’s home in a ‘bakhtarband’ (armoured vehicle), while firing brazenly and indiscriminately towards the houses on both sides of the lane. Altaf, peeping through the window, feels a sharp pain in his neck and collapses on the mud floor, blood gushing out of his neck and following the path downstairs. “Hata Rasooli Khudaya, Altafas ha aai gooil! Altaf ha moruk! Myani khodayooooo” –“Oh Messenger of God! Altaf has been shot! Altaf has been killed! Oh my God!” Bashir’s sister suddenly cries and wails at the top of her lungs, discovering the stream of blood tipping down the side of the staircase. Shamli climbs up the stairs, forgetting her ailing back, with a glass of water and tries to make Altaf drink it. “Altafa, Altafa wothu! Ratu chu treish! yina me trawakh! ” –“Altaf? Wake up, Altaf! Have some water! Don’t you leave me!” He doesn’t respond to her requests and orders to wake up.
Altaf is dead. Alongwith him the future of his children, wife and old mother. The sole bread-earner of the family is lost to the tyrants’ rage and fury. The children are orphaned, the wife is widowed.
One among the mourners, later that day, asked Altaf’s son Mohsin, “Mohsin soba, che kya chui banun bod gachit?” –“Dear Mohsin, what do u want to be when you grow up?”
And he replies, “Pappe moar army, me chu mujahid banun”, “My father was killed by the army and I want to be a Mujahid…!”