My friend, did the news of my murder reach you?
Yes, I am dead, shot dead, yesterday, tomorrow, day after tomorrow or day before yesterday. In Budgam, in Baramulla or Banihal, I can be anyone from anywhere in Kashmir and I am dead. I remember it exactly. I remember my death. I remember the face of my killer, his clothes and the gun. I saw his eyes. I know him. He is everywhere in Kashmir.
I leave home with the battery of my phone half-dead. I tell my girl, “I can’t whatsapp.” I was going out. My younger cousin joined me, to get a haircut. Another one followed. He just needs the drive. One more, the youngest, wants to come along for something, anything. When cousins are together, it is fun, isn’t it? Music is loud and there are too many stories and jokes.
So we get in the car. We cross the marketplace, carefully, safely. It is buzzing with commuters and traffic. There is no curfew today. At the barbeque stall, there is an unusual rush. We drive past the stall, fast, to avoid the temptation. Ahead, under the shade of that mighty Chinar, the smell of aloo munje (French fries stand nowhere in comparison) makes the air erotic. We grab four packets, with separate chutni.
We continue the drive. Near the shrine, we lower the volume of music player. We drive fast. A military camp comes into sight. Since it is daytime, we are not supposed to turn off the lights of our car. They are already off. We are not on foot either, so there is no need to raise our pherans. Besides, Aloo munje taste sumptuous. We don’t talk to each other. We eat fast, so that we can eat more from another’s packet.
Then something happens. I don’t know what has happened. We just keep driving.
The music plays on but there is an eerie silence. Our car hits a poplar tree by the roadside. I don’t exactly remember how many bullets they fired. But they fired and kept firing till they could fire no more. It was red. There was blood. My blood. My cousin’s blood. And another’s and another’s. Our blood, with shattered glass.
I looked back from the rear window. We are still their aim. They have hit the bull’s eye, the shooters, the murderers, but we are still a target. And I die there, looking at them, at my killer, in his eyes. I know them, all of them. I see them every day. They don’t belong here. They are not us. They are aliens.
They fire at us because they have guns in their hands; they can because they have the power that comes with impunity; they fire because that is what they are meant to do; they kill because that is what they are here for, that is what keeps them here. The day they don’t fire, they won’t be here. And the day they won’t be here, we will win, without firing back, without killing them.
For now, I lie there, dead. I don’t see anything now but I can see everything. They don’t let people come near our car. They think it will soon explode. They had aimed at the fuel tank too, but they missed it. The damn car won’t explode and reduce us into nothingness. We are a threat now. We are identifiable. We can’t be labeled as terrorists. We were petty civilians.
Now people begin chanting slogans. That’s the best thing we do in Kashmir. We have slogans for everything; from power cuts to Azaadi, from death to victory. My body is lifted by some hands, carefully. I leave behind my slippers and phone inside the car.
My friend, please visit my home and tell someone to fetch my slippers. Or bring them yourself. Remember, don’t tell mother about them. She should not see my slippers drenched in stale blood. She will go mad. Don’t even tell my father. He will hold them close to his chest and injure his bruised soul. He will start crying all over again. Please wash them, my slippers, and keep them on the shoe rack at the gate of my home.
This is not the detail of my death, my friend. It is tale of my existence, my reality. They kill and then apologize. They kill again and apologize. I will be shot again, they will apologize again, tomorrow and day after tomorrow, inside my car or on the roadside, in some far-off jungle or my own orchard, I will be killed again. But one day, some day, I will live forever. Free. In freedom.
Till then, live and die. Die and live.