‘My Friend Faizan’

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Faizan was the youngest militant to be killed this summer. But why did a class X boy pick up gun? What he wanted to prove and how? In order to understand the enigma, Shams Irfan traced his friend to see what goes inside the troubled teenage minds in Kashmir

May 27, 2017.  7:45 am. Ajaz, 16, a Class 10 student, joins his classmates outside his tuition centre near Goal Masjid in Tral.

As students began walking towards classrooms, a young boy made his way through the crowd and tapped Ajaz on the shoulder. “Dapaan Faizan cheh fasith (I heard Faizan is trapped in a siege),” He whispered in his ear.

For a moment Ajaz didn’t react, rather, he kept his eyes fixed in the distance.  Faizan,  his childhood friend had joined Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants, just 84 days back.

Ajaz silently walked out of the crowd and headed straight towards Faizan’s house, barely 300 meters from the tuition centre. The ‘messenger’ boy followed him.

On the main road, Aijaz saw a group of boys, probably from Nurpura village, walking towards the town’s square. They were shouting occasional slogans praising Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, 32, and Faizan Muzaffar Bhat, 16, two local Hizb militants feared engaged in an encounter since last night in Saimoh village. He followed these boys and reached near the town square. Soon, around three hundred boys, assembled. It included Ajaz’s all the classmates as tuition classes were suspended for the day.  Before joining militancy Faizan was enrolled in the same tuition centre for 4:30 pm slot.

Boys were angry. Then a young boy, who hid his face with a green cloth, after checking his mobile phone, announced with confidence, “Alhamdullilah (Thank Allah) they are safe.”

Even Ajaz recalled he had met Faizan’s father only a few hours back. A farmer, Faizan’s father was on way to his fields. “If Faizan was trapped in Saimoh, his father would not have gone to work!” thought Ajaz.

But that was not the case.

In Saimoh, just 15 minutes drive from Tral town, amid smouldering doors and window, Faizan and Sabzar fought for survival as around 500 men with automatic weapons inched closer, for their ‘prized kill’. At 11:15 am, one of Ajaz’s classmates came running towards the square, with eyes full of tears, and reached near Ajaz.

Without catching his breath, the boy took out his smart-phone and showed Ajaz pictures of two bullet-ridden bodies, lying on the ground, as smoke billowed from a half-burnt two-storey house in the background. “Faizan ha gov shaheed,” said the boy loudly.

Ajaz got up and started a long and painful walk towards his home. “When did we last meet?” Ajaz asked himself as he reached home.

Last Meeting

Friends since childhood, Ajaz and Faizan attended Future Vision Model School, barely five-minute walk from Faizan’s two-storey modest house in Tral.

However, in 7th standard, Faizan’s parents shifted him to Madrase Taleemul Islam (MTI), near Goal Masjid. “I am not sure why he changed his school,” said Ajaz. “Maybe, it was because of financial issues.”

Separated at school, Ajaz and Faizan were reunited by tuition centre.

An average student, Ajaz recalls how Faizan would skip classes and visit local picnic spots with his classmates for photo-shoots. “Once back, he would make sure to show his pictures to everyone,” recalls Ajaz. “He was always updated about the latest fashion and things in vogue.”

A handsome boy, who would spend his afternoons playing volleyball at local Eidghah, would often tell Ajaz that he wants to earn lots of money. “He wanted to buy branded clothes and dress like Hollywood actors,” recalls Ajaz. “But there was another side of Faizan too, which we failed to notice.”

One fine morning, a few months before Burhan Wani’s killing, Ajaz saw Faizan standing outside tuition centre with his friends.

After they exchanged greetings, Faizan took Ajaz aside and rolled up his shirt’s sleeves to expose an olive green design of AK-47 rifle he had drawn using mehandi (henna).

Before Ajaz could say anything, Faizan rolled back his sleeves, and asked: ‘how does it look?’

“I still remember the glow in his eyes when he asked me that question,” said Ajaz.

On July 8, 2016, as the news of Burhan’s killing, spread in Tral, Ajaz and Faizan were restless at their respective homes. “His killing changed everyone in Kashmir,” said Aijaz. “And we were not exceptions.”

The next morning as thousands of mourners filled spacious Eidgah for Burhan’s funeral prayers, Ajaz saw Faizan standing in a corner, near the Volleyball field, where he used to play.

After Burhan was laid to rest, Ajaz saw Faizan pelting stones for the first time. “Faizan with stones was an odd sight. But I guess he was heartbroken like everyone else,” said Ajaz.

Once home Ajaz, equally heartbroken by Burhan’s killing, vent his anger by drawing a large heart on his kitchen’s outer wall and wrote in it: Burhan Zinada hai (Burhan is alive).

“This alarmed my parents but they couldn’t say anything,” said Ajaz, while pointing at the graffiti.

Post- Burhan, Faizan, and Ajaz struggled in their own way to cope up with the “loss”. Ajaz kept himself busy with studies. Faizan turned into a hermit.

“Faizan transformed completely,” recalls Ajaz. “He started skipping tuitions, would talk less, at times not at all.”

A few weeks later, Ajaz saw Faizan standing with his friends outside the tuition centre. As Ajaz stopped to greet, he notices a youthful Faizan turned dull and lifeless. “The pain in his eyes summed up what was going inside his heart,” said Ajaz. “Unlike the past, he now talked like a mature person.”

Faizan told Ajaz, about the futilities of studies in the backdrop of killings. “He was angered by the way young boys like us were killed by the forces,” recalls Ajaz. It struck Ajaz how Faizan dodged his attempts to change the topic, and instead, talk about new fashion, t-shirts, jeans, gadgets or about what is in vogue etc. “He was no longer interested in those things,” Ajaz remembers.

After that meeting, Ajaz and Faizan saw each other occasionally, mostly at tuition.

In December 2016, Faizan went to a local shopkeeper and asked him for a particular pair of gloves. When the shopkeeper failed to understand, Faizan took out his second-hand mobile – which he had managed out of his pocket money, without his parent’s knowledge – and showed him a picture of Hizb’s second-in-command Sabzar Ahmad Bhat. Then he slowly zoomed on Sabzar’s hands and said, “yuthey gasi (I want same one).”

“He once wore those gloves at tuition. It was one of his prized possessions,” recalls Ajaz.

A few days later Faizan visited an electronics showroom near the shrine of Khankhah-e-Faiz Panah and asked for a Casio digital watch. As the shopkeeper began showing him different designs Faizan shuffled his eyes for something special. Finally, after checking around a dozen designs, Faizan leaned forward, rested his arms carefully on the glass-topped counter and said, “Yuth Musa’s cheh tichey (The same one as (Zakir) Musa has).”

Next day when Ajaz saw Faizan outside the tuition, he noticed a rare glow on his friend’s face. As Ajaz’s questioning eyes searched Faizan’s face for answers, he raised his right hand up in the air and displayed a brand new Casio watch. “Do you recognize this watch,” asked Faizan with a hint of accomplishment in his voice. Then without waiting for an answer, Faizan whispered in Ajaz’s ear: Zakir Musa.

“I still remember his face. That was the last time I saw him smiling,” recalls Ajaz.

On March 5, 2017, at 3 pm, Ajaz was on his way to the tuition centre when a friend broke the news of an encounter at Hafoo Nazneenpora village, some 2.5 km from Tral. There, a foreigner and a local Hizb militant named Aqib Molvi were caught in an encounter.

When Ajaz reached near the Goal Masjid, a few meters from his tuition centre, he saw Faizan standing there with friends. They could only exchange greetings. That was the last meeting between two childhood friends.

A Mother’s Wailing

Two hours later, the news of Aqib Molvi’s killing triggered clashes in Tral. Reinforcement rushed to rein in protesters. At around 5 pm, an army vehicle tried to enter Tral from Goal Masjid side.

Faizan and his friends, who were standing there, overwhelmed by emotions, caught hold of some stones lying nearby and lobbed them towards the vehicle. In the melee, Faizan caught hold of a CRPF man, who had rushed in to help army vehicle pass, and snatched his INSAS rifle. “There were five other boys with him that time,” said Faizan’s father Muzaffar Ahmad Bhat, 45. “I don’t know who snatched the weapon actually.”

That day, when Faizan didn’t return till late evening, his father started asking around. “I first called my relatives to know about his whereabouts,” said Muzaffar. “Later, I thought he was picked up by SOG or police.”

The next morning Muzaffar filed a missing report at the local police station.

Ajaz later learned that Faizan spent the night in a vacant field adjacent to the local martyr’s graveyard, with just a five-foot brick wall between him and Burhan’s grave.

Ten days later police confirmed to Muzaffar that his son has joined Hizb. At 16, Faizan became one of the youngest militants to get killed in an encounter.

Since then, whenever Ajaz’s classmates pass by Faizan’s house to reach their school, a wailing mother would meet them at the front door with her son’s uniform. “I still hear her cries,” said Ajaz. “It broke everyone’s, heart.”

Faizan’s mother had just one request on her dry lips: watho Faizan school gass (Get ready for school, Faizan). “I have never felt so helpless in my life,” said Ajaz.

By His Grave

Ajaz came home heartbroken after looking at pictures of Faizan and Sabzar’s dead bodies on his friend’s mobile-phone.

When Ajaz told his father that he is going to attend Faizan’s funeral and will be back soon, he refused to let him go. “He thought I will join militants too. He was right,” said Ajaz. “I had never felt such a strong urge to pick up a gun and fight.”

Later that evening, after Faizan was buried hurriedly, as his body bore burn marks all over, Ajaz’s father accompanied his son to Faizan’s grave. “He knew if I was allowed to go alone I will not come back,” said Ajaz.

As Ajaz and his father reached near Faizan’s grave, next to Burhan, he saw his classmates’ busy drawing a Pakistani flag with coloured sawdust. “Looking at his fresh grave my urge to take revenge got stronger.”

Under his father’s watchful eyes Ajaz sat down near his friend grave and cried his heart out for next one hour. “I then visited his home, but stayed in the lawn as I had no courage to face his mother,” said Ajaz.

For Ajaz and his friends, Faizan is both lucky and damned. Lucky, they believe, because he lays resting near Burhan. And damned because he was killed so young with so many unfulfilled wishes. “But who are we to decide his fate? He did what he thought was right,” said Ajaz. “But I will miss my friend forever.”

 

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