A Souvenir of Childhood

The sacred shoes – when the blood kissed the pair of shoe of a man who was at peace, with his face glowing; smiling even after leaving silenced by bullets on a stretcher.  I watched the scenes in a graveyard; gravedigger dug a grave with the brave heart. I was feeling so sad, but passionate whatever my eyes have seen when I was only 10, but I couldn’t hold the tears for a long. I broke down…

By Auqib Javeed Hakeem

Representational Pic
Representational Pic

The sun glowed early in the morning with the snow clad mountains presenting scenic beauty and in its lap plains are the feast for the eyes. Soon after the bullets pierced my ears from a far away in the woods, the sun hid behind the puffs of dark clouds after an hour or so. I felt helpless and stood tall while sliding the curtain to its left – opened the window. The locals were mourning, sobbing while carrying the dead body on their shoulders in a coffin; draped in green. I felt pained, shuddered and asked to myself it’s time to dig the grave again. It’s time to see the sacred face again. It’s time to see who the martyr is! And what is his identity. I was a question to self. And the answer was just a graveyard away!

It was mid-summer morning in 2002. In Bandipora, my home, the things were not usual on that particular day, not even a day before. Previous night, a young boy, in his mid-20s, was fighting Indian army in an adjacent village. People did not know the name of the militant, but rumours were that he was from a far off village, the name of which no one knew.

As the sun rose, the mountains in the far distance were denuded of the morning mist and their might was visible. News came that the encounter had ended and the Army was vacating the area. People from every nearby village, even from few far off villages, rushed there to look what had happened. People had come in large numbers. Soon another news circulated that one militant had been killed in the encounter. The body of the slain militant was brought in to our town; where it was to be buried in a graveyard reserved for those martyrs who die fighting for the Kashmir cause. Here we had another martyr and a sea of people welcoming him.

I was on the verge of tears, but I controlled myself, perhaps not to be carried away by the emotions rising high among the people in the crowd. I was standing a few steps away from an open and freshly dug grave. A stretcher was lying right to me, at an arm’s distance. It was covered with a thick blanket and beneath it laid a bullet-ridden and a blood-smeared body of a militant who had died few hours ago.

People had been gathering in the graveyard since early morning to have a glimpse of the dead and to offer funeral prayers.

Unlike other occasions when the graveyard wore an eerie calm during burial, that day it resonated with slogans — in favor of Islam and Freedom. The sentiments among people were rising high and this was the only way to give them a vent. People were shoving and pushing one another to get near the stretcher and have a glimpse of the dead militant, so keeping the magnitude of the crowd in view, elders of our village suggested for a quick burial.

Carefully and emotionally, the blanket that covered the deceased militant was removed by few young men and was handed over to another man who folded that under his arms. Now on the stretcher the bullet-torn body was visible to everyone who was circling it. He had been wearing a cargo pant, a red and white checkered shirt, and a black jacket. His eyes were closed but his mouth was half open. He had not grown a beard. He might have shaven recently.

In that tumultuous hour, only the dead seemed at peace.

Before the body was lifted from the stretcher, his shoes were untied and removed. In a sacred place like grave, one has to go barefoot. The grave-digger handed over the shoe to me and some people lifted the body carefully, murmuring the holy verses of Quran, and placed it into the grave. In a few minutes’ time, the grave was shut and filled with the soil. Few prayers were said in favour of him and those who had died before him in past.

As everyone left the graveyard, I held the shoes close to me. I almost hugged them. They were newly bought leather shoes, except a few scratches. Blood and mud had together covered the soles and sides of the shoes. That black pair of shoe, too big for my size at that time, seemed heavy and much sacred then. It does so now as well.

A few guys came to me and asked me to handover them the shoes that I was holding. I denied. Despite of their insistence, I did not give them what they asked for. That moment, that pair of shoes seemed dearer to me than anything else I possessed. It was something like long awaited gift, a surprise toy I would not give away at any cost.

But the guys were very adamant, as is everyone in the childhood. Their insistence turned into harassment and then eventually a scuffle. They were four in number. Two of them held me by arms and another snatched the shoes from me. The fourth friend stood there, unmoved and silent. As they tried to leave, I jumped over one of them who were holding the shoes and we both fell on the ground. We kicked, pushed, punched and pulled each others’ hair so as to win the fight for shoes.

As the scuffle turned violent, the keeper of the graveyard stepped in and took me away by arm and slapped my head. He snatched the shoes from the other boy and asked us to leave. The fight was over and there was nothing to win or lose anymore, but the anger had not gone away, it was still there.

sitting-alone-boy-mobile-wallpaper

I left the graveyard and sat under a tree, at one end of the graveyard. I felt a great disgust and anger within myself. I was disappointed. I had lost something precious. It was something like the childlike dream: Here and gone.

I regretted having lost it, for I could not flaunt it, I could not show it off to my friends and make them jealous. I was disappointed because I could no more cook stories and attach them with the shoes. I was more disappointed because I had lost something that was a reminder of a great fight, a battle and an adventure for a kid like me then.

A few minutes later, when other boys had left and I had calmed down, the keeper of the graveyard came to me. I put my head down. I was partly ashamed and partly angry.

He asked me my father’s name. When I replied, he asked me about his well being. Then he casually asked me about the scuffle I had with those boys. I did not hesitate for even a moment to tell him the truth. I told him how these boys tried to snatch the shoes from me he had given to me earlier. He listened, but it did not seem to interest him much.

He then spoke, softly and politely.

“That pair of shoe is not ordinary,” he told me. “You will find many such shoes around in market but this one you cannot find. It is precious and sacred.”

At first, I thought, he was talking about the price and quality of the shoes but when he spoke further, I realized: that pair of shoe meant more than what I had pictured.

He told me how that militant had crossed to the other side of the border and how he had toiled hard for months together. As he spoke, I pictured a man crossing the border amid fear and death; returning with guns and an aim.

I pictured him fighting the Indian army and getting wounded by the bullets and eventually dying, far away from family and friends. The realization that he had sacrificed himself for us and I was fighting for shoes was remorseful.

The keeper of graveyard then handed over me the pair of shoe he was holding with one hand behind his back.

“These are the shoes you were fighting for,” he said.

I was reluctant to take it first. Or perhaps I was pretending to be so.

“It belongs to you,” he said—much to my delight: “but don’t wear them out. Keep them safe, they are precious.”

I took the shoes and thanked him. I was happy. I had won the fight.

As soon as I reached home, I went straight to my room and put the shoes in front of me. The blood and mud were still covering its soles and sides. I cleaned it with an old-torn pheran. The scratches could not be wiped off, but they were not so visible.

I held them, they were heavy. The surface was rough, but soft. The laces were long and thick. Inside, I tried them on my feet, but they were too big for my size and age.

I did not show them to anyone at home, fearing that they might take that away. I locked it inside my trunk under a pile of winter clothes. Off and on, I would take a look at it, to make sure it was right there – safe and hidden.

Many years later, when I got admission in college, I wore that for the first time. They fitted my feet. When my parents asked me where I had got this pair of shoes from, I smiled and left without answering.

The shoes lie with me still. I wear them rarely. They are a reminder of a man who outlived us by sacrificing his life; it is a reminder of childhood and those countless days when we would hear the news of someone falling to the bullets of Indian army which would bring back to me a picture of bullet ridden body of a young man on a stretcher.

I sometimes wear them in order to imagine myself at his place, to imagine what he would have felt while fighting, while dying.

The shoes are the souvenir of a martyr.

(The author is a student of Journalism at Central University of Kashmir)

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