Last week I boarded a Tata sumo cab for Pulwama. My destination was Shopian. As things go in ‘peaceful’ Kashmir, there was a news making rounds that Haalat (situation) in Pulwama was tense. “It is a daily thing now” I thought and left. As soon as our cab entered the Pulwama town a heavy contingent of Kashmir police and CRPF was marching on both sides of the road that leads to the main square of the town. The ‘security’ personnel wore full protective gear while the steps of the commuters seemed hasty and nervous. Pulwama was indeed tense. But why was it so I had no idea nor my co-passengers knew anything about it. We all were virtually ignorant of what was happening around the town. I expected stones falling on the ‘security’ personnel any time and the immediate reaction from them in kind – tear gas canisters, aerial firing and lathi (cane) charge on the protestors. Nothing of that sort happened, fortunately.
Now the problem was to get transport for Shopian. Pulwama bus-yard was silent like a graveyard. No bus was going to Shopian. I inquired if any Tata sumo was going and pat came the reply “I have no idea, jinab”. I wished there was an app that, like weather and stock exchange, gave regular updates about halaat in different towns of Kashmir. I was not sure what Shopian had in store for me.
I approached a Tata sumo standing outside the bus yard. I asked its driver if he would pick up passengers for Shopian. The driver thought for a while and then in a sudden excited tone shouted “Paksa diyov tzadji tzadji rupyee bu nimav” (pay 40 rupees and I will go to Shopian). I looked him in eyes and retorted, “Yi gov halaat-an huind galat faida tulun, panyinen cha yeth peath lootan” (You are taking undue advantage of the situation. Would you cheat your own people like that?). The normal fare from Pulwama to Shopain was 35 rupees. It made me wonder: is profit making such a strong impulse that it can make a person insensitive or immune to ethical and moral responsibilities that one should carry out during hard times faced by your co-nationals.
As I was arguing with the cab driver another Tata sumo stopped near us and called out “Paksa Shopian Shopian”. In a jiffy the cab was full. Not everyone becomes a conflict-profiteer, I thought.
Once in the cab I called my cousin in Shopian and he informed me that the town was under virtual curfew and there had been intermittant incidents of stone pelting. It all had begun on alleged desecration of holy Quran in the morning.
Near a small hamlet Shirmal a group of children virtually made us hostage for some time. They carried stones in their hands. Somebody in the cab remarked, “See where our nation has come. Aren’t these kids supposed to play games”. Others nodded; everybody in the cab was anxious.
These little kids just wanted a ride behind the cab to which our driver obliged instantly. The kids shouted in joy, hooting and whistling.
In Shopian, I attended my cousin’s wedding. Outside the gate sporadic stone pelting kept going while the guests were being served inside. At the exact moment when we were seeing off the bride, a large contingent of forces arrived outside the gate to arrest the boys in the neighborhood who were pelting stones. Late at night I went to my maternal home (few yards from the cousin’s house), by mounting a wall and crossing few alleys.
This whole experience taught me a deep lesson: in life the show must go on.