Keeping the Coffin Steady

By Younis Kaloo


Whenever one of us was happy, we would jump on each other’s back in sheer enthusiasm, press one face against the other and shout all the expressions of joy. It would happen anywhere the joy followed us to. And when sad, we would coil our arms around each other and weep like children.

File image of protests in Srinagar (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

We were always together; in college, neighbourhood and playground. Even during protests. When his throat would no longer support him to raise slogans in favour of freedom and against the zulm, I would join in and continue onwards from the slogan he left from.

We were together yesterday as well. This time, he was on my shoulder and on those of others carrying his makeshift coffin, open from left, right and above. But he was not happy. Neither was I. He lay silent. So was I. All others around us were probably sloganeering. Which slogans? I do not know. For I had joined my friend in silence.

Men in uniform fired tear gas shells on the funeral of Junaid Ahmad Akhoon, 12 year old school boy, on Oct 8th 2016 morning near Aali Masjid Srinagar. (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

I was only conscious of the streets that the procession led us through. At each turn, Rehaan would beckon at me to hide behind a concrete utility pole from the impending pellets and tear-smoke canisters. He would raise both of his fists in the air while sloganeering. He would run for a while and appear at the same spot where he had left from earlier in a protest. But yesterday, he was doing none of them. Nor was he in the street, protesting. Motionless he was, his arms bound and resting on his chest.

A street ahead, the one where Rehaan, a day before yesterday, looked me in my eyes for the last time and not at his bullet-poked wound gushing blood on the right of his abdomen before his eyes turned to a blank stare, was re-enacting the same scene: stones thrown at and slogans being raised and in turn the barrage of pellets and flashbang grenades.

Nor was he in the street, protesting. Motionless he was, his arms bound and resting on his chest.

File image of tear gas shell being lobbed at protesters in Srinagar. (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

Once again, though for a moment only, I pictured Rehaan among the protesting youth struggling with his handkerchief that repeatedly kept slipping down his nose when he lifted his head towards the sky to chant slogans. He was in his beige trousers, a white t-shirt on which was embossed in boldface (dark) PRIDE & HONOUR and the loafers we recently bought, each a pair, at Lal Chowk.

He was being led by and followed by thousands of people through the same street

But, Rehaan was not there in the street. He was being led by and followed by thousands of people through the same street. And then, in no time, it was only Rehaan, his father, younger brother, uncle, I and a few others grappling with his coffin to keep it steady on our shoulders as the police and paramilitary kept tear-gassing us.

Funeral of youth in Srinagar amid protests, shells and smoke (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

With my free hand, I fished out my handkerchief and covered my mouth, so did Rehaan’s brother. His father lifted the hem of his kameez and covered his mouth. And Rehaan still lay draped in a green cloth with a crescent and star carved on it, that had, by now, like his handkerchief slipped down his chest.

(Younis Kaloo is a Journalism Post Graduate and ideas expressed are his own)














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