The everyday images of conflict and death that emerged in last two decades are imprinted on almost every Kashmiri’s mind. Nazir Ahmad, recalls one such life changing event that is now part of his memory and nightmares.
The memory of that night is still fresh in my mind. It was October, 1993. I remember Cachi, my uncle Reyaz’s wife, moving around her house nervously trying to convince her husband to cancel his trip to Budgam.
As uncle Reyaz prepared for the journey, Chachi, followed by her two young daughters, tried in vain to convince him to stay with his family for the night.
But Reyaz, 32, a truck driver by profession, after making number of excuses finally convinced his wife to let him go.
Reyaz was supposed to carry a truck load of Kangris, an earthen pot used to keep warm during winters in Kashmir, to Budgam. It was his first trip after he had purchased the truck recently.
As Reyaz started the engine, he leaned out of the window and smiled at his wife who was standing near the main-gate of their small house with her two daughters. He then waved to his daughters and set off for the journey. His wife and daughters did not move until Reyaz’s truck had vanished in the dawn.
Before he left, Reyaz had promised his daughters that he would return next day and they will have lunch together. That night my Cachi kept her eyes fixed at the main-gate hoping to see her husband walk-in through it anytime. She didn’t sleep at all. I told her to take some rest Reyaz uncle would come back tomorrow morning as promised. “I won’t be in a position to stay calm till your uncle returns”, said Cachi in a dejected voice. It seemed as if a strange sadness and worry had settled down her sprit.
After saying goodbye for the night I went to my house which was just a few yards away from my uncle’s place.
As I left, Chachi closed the wooden gate and switched off the light of the veranda.
The night passed off quite peacefully. I got up early in the morning. It was a very cool Sunday morning. I hurriedly got in to my father’s room and switched on the TV to watch my favourite shows. It was the time when there were no cable channels and the only source of entertainment was government owned Doordarshan. On Sundays, people would stick to their television sets to watch their favourite shows. I was 17 then. I was watching television when my sister suddenly rushed into the room and asked switch off the TV.
“Have you gone mad? Can’t you listen to the cries?” She just plugged off the wires and asked me to come out. “What has actually happened and who is crying and why”, I asked?
“Reyaz uncle is no more someone has killed him”, she informed.
I couldn’t move for a whole minute. For moment I thought my ears have perhaps deceived me. I paused and tried to listen carefully while holding my breath for a moment. It was my Cachi’s cries that I recognized. I rushed outside and started looking for my Chachi and her two little dolls.
Chachi was lying unconscious on the ground surrounded by two dozen women. Her daughters were sitting in a corner quietly trying to understand the mayhem. Their eyes had already dried up as they were crying since morning. It seemed as if they were still hoping to see their father return anytime soon. I tried to console them but the shock was too deep to be consoled.
Everyone was waiting for the ambulance in which Reyaz’s dead body was supposed to reach home after autopsy. A huge crowd of relatives; friends and neighbours had assembled in the small courtyard of Reyaz’s house.
Reyaz was exceptionally good at repairing any kind of vehicle. He would set any kind of vehicle right within minutes. But this talent of his proved fatal for him.
One fine morning some militants who had heard about Reyaz’s talent knocked at his door to get their vehicle repaired.
The next day CRPF personnel came to his house, cordoned off the entire area and started searching for him.
Out of fear Reyaz fled from the back door of his house. CRPF kept searching for him for a week. But Reyaz did not return. After a week we heard that Reyaz crossed over to Pakistan for arms training. Reyaz spent almost a year in Pakistan before getting arrested near LOC while crossing the border. He was sent to Kotbilawal jail where he served his imprisonment. Chachi struggled hard to seek his release from the jail.
Reyaz was released from jail after two long years. He came back as a completely changed person. He would talk less and would feel suffocated in the company of too many persons. After spending few months doing nothing Reyaz thought of starting some business so that he could support his family. He took loans from his friends and relatives and finally managed to purchase a second hand truck. He was enthusiastic finally help his family who had suffered a lot during his absence.
One evening a relative of him asked him to deliver a heavy load of Kangries to Budgam. Reyaz accepted the offer readily as he was eager to earn money to support his family. He left his home on that unfortunate day and never returned.
Later we came to know that on his way to Budgam someone stopped his vehicle and asked him to get down from the truck. Sensing danger Reyaz tried to flee but he was chased by some unknown gunmen who caught him and killed him. He was shot in the head and his entire body was bullet ridden. Next morning his body was found in the fields in a small village near Budgam.
His death is still a mystery for his wife and children. Reyaz’s daughters, who are in their teens now, want to know who killed their father and why.