Sibling Verses

A mathematician uses poetry to keep his slain brother’s memory alive. Ubeer Naqushbandi revisits the day when gunshots turned festivity into mourning in restive Bomai

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Mohammad Sultan Tantray

Mohammad Sultan Tantray, an MSc mathematics who teaches at High School Bomai, Sopore, peeps out of the window of his two storey modest house. A chain smoker, he is lost in his thoughts, mumbling some couplets. He looks older than his age. He is in his late forties. Suddenly Sultan starts jotting down a few couplets in Urdu on paper.

His switch over from numbers to verses did not happen all of a sudden, it has roots in blood and pain.

Sultan vividly remembers the annual Urs of Tujjar Sharief located few kms from Bomai village. “It was February 21, 2009. I clearly remember,” says Sultan. There was festivity in air. People were out on the streets, visiting the shrine, praying etc.

After paying obeisance at the shrine people would visit their relatives to greet each other. “It is part of the local tradition,” says Sultan.

Before visiting the Shrine that day Sultan recalls he was at home sharing lighter moments with his younger brother Mohammad Amin Tantray, 21, whom he fondly called Bota. “That was the last time we were happy and together,” says Sultan.

In the evening Sultan went to his friends house to spend some leisure time there. A little while later, sound of gunshots outside alarmed everybody including Sultan. “I first thought it is firecrackers,” recalls Sultan who was proved wrong within next few minutes.

Suddenly an acquaintance came running to Sultan’s friend’s house and announced: Bota’as ha aav fire (Bota was shot).

“I didn’t ask him why or how and started running towards the market,” recalls Sultan.

Once there Sultan saw people taking his brother’s blood soaked body to the hospital. “He was already dead when I reached there,” recalls Sultan painfully.

Soon festivity turned into mourning as Bota’s body was bought for burial. Later Sultan was told that his brother Bota, a student of Class 12, was out to check the status of his exam papers, when an armoured vehicle of army’s 22 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) appeared and started firing at people indiscriminately, without any provocation. The firing killed two civilians – Mohammad Amin (Bota) and Javaid Ahmad Dar, teenager from Sopore.

That evening when Bota’s body was bought for burial Tantray’s made an emotional appeal to pacify the angry crowds. “Maintain calm as we don’t want to politicise Amin’s martyrdom.”

For next 47 days the restive Bomai remained shut and in mourning. “Despite high tempers we prevented the situation from turning ugly,” says Sultan’s younger brother Mohammad Afzal Tantray, who worked as manager for a Srinagar based Urdu daily for almost a decade. “My brother was not associated with any organisation or ever participated in protests, still they killed him. Why?” asks Afzal.

After the killing of Bota and Javaid an FIR (No: O9/73/302), was lodged in police station Sopore.

“There were no protests that day. Everybody was busy with Urs. It was completely unprovoked and unjustified. It was cold blooded murder,” says Sultan.

As Bomai refused to normalise the then Home Minister of India P Chidambaram ordered an impartial probe in the killing, says Sultan. “But nothing happened. No one was punished.”

But despite knocking all possible doors to seek justice and bring Bota’s murderers to justice, Sultan and his family met with disappointment. “It was only after our lawyer filed an RTI that we got belt numbers of the four accused army personnel,” says Sultan.

When all roads leading to justice got closed, a disturbed Sultan went into self imposed confinement, spending his days at his deceased brother’s room, writing couplets in his memory. The nameplate at Bota’s room is pained in black letter reading: Shaheed Mohammad Amin.

Inside, a black-and-white TV set, single bed, his books, curtains and clock give a feeling of mourning. They are left untouched for years, as if Amin will come back some day.

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On the eastern wall, a large cloth black banner with couplets in Urdu written on it, reminds visitors of Bota’s glorious life.

“These couplets are written by Sultan in Bota’s memory,” says Afzal. “After Bota’s killing Sultan started acting weird. He began locking himself in Bota’s room. His only connection with the real world was through poetry,” says Afzal.

The couplet on the large poster hanging in Bota’s room reads:

Witness to your martyrdom is setting sun rays.

Sad earth opened its chest to suck your precious blood.

You quenched the thirst through your blood by piercing throat.

You left the world following footsteps of Asgar (R.A.).

Otherwise known for his mathematic skills, Sultan is now constantly thinking and writing verses.

A few days after Bota’s killing Sultan visited the spot where he was shot. “I collected 39 bullet shells from the spot. The holes left in Chinar tree shook me,” says Sultan. “I could only imagine what my brother had gone through when hit by so many bullets.”

Meanwhile Afzal’s 4-year-old son Sahil, who was listening to the conversation curiously, looks towards Bota’s framed picture and asks: “Where is Bota uncle, who killed him”.

Without saying anything Afzal hugs his son compassionately and starts crying.

In another corner, oblivious to Afzal’s pain, Sultan is lost in his own thought, perhaps maturing a new couplet in his mind for his beloved brother Bota.

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