By Nayeem Rather
A scene in Turtles Can Fly (2004), a Kurdish war film set in a refugee camp on Iraqi-Turkish border, where a 12-year-old kid is injured after getting trapped in a minefield, always reminds me of the day when I met the same fate.
It was 4th July, and I remember waking up in a good mood. It was the day when our school had planned an excursion to Sonamarg – meadow of gold. I quickly dress up in my best t-shirt and started preparing for the day. I was excited. But little did I know that the meadow of gold is now harvested with unexploded shells!
I had no idea that Sonamarg is going to be my nemesis. At exact 6 o’clock in the morning we boarded the bus. It was a three and half hour journey through picturesque villages, dusty roads, through small streams. We sang the songs of joy, we dances, we laughed in the bus. And I remember surprising everyone, including my teachers, by dancing as I was a shy kid.
After we reached Sonamarg, we set off like caged birds set free in the open sky. We ran across vast green meadows, played hide-n-seek, chased each other, washed ourselves again and again in cold Sind waters, we were completely free.
After lunch I along with a few friends set out to explore the higher regions. We went towards Thajwas – an open meadow dotted with occasional pines and wild bushes. The place attracted us and we decided to play hide and seek. The bushes around was perfect cover for this game. As the play started I hid myself behind a large bush and suddenly a cylindrical shaped object caught my attention. I picked it up in curiosity and started looking for more such object. My search yielded fruits; I picked around a dozen, rapped them in polythene and fancied that I had discovered a treasure. I went to my friends and showed them the treasure. My friends got curious and started searching for more. In less than an hour, I was owner of around twenty cylindrical objects and my other friends had ten to twenty of them.
Thinking that these were the objects of great value, other boys and girls began to pay me for these objects and I began to sell them for ten rupees each.
At last, I was left with just three and was satisfied that I had done a good sale. I had earned Rupees 200, a big amount for 11 year-old-boy.
With our pockets full of these mysterious objects, someone started a discussion how I discovered them. I began to explain: they circled me; I picked one in my right hand and stared explaining how I found it in soil. I started to demonstrate. They watched me. I lifted my right hand with the object into the air and brought it down with a thud. I heard a loud sound. For two minutes, a dark veil seemed to have been put on my eyes. I was temporarily blind. After two minutes when my vision improved, I saw a different world around me.
I saw two boys lying on the ground, unconscious. Three girls were running away from me, crying.
It took me a while to realize what had happened. I looked at my hand. It was red with blood. Bone was exposed and a lump of burned flesh was hanging lose. My heart throbbed. A fountain of blood was running from my right hand. I looked around and saw that I was alone.
I ran and after a while saw a teacher running towards me with pale faces. When he looked at my hand, it was beyond his endurance and he fell on the ground.
Suddenly I began to cry and everyone was frightened to come near me. Another teacher showed some courage and lifted me in his lap. He tore my favorite t-shirt and tied a knot on my wrist to stop bleeding. He took me to a local first aid center and later I was shifted to Bone and Joints hospital in Srinagar where I was operated upon. At this point, I lost consciousness. When I opened my eyes after two days, I was lying on a bed surrounded by my gloomy parents and doctors. “A bomb has exploded in your hand,” doctor told me. A bomb! I asked him in disbelief.
Two days later a doctor asked me jokingly, what was it? ‘A bomb’ I replied and then added, “F-16 Sir”. He burst into laughter and nicknamed me F-16.
When I realized what I had lost, I was disappointed. I never wanted to live with a disability. I thought that my life was over. I cried. I wept. People poured in with encouraging words.
After spending forty days at the hospital, when I was finally out, I started meeting other people who have been disabled in the same fashion. I came to know that there are many people who have lost their lives because of stray mines. People fear to go to upper reaches and near army camps. I was later told that the place from where I collected those mysterious shells was in fact surrounded by an army camp. Army has turned the surrounding area as a minefield to trap ‘infiltrators’. But isn’t Sonamarg a tourist spot! I wondered. After knowing the fate of other civilians who could not survive the trap, I felt happy to be alive.