The Autumn Tears

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Unrest 2016 was different in its ferocity and spread. While the ideologically split space has worked enormously to evaluate the costs in blood, body-parts, business and education, nobody has looked at the impact the crisis had on relationships. Kashmir Life’s three reporters look at three aspects of life’s primary basic to report tragedy and travails

A couple walks in Kashmir University's Naseem Bagh in autumn (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

A couple walks in Kashmir University’s Naseem Bagh in autumn. Pic: Bilal Bahadur

No sooner the raging romantic departed this past summer, an old pattern of how relations work in a conflict zone like Kashmir followed.

Suddenly, newspapers were flooded with wedding cancellation notices. By then, state had acted iron-fist, snapping the bandwidth. The ban created a rippling effect, triggering an instant communication crisis in valley. In the seething region, it was read a dictatorial move that was going to hurt young even more because they could not talk. But like always, the romantics had their back-up plans.

In a function, an official almost shouted. “We have closed everything, roads, phones and internet,” he told his senior. “What do you expect these boys will do other than reacting to what we have done?”

It was no wonder that landlines, deserted by many, became one last relation savouring tools. The owners of rotary dial suddenly became privileged lots with desperate lovers making rounds of their addresses. It was happening in a good sense in the times of heightened tensions. For many, it was Kashmir’s new reality, hardly making to front-pages amid serious crisis.

In the days to come, wedding songs got replaced with Aazadi chorus. Perhaps the trend talked about the larger reality of how relations work in the world’s oldest dispute.

Amid the volte-face, it was almost a week later that a girl came to know about her to-be life partner’s death to bullets. She is still numb over the loss. Among those young dissenters engaging state in fierce street-confrontations were someone’s beloveds. In an ensued state action, some of them were sent home, in body bags. Some returned as blinds.

Like in 2010, a girl decided to tie knots with her pellet-blinded lover. Those who can join dots between romance and resistance reckon that Kashmir never fails to exhibit the twin emotions with their fiercest form.

But at times—especially in the face of naked tragedies—it doesn’t seem uncomplicated. Between the time state snapped and restored networks, many relations had altered in Kashmir. Someone was no longer someone’s beloved. But certain bonds found freshness in them after months of distance.

Years ago, Gabriel García Márquez tried depicting relationship in his celebrated novel Love in the Time of Cholera. As the crisis continues, Kashmir still awaits a version of its own.

Fringe Celebrations

As blood-letting became routine, marriages became simple as austerity took over. But that did not reduce the pains of the people involved directly, reports Saima Bhat.

Nikah Khawani function performed and kehwa served to the guests(KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

When newspaper front-pages were splashed in blood this past summer, inner pages were getting redefined. The classified paid advertisements suggested a new trend: ‘Wedding cancelled; however, the nikah ceremony will take place with austerity.’

Sadia, an old city Malaratta resident, was scheduled to marry on August 28. “It was my D-day,” Sadia recalls. “We all were excited; me, my would-be husband, Muneeb and our families. But then everything changed and after three months I am still surprised how it happened.”

Engaged in March, Sadia was supposed to marry after Ramazan, the Muslim month of fasting. She went to Delhi for shopping and so did Muneeb. “We had planned my wedding as per my desires, with a grand reception, with all decorations of fresh flowers. My family had booked a marriage hall for three days,” Sadia says.

Burhan Wani’s killing pushed the situation from bad to worse. “Initially we thought it may improve but everyday people were dying. Then we decided of performing her Nikah ceremony only,” says Abdul Hameed, Sadia’s father, who had drafted a guest list of around 800 and was now going to invite his brothers and brothers-in-law only.

Not far away from Sadia’s home, a bride from Eidgah was given a different send-off: the entire locality joined, came out in a procession singing and dancing for Azaadi. After this event became a sensation on the restricted online platform, many others followed it. Then again, in Khanyar, a groom surprised his baratis by shouting Azaadi while on way to his bride.

It was perhaps a new-normal in curfewed Kashmir. And Sadia says, she wasn’t unaware of the trend where ladies would sing for slain civilians and Azaadi, skipping traditional chorus.

With ceremony skirted to the basics, Sadia still faced a problem. Living in a highly restrictive area, it was impossible to visit the tailor in Rajbagh. “Communication blockade added to my problems,” Sadia says. “As the wedding day was near, I decided to visit the tailor in pre-dawn hours. And it went in-vain as the tailor had his staffers absent for a long time.” Against 50 suits, barely seven were stitched.

Sumaira, her sister-in-law, living in Eidgah took her to their tailor in Safakadal. They reached at 5 am, coinciding with the deployment of CRPF and police. “Suddenly boys appeared, started pelting stones and in retaliation, shelling started,” Sumaira says. “In five minutes they fired three shells.” Tailor downed shutters and inside they were five girls with the shop owner.

The situation stabilized after three hours. Out of the shop finally, the two girls entered the maze of alleys crisscrossing with the drop-gates to reach a relative. They had a curfew pass but cops hardly entertained it.

On the wedding day, when Sadia was waiting for her groom, coming with four close relatives, Irfan Ahmad Malik of Fateh Kadal was killed in Malarata. “We called them but they were already on their way to my home,” Sadia says. “He lives just two kilometres away, in Eidgah.”

Muneeb reached her home at 8.30 pm: no greeting wanwun, no songs in his praise. Instead, the family was in tears, some weeping in distress that the groom finally reported safe arrival.

It was quick Nikah and by 9.30 pm, the groom left without having even a sip of water. But once the newlywed reached Eidgah home, it was already charged. Malik’s funeral was on way to the Martyrs Cemetery, that Eidgah houses.

Frenzied mourners were sloganeering massively. The family switched their lights off. “For next one hour we were in darkness, watching the funeral as crowds cried,” Sadia said. The funeral was over, lights were switched on and then somebody discovered the bride was still in her trousseau, her face still shrouded in the shawl.

Digitally Divided

 As roads became impassable and the government withdrew cellular phones and the internet, thousands of young men and women hoping to see a future together lost touch with each other. By the time, they could communicate, some of them already stare at a tragedy, report Shams Irfan

Communication breakdown ruined relationships in Kashmir. Pic source: Internet

Minutes after Burhan Wani’s killing, as the situation started changing, Sajid, a Kashmir University student living in Islamabad, immediately rang up and called his ‘friend’ in Srinagar to enquire about her well-being. But, jumbled lines did not get them to talk.

As streets turned tense, Sajid, who lives close to the police station, tried her number again; this time using his mother’s cell phone. “I thought this particular network is down,” said Sajid. “But I was wrong.” Desperate, Sajid, finally knocked at his friend’s front door with a torch in hand. “It was already past 10 pm,” recalls Sajid. “He had a fixed landline phone.” He rang up successfully but there was no response. “Try after some time as the network is busy,” the service operator’s robot said.

“I was cursing the day when I fought with her a month back,” said Sajid. “We were together since our college days. But a small misunderstanding led to a bigger fight and we stopped talking a few days before Ramazan.”

Since then, Sajid and Irfa had not heard or called each other, but after Burhan’s death, when the entire valley reeled under uncertainty, both started panicking for each other. “But then internet and phones were dead,” said Sajid. “After two days I managed a BSNL SIM card, but Irfa was using a prepaid number, which was snapped instantly.”

Soon, the distance, forced by misunderstanding and widened by the situation, turned into a full-fledged gulf.

Aur Bhi Gum Hein Zamanay Mein Muhabat Kay Siva (there are more tensions in life than the love). After Sajid failed to locate her, he moved out to discover that he is required elsewhere.

For the entire first week, he was at the local hospital helping injured voluntarily. For some time, that became his way of life. Later he came to know that Irfa, who was equally desperate to know about his wellbeing, had to shift residence twice and seek refuge in relatives houses as downtown, Srinagar turned into a literal battleground. “She lives close to Jamia Masjid. She would get choked by teargas smoke and pepper shells,” said Sajid, who managed to speak to Irfa only after post-paid phones were restored. “I had no idea where she has gone.”

Gone Irfa was – but to her uncle’s house in uptown Srinagar, where, while attending a family function she was told that a Dubai based Kashmiri boy, a distant relative, has especially come to see her. “There was nobody to talk to. I couldn’t reach my best friends, my close confidants, my buddies whom I had talked for advice,” said Ifra. “Besides I was not sure about Sajid. I mean, last time we spoke, we had a fight and a break-up.”

As Irfa couldn’t resist her family’s pressure and had nobody around for advice, she said ‘yes’. “One week later mobile phones were restored and I managed to call her. But by then it was already late,” said Sajid. “It was too late.”

Regulated Reunions

Almost 130 days later, when people got a full day to meet and interact with friends and relatives, there were shocks and surprises in stock, reports Tasavur Mushtaq

The scene of being separated ( Source: Internet)

The scene of being separated. Pic source: Internet.

After four months Kashmir got the two-days-working week. Once announced, the weekend would witness an outpouring of emotions, vent to feelings, quick short reunions and a new lease of life.

After 130 days, the longest shutdown in Kashmir’s history, when life limped back to normalcy in an ‘abnormal’ way the whole Kashmir was on roads and it appeared as if nobody wanted to go home. Braving cold and smoggy fog, life exhibited itself all around. As the snapped connections were resumed, people started hearing good and bad things.

Saira, 70, an old city resident visited her only sister in Soura’s 90-feet on November 26. A resident of sensitive Nowhatta, Saira could not manage a gap to move out since July 6. As she entered the house of her younger sister, Mehmooda, the sight of the frail, bedridden 55-year-old sister was a shock to Saira.

When she enquired from her niece, Aabida 30, about her sister, she was told that Mehmooda was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis, a term which she could not understand and was later told amis chui wilti doadh (she has a cruel disease).’ Childless and widowed from the last 20 years, the news broke Saira. Desperate, she hugged her niece and the duo cried together.

Later she was told that this was detected in August 2016 and that they wanted to tell her but there was no connectivity. They flew her to Delhi but could not tell her sister, living only 12 km away.

Little away from Nowhatta, in Rainawari, Abdul Sattar died in last week of July 2016. With mobile services snapped, a ban on newspapers and curfew in place, the family buried Sattar, 67, in a local graveyard in the presence of very few people. No organized mourning or formal condolence.

On November 20, Sattar’s second cousin, Ghulam Nabi, 48 visited his home. When he inquired about the Sattar, “Baijan Kaeti (Where is my brother), the reply stunned him as he was told, “Bejan kadaan qabar july paethi (Bejan is buried since July). He left the place to visit the graveyard. Cried, offered prayers and reached home in Hyderpora to break the news. The family rushed to offer condolences after four months of death! The worst-hit with this news was a paternal aunt of Sattar, Mughli, 85, who was inconsolable to hear about the death of her nephew.

Death apart, the occasions of joy and being together also gave a miss to close ones this summer. Aasiya Bhat, the only daughter of her parents was engaged on July 8, same evening when Burhan Wani was killed. The function took place in a Srinagar hotel as the guy, Shoaib Malik had to leave next day for Saudi Arabia. With no scope left to fix the date for marriage in Kashmir, the two families decide to perform nikah with austerity.

In September, Aasiya was accompanied by her parents and Shoaib’s parents to Delhi where Shoaib had come from Saudi. The couple met, stayed with the two families for a couple of days and left for Saudi Arabia. The relatives of both sides came to know this only when internet services in Kashmir was restored and the status of Shoaib and Aasiya on Facebook had turned from single to married.

There were tragedies that would never become public.

Insha Ali, a university third-semester student was in a courtship with classmate Tajammul Hussain for four years. Then, the promises had a fall when the connectivity in Kashmir was snapped. With no BSNL connection at home, Insha lost touch with Tajammul.

Desperate Tajammul managed to reach the university from his residence in Central Kashmir’s Magam during the unrest to know whereabouts of Insha. Made repeated calls to common friends to know about her welfare but did not succeed. When the network was restored, Insha did not receive calls from Tajammul and finally blocked him. As the relaxation days facilitated movement, Insha visited the university and shocked her friends that she is marrying her cousin, a doctor in the Middle East.

A couple in Srinagar garden (KL Image: Bilal Bahaduur)

A couple in Srinagar garden. Pic: Bilal Bahadur.

A 16-year-old girl in a south Kashmir village has turned into Habba Khatoon of yore. Shocked, Kulsum is lost in memories and quietly sings, myaeni Yousufo waelou.

She was not like this always. A couple of years ago, she met a boy, Altaf, 18 of a neighbouring village in Islamabad. With the sharing of contact numbers, the teenagers came closer. Zahoor, Altar’s friend told Kashmir Life, they were just a few months away from being tied in a nuptial knot. But, destiny had something else in the store.

The last time Kulsum talked to Altaf was an evening of July 8 and then connections snapped. Then, one day her friend and neighbour, Mohsina told her about Altaf’s death. She gave her newspaper as evidence.

Heartbroken, Kulsum cried. Kulsum is battling another crisis. She can not grieve publicly. She wanted to marry but had not married.

But Kulsum is not an isolated case.

“After Eid we will have lunch together in Lal Chowk and also will get a suit for you,” Shakir promised Zainab over the phone before Eid-ul-fitr. Engaged in March 2016, the couple had met only twice. The longing to see each other was at its peak. Jubilant Zainab wanted time to fly, so was with Shakir. Later the phone conversation continued till July 8. As the connections snapped, the contact was lost.

After many days, Shakir called Zainab on her father’s BSNL number, but could not speak. Then, a protest broke out in his village. A bullet struck Shakir, leaving him in a pool of blood and later he succumbed in hospital. Buried amid strong protests, the news reached Zainab village the next day when she saw the front page of a newspaper, her would-be groom, a lively Shakir was just a corpse on shoulders of thousands. “She is dead mentally,” Zainab’s friend, Asmat said. “In Shakir, she lost a hope to have a future but I hope she heals.”

(Names of the characters in these stories have been changed to protect their privacy.)

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