Aarif Muzafar Rather
The word Azadi struck his ears at the age of 7. It was the period when Kashmir was passing through an uprising against Indian rule. That period of chaos and confusion consumed his childhood. But admirer of Rumi and English literature, Manzoor soon followed the popular track without sensing the potential perils stored for him.
He faced the first blow of the turmoil when his school was gutted down in an encounter between the Indian Army and the Mujahids. The school had been built in 1960 by an English architect. It had an eye-catching T-shape. And the office building was between two orchards planted with almond trees. Manzoor was on a trip to Pahalgam with his cousins when he heard about the encounter.
In that moment of disbelief, the words of the English teacher kept ringing in his ears for days: “You people need to study well. Kashmir is going to need you in the coming years.” The teacher had also quoted Nelson Mandela in the class, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Back home, everything had changed. From mindset to behaviour; people were completely reversed. Becoming an area commander for the Mujahideen was like cracking the IAS exam!
Ami had already lost her brother in the process. And she took enormous care of her son, Manzoor. Abu was a man of different tastes. He took least care of the education of his son and wanted him to become the commander of some Jihaad group in near future.
It was a Friday in early nineties when Manzoor left for arms training with a group called Al-Umar which were to be mentored by Mushtaq Zargar aka Latram. Latram was a tall man with a broad forehead. He had a thick mole on the right side of his face, just above his king-sized moustache.
After receiving a three months training, Manzoor was sent back home to deal with the issues at district level. When he returned home, he felt bathed in relaxed waters. All the men, women and children of the town were eagerly waiting for him.
“Mubarak! Manzoor has returned safe,” the words echoed inside Manzoor’s home upon his arrival.
But within a week, army camp was deployed in the town. Manzoor’s movement got thwarted. He used to meet his mother behind the Old Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid on Thursday evenings—as on Thursdays, army used to visit neighbouring areas.
“I have found a girl for you,” Ami told him. “Leave this weapon. Leave it forever.” But a gradual crescendo for the struggle was there. And therefore, there was no looking back for him.
Meanwhile, ideological rivalries had grown in the area. Guns and gunmen had ballooned. Many Mujahid groups had been floated. And each one of them wanted to have an upper hand over the other group. Ideological rivalries had deepened. This led to the feud in the resistance camp. And finally, confrontations began. But not everyone was belligerent. Most were amicable. But the saner voices lost in the din of desperate airs.
And then one night, a group of five Mujahids were gunned down by unknown gunmen. Manzoor’s involvement had been fixed. And the word had spread across the town like a wild fire. Now he had figured on the suspicion radars. And the immediate task for the few was to deal with him than to stick to the cause.
One Thursday, he was waiting behind the mosque for his mother. Sitting across a walnut tree, he was gazing at the fast moving hands of his watch. Then he sailed through his past: the words of the English teacher, the poetry of beloved Rumi and Khalil Gibran, the T-shaped school, the lawn and the almond trees.
The hour hand had already crossed nine in the evening but Ami didn’t turn up.
Manzoor was restless that night. He was tumbled in a strange sense of downheartedness. Before the sun could spread its rays, he left for home as he had an inkling that something untoward had happened.
From a distance of his home, he could hear grieving women which threw a deluge of doubts on his mind like the ash of a frozen kangri. After a great deal of time, he opened the front gate which had been painted green following his departure. He remembered a gathering once, years before at their house on the celebration of his sister’s success in the matriculation exams. But had he imagined to be defied by this catastrophe?
On entering home, he saw all his cousins and aunts assembled there, shouting and wailing. He was unable to understand this rapid change of atmosphere and nobody could gather the valour to unfurl the calamity that had swept over his family.
Seeing everyone dumb and dull, he entered into the kitchen only to find his mother, father and sister lying dead in a pool of blood! He collapsed and fell on the floor. He couldn’t withstand the gust of emotions on witnessing the bodies of Ami, Abu and Didi. He could not bear the presence of his mother in the shroud of silence that could not be broken. How can one?
Manzoor spent the night in the graveyard talking non-stop and mad with the graves which never responded back. “Who will guide me, Ami? Who will make me a revolutionary?” He cried the whole night.
The following day, a militant group owned the responsibility of this bloodshed as a mark of revenge for the ‘misdeed’ he had never committed. He was filled with enormous despair and misery. He totally failed to realize on what fault his entire family was murdered.
These thoughts kept haunting his mind until an idea flashed across his eyes: was it his wish to taste the fruit he used to denounce as treason? No!
(Aarif Muzafar Rather is an aspiring storyteller studying law at Central University of Kashmir)