Our ancestral house sat on the corner of a lane. I would spend most of my time in a first floor room facing the street. The only window of the room was my outlet to the unexplored world outside.
It was peak of the freedom movement and I was a child perhaps studying in first standard. Whenever I would peep through the window, my eyes would meet the compound wall of a neighbouring house. It was a concrete and finely polished wall. There was something written on it, three words, probably a name. I could read out only one part – Mohammad. Not because I was capable to read but because it was my father’s first name. And I had learned to write his name at my school.
A mirror hung to the left of the window in my room. Facing the mirror, I and with my sister would get ready for the school every day. My eyes would often move from the mirror through the window to the wall outside. And the three word puzzle would bring out a helpless sigh from me. I never asked anyone to read these three letters for me. I was too shy to do that.
One chilly morning during my winter vacations, a heavy rainfall had soaked the ground and walls when I was still asleep. A boy shouting on the street woke me up. He was chanting famous pro-freedom slogans of those times. Cursing the boy, I jumped out of my bed and rushed towards the window to have a glimpse of the intruder. He was a teenage boy carrying milk and bread in his hands. My eyes followed him as he walked through the street.
When he reached near my home, I stared at him while he stared at the neighbouring wall. Pointing at it, he yelled – Mohammad Maqbool Bhat. It took me a few moments to realize the favor the boy had done to me. My annoyance changed into admiration. He had solved a puzzle that I carried like a long committed sin. “He is our Hero” my uncle told me when I asked him who Mohammad Maqbool Bhat was. I remembered and kept saying it to my friends. Like every child, I too looked for new things and my interest in the hero’s life faded away. I stopped conveying it to other people but the name was still there written in capital letters with a blue paint.
It had become a routine those days. Whenever security forces would pass through any locality and notice the graffiti of militant names and organisations on the walls, they would beat up the inhabitants. Tired of this agony, one day a group of women carrying utensils filled with mud passed through our locality. They would apply it to any graffiti they notice. Women of our locality joined in and buried all the evidences of patriotism. The hero, Mohammad Maqbool Bhat, too was concealed behind the sticky mud.
A few months back, I visited my childhood home and looked at the wall. It looked tired. Cracks and crevices had replaced its once polished surface. A poster for election campaigning sat where once the name rested. The candidate, with a smile, was waving his hand towards the window from where I used to see the name I was told was our “hero”.
There aren’t many clues of him and his struggle left for today’s generation. Even his grave at Martyrs Graveyard is waiting for his mortal remains. His existence and inexistence bothers none, except my little cousin. She is confused on the annual strike that falls on her birthday, 11 February – the death anniversary of Maqbool Bhat. On her recent birthday when no one could visit her, she asked her mother innocently, “Birthdays are not postponed but can’t we postpone this strike? Who was he?” Her mother didn’t know who he was.