A young student pens his first meeting with his role model Parveena Ahangar, chairperson of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)
The first thing I saw was her hand. Dainty, holding the stick of a placard which said,” where are our dear ones?” Then more of her emerged into the front. The wholesome face, deep eyes ready to flow the tears through her soft cheeks and her hair veiled with a cotton scarf. If there ever was to be a concern for someone, this was it. I flung out my half-finished ice cream in the dirt filled road and realized my direction had changed. I was transported. I was now one among the swarm of people who had come to listen to the Iron Lady of Kashmir, Parveena Ahanger.
This was in the first half of April, last year. Parveena Ahanger had just come to Srinagar’s Pratap Park, Lal Chowk, to protest against the enforced disappearance, accompanied by parents who had faced a similar loss as her. Indian troops had forcibly disappeared their sons in custody. After that first glimpse, I became her devoted follower and a well-wisher. I sat down in the front row with some people and started listening carefully to her trying not to miss any word. Behind me, I could see people of different age also teetering, but carefully listening as the Iron Lady talked about her tragedy. The hours were full of emotions. The parents of disappeared persons cried, some even fainted during the 2-hour long sit in protest.
As the protest wore on, my 16-year-old body was consumed with anger against India. Simultaneously I started asking myself the question: how to get Parveenaji to notice me and talk to me in the crowd of people. I wanted to see a smile on her face.
When she concluded the protest, I made my mind to meet her. I started thinking how to meet her. I didn’t want to meet her like a stranger but like her own son. But how? People started vacating the park, one after another and I was still sitting at my place. Making plans to approach her and talk to her.
I started thinking how to meet her. I didn’t want to meet her like a stranger but like her own son. But how? People started vacating the park, one after another and I was still sitting at my place. I was making plans to approach her and talk to her.
Soon after searching the park for someone who could help me, I saw a friend, whom I know very well, he stood chatting with the Iron Lady. I thought this was the direct route to meet her. I immediately started walking towards his direction and made sounds just to get noticed by him. All seemed to go in vain. Finally, I succeeded. He, at first gave me a peculiar look and then suddenly greeted me. I was not interested in his greetings but just wanted him to introduce me to Parveena Ji, whom everyone lovingly calls Jiji. No sooner had we begun chatting that Parveena Ji went to sit under the shade of a big tree with the other activists, who had been part of the protest. They probably had some matters to discuss.
I was sad. She had moved away. I felt everything was going wrong for me.
I started pricking my legs with my fingers, punishing myself for missing the chance. My friend started asking me about my studies and to me, it seemed like worthless talk. Till he asked me if I know Parveena ji. I replied,” ya .. I mean, I want to meet her.” Just a few broken words and he took me straight to Parveena Ji and introduced me to her as his younger brother.
Then I was no more a stranger to her. She asked me to help her get up. She hugged me and kissed me. Just as a mother shows love to her child. The moment she hugged me, I closed my eyes in her arms, and started telling her in my mind,” Mother don’t worry I am with you in your fight against injustice.”
I basked in her undivided attention for 15 long minutes. It was 15 full minutes longer I spent with her, more than any other young person I saw in the park. I cried inside all through the seconds which I spent with her. When I sat down, I congratulated myself. I had done a good job. I had met her finally.
As the months wore on, I started going to the APDP office, sometimes to get their annual calendar, sometimes to check out the date for the coming protest, and mostly hoping to meet Jiji. But I have always failed. I never had the chance to see her again.
I am still struggling to meet her and sometimes also wonder about hundreds of students who wish to meet her and talk to her.
She is inspiring and beloved of us all. I hope to meet her soon.
Shiekh Saqib is 16 years old. A budding writer he studies at Tyndale-Biscoe