By Syed Zafar Mehdi
When I peep into the past, I am swamped by a torrent of bitter-sweet memories. I grew up in a small-town of Himalayan valley, nestled amidst the gushing blue streams, lush-green meadows, blooming orchards and romantic houseboats. I would wake up in the morning to the trilling and warbling of birds sitting atop majestic chinar trees, the music of wind as it rustled through the leaves, the laughter of rippling rivers and cascading falls, and the smell of intoxicating aroma all around me.
I vividly remember my first day at a local primary school in Srinagar, as a little boy. It was a frosty winter day. The snowflakes were descending from heavens. Unmindful of the inclement weather and the snowstorm, I jumped and frolicked as my mother held my icy hands and dropped me at school. Teachers at school were very nice and one of them even offered me a candy when I answered the question correctly.
As a small boy, I fell in love with Gulmarg’s sprawling meadows, where the world’s highest gondola lifts now ferry skiers up to 12,900 feet. I was fascinated by Pahalgam’s trout-filled streams, shimmering lakes, and mighty glaciers that feed the rivers below. I remember riding the shikara (canopied boats) in Dal Lake, on a moonlit night when the waters reflected the town’s glittering lights and brooding mountains.
But as destiny had it, things took a nasty turn. The paradise was ravaged by bullets and bombs. I remember stumbling across the barbed wire fencing just across my house, and hurting myself badly. It was very scary when the deafening sound of gunfire would break the monotony of dark gloomy curfew night. But more disturbing was when an ‘outsider’, heavily armed military man would subject you to frisking and ask for an Identity card, in your own home.
As a young school boy, I was dispatched to a boarding school, far away from home. I remember looking down from the plane window and waving my trembling hands at those beautiful green orchards, juxtaposing the fleet of sand bunkers, occupied by ‘occupational forces’.
I finally landed in an alien territory, with strange people and unusual weather. As I ran inside the school hostel, a tall, broad-shouldered man escorted me to my room. He was the hostel warden, a cross between Hulk Hogan and Amrish Puri. I got clear-cut instructions of do’s and do not’s. I remember getting the first call from home and breaking into tears. I missed home. I would anxiously wait at the hostel gate every morning for newspaper vendor. The first thing I would do was check the news reports about Kashmir. I used to feel sad and outraged every-time the news was about those tender-aged boys murdered in cold-blood, for the crime of playing cricket on a curfew day. I would lose my sleep on hearing about the young, school-going girls gang-raped in the frontier districts of valley. Many a times I felt like dropping the pen and picking up the gun, but I was helpless.
I remember the Indian Independence Day, falling on August 15, when I refused to join my school-mates in saluting the tricolour, simply because I failed to identify myself with it. Every time I looked at the tricolor, I was reminded of the Howard Zinn quote, there is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people for the purpose which is unattainable. I remember being suspended from classes, and being called a traitor. I remember how a Kashmiri in me was born again that day. I remember how leaving home early in life proved a blessing in disguise for me. I remember, many years later, when I rather audaciously mentioned Kashmiri as my nationality while applying for a job in the capital city of India. Whether I got the job or not is a different matter. I remember the goose bumps I got, when a famous auditorium in Delhi came alive with the thunderous slogans of Azadi.
I remember because I can’t afford to forget anything. Memory, as Oscar Wilde says, is the diary that I carry about with me. It reminds me of my home, my paradise, and my people, no matter where I am. It reminds me of the cause, we are all fighting for.
Hum dekhenge, laazim hai ki hum bhi dekhenge
Faiz Ahmad Faiz
The writer is a Kashmiri journalist based in New Delhi. Feedback at armaan. journo@gmail. com