By Sheikh Saaliq
The darkness has already crept in—stars glitter like emerald diamonds. I hear the whispers of air outside. I can smell the freshness of air, which it brings with it for the morning to come—the morning of summer. The hush outside is no longer mute. It brings a choir with it. The melodies of peace and concord which, of late, were missing. They seem long gone and yet to arrive.
My eyes gaze at the only street lamp outside. The yellowish fade light glows in the corner. The morning mist, enveloping the radiance of the lamp makes it look like a smiling face. Adjacent to it is a handcart ready to be hauled by Rahima. In the morning, he will stuff his cart with the garden vegetables which his wife Mokhti handpicks from the garden.
Rahima is in his forties. Once a Lashkar-i-Toiba (LeT) commander, then served a 20 year Jail term – he recently came back to his home to start a new life. [To talk about his heroic incidents has become a routine for the people of our locality. With pride they flaunt about Rahima to the neighboring folks men. ] The tales of his bravery are not hidden to anyone.
I once overheard people talking about him at a Kander waan (bakery shop). Rahima had once hit Peepal Singh – the infamous Army Major of the town with his AK47 straight at his nose. ‘He had that nose covered for a month at-least. ’ Sultan, the baker, said to a fellow who was buying Tchochwea’r (bread-roll) from his bakery. (Su ous akh Zaelim. Dilgoum shad veshit) “Peepal Singh was a tyrant. I felt so happy seeing Rahima hit him”, Sultan added laughing; his pale yellow teeth guzzling all the sheen outside during the winter’s chill.
Peepal Singh, once a commander of 46RR in the early 90’s was just like his master Jagmohan known for his brutal torture and killing. My father says he used to put a wild rat in one’s pants during the interrogation. It sounded horrific every time my father recounts the tales of the torture but Rahima had done much worse to him. After giving him a blessing at his nose, Rahima had once kidnapped the cruel creature.
He tortured him. Then put a burning stove between his thighs. People say, after Peepal Singh was released by Rahima and his comrades, he immediately sought premature retirement from his Job. Others mostly call it a mere boast by the people for they have Jazba for Azadi and Peepal Singh was transferred to Kupwara only, thus not leaving his Job.
Having spent half of his life in Jail, people now call him Rahima Mandela. In 2010 unrest, he attended every possible procession which was rallied from the locality. He led from the front, chanting slogans in his firm voice. He pelted stones at the CRPF deployed near the Bridges connecting the two parts of the town.
In his white Pajamas, wearing a Force Ten shoe, probably bought during his Jail tenure, Rahima used to go to the Cement Bridge where he with others pelted stones at the Indian Troops. His mother always admonished him and reminded him of his only son Junaid but he never listened. The Jazba for Azadi always overpowered his Fatherhood.
Junaid often played cricket with us. With his father being a rebel, he always received respect and attention. Junaid was born one month before his father was arrested in an encounter. All these years, Junaid remained under the care of his mother. Like all normal kids he talked about Azadi and Girls with us – for these being the only two hot topics of our age but he never participated in any procession or Stone Pelting. His father on the contrary was still giving his best shot – for he always wanted to hit a CRPF walla, straight at face with a stone.
Once, during a curfew day in 2010 when we all were caged inside our homes, the CRPF personnel started to enter the houses and beat up people. The loudspeakers meant for Azaan in the Masjids in no time reverberated with Slogans. People came out of their houses. The stones flew, smoke covered the skies, and loud explosions pierced our ears. It continued. I saw people running for cover.
Rahima was leading in front, his shalwar over his shoulders, throwing stones. I thought, ‘today he will hit a CRPF Walla. ’ I imagined Rahima hitting the CRPF walla in his face and then in the evening, at the Gul khan’s Barbeque shop, he will flaunt his stone pelting skills. I imagined him cursing the troops and asking us to join him for another round. But nothing like that happened.
He did come back, only to find his son Junaid being taken to the hospital. A stray bullet had pierced his chest. He was watching his father pelt stones from his balcony window and was hit. The bluish paint of the window pane was smeared red.
Junaid survived but not before Rahima sold all the jewelry of his wife, his house and took loan from every possible person he could find. He rented a single room next to his house for his family. He spent all his earnings on Junaid’s operations only to see him still, motionless lying in bed. His left part of the body was paralyzed. He could not walk. The school bag which should have been hanging on his shoulders is now under his bed, like Junaid, frozen.
Today after the morning breaks, Rahima will leave for his daily routine. He doesn’t join any procession now nor does he pelt stones anymore. People say he is brewing inside, the Jazba is there but he doesn’t show. For he has to feed his family, he hardly cares about Azadi anymore.
20 meters away from the house of Rahima, from my window I continue to gaze at the hand cart. ‘This is the only way he can feed his family now. ‘The Jazba he flaunted about did no good to him’ I say to myself. “He was first an armed rebellion – a foot soldier and then he turned to pelting stones only to see his son paralyzed forever. Where could the Jazba be now? His family must be his Azadi now – Azadi for which he won’t give his life”. With this thought I close my window.
The morning spring chill makes me shiver and I head back to room. It’s 4:50 am. My phone rings. It continues to ring. The sleep has overpowered me and I don’t want to pick up the phone but it continues to ring and forces me to do opposite. I read the name of the caller. It is friend – a close one but he never had called so early before. I pick up my Phone. Before I could say anything, I could hear the short breaths. He says, “Afzal Guru has been hanged. ” I jump off my bed and look around. No I am not dreaming nor is it a nightmare. It is real. I am listening to him as he continues to talk. My mind flashes me the face of Afzal Guru – his beard, the spectacles he wore, the [Kifaayah] he tucked around his head and neck – it all flashes in front of my eyes.
I rush to my parent’s room, woke them up and [tell] them about this. As I go back to room, the loudspeakers buzz. No it isn’t the Masjids – it is curfew. It is obvious now that something has happened. Later it is confirmed that Afzal Guru was hanged around 8:30 in the morning.
Later in the day, I go to see the situation outside after the protesters had defied the curfew in our locality. Far from the distance I see a person, wearing a black Pheran throwing stones. The skills which he uses to throw stones were seen before. I try to recollect who he is but fail. The person continues throwing stones. The stones flee, pierce the smoke filled air – they hit where they were meant for. Bang! A stone hits a CRPF trooper. The crowd cheers, hoots and the trooper is picked up by his fellowmen and taken in an armored vehicle. Amidst the smoke clouds I see a masked fellow – his eyes red with the tear gas and a stone in his fist. He is the person who has hit the CRPF trooper with a stone turning his face red. I think he broke his jaws. I go nearer and stare at him. He is Rahima.
The Jazba had returned and this time he was back on the streets. I think Jazba never sleeps – at least not in the case of Rahima, but it only remains silent for time being. I remember when people were saying that Rahima is brewing inside. I guess, this is what his Jazba waited for. He was back where he belonged – resisting and fighting.
As I head back to home, I see the handcart lying in peace. It had remained untouched for a month after that. Rahima hadn’t gone out for work. The Curfews hadn’t let him.
That night I heard Rahima saying something to a group of people. I went nearer. He was laughing. A cigarette in his one hand he blew the smoke clouds and said (Chount czoutmas. Kamaskam 10 tae’be inas) “I broke his jaws. He will at least get 10 stiches. ” He continued to talk to the group. I could even see some of my neighboring boys, sitting cross-legged and listening with comfort. I saw Tariq, Suhail, Mudasir, Zubair, Ishtiaq and many more. Rahima was telling them something and it looked they were listening with keen interest. I could hear the words LoC, Border, Training Camps and much more. ‘Rahima must be telling them his tales of how he crossed the LoC and fought with the Indian troops here’ I said to myself and laughed. ‘He is such a drama. ’
A month later, Suhail, a shy boy known to me – who was only in his late teens, was away at [ere] break of the day, leaving behind his family. People say Rahima counseled him.
I knew what the counseling meant – for , I was an eye witness.
Sheikh Saaliq is a freelance writer from Kashmir. He is the editor of www.thevoxkashmir.com