He was about to leave with his new cricket bat when his mother reminded him of tomorrow’s History test at school.
‘Tamim, I’ll break your legs if you take one more step towards the door’, his mother gave him the same ineffectual warning again, ‘Get your History textbook out and I’ll take your test in five minutes.’
‘I hate history. History is just full of battles and bloodshed, massacres and murders, death and darkness.’ Tamim said with a frown.
It was always hard for him to memorize numerous strange historic dates and names. The ghosts of History assignments gave him nightmares. These dates were always haunting him. And will continue to haunt him for a long time.
It was a hot Sunday afternoon, right after his exams were over, Tamim and his friends went to play cricket. The field was filled with enthusiastic cricketers.
Due to increasing humidity, Tamim was feeling lazy and tired with every passing minute. As if the sun was feeding itself on his glucose and energy. He took his shirt off and ran back in the field in his orange vest.
He wasn’t good at cricket. He was good at nothing during his school days, except in making fun of himself. Whenever it was his turn to speak in front of students in the school assembly, he was given only one topic: you’ll say some jokes. He used to make whole school laugh with his jokes, acting and stand up comedy. ‘To make people happy, to provide smile and to make someone laugh is a great deed in times of war.’ his father used to say.
As they were playing cricket, it was hot and noisy. Suddenly they heard something and everything stopped. Every movement. The noise turned into the dead silence of the graveyard in the middle of the full moon night. The ball was in the air but the batsman felt a deep horror inside his bones. The fielders were looking at each other in frenzy. Even chirping of the birds was gone. As if the Professor of X-Men stopped the time. In such silence Tamim was able to hear his heartbeats. It was just for some seconds but everyone stood as statues. Confused. Then they heard it again, and everyone ran as if someone had let the hell loose.
Within seconds it became clear that it was an attack. Again. This time they were playing just about 100 feet away.
It was during 1990s. It was in Batamaloo. 1990s in Batamoloo. Srinagar. Kashmir. During 90’s, Batamaloo was famous especially for two things: The historic Adda: Bus Stand from where buses would come from and go to every part of Jammu and Kashmir.
And second thing Batamaloo was famous for was the Militancy. Almost in every home, there was an armed rebel, always ready to die for Azaadi.
Like other boys, Tamim ran too. To reach home took him just 5 minutes to cover the distance which normally could be covered 20 minutes. The only thing he heard all the way was terrifying sounds of gunshots and blasts.
As he reached near home,he found everyone in panic. Everyone leaving his home with nothing but keys in possession, and trust in Allah. They somehow knew no one is going to steal anything. At the times of war, even thieves run for their lives.
Every elderly of the family was consoling their youngsters. Tamim saw his grandmother, deeply worried at the end of the lane that leads to his home. She was rubbing her hands in desperation and chanting prayers for the safety of every single being breathing under the light of the sun. Every grandma’s Panic System is made of the same default OS. No matter how much you try, they ain’t just going to calm down in such situations, unless all their sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters and every single family member is within the reach of her eyesight.
Tamim only saw his father calm. ‘Don’t worry, Mouji. Nothing is gonna happen. Everything will be okay. Have trust in Allah’, he was consoling Tamim’s grandmother.
The firing was still going on when Tamim’s father saw him. He didn’t ask Tamim where he was or was he okay or any caring words like that.
‘Where is your shirt?, he asked him while removing the sweat from Tamim’s forehead with the palm of his right hand.
‘I… I left it in the field. I got… frightened as firing started’, he replied taking hold of his breath.
His father noticed there is something else missing.
‘You left your new bat there as well, didn’t you?’ he asked with a light smile on his face.
Tamim was carrying a new cricket bat he recently got from Charsoo, where his aunt lives. Her husband is in the business of exporting cricket bats. It was his aunt’s husband who gave Tamim that bat when he passed his 6th grade last year. And he left that cricket bat in the field along with his shirt.
‘Go back and get your shirt and the bat. Nothing is gonna happen to you. Keep laa ie laaha ilallaah reciting and be back as quick as possible. We are going to Hawal.’ he told Tamim in a way that somehow seemed like a plea.
It hurt Tamim. Not because he thought his father cares more about the shirt and the bat than him. But because if it took him time they might be gone before he’ll be back. They were going to Hawal, his matamaal (maternal home). And he was already excited to boast about how he survived the attack.
He ran back as fast he could. When he reached the field, he was breathing heavily and reciting laa ie laaha ilallaah as advised by his father. But both the bat and the shirt was gone!
The sound of firing was clearer than it was from his home.
Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, Tamim heard someone calling out his name. He recognised the voice but it took him a while to find out where it was coming from.
He looked around and found his close neighbour, Wahid. His close friend whose aunt happened to live just a few yards away from the field where they’re playing. He saw his shirt in Wahid’s hand. He was waving his shirt in the air and shouting Tamim’s name out loud.
Tamim ran towards him. He was on the veranda on his aunt’s home.
‘Are you sick or something! You came back for the shirt?’
‘Yes, and for the bat.’
Tamim saw the bat was lying there, beneath the veranda.
‘Don’t go back. Stay here with us. Army is patrolling from here. We just saw them running from there’, Wahid pointed out towards the place were from the roaring of bullets was coming.
But Tamim grabbed his shirt and got the bat from beneath the veranda. ‘No, I gotta go. They are waiting for me. We are going Hawal until things calm down’ he replied already from outside the gate.
As Tamim ran back reciting laa ie laaha ilallaah, Wahid kept shouting ‘Tamim don’t go there! Stay!… Don’t go! Come back!’
Tamim kept running. Reached home. They were ready to go to Hawal. As they were leaving there was a huge crowd on the street. Families were going to some safe place like Tamim’s. Tamim’s father went to one of his friend’s home whose son had an Auto-rickshaw. He was a humble person and agreed to take them to Hawal with same charges he would charge in ‘normal days’.
Tamim felt the sound of gunfire fading away as they were moving towards Hawal.
They came to know the same day that it was an attack by Hizbul Mujahideen on Malaysha Ground. Tamim didn’t understand why people called that ground Malaysha. Maybe it rhymes with militia, he thought. Malaysha Ground is a large piece of land in Batamaloo occupied by Indian Military Forces. It’s where they do training and other stuff.
After two days of the attack, 7pm News on Kashir Channel confirmed that Mujahideen were hiding in the part where Army had their ammunition. They fought for more than 38 hours and were martyred. In their funeral, thousands and thousands of people participated. They were buried in the Shaheed Malguzaar (Martyr’s Graveyard)located just a few yards from the same Malaysha Ground.
After spending four days in Hawal, Tamim and his family came back to Batamaloo in a local bus. On the streets they saw lots of houses with broken window panes. ‘Army has taken its revenge on innocent locals’, said Tamim’s father said. They reached home and everything was in the same way they felt.
Later that day, Tamim went to buy some groceries from the market. On the street, he saw his friend Wahid. His face was fluffy and blue like those large headed blue aliens of Star Trek. His left eye was barely visible.
‘What the hell happened to you?’ Tamim asked with a shake.
‘Fuck you! Get lost, behanchood’, he replied in fury as he pushed Tamim with both of hands as hard as he could.
Tamim could not get anything out of Wahid’s behaviour. So, he quickly bought the stuff from the shop and rushed back to home. He told his parents about Wahid’s face and nothing about his mysterious behaviour. His mother went to Wahid’s home to know about the matter.
Tamim was eagerly waiting for her return. She was out for almost an hour but for Tamim, it seemed like ages. He was curious to know what happened to his friend and the reason behind his rude behaviour. And when Sunlight began to hide beneath the growing darkness of twilight, she came back.
What she narrated was shocking and terrifying for Tamim:
On that day, when Tamim left Wahid’s aunt’s home after he got his shirt and the bat, the army men patrolling from there heard Wahid shouting. As Tamim was carrying his bat covered with his shirt, army saw him. They thought of him as a militant or someone carrying ammunition for Mujahideen. They mistook his cricket bat as an AK-47. They accused Wahid’s relatives of hiding militants in their home. They dragged little Wahid out and beat him ruthlessly. As Wahid cried in anguish, ‘Hataa Mamooooo Bi Haaa Moorhooos!’ (Maam is maternal uncle in Kashmiri) they got his uncle and beat him too. Not only that they beat all the other family members including women and children. They broke the window panes of their home, threw out utensils and all other stuff on road, and broke whatever they got hold on.
It took Wahid’s relatives months to get back to normal life. But Wahid and Tamim played lots cricket matches together after that incident. They were again good friends just after a few days. For children, it is not hard to manage and settle things down. They understand and solve the metaphysical nature behind the conflicts. But Tamim never got the courage to speak to Wahid’s relatives again. Army personnel had hit Wahid’s aunt so hard that left a scar on the right side her face. Whenever they happened to be around, Tamim used to hide or change his way. He thought his presence might remind them of the brutality that happened to them.
Though still in 7th grade, it always kept his soul disturbing. He kept thinking about it. Whose fault was that this familysuffers without any valid cause? Was it his fault that he went back to get the stuff that he left behind? Was it his father’s fault who sent him there amidst the firing? Or was it Wahid’s fault who kept shouting and warning Tamim, drawing Army’s attention towards him? Or was it nobody’s fault just the consequences of the events happening at the wrong place, on the wrong time?
In occupation, whose fault is that the innocents are being beaten like dogs or being killed or kidnapped or tortured or raped or burnt or destroyed or their eyes and skulls being punctured with pellets? After all, whose fault is being oppressed? Whose fault is being a slave?
He tried to find the answers in his History textbook but found only wars and destruction there.
On one gloomy evening, when Tamim was memorizing the dates of the Chapter III of his History Textbook titled: Indian Freedom Struggle, he began to wonder whether there will be any History textbook that will tell students what happened in Kashmir? What India did in Kashmir? Are students going to memorize the dates of Gawkadal Massacre and Central Jail Massacre? Will there be History books to educate students about how Kashmir got their Azaadi, for which they sacrificed everything close to their heart?
He might never find the answer to these questions, or would he?
Muhammad Nadeem is a poet and artist from Kashmir. Currently a student of Journalism at University of Kashmir. His works have been previously published in Kashmir Life, Precya Review, Cafedissensusblog.com. Author is also the owner of Kashmir Book Club (www.kashmirbookclub.com)