When I came to Delhi earlier this year to join the Masters program in Political Science in Jamia Millia, things felt different. This place didn’t seem like Kashmir, not even in the least. It felt like I had stepped into a new world altogether.
After leaving from the airport, my friend asked me: so what’s the first change you observe? How is it different from Kashmir?
Pat came the reply: you don’t find security forces after every five steps here.
And my friend was surprised; she said she wasn’t expecting that to be the first thing I’d notice.
That’s how it has been for us Kashmiris. We don’t lag behind when it comes to talent or competition, but the conflict we’ve witnessed has had such a profound impact on us that we relate it with anything and everything.
And we can’t even be blamed for it.
It has been quite a while in Delhi now and I’ve found some friends too, the closest being my roommate. She’s been a real find and I love listening to things she says. She often narrates to me various memorable times of her childhood.
Once she shared with me the collection of her childhood photographs – smiling, dancing, celebrating birthdays, enjoying trips with her family and much more. Seeing all those full-of-life pictures, I tried to imagine having a similar childhood that my non-Kashmiri friend kept telling me about. It would have been such a blissful one I thought to myself. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
I still love it when she narrates her childhood stories to me, though I’m reminded of bitter memories of my own childhood, yet, it gives me an idea about what my childhood could have been like.
She keeps telling me how she used to play with her friends, irritate them, fight with them; while I remember the times when I unknowingly kept playing with bullets.
She tells me how she’d run around and play all day without a care in the world; while I remember how, when I was just six-years-old, me and my dad had to run for our lives when we were caught in the midst of a fierce gun battle.
Again and again, I go through her photo albums, and as I do, tears trickle down my face as I realize I’ve none to show, for they were all destroyed when my grandparents house – where I’d spent most of my childhood – was gutted down along with 12 other houses, just because militants had taken refuge in a neighboring house.
She talks of tranquility, while I remember only terror.
“When pain makes it difficult to articulate coherently, quiet remembrance helps. Like many other Kashmiris, I’ve been in silence, committing to memory, the deed and the date. The faces of the murdered boys, the color of their shirts, their grieving fathers; these might disappear from the headlines, but they’ve already found their place in our collective memory. Kashmir sees the unedited Kashmir,” wrote Basharat Peer, the author of “Curfewed Night” in an article entitled, “Kashmir Unrest : a letter to an unknown Indian,” published in the Economic Times in 2010.
How true. I really don’t remember having listened to a lullaby to fall asleep at night, but I certainly remember sleeping amidst the sound of gunshots. I don’t remember much of my playing on the streets, but I certainly remember the silence echoing from the deserted streets and curfewed nights.
I don’t remember many happy moments of my childhood (which aren’t many to begin with), but I certainly remember the look of fear and dread on everyone’s face when Tiger (that was the Major’s name) would head the crackdown in our area.
I don’t exactly remember the first big word I heard and memorized, but I’m certain that Kalashnikov was one of the first few.
I don’t remember what I learned of terror first, but I certainly remember that I took army to be synonymous with terror without anyone saying so to me.
My family members call me “the child of conflict,” for I was born in 1989, the year that changed everything in Kashmir.
I was alive, yet I don’t remember life; I only remember deaths. The deaths I saw with my own eyes. The fear of death I saw in the eyes of those around me.
I’ve seen it all – valiant voices, stony streets, blood lusty bullets, coercive crackdowns, mourning mothers, fatigued fathers, devastated dreams, peace in pieces and what not.
What I say maybe one of the “usual” stories coming from Kashmir every now and then, yet I feel like shouting it to everyone. And why shouldn’t I? My childhood was stolen, my happiness chained and my dreams curfewed. I don’t remember the toys I played with, all I remember of my childhood is the bloodshed, curfews, crackdowns, disappearances, torture, killings and the mourning.
Even when my friends here fondly recall the beauty of their college days: the mass bunks and the parties, I remain silent, for I don’t have many similar memories to share.
I hardly remember all that. What makes the period from 2008 to 2010 significant for me is not the collegiate charm, but Kashmir’s second revolution – “The New Intifada” as it is called.
What dominates my memory is the anger that was visible on the streets of Kashmir. I remember Sangbaazi (stone pelting); I remember every single line of the slogans played through the Masjid loudspeakers, I remember the graffiti and I remember the deaths.
Sometimes during nights when I lay awake in my bed here in Delhi, far away from Kashmir, I wonder how things are back home. Are the mountains witness to yet another killing somewhere? Is Jehlum flowing silently, reflecting the red somewhere? Is the street bloodstained? Does the air smell of blood?
They say this year has been peaceful in Kashmir so far. But when I hear that, I am reminded of the words of a Kashmiri-American poet, Agha Shahid Ali, who said: “They make a desolation and call it peace.”