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schooling in occupation

In morning when I was waiting for my bus, it was unusually calm. The chilly breeze of autumn had frozen the activities of people. I waited for a good amount of time. Turning around I saw a school boy, he too along with his mother was waiting for his school bus. His hair was wet and lips turned dark. He was tightly holding his trembling body against his mother’s arm when his mother said, “he just had bath. It is too cold today.” I nodded my head and smiled at the boy. “Lucky boy” I said to myself, though he was not visibly so. But he had everything I used to dream of in my school days; Carrying a big school bag, hanging a water bottle around my neck, carrying a lunch box in my hand, and travelling in a school bus. But when I recalled the reality, it started pricking my frail body. The spiny memories of those stiff mats on which we used to sit in the class. The day when my hands would turn black while applying dry cell on the black board. The black board which was black just by name. The day when it was my turn to stitch duster for my class. The day when my pocket money would be snatched to wrap the register with brown sheet. The happiness in bringing stick for my teacher. It was crazy. The boy made me nostalgic. The long forgotten memories revisited.

I was in 2nd class. For the fourth consecutive year I had stood first in my batch. It didn’t mean much as we were just 14 students in class. It was the highest roll; no any other class had its roll in two digits.

It was in 1990 and I remember I was in lower kindergarten. My brother asked, “What is our school’s name?” “S.M Public school,” I said, “No, its full name,” Brother corrected. “I don’t know,” I confessed. Remember it is shanti mandir (peace temple) public school, my brother said something like that. Perhaps Shubh mandir (holy temple) or something similar to this but I don’t remember exactly. Even my brother doesn’t remember now. I couldn’t understand what the name actually means so decided to ask my favorite teacher, Anita miss. A pundit girl in her early twenties, I thought she knew the meaning as she would teach Hindi. Next day I couldn’t find her. She didn’t come that day; she didn’t come for many days. She never came back. Anita miss had migrated to Jammu. I became restless for Anita miss and for the meaning of schools name. But then one day it suddenly didn’t mean anything to me when I came to know that the name has been changed. My school was now-State Mission Public School.

I would always dream of reading in a high school, a school with a building of its own, a playground or a ground at least were we could have our lunch in recess time.
But it was not so. Three rented rooms of a two storied building would make my school. It was S.M public school. The ground floor had four rooms, first in the left was always locked, I never bothered to find out the reason. Next to it was occupied by the owner of the building. First in the right lodged a family of harisawala (a kashmiri delicacy). Next to it was my classroom. I regret. My classroom would smell spicy at the time when I wasn’t there-in my winter break. The first floor had five rooms. One room a hand stitching center, another a boutique, third a wood carving center and the last two rooms along with a room in ground floor would make my school.

The school didn’t have a washroom. Most of the students came from the same locality so were supposed to go home. It was a routine. Any student once allowed would never return. So the teachers hardly allowed anyone. It had no ground. Our morning assembly would take place in the corridors of the building. I remember the morning prayers. “We shall overcome some day.” To me “We shall overcome” meant nothing but overcoming from the rented rooms to a new building. As almost all the students would come from the same locality and because of lack of space we were asked to go home for the lunch and be back in 30 minutes. To make sure that students would come back we were not allowed to take our bags along. Many times I have sent somebody from home “Get my bag from school. Tell them she is not feeling well or fell asleep.” they would do the same.

It was summer 1993. I don’t remember the exact date as everyday would be another yesterday. Bell rang and it was our lunch time. I packed my stuff and ran towards my home. It took me almost two minutes.

Knowing that it is the best time of blackmailing my mother, I said to her, “I won’t eat rice. Make an omelet for me” “But for that you will have to fetch the egg from market. And I won’t allow you moving out this time. It is dangerous” My mother replied in a very convincing tone. I wasn’t convinced at all. “Either make an omelet or get my bag from school” I said.

Indeed it was a dangerous time. Everyday between 12:30 to 1:30pm, a military vehicle would bring lunch for the CRPF personnel residing in a bunker near police station. The vehicle would pass through safakadal-the place where I would live. Every other day militants would hurl grenade on the vehicle. The damage by the grenade used to be almost nothing. Just two or three times, a couple of CRPF personnel received injuries. But for the residents it was same, damage or no damage but the attack would always invite trouble for the people.

I thought that little courage could fetch me omelet while Cowardice would mean eating usual rice. Attempting appeared better than repenting on the missed out chance. So against the wishes of my mother I moved out. Was I brave? Perhaps pretended.

Sultan, a young shopkeeper, who is a grey bearded man now was walking towards my home, I stopped him, asked for the egg and he said “I have to offer prayers, Go to the shop, take an egg and leave 75 paisa at the place where I sit” “I will take a big one.” I said to myself. Holding the money tightly in my hands, I started running towards the shop. My slippers were slipping against my sweaty feet. I couldn’t run with the speed I wished. Sultan’s shop was just 5 or 6 steps away when someone behind me screamed –GEAD HA AAYI (The vehicle came..!!). Within no time, a big bang banged the air. Everything happened in a jiffy. I wasn’t able to make out what exactly is happening around me

The buzz turned silent and markets lifeless. Vehicles were turning back. Markets were speaking silence. Order was changing its order. Fear was visible on every face. I was a bit relaxed simply because I thought I have done nothing wrong. They have no reason to harm a frail girl like me.

A small tin gate was the only hope visible. “Zaz manzil (Zaz house)” was written on the gate, I remember. Almost everyone on the road started rushing towards the gate. I was in dilemma whether I should join them or not. I didn’t find it necessary because I was innocent. But those trying hard to get in were innocent too. I found myself lost in the crowd. Someone whose face I didn’t saw bundled me in his arm. He was wearing pheran and must have been a well built man as I could make out from his arm. His hand was big but trembling too. He too was fearful I thought. I tried hard to see his face but I could only see his feet. They were wandering around the crowd. He had become restless. Suddenly He along with me started running and climbed the fence. Perhaps finding it hard to jump on the other side while carrying me he left me there and got down from the fence.

I was shocked. My savior had left me halfway. I started crying to get noticed but my voice was chocked in fear. I couldn’t cry loud. Even if I could but there was no one to hear me. I was missing my mother. I had lost one of my slippers and I was crying for it too. I tried to stand on the fence but it appeared so big to me that I sat back. I made several many attempts to jump but I couldn’t. I started crying again. At last I squeezed my body to get less hurt and jumped. When I landed on the courtyard I cried a bit louder, perhaps in happiness.

Men, women, children assembled in the courtyard. Everyone was giving his own version of story. People were being beaten outside. I could hear screams. Ambulances and military vehicles was the only transport on roads. Windowpanes were being smashed. Suddenly Sultan’s shop came in my mind, “I wish they could leave his shop. Sultan is a nice person, he hardly misses any prayer.” I thought to myself.

We spent almost an hour there and the things outside started settling down. People in the courtyard started moving out in small groups. I was alone. Nobody paid any attention to me. Then a member from the family residing there asked for my address and accompanied me to my home. I was almost thirty steps away from my home and I saw my whole family out on road. My mother was being consoled by some women in neighborhood. Leaving the man there I ran towards my mother and cried as loud as I could. I laid myself in her arms. She hugged me, kissed me and took me inside.

Years passed and my dream came true. I joined a high school. But the situation around me remained unchanged. Every other day a grenade would blow someone leaving the schools unattended. I got used to it. I learned fetching edibles from the backdoors of closed shops.

That day I was walking slowly than needed. Lunch break was over. 30 minutes had passed. I couldn’t make it to school. I was perplexed, silent, feeling alone in my home while my school bag was lying in the empty classroom of my rented school. I was sad, missing my bag. The separation was smelling occupation!!!

Comments

Maria de Chirikof's picture

Wow

So interesting and I can picture it as if it was one of my daughters, such a great story. Makes me hope you got to see your teacher again sometime and learned the old name of the school and got a water bottle to wear around your neck!

That would be so scary to have your little daughter missing, I can imagine what your mother went through before you showed back up! And the relief when a neighbor brings you back home safe!

What a powerful story and I do hope the war ends soon so the little girls can go back to thinking normal girl stuff again and have real childhoods!

Maria

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