king is bad...
It is March 1995. Just four months more and I will be 9. Family is discussing something. My father calls it operation tiger. The picture of tiger on my science text book comes in my mind. THE KING OF JUNGLE- is written below the picture. So for me operation tiger could be two things, either the KING of our place is being operated or it is operating upon its people. To me operation was always a good thing. When someone is cured not killed. Saved and not slaughtered. But this goody image of operation tiger didn’t last longer. Under the same name I saw a photo of a murdered boy in the newspaper. It was in a bad shape. The image gave me sleepless nights for days together. I came to a conclusion. ‘‘The KING is bad’’.
Almost a week passed and I was destined to see the cruel face of tiger again. It was second Sunday of month. Morning was beautiful. I opened my eyes and one more holiday was waiting for my reception. It was not gazetted but a usual one. My ears would love to hear it. It was crackdown. The announcement in the local mosque was made. ‘‘All men are asked to assemble on the Safakadal Bridge.’’
My grand father stayed back for safeguard of women, concerned about the valuable things of home and the gold ornaments which the in-laws of his newly engaged daughter had brought. My father prior to leaving was busy in hiding something in my school shoes. As he left, the first thing I did was to check what actually was concealed. They were two audio cassettes of patriotic songs which my brother had brought from his friend’s home. While hiding my father was all fire for his son and son’s friend. I too was worried as on my drawing book where I was supposed to color an Indian flag. Instead of using saffron and green I had painted it in all green(the color which an independent kashmiri flag was wished to be) . I was ready for the wrath of my grand father who perhaps for the safety of his children was all praise for India before armed men. Humji dil se Hindustani hai. (We are Indians by heart), I heard him saying this. They searched, scanned, made mess of everything. But they didn’t touch my school bag. I was safe now. One of the men looked at my aunt and asked for her name. She spoke but didn’t say her real name. Then he asked for mine, I said shabnam, not my real one. What made my aunt to hide her name, I didn’t know that. But it would have been for her good. So I too played safe.
My mother had unlocked cupboards and rooms and kept all locks in a box. When an armed person tried to take it in his hands, it proved heavier than the expected. Suddenly he dropped the box on the ground and screamed in fear. Seeing bad man in fear I laughed. Again I did wrong. I knew his single bullet can silent me forever. Again I closed my eyes. The embarrassed man left me unhurt. I was again safe.
After the search operation was over my mother gave me and my sister some edibles and asked us to handover it to any of our family member who had assembled with other men on the bridge. I was so proud on receiving this task. ‘‘I am not that small’’ I said to myself in satisfaction. We left our home. While moving in the congested lane of our busy downtown, I recalled a statement of my maternal uncle who lives in the uptown area of sringar., ‘‘downtownees are brave’’ it was good. I was brave.
When I reached at the safakadal brigde, everything was unusual. It was calm. There was a fearful peace. Jhelum (the river that flows beneath) was silent. The flood of people was overwhelming the waters of vitasta. But the ones that dominated the scene were an unusual type of military men. Their heads were covered with black headscarves. They wore a ferocious look. My eyes caught sight of my younger uncle who was wiping off blood from his forehead. He had offered prayers on roadside thus injured himself. Glancing at my bleeding uncle and fierce expressions of these uniformed men, I decided not to shake hands with them which I was used to do in order to prove my courage.
It was 4:30pm. Time to take breath. Identification parade was over. People geared back their nervous souls. Men returned to their homes. Four boys from our lane had been picked up. I still remember their names, Bitta, Raja, Seaba, javaid. My cousin had given his pheran to one of the boys (raajie) as he had been shivering in fear and had turned pale when asked to get into their vehicle. Everyone started talking about operation tiger and CATS. By now tiger was clear to me but cats was something new. I asked someone who told me that the veiled men in gypsies in front of whom people are paraded are called CATS. I wondered why in this armed game things have been named on animals. I asked several questions to myself. Do they have animal instincts? Or do they treat us like animals? Or do we look like animals? I was entangled in my questions while others were praying for the safety of four boys.
Their mothers assembled near our gate and were crying for survival of their sons. I remember one mother saying, “My son did you left in anger? Come back I will give you new clothes.” Little did she know that her son is still going to wear new clothes-a fresh shroud?
Just half an hour passed that an army vehicle dropped four dead bodies at the gate of nearby (sekidafar) police station. A calamity descended when a queue of four dead bodies entered our locality. It was like doomsday. There was chaos. Our lane had lost four precious lives. Everyone was crying. I was puzzled.
Women were wailing and singing at the same time. Screaming but showering flowers on the dead. Cries and candies were in air (In Kashmir candies are showered on grooms, as the boys were of marriageable age, they were treated as grooms). I was surprised as why these candies aren’t being consumed. I was in dilemma. Smelling something strange I too didn’t picked anyone.
The dead were taken to martyrs graveyard at Eidgah. Our lane was calm. Gloom had gripped every face. Dark was the sky as well. I was frustrated. I had witnessed such event for the first time. Down the lane, 13 long years have passed; raja’s mother is often seen crying. She was the unfortunate of all. Her son had received three bullets on his face. She couldn’t see him for the last time. Javaid’s mother has developed cardiac problems. His father, a street vendor has lost sight in his left eye. seaba’s family soon after his death shifted to some other place. Hardly anyone knows about the family. bitta’s father too died in the same year. What it was all about then, I didn’t know. But one thing is certain. Tiger was bad. “The king was bad”.