why should i mourn
Muhammad Shafi Bazaaz would spend time decorating his son’s grave at Martyr’s Graveyard, until one day he saw eight unattended graves there. Shazia Yousuf reports.
Mohammad Shafi Bazaaz had a busy week ahead of July 23. It was his son’s birthday. That day, Aijaz turned 30. Like every year, children in Bazaaz’s family had eagerly been waiting for Aijaz Bhaijan’s birthday. And Bazaaz had to make all preparations single handedly.
Aijaz is never present on his birthdays, the children never complain. They know why. They also know why the venue is always the graveyard – the Martyr’s Graveyard at Eidgah.
Every year Bazaaz comes up with a new idea of celebration to amuse the children from the family and locality.
On June 22, 2000, Aijaz, was killed by security forces, allegedly in custody. A science graduate, Aijaz had become a militant commander. Since then Bazaaz, a retired veterinary doctor, devoted most of his time and money to the maintenance of the Martyrs Graveyard.
A thousand persons, including militants, civilians – young and old men, children and even women - who fell to bullets during the two decade old armed conflict in Kashmir, lay buried in this graveyard. Dozens of such graveyards lay scattered as poke marks on Kashmir’s landscape. At many places, parents decorate the graves with epitaphs and plant flowers near the graves as a mark of respect for their ‘martyrdom’.
Soon after Aijaz’s death, Bazaaz bought a scooter to shrink the distance between his house in Mandir Bagh and his son’s grave. The money that earlier paid for Aijaz’s tuitions and upbringing now goes to flowers for the graveyard, epitaphs for graves of foreign militants, and financial assistance to families whose lone bread earners are buried in the graveyard.
“Why should I mourn his death? He gave his life for his nation. I am a proud father of a martyr,” says Bazaaz smilingly.
Every morning Bazaaz rides to the city center on his scooter to look for new saplings. If he finds any, he buys and plants them at the graveyard. “I want flowers all over this graveyard because the ones who are sleeping beneath were themselves budding flowers,” Bazaaz says. “And then, whenever I feel low, this is the place where I get solace from. This is my Nishaat. This is my Shalimar,” he says, referring to the famous Mughal gardens.
Initially Bazaaz only decorated his son’s grave. Then one day his eyes caught sight of a grave without an epitaph. “My heart cried for that grave. For the first time I felt that someone is dead. On my search, I spotted seven more such graves. With my next salary I erected epitaphs over them.”
Bazaaz says he feels duty bound to beautify these graves.
“I am answerable to parents who cannot make it to the graves of their sons. Maybe someday, someone’s family visits here, how would they feel that the people for whom their son’s laid down their lives couldn’t even maintain their graves,” Bazaaz says.
He has long forgotten to be social. Spending most of his time at the graveyard, he gets no replies, even if he talks at times.
For being the father of a militant, he has suffered in the past too.
“I have spent 18 days in lock up. And one day, military men raided our house, took me in a room, gave me repeated electric shocks and broke two of my teeth,” he recalls, showing his upper jaw with two missing incisors.
“Military men would interrogate my whole family in search operations. They would beat me; many times they pointed guns at my daughter. They would threaten me of abduction of my wife and daughter if I do not hand over Aijaz,” he adds.
But Bazaaz calls it his ‘jihaad’, though the way is different. He has to fight a war with himself. Every time a father within him tries to overpower his spirit, he has to fight back.
“Whenever I am ill and have no one to buy me medicines or take me to a doctor, I cry like a helpless father. Many times he (Aijaz) appears in my dreams, gives me solace and leaves. His glimpse in a dream strengthens me. Had he been alive, life would have been much better,” he admits. “Living without him is my jihad,” he repeats.
Bazaaz recalls the last time when he met his son. “He said he will perform Hajj that year”.
The moment he saw his dead son, he was reminded of their last conversation. Bazaaz went for Hajj the same year as if on his son’s behalf.
His wife Shafeeqa shares Bazaaz’s feelings. “I just gave birth to him. He was the son of Kashmir. Whenever I would remind him that he was our only son, he would say that his nation needs him more than I,” says Shafeeqa.
Shafeeqa says there were early signs about her son’s inclination. “When I would take him to school or somewhere else, he would collect pebbles from streets and throw them at military vehicles. At the time I assumed that his behaviour was the result of the changing scenario of Kashmir. But now I realize I was bringing up a martyr.”
The couple live with their married daughter and spend time with their grand children.
The children in the family are crazy about Aijaz Bhaijan. They swear upon his name. From reading habits to hair style, they copy everything from him. The younger one, 3-year-old Haazim is envious of his elder brother Jaazim. His grandparents say that Jaazim looks exactly like his uncle.
Ask the five-year-old Jaazim where his uncle is, he blurts out, “He is at Eidgah, where people play football and cricket. But mamu is dead. In the grave. Army killed him because he was a Mujahid.”
As Jaazim speaks, Haazim blurts out, “Aadhi roti khayenge, sar nahi jukayenge (we will eat half meals, but won’t bow our head)”. More slogans follow.
Shafi says that the inspiration of maintaining Martyrs Graveyard arose with an incident at the graveyard itself. “Once I was sitting at the graveyard when an old lady asked for my help. A foreign documentary film maker had come to the graveyard. He had seen the old lady crying near his son’s grave and was offering her a 500 rupee note. She begged me to tell him that she would prefer starvation over selling his son’s blood. I know her now, that old woman has literally nothing at her home, just a dream of seeing Kashmir free,” Shafi recalls.
“Another sister of a martyr I know is of my daughter’s age and like her, she too had refused a government job. When I visited her place she started fiddling with an empty stove. She had no kerosene to prepare a cup of tea. Next day I bought a gas stove and told her that her brother had paid for it before his death.”
The old couple have lost their most precious possession. They are left with only a grave and a lifetime of memories, memories that sometimes test their patience.
“Some months back we visited the place near Parimpora where our son was killed in fake gun fight. I kissed the place, searched for my lost son but came back empty handed,” says Shafeeqa, breaking into cries.
(this news feature appeared in a weekly local newsmagazine of kashmir-Kashmirlife on 25th july 2009)