Views from Srinagar
AATIF always wanted me to write about him. His home has been raided several times. He has been booked under PSA, tortured and as many as 55 FIRs stand registered against him. He is my friend. I always have to bear the burden of listening to his stories repeatedly. He got married at an early age. We were acquaintances for more than 15 years and then after he was released after serving his jail term in 2011 from Kotbalwal, we became friends. He was arrested time and again for one thing or other. The time he was not in jail he would talk about his time in jail. A friend once remarked that he had glorified jail so much that we felt an urge to land up there. He deliberately would skip torture, pain and agonies of being arrested perhaps to keep all of us going. Jail as he would often say was his maternal home. He has been arrested for almost everything every year. Anti Israel protests, Anti American protests, Anti India protests, protests against a Blasphemous movie to screening a documentary, Stone pelting and processions, instigating and preventing, organizing funeral prayers to sit ins, hunger strikes, beef ban, anti-sex scandal protests or bursting crackers, visit of Indian Prime Minister, anti election protests and of course the preventive detentions , anything and everything has landed him in Jail. He has so many things written in his dossiers and FIRs that at times it becomes cumbersome to describe his personality. Many policemen describe him as a Jamaati, some as a hardcore stone pelter, some even describe him as trouble maker and a miscreant. But, for me , he is a resilient man and a dearest friend
It was the month of Ramzan in 2014 that he was arrested for anti-Israel protests. As he was bought handcuffed to the district court premises, another smart young boy with a glare in his eyes followed him. He was Yawar . He had been arrested on charges of stone pelting. A policeman came near us as we exchanged greetings and in a impish tone said “it is no fun playing stone pelting with you guys, the competition should be even, it has to be Guns Vs Guns.” Both Yawar and Atif smiled as they soon were bundled together in a vehicle to be taken to the district Jail. The same year Atif was taken in preventive detention ahead of Indian Prime Minister’s visit to valley and a proposed Million march against his visit. I as usual happened to visit Aatif with a lunch box prepared by his wife and packed by his ailing mother. As I entered the make shift lock up, Yawar and Atif hugged me and we ate the lunch together. As I waited for them to finish we chatted about Yawar’s family and that how his mother struggles every time to get him released. A couple of months later I saw them wearing white uniforms batting together in a cricket match and clicking selfies in their clean white uniform after losing the match. Yawar had by now put on some weight and Aatif had lost few kilos only to look fatter.
After that whenever I met Yawar , he would hug me and pronounce my name in his own typical style. I loved it. I would often forget his name and had saved his number in my phone as Yawar SP which for my own memory meant Stone Pelter. In 2015, when a friend from India came to interview some stone pelters for her documentary, I called him up. He didn’t turn up for the interview as he was playing a cricket match. He later met me next day , on a busy town street, with both his hands across onto his ears. The glare in his eyes was strange but yet warm. In August 2016 , Yawar was arrested again. Aatif escaped to Jammu. He was apprehensive that he would be arrested too. He later told me that, after all these years he had finally stuck a bond with his son . He wanted to spend time with him. He had all these years lived with the guilt that he couldn’t attend to his pregnant wife in 2010 as he was in Kotbalwal, as a result of which as he felt , his first child , his daughter died on account of lack of proper medical and emotional care. He was unable to spend much time with his son, born two years later, owing to his continuous detentions.
Some months later as Yawar was released, he had grown a beard and had changed his walking style. Aatif remained in Jammu only to return after the postponement of parliamentary elections. In the month of Ramazan this yea r as we would flock in Sherbagh after breaking fast ,Yawar too would come their sometimes, offering us cold drink or the packet of chips. During one such meeting on a road side , having met him after quite few days, he said “ mye choun mohabbat , che na myoun hassad ti” ( That he loved me , but I didn’t even envy him ).
In July this year Aatif was arrested, booked under PSA and sent to Kathua Jail. He would often remark that he had failed as son, as a husband , as a father and sometimes as a friend. His PSA dossier added another failure, which he had failed to join mainstream politics. Yawar disappeared from his home some days later to join Hizbul Mujahideen.
When I heard about it, I was already under a multitude of emotions. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps not! I actually envied his daring, but loved his presence. He was a cricketer. He had taken the sledge seriously. He had taken up the challenge. It was Gun Vs Gun. He died a martyr 16 days after. The cricket ground he played in, the streets he sometimes met me, the lanes he ran during protests and stairs that he sat on sipping his cold drink were either deserted or filled with people. The smiling lips had turned blue. He had bruises all over. Bullets had pierced the chest and shoulders that we once hugged each other. His feet were pale. I regret the meetings that never happened and those that did. Why did I know him? Why did I know them? One a friend , whose four year old son stares at my cowardice and another a teenager acquaintance whose parents stare at my cowardice. I have no answers. This place is different. This is Kashmir.
[The author can be reached at: [email protected]]