“Hathai..aasi kos trath pae! whispered my mother, “Papaa..there are people coming”, I said……..By Asif Bhat
25 July 2020
“Hathai..aasi kos trath pae” (Alas!! What tragedy has come our way)
My mother whispered these words to my father in a hushed voice as I lay in the corner of our small room. The memories of that night still haunts me like a bad nightmare.
As I stood there along the edge of the rice field my mind wandered again,this time about the recent encounters in Bandipora district between security forces and the armed militants. I kept thinking about the family whom the militants had kept hostage and a 10-Year old child in their midst…the story seemed familiar.
“Papaa..there are people coming !” someone shouted
I wheeled around to see Abbas running towards me..and sure enough a group of people were coming in the distance. As they drew near I recognized the camouflaged olive green combat uniform donned by them, assault rifles in their hands and moving in formation.
“Salaam wa alaikum sahab” I greeted the man at the front of the group.
“Namaste” the man greeted back, folding his hands.
The officer then enquired about my name and family members.When I answered he asked me about my profession to which I replied being a school teacher. He seemed satisfied by my answers,thus assured me that they were patrolling the area for any threats and for our protection.
I thanked him for his service and invited him and his men for tea and snacks. The officer glanced at his men and graciously accepted the invitation. Over tea the officer asked me about the school where I taught and was more than happy to indulge in an interactive session with the students to guide them in choosing armed forces as a career option.
At this point the officer asked me about what I thought about the forces being deployed in the city and recent encounters between the forces and militants. His question took me by surprise as I didn’t expect an officer to consider a civilian’s opinion regarding such a matter..nevertheless I answered that it was a necessary option for our own security and I recounted to him of my own experience.
I can still remember the harrowing chills it sends down my spine, that dreadful night when our house saw the ghosts of terror.
It was mid december and had been snowing continuously for two days straight.As far as the eye could see the whole city was clad in snow.Because of heavy snowfall the roads were blocked and moving around was difficult .We had already ate our dinner and were getting ready for bed when there was a knock on the main door of the house. My mother and father exchanged alarming looks as it was 2300hours and they wondered who would come in such harsh weather and late at night. So my father asked us to stay inside and wait while he went outside to check who was at the door. There was a moment of silence and then there were voices coming and seconds later my father entered the room followed by three masked men one of whom was pointing a gun to my father’s head.
I remember feeling a sudden inability to breathe and what little air I had leaving my lungs. The men were huge with dense flowing beards standing there,each one of them armed to teeth with assault rifles,pistols and various other weapons. The floor was wet from the snow on their boots,that was now melting.The men were eyeing my mother and me and we shuddered thinking what would happen next. The man pointing the gun at my father told us that they will be staying in for the night and asked us to prepare food for them. As my Mother got up to prepare food for them the men told her that should she try to contact someone or ask for help, they will shoot me in front of my parents and then kill them next.
After eating food they asked us to go to one room and stay there until the next morning. It was not possible for me or my parents to sleep when death was lingering outside the door. I remember laying my head on my mother’s lap and her praying to Allah for safety. My father’s face was grave too,all blood drained from his face and it was as pale as a corpse.Still he asked us to have faith and assured us that everything will be fine. It was already past midnight and we counted the remaining hours until dawn. Thinking about the incidents that happened that day,my mind was in a state of fear and I later realised that the same had never left my mind and heart.The militants left the next morning not realizing the agony and pain that had been imprinted on my mind was much greater than what it was.
Abbas was showing his paintings to the jawans and they were impressed by his representation of the lotus blooming over the surface of the dal lake with snow clad mountains of the Zabarwan range,shikaras ferrying the tourists and some selling handicrafts and local spices, grasslands and shepherds with their flock of sheeps,of maidens in pherans and silver and I recalled myself as a boy 14 years old boy painting kashmiri people in barbed wires, bloody backdrop and fire.
After two decades when I saw my child painting the beautiful views and the sceneries of Kashmir rather than the killings and bloodshed I feel contented and happy that the same fear has not shifted to my son.
This is my message to the awaam.”If we want the valley to progress and be without fear we must focus on providing our children education instead of supporting violence and terror.this beautiful land deserves much better than this bloodshed and violence.”