Remembering Kashmir

by Majid Maqbool

ScreenHunter_09 Aug. 06 12.29On days when I’m alone at home some vivid images and memories of my childhood rush back. They arrange themselves in disturbing ways, unsettling previous memories. Sometimes these memories write themselves in solitude. Sometimes they are forgotten, only to return later from the oblivion: in the middle of some conversation, for example, while travelling, or at night, in the dreams. Sometimes it’s too painful to write down compelling memories. Sometimes remembering them is the only way of making peace with them. And all these memories are unforgettable, lingering in some corner of mind, waiting to be summoned.

I write because I remember. Because what I remember makes me who I am.

I remember, for example, those military crackdowns that loomed large over my childhood like black clouds: people ordered out of their homes early in the morning by the Indian troops, and assembled in open fields and playgrounds. And then that fearful wait for the next order of the troops. The troops lining up people, one frightened person after another, in front of that dreaded army gypsy. And whenever a masked mukbir (informer) seated inside the guarded army vehicle made a particularly shrill signal or a coded gesture, the person paraded in front of him was immediately frisked away by the troops. Often, he never returned home.

In my school days I remember the Indian army convoys driving past our school bus made us to wait till all the army trucks drove ahead, first, always. Often that meant waiting for hours, and getting late for school. To pass those uneasy hours, I remember counting the army trucks that made up that long and uninterrupted line of that dreaded army convoy. I remember the games we would play in the school bus: How many military trucks went past us today? 50? 100? 150, 200….? We would often challenge each other with the count. I remember the small bets we had kept for successfully predicting the number of army trucks that drove past our school bus. Quite often, I lost count of them…

I remember the first time I was slapped by a CRPF trooper. I was a 9th standard student then. That afternoon I was walking back to home after school. The front yard of a big CRPF camp, occupying a cluster of housing quarters, could be seen from the bridge I stepped on. While walking on a bridge, I made funny faces, childishly mocking at one of the CRPF trooper I could see washing an army vehicle inside the camp. Given my size and age, I had hoped he would not mind it. But he came out, gun slung across his shoulder, and then he stopped me near the front gate of the camp. Then he slapped me with his left hand– a hard, tight slap. Abuses followed. As his heavy hand came down on my cheeks, I felt as if time had stopped. Shooooo…Deafening silence. I lost my balance. But I quickly gathered myself, stood straight, my hand still on my reddened face. Then I did something that angered him more: I looked him in the eye; I kept looking him in the eye. After being slapped, I didn’t want to look down. That filled him with more anger. Then he just pushed me away…

I remember seeing a father and his little son getting thrashed by the Indian troops one day in the summer uprising of 2008 in which over 50 unarmed people were killed by the government forces in Kashmir. Reason: they had dared to step out of their home on a curfewed day during a week-long curfew imposed by the government. I remember how this frail father unsuccessfully tried to receive blows meant for his son. I remember their pleas of innocence that fell on deaf ears. I remember both of them trying to protect each other from the raining batons of troops– but all in vain. I remember the unmentionable abuses – some things about mother and sister – hurled at them by that group of troops who had trounced on them. I remember the frightened child trying not to weep in front of his humiliated father. I remember the wounded father and son not looking at each other when they were finally let off. After the beating, they held each other, arms over each others’ shoulders. Then they limped away, in silence.

In the summer uprising of 2010 I remember a middle aged man, wearing a white khan dress, shouting out to people from a load carrier in which a little boy injured in anti-government clashes had to be carried to the hospital. “Yena yae mashravev…hae, yena yea mushravev, (Don’t forget this… Don’t you forget this…),” he repeatedly shouted, waving his arms from the vehicle, pointing at the injured boy as the vehicle rushed to the hospital. The injured boy, in bloodied clothes, lay unconscious in his lap. Even when no one was on the road, the man kept hysterically shouting, asking people to always remember the oppression unleashed by the troops.

I remember a few years back visiting a small mud walled house with a thatched roof in a remote, hilly village in Baramulla district of north Kashmir. I had come to meet an 80-year-old man. He has lost all his three sons in the past two decades of conflict. I remember him welcoming me with tears moistening his sunken eyes. Then he spread out walnuts, apples, and pears from his hulm made by holding two ends of his pheran( the winter cloak). No one had come to his house to listen to his story, he lamented, leave alone helping him in all these years.

His youngest son was killed by army; another son by militants on suspicion of working with the army. And his eldest son had crossed the border when he was a teenager. He never came back. Instead, few envelopes arrived from across the border. They contained letters and pictures of his wife and children he had raised across the border. The letters stopped coming after 2005. The old man lives with only one wish – to travel to the other side of the border, and see his only son, one last time. I just want to hug him tight and kiss his kids before I die, he said as his eyes brimmed with tears. He was not issued the passport. As I stepped out of his home, he kept kissing the last photographs and letters he had received from his only son alive.

I remember the strong and politically mature voice of the young mother of 13-year-old Wamiq Farooq. A bright kid, a meritorious student, Wamiq was one of the 118 people killed in the summer of 2010 by the government forces. Yehaz lekhzeav, (Please write this down), his proud mother told me in an emphatic voice: “Kudaie gaese bozun, yaeth gase bayea wathun..,( May God bring another revolution here…)

I write because I remember it all. I write because it’s too painful to keep all these stories unexpressed. And yet it’s painful, and sometimes impossible, to express the full import of our stories as we have lived them. But these stories cannot be unexpressed for long. The stories unwritten, the tales untold, also matter. Writing then becomes an act to share the grief of the grief stricken. Knowing that that many of our stories remain untold, forgetting them will mean disrespecting the pain inherent in these stories.

I write because there’re stories distorted to spread lies about the reality we live in everyday. And I am also part of the stories I write about. I write with a hope that one day our stories will no longer remain unresolved in the crushing indignity of military occupation. That these stories will someday find a future home, where they will rest with honour in the dignity of freedom.

Writing also becomes an act to make sense of these unresolved and painful memories. The state would rather want me to forget the memories they don’t want me to remember. But we must write to remind them, to remember and re-remember, again and again. To not lapse into the graveyard silence of forgetfulness – that also is the idea of our resistance.

I write to contribute my share, however little, in our struggle against forgetfulness. My remembrance then is also my resistance. And my memories are my biggest weapons against the powers that always look for ways and means to suppress them. The occupier often forgets that the memories of the occupied can’t be snatched, imprisoned, or killed. They’re beyond the forces of occupation. They belong to us, the people.

Majid Maqbool is a writer and journalist based in Kashmir. Besides several Kashmir-based newspapers and magazines, his writings have also been published in several Indian publications like Open Magazine, Hard News magazine, Tehelka, Media Voice, Kindle magazine and Governance Now magazine, and also in Pakistan based publications like Dawn, and Newsline magazine. His writing has also been previously published in Aljazeera English, Dispatches International, and Ceasefire magazine. He also maintains a blog that features some of his writing: