Voices of Mothers from Kashmir, India-4
45 years of age, Tahira is inconsolable. She lost both her teenage sons to the continuing violence. Her older son was shot by militants and the younger one jumped into the canal to save himself from the pellets of the police during a stone pelting incident, only to drown in the cold water. She is unable to come to terms with this loss. Stoically she narrates her story, but does not want us to record her bytes. She blames the state, the politics and the demands for curfews by the separartists. She appeals to all to stop this violence. Her only prayer is that no mother should ever lose her child. She often wonders about her own role in preventing the death of her children.
Transliteration is as follows:
Disclaimer: You are listening to the programme: Initiating Peace-Mothers’ Voices
SMART is not responsible for any difference of opinion and arguments arising out of the opinions, thoughts or ideas expressed in this programme. Some names have been changed to protect the identity of people.
This programme is a compilation of the personal experiences of mothers. This is an effort to strengthen their desire for peace. Mothers in conflict areas get the most affected, families are broken and dispersed and many homes becomes desolate. Even avenues to raise one’s voice are very limited. SMART has provided a platform for mothers’ voices to reach out, so that they can share their feeling of oppression.
Programme- Initiating Peace- Mothers’ voice’s is a humble effort. In this programme, stories of mothers in India and Pakistan have been included. Distinct from the politics of both countries, the programme is presented from the viewpoint of a mother. This is the 30 episode of the series.
Baramulla is a border district of Jammu and Kashmir. Baramulla city looks forlorn and sleepy, wrapped in fog, waiting for the sun. There is low traffic on the streets. Some army trucks pass by raising a dust storm. The sidewalks are wet and listless strewn with garbage- newspapers, polythene bags, leaves and shells of dry fruits. The wind is sharp and piercing. The snow-capped Himalayan peaks can be seen at a distance, covered in fog, embracing the clouds. Gulmarg, a favourite tourist spot is nearby. But there are hardly any tourists. Luggage carriers and donkey rides lie in wait for them. Shops are open in the city, but are poorly stocked. The sleepy shop keepers waiting for customers, welcome us.
Tahira was born in Baramulla. She is full bodied but her eyes are sorrowful. She is about 45 years of age and belongs to a wealthy family. She has studied up to grade eight and spent her childhood in this city. She is married and is a mother of four. Her husband is a businessman, who owns apple and walnut orchards and shops. But life had dealt Tahira deep blows from which it is difficult to come out of. Her sad story goes something like this:
Our elder son Ahsan was studying in Class 10 in a government school. He was bright and regular student and never got into scraps with anyone. He was interested in studies and had just a handful of friends. His teachers also praised Ahsan as he was so good at his studies. He aspired to be a pilot when he grew up. He loved planes flying in the blue sky and would watch these with concentration till they disappeared from view. Even as a child he only wanted flying toys. He would put wooden toy planes on his hands, try to fly them and be greatly disappointed when they fall down. Growing up, he retained his passion. He was not interested in any outdoor sport. We had to coax him to step out for a walk in the evenings to keep healthy. In his free time, he would paint. His drawing book was full of pictures of all kinds of aircrafts- small, water borne, double decker planes, army planes and so on.
His exams were approaching and Ahsan was studying with full concentration, immersed in his course work and away from his drawing book. He stuck to a regular schedule. But that day, he did not come back from school at his usual time. His classmate Saif was standing in his balcony, but he did not know where Ahsan was. I became worried, as he was not in the habit of going anywhere without first informing us. Still, I wondered if he went off to a friend’s place. His favourite lunch, spicy kababs and hot parathas were laid out on the table.
The situation in the city was bad. Terrorism had become the norm. But my child..No, no, no…he had nothing to do with terrorists. I shook myself free of such thoughts. Ahsan’s father, Ghulam Hasan was busy in the drawing room. Somebody had come to meet him and it seemed like a very long meeting. I sent in green tea twice, green, as per his liking. I was getting vexed at this long talk. Finally, my wait ended and my husband came into the women’s quarters. His face was white and he looked very concerned. Haltingly, he said that the police had taken Ahsan into custody and were interrogating him. It was the policeinformer who had come to give him the news that he was talking to. Several questions welled up in my mind. Why was my son, a studious child who stayed miles away from rioting and full of happy dreams of his future, in custody? Mr Hasan expressed similar concerns. Ahsan’s maternal uncle, that is, my brother was involved in terrorism in the past. He was the area commander of a militant group. He had some information about militants. The informer told us that police wanted this information in exchange for setting Ahsan free. They were using my son as a shield. But my brother had bid goodbye to terrorism and surrendered before the army. He is currently engaged in fruit business. The pieces were not fitting in. We went to the nearby police station, but the inspector had no information about this. He was a good person who heard us out patiently and advised us to go the headquarters. I was sobbing and Mr Hasan was trying to boost my morale. Tears kept welling up in my eyes thinking about my child, in what condition he was, hungry, thirsty, scared…. The sudden stopping of the car broke my reverie. We had reached the police headquarters. We went in and met the Captain. The A.C.P was not in the office, he was on his rounds. We sat on the bench waiting for the higher officer. The same informer who had come home was there. He greeted us and said, ‘Sir, you should not have come here. Your son’s life is in danger, especially outside. Let him be in police custody, he is safe here.” I got angry with him, thinking was should my son stay amidst thieves, rioters and terrorists? What does he think of himself, pretending to be our well-wisher?
Meanwhile, the A.C.P. arrived and we went into his office. I pleaded with him and requested him to let my son go, but to no avail. I cried a lot, appealed to him to let me meet my son, but he refused. He just stuck to one thing- that my son’s life was in danger outside and he was safer in police custody. We came back, hopeless and defeated. The food was laid out on the table, but no one ate a morsel. Not even the household staff. Ahsan was such a polite, well-mannered and a lovely kid. Everyone was praying whole heartedly for his safe return. There was silence all round. I lay like a corpse on my bed- sleep had deserted me. There was just one prayer on my lips-please bring back my son. I want my son back at any cost. I kept wondering how my son doing.
Mr Hasan was feeling really sorry for me. Already very worried himself, he set out in search of the informer. He returned late night, very tired but with a smile on his lips, and a glow on his face like he had achieved something significant. It seems that he stuck a deal with the informer. He said, our son will be released, don’t worry. And it turned out to be true. Within a week, Ahsan came back. We were very happy. Everyone was pleased. We made his favourite food-spicy kabab’s, paranthas and got ice-cream for dessert. Ahsan appeared a little lost and dull, distanced from this celebration. Perhaps troubled by missing his exams or the frightening memories of police custody. He did not tell us anything and half-heartedly participated in the gathering. His father gave him a lot of encouragement, told him not to worry and promised to send him out for further studies, outside the country to the best of universities. That was the finest night of my life. I could see the moon from my window and my Ahsan’s face in the moon. I kept thinking about our family and drifted into sleep past midnight. I had a sweet dream-that Ahsan has become a pilot. He was flying a plane with all of us in it. The whole family was flying over the clouds –soft clouds like balls of cotton in a multihued sky.
But looks like the Allah had something else in store for us. I don’t know for what sin of ours, we were being punished. It happened just two days after his release. The sky was overcast and the sun was missing. It was a listless day. Our cook, who suffered from asthma had gone to the hospital in the morning. I was busy in the kitchen, making tea. Ahsan was outside, sitting on a chair in the veranda reading the newspaper. He was an early riser and in the habit of reading the papers as soon as he got up. The rest of the family was still sleeping. The veranda door was open and fresh cool breeze blowing in. Suddenly I heard noises like the chairs and table were being upturned like an earthquake. But everything was stable in the kitchen. I heard Ahsan screaming and crying for help. The jar of sugar slipped from my hands and crashed on the floor. I heard two gunshots, in quick succession. May Allah never show such a scene to any mother! My Ahsan was on lying face down, in the lane outside my house. He was bleeding-the bullet had pierced his heart. I saw a motorcycle at the head of the lane. The killers were running away. I lifted Ahsan head onto my lap. His eyes held mine and he was trying to say something, but his tongue was stuck to his palate. He hiccupped, his eyes lost their shine and became listless. Blood from his body was running onto to the street in puddles.
Ahsan was shot and killed in broad daylight in his own home. His uncle was an old terrorist. His mutual disagreement with terrorists took the life of an innocent person. It is possible that the government too had a hand in this incident. But one cannot say for sure. A son died in his mother’s lap, turned to dust in a flash. A sudden stop to all life’s desires. Tahira became broken hearted. A mother’s bosom was soaked in tears and all the beautiful dreams shattered. The house had become unliveable. Every nook and corner carried memories of Ahsan. Finally the family decided to leave Baramulla and went to live in Sapora. But changing places does not change thoughts. Tahira was plagued with memories of Ahsan, but she had to live for the rest of her family. Time flew and it was the year 2010.
Zuber was our secondson. Very naughty and the complete opposite of Ahsan. He could never sit still in one place. He would roam around the whole house like he had wheels on his feet and play the fool all the time. He would keep displacing things in the house. Put pillows from his bed on the sofa in the living area and scatter cushions on the floor. He was cricket crazy. Whenever there was a match, he would be glued to the television. Mr Hasan also used to sit with him. I wonder what he understood of the game at such an early age, but he liked t very much. Slowly his passion increased. It started with a soft cotton ball, but graduated to a hard ball, made of wood or iron. Mr Hasan sometimes would get irked with his growing love for cricket. He would counsel him to pay attention to studies.Zuber’s face would fall and he would sit with his books disinterestedly. As soon as his father left home, it would be back to cricket moves again. I I used to get angry and yell at Mr Hasan saying, ‘We have but one son. Cricket or football, just let him be happy always. By god’s grace, we have enough property to feed us for rest of our lives comfortably. All we seek is a long life for the child. Mr Hasan would fall silent, look at me with fleeting eyes and leave the house to attend to his business. Zuber would get emboldened by my support and it would be immersive cricket all over again.
Slowly his passion for cricket became more intense. He began to be recognised as a pace bowler. He was selected for his school team. In outside of school matches, he would open with his bowling. I too began picking up jargon of this alien sport, like bowling, batting, opening, toss, team and what not. Willy-nilly we had to watch cricket at home. Often, there would be cricket matches on TV. Zuber would just sit in front of it like a meditating Saint. He’d have breakfast, lunch, everything right there in front of the TV. He would be writing scores on a piece of paper. Sometimes I too would get vexed. His sisters would want to watch television serials and argue with him saying the story was at a critical juncture, where the daughters-in-law were competing against each other in cooking. But he would only mock at them and say the story never moves forward-it’s the same episode after episode. I would comeback with, “so, what’s special about your cricket-the same scampering for bat and the ball”. But all the arguments came to naught, as the remote control would be with Zuber and cricket would be on. We would just curse this alien game under our breath and get on with our stuff around the house. The matter would rest there.
He had a wealth of newspaper and magazine cuttings. His would put up pictures of cricketers in different poses, black and white and colour, on the walls in his room. Left to him, he would turn the entire house into an exhibition gallery, but was a little wary of his father. He would frequently shine the trophies he had won. Zuber’s day would start early. A morning jog, breakfast, school and cricket practice in the evening. Twice a week gym-on Saturdays and Sundays. His 10th Board exams were fast approaching and we began to see some effect of his father’s admonishing. He briefly bid good bye to cricket and became busy with his studies. He would study late into the night and doze off on the table with his head in the books. But he would still glance through the newspaper, especially the sport’s section. Finally, exams got over and his love of cricket took wings again. The old days hadreturned-waking up early and then cricket the whole day.
That day too, Zuber left home for a cricket match. The large ground with a cricket pitch where the match was, was across the river, a little far from the house- about 5 kms. The situation in the city was bad. The separatists had called for a bandh. It was a morning of arson and governmentaction. The army and police were positioned on the streets and the atmosphere was tense. I will remember the events of that day, for the rest of my life. Zuber was rushing through his breakfast as he was getting late for his practice. He stuffed apples into his pocket to eat on the way. I explained the precariousness of the situation to him. I tried to prevent him from going out, saying’ it’s only a cricket match-the sky won’t fall if you don’t play’. But he laughed off my concerns. His friend Zafar had come for him and together they left the house.
There was stone pelting in the city. The youth threw stones at the army and the security forces made a show of strength in return. I was restless and discussed the matter with Mr Hasan. I advised everyone to keep calm as if things would change just by my wishing. It was afternoon and the sun was shining on the porch. The doorbell rang and Zuber entered the house smiling. I breathed easy and began laying out lunch. I asked the cook to make hot rotis for him and began reasoning with him. Enough is enough. “No more cricket”, I said. “The atmosphere in the city was bad. People are getting ready to kill and die. You are not to step out of the house, just amuse yourself at home”. Zuber kept laughing and over lunch told me about his game, the argument with the opposing team over an issue, the intervention by the Umpire and how the other captain apologised and ended the argument. Zuber used to share everything with me. After lunch, I dozed off in the warm afternoon sun. Zuber left the house again for a match, he had agreed to play. I got angry with the daughters and needlessly yelled at the cook. I wanted to sprout wings, fly out and bring Zuber back. And I was angry with myself, too. If only I hadn’t dozed off, Zuber would not have gone.
Zuber was excited about the match. He was crossing the bridge with his friends, discussing about the match, oblivious of his surroundings. Just then a group of agitators came on to the bridge. And police came chasing them. From the other side, a large number of army men also came on to the bridge. The agitators were cornered from both sides. The crowd started pelting stones and the police started wielding the lathis. Zuber and his friends were stuck in the melee. My child got scared and jumped off the bridge along with his friends. It was a fast flowing deep river, with icy waters. The river was in spate too. Zuber did not know how to swim. In fact, he was not interested in any sport besides cricket. H was carried away and started drowning. One friend held on to his arm and tried hard to save him. Zuber started fighting for his life. But who can avert the turn of events? The stone pelting and fighting was in full swing over the bridge. One stone came flying at Zuber’s friend’s arm in the river below. In trying to brace himself, he lost grip of Zuber’s arm. Zuber got washed away. A few houseboat owners parked along the banks of the river, tried to revive Zuber. But it was too late. My child had gone far away, never to return.
Once again,Zuber’s father was standing in front of me. Once again to break the news of death of new of our son. His eyes were brimming with tears and words failed him. I don’t know how mustered the courage to join him in the search for my son. My heart and mind simply refused to accept what had just happened. Wasn’t he just with me, my Zuber, full of life and laughter? This just cannot be. Perhaps there was some mistake?
We reached the river bank. Things had returned to normal and it was quiet all round. The charade on the bridge was over. Zuber was lying on the floor. A few policemen were standing around. Cameras were flashing to take pictures. Water was dripping out of Zuber’s hair and he looked like he was in deep sleep. I called out to him loudly, Zuber my dear, let’s go home. But he refused to answer his mother. I touched his forehead and it was ice cold. . All eyes were on me. I no longer had the strength to bear any more. I fell lifeless on the floor with a thud. And lost consciousness.
Tahira lost her second son too. One after the other, roughly at the same age. If only Tahira did not have to see all this with her own eyes-the dead bodies of two children. Sometimes, when we lose someone to a prolonged illness, somehow we accept the inevitable situation, reason with our minds and console ourselves. But here-a bright child leaves home after lunch, full of dreams. And evening, they see him dead. Even though, one cannot die with the dead, but life becomes listless for the living. Like the walking dead.
My husband, Mr Hasan had a thriving business. We had a few shops in the commercial district. We used to stay above the shops, with Zuber and our two daughters. I don’t know why Zuber left us to join his brother. Perhaps we will meet him on the day of the reckoning. The two daughters do not stay with us. Anyways, girls go away after marriage. Both are happy in their families. They come to visit us often. When I spend time with them, I forget my sorrow. Sorrow that looms large like a mountain. They invite us to live with them. But in our community it is frowned upon when someone goes to live with daughters. I miss my sons. What was their fault? Both were honourable, minding their own business and miles away from rioting and trouble. Mr Hasan too a religious man. He offered prayers five times a day and kept rozas (fast). He served holy and pious men and was ever ready to help the poor. But after losing his sons, he went into a deep shock. He stopped attending to the business. Initially he had appointed a manager. Sometimes, on the pretext of supervising he used to at least go out and meet a few people and lighten his heart’s burden. But now he has stopped going out completely. He says who do I need to strive for? Our wants are few and they are getting met anyway. He just sits quietly with his rosary (beads) all day long. He questions not people, but god. He asks why such sorrows befell him and for what sins of his was he being punished? The large house looks empty. He wants to go away somewhere far from here. But we have grown old and don’t have the courage to settle in a new place. At least here we know people and have extended family, who we’ve known for years. Who can we depend on in a new place? Anyway, when our own have let us down, why talk of strangers?
Don’t even ask how I am doing. I am the walking dead. I don’t feel like speaking with anyone. But one question constantly troubles my mind. What were my sons punished for? People of Kashmir want peace, the government wants peace. So why is young blood flowing, whether they are Kashmiri youth, terrorists from across the border or young army men. All of them are sons of some mother. Mother’s milk runs in their veins as blood. No one has the right to flow it without reason. I think I got carried away and said too much already. But only the one who suffers, can understand. Sometimes I get really angry and I take out my frustration by needlessly shouting at the cook. But he doesn’t mind as he knows that this old woman has lost it. He is right. My mind is not in my control.
I do not like political leaders. For hours on end, they give discourses, say many things, and produce new arguments. Every day, life comes to a halt. Schools and colleges are shut. What does tomorrow hold for us? If they plant thorny trees, they will only reap thorns, not apples. What future will a Jobless youth and uneducated children create? I feel scared to dwell on these thoughts, but the thoughts don’t leave me. They enter my dreams and make them colourless. I lay awake at night, unable to sleep. I pray to Allah to return those old happy days. Houseboats full of tourists and the ensuing sounds of prayers in unison from temples, mosques, churches and gurudwaras. Aameen.
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