I had not seen him for almost a year.
We were of the same age. He was just six months older than me. Besides being cousins, we had been childhood friends, sharing a deep bond.
A deep, sacred bond of friendship.
He was the only son and the only child of my father’s brother. The son of Nazir uncle; Abid.
My father and his brother lived close to each other. So close, that they could smell what we had cooked for dinner and we could hear my aunt sighing continuously, because of the pain in her back.
He came back in the winter of 1991. On a terribly cold day in the month of December, I ran to my uncle’s home and was out of breath, the moment I saw him. In a pheran and with a kangri in his hands.
He stood up. With tears in his eyes and trembling hands, he embraced me tightly.
Abid had just returned from apoor (across). He was not a so-called soyat (Kashmir-trained), but a real Mujahid, who had received his training in the Land of the Pure; Pakistan. The only country, which supported our demand for Azaadi.
I sat beside him. We had so much to talk about. Everyone was happy that he was back. And everyone was in awe of him. Including me.
He showed me his Pistol. “I never miss”, he said. “This is mine. Wahid-ul-Islam’s”.
“Wahid-ul-Islam?”, I asked. He looked at me and replied, “Yes. That’s my name now. The name of Azaadi”.
“Will we get our beloved Azaadi?”, I asked.
He sternly answered, “Yes”.
“When Abid? When?”
“Soon, God willing. Soon”, he replied. The determination in his eyes was new to me. Almost frightening.
Abid was now an ‘Area-Commander’. He ruled our Mohalla and the adjacent four to five Mohallas. His new avatar had also elevated my esteem in the neighbourhood and beyond. After all, I was Wahid-ul-Islam’s best friend and cousin-brother.
Not only could we talk for hours, we understood each other. He listened to me and I listened to him. He always looked out for me and was always there to help me.
I trusted him.
I loved Abid. Soon, I would start loving Wahid-ul-Islam equally.
Perhaps, even more.
I told him about Safeena. Our neighbour. The girl, I loved immensely.
He listened patiently and kept smiling while I described her beautiful traits and annoying nagging.
Suddenly he asked me, “Why don’t you marry her?” I remained silent. “Tell me. Why don’t you marry her?”, he said in a loud voice. “Her father doesn’t like me”, I answered. “He says that we are from a low caste and that I do not have a job”.
Abid understood. He stood up and put his hand on my shoulder. “Do you love her?”, he asked. “Yes, Abid. Of course”, I said. He looked deep in my eyes. Nonchalantly and with a cunning smile, he said, “I will talk to him (her father). You don’t worry”.
Three days later, Abid told me that I could send my parents to Safeena’s father and fix a date for our thap (engagement).
I was stunned. “How did you do that?”, I asked. Abid took out his shiny black pistol and with a big smile on his face, he replied; “Not many fathers dare to say no to this”.
That’s when it struck me.
Abid was not only Abid anymore. Abid was Wahid-ul-Islam. And Wahid-ul-Islam was the Area-Commander. A real Mujahid. Who would dare to say no to a Mujahid?
My father was tensed. As a contractor, he used to have irregular work and subsequently an irregular income. Since a few weeks, he had been busy in making calculations and arranging paper-work in order to submit his tender for a contract of road repairs from the Roads & Buildings division of the Public Works Department.
He was not sure whether he would get the contract. “The competition is fierce”, he said to me. “When is the due date?”, I asked him. “Next week Thursday”, he replied.
I went to Abid and told him about it. “We really need the contract, Abid. Baba has been so tensed. He hasn’t received any work since you left. Money is becoming a problem. I need your help in this”.
Abid had that determination in his eyes. “Don’t worry”, he said. “I will make sure that Uncle’s tender is the only one, which is submitted. The Executive Engineer will have no other option than to give it to him”.
I was happy. Abid would never let me down. He cared for me and my family.
The following week, Baba got the contract. Abid had been to the homes of the other contractors along with Suleman Pindi and with the help of his shiny black pistol, he had made sure that the fierce competitors abandoned the idea of submitting their tenders.
I could not get married until my elder brother, Zahid Bhai got married. Zahid Bhai could of course not get married until he would get a job.
Again, I went to Abid. He would arrange it. I knew that he would.
Within a month, Zahid Bhai received his appointment letter to start as a peon at SMHS Hospital in Karan Nagar, Srinagar. Abid had paid a visit to the Principal Medical College.
He was laughing heartily. “What happened, Abid”, I asked. He kept laughing and was out of breath. “You know what happened?”, he asked. “That coward of a Principal was so scared. He did not know what to do. His whole body was shivering when I took out my Pistol. He was so scared. It was hilarious. He even said that Zahid Bhai does not need to come to the hospital. He will get his salary without even working! Can you believe that?”
We both laughed through the wee hours of the night, while I kept listening to Abid’s other successes as Wahid-ul-Islam and he listened about my dreams and future with Safeena.
Abid was a hero. He used to arrange everything. He was everywhere.
Soon, after he became a District-Commander, his sheer presence would make things happen. People would shiver when they saw him.
He solved marital problems between couples. Got admissions into colleges and schools. Would arrange a new car and get it replaced by another one every single week. Get paid rooms in SMHS Hospital for free. He made conflicts between neighbours disappear within minutes. Property papers, inheritances, licenses and even ID-cards and Ration-cards. Nothing was out of his reach.
He ruled the city. And the city loved him.
The city feared him.
It was too good to be true. It was too good to last.
The death of Suleman Pindi, his closest aide and partner, had transformed him. He was neither Abid nor Wahid-ul-Islam anymore. The loss of his friend had broken him. He was shattered.
I did not speak to him for days. I did not know what to say.
Somehow, I mustered the courage to meet him. I wanted to console him. Tell him that Allah would solve everything. Everything would again be the same. Tell him, not to worry.
The way he used to tell me.
I went to him and saw him sitting in the corner of the room, next to the window. I sat down beside the door. I did not have the guts to look him in the eye and just stared at the floor.
“Abid. Be strong. You, yourself used to tell me that sacrifices are part of this struggle. Sacrifices are sacred. This struggle is sacred. Don’t you remember?
“You said, we will give everything for Azaadi. Azaadi demands blood. It does not come for free.
“Don’t you recall?
“When you came back, you told me that soon we will be free. Soon, we will achieve Azaadi. That beautiful Azaadi, that fragrant Azaadi, that sweet Azaadi.
“Your Azaadi. My Azaadi. Kashmir’s Azaadi”.
Abid stood up and with his black shiny pistol in his hand, he came spurting towards me.
He cocked his gun, caught me by my hair with his left hand and put his pistol in my mouth.
I could see the angel of death dancing in his flaming eyes.
Tears rolled down his cheeks. He was panting and screaming. Yelling and howling while pulling me constantly by my hair and keeping the cocked pistol firmly in my mouth.
“Which Azaadi are you talking about, you bloody hypocrite?
“Which Azaadi? My Azaadi? Kashmir’s Azaadi? That beautiful, fragrant, sweet Azaadi?
“Or your rotten Azaadi?
“You got your Azaadi, you bastard. You got what you wanted. You got Safeena. You people made me snatch away the land from your neighbours. Your sister got admission in College. Your father got contracts from the Government. Your brother gets his salary from the Government without working a single day.
“And you want Azaadi? You cursed thief. You will make sacrifices for Azaadi? Which sacrifices?
“I was the only son of my parents. I was their only hope. I was the manifestation of their dreams.
“Look what you people have done to me. Look what I have come to be. Look.
“Look at me!
“Am I a Mujahid?
“You all have turned me into a thug. Just an ordinary Gunda.
“What should I do now? Be killed like a dog in the street, like Suleman? Become a naabedh? Disappear?
“Answer me, you damned piece of dirt. Answer me, you vicious vulture.
He put the gun further in my mouth. I choked and was gasping for air.
“You ask for Azaadi? YOU?
“You sold Azaadi for your own personal, selfish, petty Azaadi.
“You used me. You abused me. You corrupted me.
“You exploited me.
“It is people like you, who inform on us. It is people like you, who have enslaved us. It is people like you, who sell us.
“You have disgraced Kashmir. You have turned Azaadi into a cheap second-hand product.
“You don’t need Azaadi. You don’t want Azaadi. You don’t deserve Azaadi, you bastard!
“I wanted Azaadi. I deserved Azaadi. I needed Azaadi.
“Azaadi from you. Azaadi from your Azaadi”.
He pulled the gun slowly out of my mouth. He had that cunning smile again on his face.
He put the black shiny pistol under his chin.
And pulled the trigger!
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