Shabir Bhai had stopped joining stone-pelting in downtown since the last two Fridays. Nobody knew why and apparently nobody, at home, was interested in knowing.
Although she did not say it, I knew that my mother was relieved.
We live in modest house in Hawal, Srinagar. My parents, three of my younger sisters and my elder brother Shabir Bhai. All our relatives live just steps away. We can literally smell what Anta (my aunt) would cook for dinner in the evenings.
Today, it was Aab Ghost.
Shabir Bhai and I had an age difference of eight years. I was 20 years old and a student of S.P College. He had started with stone-pelting during the unrest of 2008 in Kashmir.
The year when Hindus tried to grab our land.
Since then, he had always joined every protest and made a name for himself among the youth of the neighbourhood and beyond.
Today it was Friday. Very carefully and with some unease, I went to Shabir Bhai’s room. “Bhai, are you going out?”, I asked.
Shabir Bhai looked up and said, “For what?” I was surprised by his answer and said, “To pelt stones Bhai. Like always”.
“No, no. Not anymore”, he said. “I have been doing it for eight years now. What did I get out of it?
“We just pelt stones because of incidents. Events. Not for Azaadi”.
He signaled, me out of his tiny room, with his eyes.
I kept repeating his last words in my mind while I walked to my room. I locked my door and grabbed my half-filled packet of Four Square cigarettes, hidden underneath my pillow.
‘We just pelt stones because of incidents. Events. Not for Azaadi. Events. Incidents. Not Azaadi. Just incidents. Not Azaadi’.
It kept drumming in my ears while I opened the window and lit my cigarette.
Shabir Bhai’s words carried the smell of disappointment. A smell which made me think.
Despite the perfectly round rings from cups of nun-chai on the old newspaper on the floor, I could read its heading. It said that a Hartal call had been given by the separatists regarding the issue of the return of the Kashmiri Pandits to colonies and also regarding the construction of Sainik colonies.
‘We welcome Pandits, but won’t allow separate townships’.
I was not born when the Pandits left, so I do not know the exact truth.
I do know one thing, though.
My cousin, Furqan, left his home a year ago. He married a girl he liked and currently lives somewhere in India. His family had not been supportive of his choice to marry the girl he was in love with.
Yet, every time I meet his parents and siblings, their silent eyes have a yearning for him. Anta (my aunt) often screeches his name and calls him back, although she knows that he is not listening.
Everyone wants Furqan back. It doesn’t matter how. They all are also willing to accept his wife now.
They miss him immensely and Anta often says, “Let him come back. We will give him a separate floor with a separate room. He will have a separate door. He can live there with his wife. They don’t have to keep any relation with us. As long as they come back”.
I understand their emotions. After all, it is his home. The place where he was born. The place where he grew up. The place where he belongs to. He must come back. The way he likes and wants. Without any pre-conditions.
I am sure that when he comes back, he eventually will also feel the need to forget everything that happened. He too, would want to move on.
These things take time. It takes trust.
My mind wandered further. The words of Shabir Bhai kept repeating in my head. ‘Events. Incidents. Incidents. Events. Not for Azaadi’.
It raised questions, while I tried to find some rationale behind the said ‘events and incidents’.
I lit another cigarette and kept searching for commonalities and discrepancies.
‘Incidents. Events. Just events and incidents. Not Azaadi’.
What did he mean with events and incidents? What incidents? Which events? And what was, ‘not for Azaadi’?
All was for Azaadi, wasn’t it?
I needed to get an answer. I threw my cigarette out of the window and cleared the smoke in my room by waving the blue-coloured curtain a few times to the right and left.
I went back to Bhai’s room and sat down in front of him. He had his phone in his hand. He looked up and I could see that he was not in the mood to talk.
My curiosity won it from my reverence and I asked him, “Shabir Bhai, I kept thinking about what you said, but I don’t understand it. What do you mean with incidents and events? And what means, not for Azaadi? Please Bhai, I don’t understand it”.
ShabirBhai put his phone down. “How come you don’t get it, you fool?”, he asked.
“Do you remember 2008 with that Land Transfer thing? Or 2009, when they raped and killed our sisters in Shopian. 2010 when hundred children half your age were killed. A month ago, Handwara and now this colonies drama?
“Every time, they start this Azaadi-show when something happens. An incident. An event. A death anniversary. A killing, a rape, a molestation, an announcement from the government. It is always when something else happens that they are reminded of Azaadi.
“Someone gets killed, Azaadi-scene starts and we start stone-pelting. Then another one gets killed during stone-pelting and the rest of us keep going. Then another one and another one. And then? What then?”
I was listening, but did not understand what he meant. “Bhai, but shouldn’t we protest against these atrocities?”, I asked.
Shabir Bhai hit the floor with his fist. “Of course we should. But don’t you get it? Why is Azaadi only dependent on such incidents? What happens between two events? What happened between Land Transfer and Shopian? What happened between Shopian and 2010? Where did Azaadi go between 2010 and Handwara? Where did Azaadi disappear during elections?”
He continued in a raised voice, “Don’t you see it? Aren’t we enslaved throughout the year? Shouldn’t the struggle for Azaadi be continuous? Why does Azaadi play hide and seek?
“Why isAzaadi reactionary and seasonal?
“Why do these events and incidents always take place in the spring or summer? Why not in the winter?
“Never has an event taken place in the winter and triggered the Azaadi bandwagon. You know why?”, he asked while looking me deep in the eyes and heavily gesturing with his hands.
I shook my head. “No Bhai”.
He smiled cunningly, “In the winter, all the event-based Azaadi leaders are not here. They are in Delhi. That’s why!”
In sheer desperation, he lifted both his hands in the air and turned his wrists inwards while he asked, “What is the road to Azaadi? How does Azaadi look like? How will we get Azaadi? How many events and incidents are needed to bring Azaadi? The Azaadi show only starts when events happen. Does that mean that Azaadi will be achieved when the events and incidents end?
“And what after Azaadi? How will it look like after Azaadi?
“Nobody has ever explained to me why we did not get Azaadi with guns and bombs and are supposed to get it by throwing stones. How is that possible?
“Stupid things, like suicides become events for Azaadi. A suicide of a Kashmiri boy in Hyderabad. A killing of a boy in Maisuma. The suicide was because of something to do with love and the killing in Maisuma was because of a love triangle. Can you believe it? I pelted stones and wanted to sacrifice my life because of bloody love affairs”.
I looked at him and said, “But Bhai, all the leaders recently met and they are working towards unity. It was a historic meeting. They will come up with something”.
Bhai started shaking his head vehemently. “Historic, my foot! They all are the same. Event-based Separatists.
“They all say the same. ‘Azaadi, Pakistan and Islam’. They all have the same slogans. Everything is the same. Just different faces.
“Their meeting is not historic. Their dozen break-ups are historic.
“What is more historic? A marriage between two people who say that they love each other or a divorce between two people who claim to love each other?”
“They say that Jammu and Ladakh are also part of our Kashmir. Why are we not fighting for Azaadi there then? Why are there no events and incidents there? Why isn’t anyone from Jammu or Ladakh, an Azaadi leader?”
Bhai continued, “They say that Pandits are our brothers. If they are our brothers, shouldn’t they be with us? Why isn’t any Pandit asking for Azaadi?
“When you ask them, they say, ‘All Pandits are traitors’.
“Isn’t there any single Pandit who is not a traitor? And if all Pandits are traitors, how come they are our brothers then? What are they? Traitors or brothers?”
I must confess that I did not have any answers to Shabir Bhai’s questions. Nevertheless, they did make sense.
Except for one thing.
What actually made him quit? The ambiguity regarding Azaadi,the different events and incidents, the Pandit’s issue, the winter and summer discrepancy, the reactionary nature of the call for Azaadi, the uncertainty of the future or the sheer disappointment with the leaders?
What exactly made him decide that he did not want to be any part of it, anymore?
I asked him; “Shabir Bhai, what exactly made you quit? Why did you suddenly stop?”
He picked up his phone in his hand and started staring out of the window, while flipping his phone upside down.
His eyes were moist and his face harboured a desolate smile.
I was quiet and had a lump in my throat because of his frightening silence.
Suddenly, he whispered; “Why should I become another event?”
- The author can be reached at email@example.com.