Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tryst with Terror

It was a usual day of chirpiness in the marriage house. One day after the wedding and a delicious spread of kashur wazvan, everyone in the close family including the dulhan (bride) now was just getting started to a very familiar routine of chitchat, jokes and teasing. Kids were running around in the garden playing games. Adults were discussing arrangements for the impending reception. Young guns were glued to their smartphones. The house keepers had just started to have their dinner when some policemen came outside informing them to shut the doors as there was some firing in a place less than 1km from where we were. It took even less than 1 min for the tempo to change in the room we were in.

Panic set like a wild fire amongst all. The cheerful mood quickly changed to an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear. Children were hastily brought indoors. The gates were shut and wedding decoration lights all over the house switched off, so as not to attract any unwanted attention. While some were trying to find the remote to the up-the-way-hosted television which the cartoon watching children had misplaced some days back, others were impatiently trying to access TOI and NDTV on their 2G enabled smartphones (there is no 3G in J&K. Until now.) Since the firing incident was actually happening that time and the area where it was said to be is not a central location, there was no breaking news updates found anywhere even hours after the incident. Being a slow eater I had just taken a second helping of the kokur (Chicken) when this entire fiasco happened. Needless to say I lost my appetite within no time.

Some men folk tried to play brave hearts by venturing into the streets to check the scenario outside but were quickly (and angrily) rushed inside by terrified women. All the drama and worried look on all the adults really got to the children and many started crying. Little ones with no idea as to what was happening and older ones with a faint idea (having been brought up in the state where people are used to such happenings). Many decided to leave for the homes to avoid getting stuck should the firing continue and god forbidden curfew enforced. Guests from other states with no experience of such kind were petrified and rushed to their respective rooms bolting them securely. The poor bride already scared was instructed to cover up as much as possible because of different types of gold she was decked up with. The host of the wedding suggested all of us not to panic but not before informing us that usually the intent of such attacks is mass-killing and since we were a more-than-ten-member party, we needed to be cautious.

As the number of people reduced and with everyone struggling with the siege silently we could actually hear the firing shots. The people who left called saying that they saw a lot of police vehicles patrolling towards the site. With no concrete piece of information at hand, everyone was feeling helpless and not to mention tired, the wedding functions, sleepless nights had taken a toll on everyone. Staying out from Jammu for so long me and most of other guests there had no clue as to who to contact for obtaining a substantial piece of news. I somehow remembered one of my friend ~ with the right politico-socio contacts. Though he stays in Shimla I was keeping my fingers crossed and praying that he should be in Jammu. He wasn’t but he assured that he will check and update. He called back with the information that has some boy has opened fire but it’s nothing serious and we can go back home safely.

The piece of news bought a sigh of relief but we were still skeptical because my house is just a road cross away from where the incident apparently tool place. We reached the house, quickly locked up and went inside. But none of us could sleep. So we sat talking and discussing about the day’s events and similar events we had witnessed while growing up in Jammu. Once there was an attack at Jammu railway station which is again near to our house. There were no mobiles that time and we were just praying for our dear ones to be safe. Our school once received a call stating that there would be an attack when the school got over. There was an army cantonment near our school so this threat was taken seriously. Throngs of police and army were deployed outside the school. Though the call turned out to be a hoax, it did not stop the panic attacks amongst students, teachers and parents. Also an inclusion of what-to-do-in-case-of-emergency drill for us students. Then there was a bomb blast at Daler Mehandi’s concert which my father was attending. Bomb blast at M.A stadium on republic day where my sister and cousins were performing. This and many other instances but none of these match the predicament of what our parents had to suffer in Kashmir during the holocaust of early 90s.

Photo Courtesy - koausa.org

It was around midnight, our parents were rudely woken with loudspeaker calls from mosques urging Muslim youngsters to fight for jihad and Kashmiri Hindus to either convert or leave. Peeking through the windows, clutching their little ones close, everyone was terrified. Even their next door Muslim neighbours and friends with whom they had grown up were seen marching on the roads with Ak-47s shouting slogans – “Hum kya chahte Azadi”, “Kashmir main chalega nizam-e-mustafa”, “We want Kashmir with Kashmiri Hindu women but without their men”. This continued till wee hours of morning after which curfew was imposed. What was to follow would leave a huge imprint on all our destinies. Hindu homes were looted, women raped, children gruesomely murdered. All these activities were combined with a direct message to leave or bear consequences. Amid the lawlessness there was no upfront support from the government considering the fact that Kashmiri Hindus were a minority in Kashmir. Living in constant fear with no news of dear ones, in freezing cold of January with no proper food and little children, most families decided to flee. Not in their wildest dreams imagining that it would be the last time they would be seeing their homes, gardens and the city where they were born.

A lot people ask me that whether I belong to the community who were driven from their homes, they somehow find it funny. What they don’t understand is the pain that simple comment invokes. Like anyone would just easily give up their homes, school, colleges, jobs. But what option did we have against the AK-47s, the ruthlessness and no support what so ever. Anyhow, after a night full of fearful dreams we woke up to the news of exactly what happened – a domestic help aged 14 years stole an Ak-47, burst into a slum near my house (also where our helper stays). He shot 2 people before getting caught by the police. It was that day I understood what a close contact with terror feels like. And how my parents and relatives would have felt on that dark cold January night and many other days and nights they had spent praying for miracles which never happened.

God bless all