An Evening on the Streets of Srinagar
SRINAGAR: 7:45 PM.August 2016. The Maghrib prayers have been offered. Dusk is gradually turning into nightfall. People trundle out of various Mosques; their post prayer socialization and exchange of news broken by a bang and lightening up of the sky. A tear gas shell has exploded. It is followed by series of shelling. The faithful go hither and thither,scrambling for an alley or an open gate- wherever they think safety is.
I traipse around quickly , increasing the pace and wander into a dark alleyway. I am going nowhere in particular; just observing the scene and gathering impressions.
As I walk through the dark alley, I notice that the area I find myself in is a densely populated one. The make of the houses is basic and their distance from each other is not much; the area is in the nature of a community. Women are either on their balconies or peering from the windows. The men folk have started to gather around either in front of gates or shop fronts. They are smoking, talking- exchanging news of the day.
Four people have died today in widespread protests across the vale of Kashmir.
Boom! Another tear gas shell explodes. The shell is followed by what sounds like gun fire.
A woman screams.
I have a faint idea of where I am. I confirm by enquiring. A group of men helpfully tell me the name of the location. They ask me where I am going. I make up my reasons for being here and randomly throw the name of the destination where I am going. Each of the men folk very helpfully and painstakingly proffer directions till my arm is grabbed by a young 20 something man who I will call Tasleem.
“ Jinab(Sir), I will accompany you to your destination”.
I look at Tasleem’s visage- a handsome, honest looking boyish face.
I let Tasleem take the lead.
“ It’s bad, “ says Tasleem- referring to the conditions in Kashmir. “ Four more have been killed today”, adds Tasleem morosely.
I sense an opening in terms of the conversation.
“When do you think all this will end?”, I ask.
“ Can’t tell”, answers Tasleem. “ But it’s bad. Innocent people are being killed”, he adds. “Young boys…”, Tasleem’s voice tapers.
“Do you think India will budge or make a concession?”, I ask Tasleem
“ No,” answers Tasleem emphatically. “ They are a bad people. Nothing will move them”, he adds.
The alley way is suddenly flooded by light. A lone car with its emergency lights flashing drives past.
“Only those having an emergency will drive a car these days. But people are angry. They won’t understand”, says Tasleem.
“ Right”, I respond.
“ So what will happen now?, “ I ask Tasleem.
“I don’t know, ‘ he answers but “ they have turned off mobile services, internet services, placed curfews and restrictions on the movement of people”, adds Tasleem. “ Yet people are undaunted and they continue to kill people,’ asserts Tasleem, his face contorting into rage and anger risible in his voice.
I sense that I am approaching my professed destination almost at the same time when Tasleem tells me: “Jinaab(Sir) , Here we are. We have arrived at your destination”.
I hug Tasleem in the customary Kashmiri way and thank him.
“ Arrey Jinaab, please don’t thank me. It is my duty to help especially under these circumstances”.
I look deep into Tasleem’s eyes under the glistening light of a light bulb hanging from a pole. Tasleem looks straight back into my eyes. It’s a fraught moment emotionally. I am overwhelmed by his assistance and Tasleem is emotionally charged.
“ What then is the solution, Tasleem”, I ask?
Tasleem's handsome, innocent and honest looking face contorts as he looks me squarely in the eye.
“ The Gun”, he answers icily.
(Wajahat Qazi is based in Srinagar. He was Senior Policy Analyst to the Government of Jammu and Kashmir. Writer and columnist.)
(Cover Photo by Basit Zargar)