Kashmir was burning. The Himalayan paradise would face the worst possible repression at the hands of the Indian armed forces. As if on a killing spree thousands were eliminated. Women irrespective of age were raped and property worth billions of rupees destroyed. On that fateful night of troubled 1990s the worrisome Zubeda stayed awake and did not sleep a wink. In her frenzy, in the middle of the night when the witches are active, she hit the deck, performed ablution and prayed Almighty for the welfare of her daughter who had not been keeping well for some time. At the cock’s crow Yaqoob, her husband joined her in prayers. Later on Yaqoob visited the nearby masjid to offer Fajr, the morning prayers.
As the family members gathered in the kitchen for breakfast, Zubeda announced that Imtiaz, her teenybopper son, would pay visit to his ailing sister on way to college situated at Raj Bagh across Jehlum. In an hour or so the twenty-something, Bilal was ready with his bike to drop his brother, Imtiaz at Gonikhan, 300 yards from Lal Chowk. The duo zoomed off towards Lal Chowk.
Lal Chowk, once upon a time the busiest place of Kashmir, and the heart of the capital city, Srinagar, smacked of gloom and lifelessness. With the market largely deserted, the visitors and the shoppers that once thronged the shops had since vanished in thin smoke. The duo had hardly clocked up a distance of 300-400 yards on their bike that the sudden deafening sound of the exploding grenade ruptured tympana, the ear drums, of the passersby. Caught in the rat tat of guns and grenades, the panic stricken people ran helter-skelter. Amidst the cacophonic noise of gunfire, shrieks and cries of men, women and children, Imtiaz and Bilal both jumped off their vehicle and took to their heels in the direction of their house situated at the bund on the banks of river Jehlum.
It was not many minutes before Imtiaz and Bilal were running fast as their legs could carry them. As the rattling guns were indicative of the security forces at their heels, the duo soon found them (selves) standing before the river Jehlum. The frenzied Bilal pushed his kid brother into the boat moored to the post on the bank of Jehlum. In this specter of chaos, Bilal along with the scores of terrified men, women and children jumped into the boat that the boatman attempted to row with all his strength.
As if the tiny boat were not destined to ferry the hapless passengers across Jehlum to safety the irate security forces that were on the hot pursuit of the attackers suddenly zipped to halt, just a hop, skip and a scream away from the river to wage vendetta (in a typical wolf and lamb style) against the herd of non retaliating humans seated in the tiny boat, the shikara. In the commotion that was caused by the sudden fusillade of LMGs and SLRS the boat turned turtle. The trigger happy security men cocked their guns on the fateful passengers that still bobbed up and down the muddy waters of Jehlum for help. In this bloodbath no single hapless soul was spared.
The news of the brutal killings spread like wildfire. The bullet ridden bodies of several victims, that included Bilal, were fished out of Jehlum without much effort. As it was carried in procession to his home at Aabiguzhar on the banks of Jehlum, a deep gloom was cast over the locality. Zubeda wept and wailed. Wringing her hands and beating her breasts the grief stricken mother cried her eyes out. Fluttering like a grass hopper in the mouth of gecko, while she cuddled, kissed and hugged the body she was all eyes for some one who had still not returned home. In every pedestrian that walked on the bund along the river Jehlum or alighted from the tiny boat, she would cock her eyes in vain hope of Imtiaz returning home and shouting ‘amma, amma’. Zubeda seemed to have no remembrance of the bullet ridden body of Bilal that had been buried only a couple of hours back.
As the heavens turned russet, the cloud masses floating therein changed into gold. In the backdrop of the virgin creamy snow clad Pirpanjals, the colorful flora, the landscape as also the sky-scape unveiled the true self of God. The spooky white poplars grown along the banks of Jehlum tossed their heads frantically. The tiny swallows zoomed past the dis-shelved bunches of the mop headed willows after taking a long run up on the waters of Jehlum, the serenity of which was disturbed by the corporeal frameworks of scores of divers, that bobbed up and down the river like cork for hours in search of the dead body of Imtiaz. Late in the night the divers recovered the dead body of the teenager.
The droopy jawed Yaqoob just returned home after burying yet another son. Having had carried the funerals of his 2 robust sons, wrapped in shrouds, on his shoulders in a row the broken father felt fagged down to the ground. He had witnessed their burial, one by one, in the niche of the grave and had even cast dust into their graves till these were leveled. When the snow melts the mountain stream becomes a deluge. The pent up emotions gave way as Yaqoob entered into the room late in the evening to inquire after his wife. The old couple uttered not a word. They wept till their lachrymal glands were exsiccated.