Kashmir’s Stone Pelter

Ather Zia

[circa 2010]

You ask about his birth?

No, no he was not born today. No not at the time you see him, frozen in the frames of countless magazines and screens, aggressive and intent on throwing the stone at the well armed and armored Indian trooper whose finger stands alert on the trigger. He was born before this moment. He was born in the last twenty years or maybe before, or even around 1947. He is as old as your hubris (I do not jest). His birth was marked by checkpoints through which his mother had to pass when she was in throes of giving birth to him. It was in the closeted bloody warmth of his mother’s womb that he smelt that there was bloodletting outside too.

The blood that spurted from his father’s gashes, who had in a hurry forgotten his Identity card and now, had no way of proving himself. Who was he? Was he a militant, a miscreant, a terrorist, and so many other such names or was he an expectant father carrying the burden of his suffering wife; well the bump that he claimed was a pregnancy could be arms, well hidden? Did he get killed that day, he could have, and he may have been? There have been so many like him, that I have lost track. I do not count anymore (though I keep a tally)!

You ask how he was raised?

Well it’s fairly straight. He was raised watching his mother worry at every instance of him leaving home or not. Making sure he took the identity card with him, a piece of paper that is worth a visa, a permit of travel in his own land, and there are no guarantees. His mother would go through strange transformations though. She distrusted the roads and streets, where bunkers oozing into the streets created bottlenecks doubling as checkpoints; she preferred he stay indoors. Close to her heart. Then the day bullets rained on their house, there was a crackdown, and several boys were killed. She saw the large impressions of the boots that had brazenly razed through her hearth and the carpet she would let him eat on saying he was messy; she trusted the home no more. Where will I keep you son? He is just a boy, she cried days on end?

He saw his elders walk with drooping shoulders. They counted the dead, marking funerals and buying more land for the growing graveyard. They pored over newspapers and discussed the headlines at the barber shop so long and hard that it might have been the UN general assembly itself. They moved about furtively, trying to get the day’s job done as if being chased by silent wolves that were not so silent. They would check the doors after them, looking through peepholes and get angry for no reason in particular. Night was especially hard. Any sound at midnight, even if it was the stray dog brushing against the door, was enough to send majestic patriarchs into tiny whimpering vanguard. He was taught to have faith in Allah, while they stopped going for the dawn prayers at the Masjid. It wasn’t safe anymore? Every time they sent him out for a long errand, he was instructed “jaldi yezi”, come soon! They told him to attend school, and he did and loved it. They urged him to respect Kashmiri as they pushed him to polish his Hinglish and English (besides schools did not permit speaking in Kashmiri nor did they teach it). They would pray for him to grow up and be a great man, yet they made sure he shaved off all his facial hair, because it made him look older. He tried to keep sane when conflicting dualities threatened to tear his very soul asunder.

You ask about his friends?

Yes, yes, the other children who either grew up with him or got killed either after taking to guns or not. He is especially reminded of the one who could not make it to the tutor’s house, who was walking just behind him. Wearing a blue jacket and coke bottle glasses, the most awkward guy in the group, who probably could not even run properly, was caught between crossfire. He died on the spot, his beloved books strewn about. There is still a curiosity in him to know what color his eyes were. You could never see clearly through his glasses, and he seldom looked up from his books. Then there were the other friends, the ones who sat in his house, at the edge of the bed or moping, moving curtains to see if they could go outside. They never got to play properly. They were not permitted in the yard, especially during curfews for they made too much noise; they sat inside watching too much TV, sometimes with the mute button on. The alley was a no-no, there was too much tension outside, a blast, a killing, it was always something or the other.

The boys tried to find other means of meeting. They looked for places near each other when lining up in crackdowns, but the elders stopped them. The troops had beaten a few boys for being noisy; there was no talk, and no laughter, just like a classroom only this was life and death. There was always this nagging fear of being taken away, being beaten and killed. Besides he was ashamed to see how they all sat, like dogs or sheep, waiting in the dirt. Pushed, pummeled, cursed, you could hear a pin drop when a soldier asked something. He saw the Imam who was called to read holy verses on him when he fell sick shoved down as he tried move to sit in a cleaner patch. He hated how the ground where they played cricket in good times turned into a concentration camp filling with the sounds of suffering and shame. He stopped playing altogether.

He would often decide to look inside the armored jeep in which the “identifier” sat, imagining who could it be? Was he from his locality? Was he a friend, with whom they had played gulley cricket behind his mother’s back, or someone who must have sat in the next chair at the barbershop, or from the same school? Who was he? Could he be a friend? Well then if he was in that jeep identifying them, could he still think of him as a “friend”?

His mother would always make sure she knew who he mingled with? She turned into a sleuth, investigating antecedents of anyone he met, even then socializing was a problem: “you can’t be with just anybody I don’t want you in trouble?” Who could he trust then he wondered? Who could he be friends with? The definition of friend was pretty much tenuous, as were the relations with all others, who shared the apprehension and unpredictability of the same nature while growing up in Kashmir. Anyone could be anything, and anyone could not be, and you could still get killed.

You ask about his anger?

Anger! It’s right there, in his face, spilling into the streets like guts of a sacrificial lamb. It’s in your face! You think it’s stoppable, you think it can be curbed. You think all those thoughts that a sovereign thinks, a state holds at its core and pretends they work. You buy time, you talk soft on the surface and hit hard deep down. But listen, at this juncture you are not handling the naïve, progress-hungry denizens of the 50’s for whom the paved roads were a novelty and the thought of eating at the same table as you was the epitome of development. You promised them cheap rice, concrete buildings and below poverty line schemes that have yet to raise anyone above it. You can still entice a small minority with pittance paying, newly established redundant government positions, created to serve as a gag, a device for buying time, but you cannot ensnare all. Too bad you pose as if you still have this under control. You cannot set a price for blood, though you think you can, power always works that way. But power has schizophrenia, and many sovereigns chose not to acknowledge. It beds the perpetrator as much as it cohabits with the victim. The guns have been relegated to fringes; this stone pelter does not care for them.

This is a teachable moment for you. They brought nothing for him; they will buy nothing for you. The law which you treat law as an “ideal of order” to ensure you territorial rights has lost you all hearts. This young pelter’s stone is lying by the pavement, he used it, he may or may not pick it up again, depends how you corner him this time. But one thing is as clear as the day which is frozen under curfew in the valley that he will invoke law as an ideal of justice, however elusive. You may mediate its language but you cannot override it.

This piece was first published in Dissident Voice. Find it here

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