Yesterday in a brief moment of reflection, a face came to my mind, constantly distracting my focus. A face long forgotten. It took me some time to assign this face to a name. I was narrating my childhood experiences to some of my friends here in JNU. You know, people here sometimes ask how life is back in Kashmir. ‘How was your childhood?’. I try to make the picture rosy, for I am sick of telling people about deaths of close friends, whose memories rebound in my head every time I look back into the past. But those images, that past can never go away. Rosy pictures wither upon the incinerated reality that seeps through them.
His face wouldn’t let me make the picture smooth. I spoke of my school, and saw him sitting on the chair next to me. I spoke of swimming in a river nearby, and saw him emerge from under the water. I spoke of the school trip to Banihal Tunnel, and felt him tugging at my sleeve, as if pleading to pull him along on the climb up the hill. I spoke of cuddling close during early morning prayers on the chilly winter days, and felt the warmth of his bare arm against mine.
I stopped speaking.
And then his voice started streaming into my consciousness. Lifting his husky voice he mumbled some incoherent phrases. Incoherent? Ununderstandable?
‘Why don’t you tell them, it was your soldiers you celebrate so much?”
His surprised white face with a sharp nose, pink lips, and a pair of bright green eyes, was in front of mine. I remember the day everybody in IMI–my school–started calling him insane: ‘Paagal! Paagal!! Bichoo paagal ho gaya.’ (Bichhoo, his family name). He was a little temperamental, but he was a sweet boy when in his right mood.
As if to prove them right he got on top of a table and danced. He danced wildly that day, till he grew red with rage. On top of all, the teacher started insulting him. Everyone was taking fun out of it.
If only everyone knew…that the end was near. Bichhoo, after a brief exchange of fire between guerrillas and the military, went to collect the ‘khokhas’–bullet casings– on the street near my home. It was a hobby some young boys cultivated during the insurgency. There was nothing else to collect but bullet-casings, and boys had to have some hobby. What is childhood without a hobby!
We heard a bang.
‘But the firing was over long back, what was that?’
Someone let out a shriek, probably some old woman. “Waey! Khudayao” (Oh! God)…
Everyone rushed toward the place. Bichhoo was lying in a pool of his own blood, his brain on one side. His pink lips had turned pale, and his green eyes lifeless. He stared into the heaven in an endless gaze.
That day my childhood was over. For a long time I couldn’t figure out why CRPF man shot him. He was too young to look like a guerilla. But then we were all potential guerrillas for them.
And now yesterday, when I was trying to forget the bitter ones of my childhood memories, I realized I don’t have any other memories except the ones of the loss of the dear ones.