In those uncertain times, tragedies and comedies dissolved into each other. One lost the power to figure out what proper response to a particular situation should be. While sublime horror of events sometimes evoked an ironic laughter, certain comic moments were received with blank and grave ethereal looks. In the Valley, situations swung between extremes. One moment there was a little joy, and the next would drown that moment into profound grief. People lived strange lives and died strange deaths. I remember Rasul Kakh, the carpenter, and how his neighbors fondly spoke of him.
One could say Rasul Kakh never gave a damn to what others had to say about his skills; he considered himself the best carpenter in Dialgam. A nagging wife, a few children (he never bothered to count them), two cows and a goat, was all he had in his two-room brick shack, and a cowshed by its side.
Rasul Kakh hardly had any political views except the ones he had about azadi, which any Kashmiri has anyway. He would often say we lost Kashmir to India because Sheikh Sahib bartered Kashmir for a night with Indira Gandhi. That is one reason he pronounced Nehru as nuyhar to rhyme with huyhor (father-in -law). This is not to say he disliked the Sheikh. Far from it, he was happy that Sheikh Sahib had at the least managed to haul out something in return from India.
Then one day military came looking for some furniture to his cowshed, which he liked to call ‘factory’. He priced a table ‘too much’, as people would later say, and got a whack on his butt from the heavy-booted uniformed guys. In no time, some of his enemies (he had a few) turned his butt into a laughing stock in the whole region. People, who were none other than old loyalists of the Shiekh, would say Rasul Chhan’s (carpenter’s) chhoth has got its azadi (liberation); he needs no more from this world. This would make Rasul Kakh angry and sad. He stopped talking about azadi all together. He would be offended if anyone spoke about azadi in front of him. Even if inadvertently.
Winters in Kashmir since the last few years have been uncharacteristically chilly. Older people who have seen the ‘good old days’ attribute this to the mushrooming of Roosi Fras (Russian Poplar trees) since the last couple of decades. My grandmother used to tell me their pollen grains came sticking to the battle fatigues of mujahids who had crossed into the vale after having fought Russians in Afghanistan. But there have been Afghans in Kashmir before, who stayed and ruled.
It was on one such dry and chilly winter morning when Rasul Kakh was fully liberated. Villagers found his decapitated body on the bank of a brook that passes through his village. His wife said some military men had pulled him out of his home in the wee hours of that morning.
There had been a shoot-out the night before. It had kept us up almost all night. In those uncertain times you never knew when you might be taken for the ritual sacrifice. Indian domination needed a regular supply of Kashmiri blood.
Two more bodies were found inside the main drainpipe later that day. Local police said several of their men were also hacked to death.
Rasul Kakh’s face is still fresh in my memory. He was our family carpenter. It is quite common in Kashmir to have family carpenters and family brick-layers, like family doctors. He always pretended to be thinking seriously, and we knew he never could. He had a knack of feigning sickness when he didn’t want to go for work. His big mouthed yawn, his sheepish grin, and his perplexed face were all very funny to look at. But he had already become famous for some other part of his body.
He was slaughtered at a young age of forty-three. His body had been clinically cut into pieces as if by an accomplished surgeon. He would often say azadi needs a heart and a soul to feel and understand, not a brain to rationalize. Those who loved him, and oh boy was he loved, listened to him in joy when he sang to azadi, and those who hated him, hated him for his joyous love for azadi. Did haters each get a piece of him?
We could never find his bearded head to see how he looked in death.