By Ashish Kaul
Abhimanyu was thinking continuously while turning the newspaper. The same political rhetoric. The same inutile cry for help. Still, something has changed after three decades, but not enough to reduce the despair. The valley is as desolate as it was then. How could he forget that day thirty two years ago when Abhay Pratap Kaul was knocking every possible door for help.

That very day in 1990 when Abhimanyu glanced on the Valley, all he saw was abandoned alleys filled with fear and cries of women and children. A little after 8.00 p.m., following the evening namaz, the streets of Anantnag saw scores of armed men storming non-muslim homes and killing people.

It was when Mukhtar ran into the Kaul house. In a sense of hurry and fright, he went straight to Abhay Pratap and said, “They’ve passed a decree of vehement killing! Do something, sir. You’ve got contacts in the government. Do something.” Then, Mukhtar went to Abhimanyu and pulled him by his hand. He requested them all to find shelter at his house. “You will all be safer there,” he requested. Mukhtar’s gesture gave Abhay some hope. But while he did appreciate the gesture, Abhay Pratap sat him down and explained that such a move would put his family in danger. He reassured his son’s best friend that the army was there to protect the Kaul household. And with that, Abhay requested a security officer to have Mukhtar safely escorted to his place.

As Mukhtar left with a heavy heart and a worried face, the phone rang again.

It was the jihadi, again. “What did you decide, bhaijan? Come with us.”

“No! And, don’t you dare call here ever again!” Abhay Pratap shouted back, this time.

“We won’t call again, Abhay Pratap,” the voice on the other end teased, “How long do you think they would provide security to you? A few hours, at the most. And, how would you save the people who can’t afford the luxury of security?”

As he heard this, Abhay disconnected the phone, and dialled Avtar. He had to warn his assistant. The phone line remained engaged. Unable to reach his staff, Abhay finally decided to call the Governor. The Governor’s secretary took the call, and told Abhay that the Governor was busy. He assured him that he would have the Governor call him back as soon as he could.

At Krishan Avtar’s home, he and his family were huddled in the store room behind sacks of rice. Avtar had heard the phone ring, and as he was about get it, he heard the slogan “Hindustan Murdabad, Aye Kaafiro Ye Kashmir Hamara Choddo” (Infidels and Indians leave Kashmir) right behind his front door. Soon, they started banging at the door. Avtar stepped back and locked the door of the store behind him.

He quickly gestured his family to the store and shut its door firmly. Meanwhile, outside the house, the crowd went silent, only to be interrupted by an assault rifle. Avtar’s front door, riddled with bullets, broke down.

Huddled inside the store, Avtar recalled the infamous Bhatta Loot of the ’30s. It was said that scores of people attacked neighbouring Hindu villages in groups. And it is not much different now, expect for the fact that staffs and sickles were replaced by AK47s. He had given up hope, and prepared himself to be part of yet another chapter in the long-forgotten history of Kashmir. As he held his wife Asha and six-year-old daughter Rosy close to him, all they go do is weep.

With a loud thud, the weak store-room door fell. Avtar screamed “Mercy, mercy,” holding her daughter close to his chest and Asha behind him. But these screams were soon drowned by the deafening cracks of bullets flying through them.

Far from this macabre dance of death, Abhay Pratap Kaul was crumbling in fear and despair. As the Kaul family sat together in the corner of their house, Aarti looked at her son, and stroked her son’s hair. She turned to her husband, “at least, let him read it.”

Let him read what, Aarti?” asked Abhay.

“The ‘Kalima ‘la ilaahi ill Allah Muhammed e rasul Allah’. I know they won’t hurt him if he knows,” pleaded Aarti, “if he lives, my soul would be at peace.” Abhay sat in shock. Tears flowed through Aarti’s cheeks and Abhimanyu hugged his mother.

It was then that they heard a loud thud at the front door. Aarti held her son tight. This was the moment. They will barge in now, and that will be the end. These thoughts filled the young mother’s mind.

Suddenly, the knocking stopped, and they heard a familiar voice-that of Majid.

Abhay swiftly got up and opened the door. Majid said, in haste, “they are heading here! Come, let’s get you to safety.”

Abhay went numb. But he still did not want to run out of fear. Right then, the phone rang. Abhay came back inside, and Majid followed, looking around the house. It was Governor Jagmohan Malhotra on the other end.

Abhay said, “the lives of Hindus are in grave danger. Why aren’t you taking any action, sir?”

The Governor replied in an assuring tone, “all Hindus are being taken out safely. Any action can only be taken after that. We have to retaliate, and it will be bullet for bullet. You do understand that, right?”

“Yes, I… I understood,” Abhay said, keeping the phone down.

The officer, stationed outside, signalled him to head out. Abhay Pratap ushered his family to the car.

Death was waiting at every lane, but the army and his driver were committed to the safety of Abhay Pratap Kaul and his family. As Majid took the car out, Abhimanyu saw Mukhtar’s house.

“Please stop the car for a moment, Majid bhai. I’ll just inform Mukhtar and come,” he said. But the security officials signalled in the negative.

Right then, Majid took a sharp turn. Abhay Pratap asked, “Which way are you taking, Majid?”

“It won’t be safe through the highway, sahab. We’ll go through Verinag,” he answered. Abhay saw reason in what he said.

Taking the new road he knew nothing about, Abhimanyu felt like he was leaving his life behind.

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Desolate pathways greeted them as they drove through the snowy road heading out of the Valley. Majid noticed that even the usual fauna was not to be spotted. And that is when Majid noticed Aarti’s ornaments in the rear-view mirror.

Majid turned to Aarti, “Bhabhi, let go off of your jewellery.” Abhay shouted, “Are you out of your mind, Majid?”

Majid answered, “No sir. I’m very much in my sense, and that is why I’m asking her to take down her jewellery. You, too, sir, should remove your ‘janeu’ (sacred thread.) In case they catch us, they won’t kill you.”

As Abhay and Abhimanyu gave away their sacred threads, Aarti removed all her ornaments except for her ‘dej-hor’. The ‘dej-hor’ was a locket tied on a necklace. She wanted to hold on to it as a sign of her marriage and longevity of her husband.

Majid continued, “Bhabhi, it is important you take this down as well.” She glanced at Abhimanyu and, with great difficulty, removed it.

The Kaul’s driver collected all these valuables in a cloth, fastened it, and kept it inside the dashboard of the car. He then resumed the drive through the dilapidated road.

The family had just begun to ease into the drive, that Majid braked the car. As Abhay looked out, he saw three men standing in the middle of the road.

The mother, son, and the father were now wondering what to make of this. Was Majid indeed in cahoots with these men?

The men circled the car, and tried to peep inside through the tinted windows. They started banging at the doors, demanding it to be opened. Aarti felt a chill go down her spine. It was all over. Majid would hand them us and then run away with the car.

Right then, one of the men took out a gun. Abhay Pratap wanted to get out. Abhimanyu and Aarti tired to stop him, but he had opened the door to his left.

They pulled Abhay out of the car and asked him whether he was Hindu or Musalman. Right then, Majid jumped out of the front seat, and said in Kashmiri, “We are all Muslims.”

Majid introduced Abhay as Majid Abdul.

The driver explained to them that the family was rushing their kid to a hospital because he was unwell. This did not seem to be enough for them, and Abhay’s silence gave way to more doubt. They started beating Abhay and Majid, and demanded that they recite the Kalima from the Holy Quran.

Majid, without any hesitation, did it. Now, a bit calm, the attackers turned to his master.

Abhay could see the frightened face of Aarti and Abhimanyu through the tinted car window. He didn’t fear death, but he had to save his family.

Abhay, then lifting both his hands to cover his ears and the side of his face, started to recite: “Allahumma salle ala muhammadin v ala aale muhammadin kama sallaita ala ibrahima walla aale ibrahima innaka hamidum majid (O Allah! Keep showering your blessing on Muhammad and Aale Muhammad like you showered on Ibrahim and Aale Ibrahim.)”

Abhay stopped to look at the attackers. They seemed to have calmed down. He then, looked up at the dark skies like he was searching for something. Even in that madness, Abhay was seeking for hope, and all he needed was to see a star.

He thought: if there is really a world beyond the stars where Allah resides, he must be worried, looking at this state of Islam and would he really be moved by just prayers?

Back in the car, Aarti was also invoking her Gods, reciting the ‘Hanuman Chalisa’.

And on that fateful day, no one knew which God heard their prayers, but the jihadis took to their heels. Abhay looked at their faces, and then at the direction of their gaze. In the distance, was an army patrol.

Majid got back into the driver’s seat.

But, the presence of Majid was something much more — it was humanity at work.

The Kaul family was back on the road. As the car moved further and further away from Anantnag, there was an eerie silence in the vehicle. Each and every one could feel a fleeting pain, and the Valley, wearing a white blanket, disappeared behind them.

It was perhaps that night that the aura of Kashmiriyat disappeared from the valley, perhaps forever. Such was the vicissitude that within hours, the Kaul family was standing on the edge of life, devoid of respect, money and their palatial home in the midst of the beautiful valley.

1990 created a chasm, deep and wide, that made Jammu very far from Kashmir.

(Ashish Kaul is a senior media person and doctoral research scholar. Three of his books on Kashmir have been bestsellers. The views expressed are personal)

–IANS
ashish/dpb

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