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Peace Watch » Editor's Take, Kashmir-Talk, NostalgiaKashmir, Z. G. Muhammad » My Memoir: My Father Part VI. Story of Two Alis- Ordinary Kashmiris

My Memoir: My Father Part VI. Story of Two Alis- Ordinary Kashmiris

Part  VI

Part Six

‘The father did not join political discussions in the Radio Room with the news loving neighbours. Perhaps the reason was fear of snoopers and gumboots reporting it to those in the saddle and fear of earning their wrath.’ Nevertheless, when I wrote it at the start of this memoir, it was not suggested that he was snobbish, uninformed, or ill-informed about political happenings. Even if he may be detesting politics and the contemporary politicians, shutting out political discussions from the ‘Dani Koeth’, traditional Kashmiri kitchen-cum-sitting room was improbable. Conventional Kashmiri houses had Bay’tahak, a drawing-room, but it was generally used for hosting guests. The Dan-i-Koeth commonly had cooking and sitting space separated by a Dabadul, eight inches to one foot in height carved partition of Deodar wood. The father regularly joined the family on dinner except for the Kashmir Festival days or other late-night engagements.

The dinner time was the finest hour for talking about the family and other related affairs. Talking about weddings in the extended family was grandmother’s best pastime.  On many occasions, two Ali’s dominated the dinner time discourses; in fact, for quite some years, discussions about them was a regular feature. But, these discussions were not about two great Ali’s of twentieth-century South Asia, Mohammad Ali Jauhar and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the most significant influence on the lives of  the Muslims of the region.  Jauhar had become part of Kashmir’s discourse in the early twenties of the 20th century, when Molvi Mohammad Yousf, the future Mirwaiz, had just returned from Darul Uloom Deoband after eight years in 1924.  After completing his education, he had set up a branch of the Khalifat movement in Kashmir. My father at that time was just two years, and my uncle had just tumbled into the world. However, later on, they had picked various threads and strands about the movement and framed an opinion that before Molvi Yousf returned, people in Kashmir were unaware of the developments in Turkey and the Khilafat Movement in India. Molvi Sahib had introduced the Khilafat Movement and the name of Mohammad Ali Jauhar to the people of Kashmir by organizing mass rallies in support of this movement. I, in the 1970s, asked my uncle how they came to know about the role of Molvi Sahib in the Khilafat movement when they had just been born at that time. ‘As they had grown in age, the two brothers in their boyhood had hardly missed the sermons Molvi Yousf gave in the Masjids of ward four and the Jamia Masjid.  The discourses on religion and politics had been immensely rewarding- baptism in politics and religion. Since the early 1920s,  M.A Jinnah had been part of Kashmir discourse. In 1936, when his presence had created waves here by appearing in the court, the father was a student of Islamia High School, perhaps in his eighth or ninth class, and his younger brother was a student of the State School. If they had seen Mr Jinnah that year and walked with thousand others to the court compound to catch a glimpse of him, I never tried to find out. The two brothers, however, had fond memories of the Muslim League leader. They had seen him at the peak of his eloquence speaking under gas lamps late at night to an excited and animated audience of over a hundred thousand people at the Muslim Park, just five to six hundred yards from our home. I cannot say about father; he died earlier, but my uncle remembered his speech ad verbum. And, the scenes of that memorable night were etched on his mind; at the mere mention, he could relate the proceedings of the late-night public rally like a grand storyteller.

But, the two Ali’s that reigned supreme on our family discourses for quite a few years were two ordinary Kashmiris, whose names, like millions of others, will not make even to footnotes of our history.  One of them was a nephew of my father, and the second was his school time buddy. In the early fifties, Ali, the nephew in his late teens, was engaged to her cousin. Immediately after, he had disappeared without leaving a clue. Everyone in the family suspected that out of adventurism; he might have crossed over to Pakistan. In the early 1950s, some were coerced to cross the border for political reasons, and some youth did it independently out of fancy. Ali, the nephew, had no political connection. There was no conclusive evidence, if he had fled to Pakistan or not, groping in the dark, grandmother and others had concluded that he would be in Pakistan only. The strength of grandmother’s belief was in what a Godly person Ama Saib, had told her. He lived in a single-story thatched-roof humblest house on an Island in Dal Lake. From a Ghat in Nawapora, his home could be reached only by boat. One day, grandmothers’ belief came true, Khaki turbaned postman Ghulam Mohammad delivered a postcard from Pakistan at our home from Ali. The news brought a youthful blush on grandmother’s face, and everyone jubilantly cried, thank God he was alive. When father learned about it in the evening, initially like others, he also tickled pink, but suddenly a flash of worry darkened his face. A letter from Pakistan delivered to a government officer’s residence could be a reason for doubting his integrity, a cause of trouble, and evening facing an inquiry. To offset any problem, he informed the top, and dreaded cop about the letter, thus avoided any harassment by sleuths and riffraff of party in power. The postcard, having put the ocean of speculation about the wellbeing of Ali and re-engaging his fiancée to someone else at peace, but how to get him back took precedence over all other questions. Ali’s was not an isolated story; many youths had crossed over to Pakistan, and their parents wanted them to return home. The families placed in similar situations exchanged notes over ensuring the safe return of children. Having pinned their hopes with the banished Mirwaiz Kashmir Molvi Mohammad Yousf Shah, some parents posted letters to him to get their children traced. Ali’s postcard was as elusive as his flight from Srinagar; there was no address mentioned except the post office seal suggested he was somewhere in Rawalpindi. Where exactly was hard to guess. On the insistence of his mother, my uncle had gone to Jammu to explore the possibilities of travelling to Pakistan to find him out. Without getting permission, he had returned from Suchetgarh to home. To see Ali returns safely home, grandmother visited every Godly person in and around our part of the city. I don’t know if on the instructions of Amaa Saib or some other Godly person nettle was kept in Ali’s old clothes in the attic of our house.  I had plucked long stems of nettle from the backyard of the historic hospice in our Mohalla to keep in his clothes. Replacing old dried nettle branches with a fresh one was a regular feature for a couple of years.  It was believed that he would get blister beads all over his body, wherever he would be and would be restless to return home. One fine day at about noon, to the surprise of my mother and grandmother, the only two who could recognize him, he entered into the compound of our house. Neither my elder sibling nor I had seen him; when he had disappeared, we were crawling or toddling. And grandmother telling us that he was our cousin Ali did not excite us. How could a charcoal black complexioned man be our cousin? This question haunted us until we learned to earn a living in Pakistan; he worked as a road tarring labourer. His return had brought smiles to all, including women in the neighbourhood. My mother and the granny were most jubilant; grandmother saw her mission complete in his return to home.  She no more had to tie ‘knots of blessing’ for his return at various Astana. And now she had not to squat in front of Godly people for seeking blessings for his safety. The father was as happy as others in the family but was worried less the CID should not pick him up for interrogations by the infamous Special Staff. Nonetheless, our father’s reputation and goodwill in administration got him a reprieve and also a job. Ali was also was married to his fiancée and raised.

Another Ali, who was also part of dinner time discussions, was one of the father’s school time buddies. The father fondly mentioned him as Ali Malik and, on occasions as Ali Mohammad Malik. They had been admitted to the school together and grown up in the Mohalla as playmates. The story of Ali Malik from Ali, the nephew, was different. Malik had not crossed over to Pakistan out of adventurism. But he had been pushed across the border for his political beliefs, more out of political vendetta.  He had been one of the frontrunners of the Muslim Students Federation. In July 1949, Ali Malik was summoned to the Halqa at Khaka Bazar, Nowhatta, where he was first roughed up and then informed that his activities were prejudicial to the party in power. He, along with few others, was deported to Pakistan at Suhetgarh.

My father was those days at Baramulla; his biggest regret was that he could not even bid farewell to his friend. Our father’s few other Islamia High School classmates and contemporaries had also been banished; he mainly was nostalgic about Ali Malik. No one, not even his three brothers, had an idea about his whereabouts- they had received no letter from him. Till the death of my father in 1961, he never visited home.

(To be concluded)

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