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Peace Watch » Kashmir-Talk » My Memoir: My Uncle Part III -His Friends And Their Political Beliefs.

My Memoir: My Uncle Part III -His Friends And Their Political Beliefs.

My Memoir: My Uncle Part III

His Friends And Their Political Beliefs

Z.G. Muhammad

My mother, one day, abruptly banished me from Chasing swallows on the street outside our home – my elder brother did not admire running after this beautiful bird, so it did not matter to him. I was too young to venture the courage and ask my mother why my freedom was snatched when birds still had it. The only liberty I had was looking through the latticed window on the street outside our home. It wore a deserted look, dotted with men in Khaki and olive green. The only life on the linear road connecting the two four-way roundabouts of our Mohalla was the carefree swallows diving like jet fighter aircraft. I felt envious of the swallows and wanted to rebel diktat of my mother and run along with them with my arms stretched like birds’ wings. No one at home talked about why we were not allowed to move outside our house. I had the foggiest impressions of a similar situation; some years back, I was yet to be admitted to the kindergarten class. Then I saw my mother and aunt wailing and pounding their chest on seeing a body soaked in blood carried on a Charpoy for burial. No one at home told us why we were forced to live indoors; the only word that resonated in the house was CURFEW- it was a curfew, our mother would say to us. For us, the term had become synonymous with curtailing our liberty- that swallows, sparrows, crows and even the street dogs continued to enjoy. I was barely seven or eight years old and did not like staying indoors. Restless to run on the street as a swallow flies, I even loved racing with the tongas (single horse-driven cabs) and running the Municipality water tanker that sprinkled water on the roads- getting splashes was exciting and soothing.

Tired of looking into the lonely street through the closed latticed windows a couple of times, I came down into the compound of our house for a change. My uncle and his two friends, Mohammad Shafi Koul and Ghulam Hassan Bazaz, who lived in the back lane of our house, were sitting against bolsters on a wooden platform in the compound while enjoying puffs of smoke from Jageer; they were discussing the scenes outside our home. Whenever elders talked, eavesdropping was my good pastime; some conversations went over my head like a bouncer ball and some I understood and left a lasting impression on my mind.   From their conversation, I learnt that the tall, bespectacled man wearing black achkan touching his knees and an astrakhan cap on his head who had passed through our lane a few days back had been once again jailed. He looked to us like a colossus- a man-mountain, and the children followed him through slushy lanes of our Mohalla to a nearby house of Ghulam Hassan, his jailed party worker. Overawed by his height, I followed him unintentionally barefoot through the narrow bylanes of our Mohalla. Having heard his name many times in the Radio Room of our house, I knew that he had been in jail for quite some time. But why was he jailed again? was the point under discussion between my uncle and his two friends. Muhammad Shafi Koul and Ghulam Hassan Bazaz were sympathetic to the arrested leader and highly caustic against the ruler who had allowed him just a few months of freedom to move around and address public rallies.

The two friends of my uncle had a bag full of stories, courage and achievements to share and prove their leader had been more sinned against than sinning by the man he had always garlanded, treated as royalty, and arranged pageants of river processions for him. They presented his betrayal by his lieutenants as pathetically as the disloyalty of the daughters of King Lear portrayed by Shakespeare. Instead of joining their chorus of anger and pain, Uncle, with a Duchenne smile, said to them, ‘it is nothing but Nemesis- what we in literature generally call ‘poetic justice. Uncle told his friends that in his megalomania, he didn’t listen to anybody. And he asked them if they remembered what Muhammad Yusuf Qureshi had told him in his address at Bohri Kadal when the tall leader was addressing people at Naid Kadal. Decades have passed, but I vividly remember what my uncle had told his friend; let me repeat ad verbatim: ‘Do you remember Qureshi tore a sheet of paper and threw it in the air, and asked the top leader to see which way the wind is blowing. Koul, his friend, was not ready to buy the arguments of my uncle and chose to stick to his guns. It was not a one-day affair but a perennial feature of their discussions about the jailed leader. They did not even agree to disagree but continued to harp on their views about the leader.

Despite being constantly on different pages about the jailed leader many times, whenever in the morning, a troubadour (ladisha) jingling small rings on his almost yard-long iron rod entered our lane with a bag full of songs cascading with satire and humour. My uncle’s friend Shafi Koul Sahib would get him either in our house or his house. The bard also had songs eulogising the incarcerated Prime Minister and satires for his tormenters. Afraid of sleuths,  troubadour would refuse to sing songs critical of the powers in the compound. He was often conducted into a room where he would sing some satirical songs before the selected audience. My uncle would also listen to troubadour’s satire with a grin, but no songs would convince him that his friend’s leader was a messianic- sincere to his people. The satirical sessions often would stir arguments and counter-arguments. Despite hot debates, they were still friends- the best friends I did not understand many a discussion, but they remained etched on my mind. To silence his friend, my uncle, on occasions, ended his  conversation with a couplet:

  Khist-e-Awal choon nahd Maymar Kaj~~Ta Suraiya me rawad Dewar Kaj.

The war of words that foamed their mouths ended at the Hubble bubble but without any treaty- the puffs of smoke from sugary tobacco they inhaled soothed their tempers, and they became as tranquil as the calm waters of the Dal Lake. Many times, the two were joined by a third friend, suave and soft-spoken Ghulam Qadir Bangari. Though he did not contribute much to the discussion, he had a knack for fanning embers in the fading discussions- by simply putting an igniting word or phrase into it. The three were clean-shaved; in those days, one would rarely see young men wearing beards in the offices or strolling on the roads or the shopfront. Interestingly, the beard was the preserve of most older people. Most of their discussions were too heavy for my tiny brain to comprehend – but some scenes and sentences remained etched on my mind. As I grew older, I broached subjects with my uncle to get wiser about the events buried in my mind’s hinterland. Some political events during my high school and college days allowed me to scratch some old subjects lurking in my mind with him; he was always cooperative and talked at length on the topics I touched on. Our whole generation had been baptised in the politics of Kashmir after the Holy Relic was stolen from Hazratbal. The discourses that filled the air all over the City were no more Greek to us.

Koul Sahib’s favourite leader was again set free six years later in 1964. He was accorded a hero’s welcome. Swarming crowds with their enthusiasm and craziness walked with him when his caravan entered the City. My uncle and his friend Ghulam Qadir Bangari had also walked more than two miles to watch the grand pageant of multi-coloured archways erected to receive the former Prime Minister after his release from jail. My uncle and his friend were born in the same Mohalla; they were bosom friends from childhood to envy their other friends, and politically, they were on the same page. The two had not joined the teeming crowds out of love for Koul Sahib’s leader but just for the heck of it. Despite streams of people following the cavalcade raising full-throated slogans hailing Koul Sahib’s leader, the duo had no trust in him. With a beaming face, the uncle and his friend would, in unison, say, ‘he is going to ditch them once again. On one of those days, I remembered the couplet (It was on my mind in disjointed form) with which he often ended his discussions with his friend, and I asked him to repeat and translate it for me. I wrote the translation of the above-quoted verses in a notebook- that notebook had remained with me for many years. The translation read:  When mason lays the very first brick wrongly  ~Till to the top, it remains incorrectly laid. And the building comes up lop-sided, bound to crumble on one another. Many years later, perhaps in the late Seventies, he had repeated the couplet and its translation to the leader’s son during a visit to our home. The word timidity and cowardice were not in his dictionary; in 1968, during the donation campaign for the reconstruction of Hazratbal, he had braced up the leader with some harsh realities. And when I told him that he should not have been so blunt to his annoyance and hurt of his  ardent supporters from the locality accompanying him- his rapid answer was, “Someone has to tell the truth to him, so I did it.”

Ghulam Qadir and my uncle were not only politically on the same page; they were always seen together because they shared their pastimes. I doubt the two ever had been film-buffs; I never heard them talking about films, actors and actresses. I remember seeing my uncle in the Shiraz cinema to watch the Khana-Khuda film. However, they were great admirers of football matches and passionate about them. They walked miles together to watch a football match- Hazuri Bagh to Iddgah. Hazuri Bagh was the vast ground where like in Iddgah, you could see the sky meeting the earth. This ground had its history; perhaps it had first time shot into prominence in the 1920s; that decade had most eventful – it had seen hot religious debates between different faiths and witnessed the 1924 Silk Factory workers’ revolt. Besides, a few pages of history have been on the vast grounds of the Hazuri Bagh; it had groomed and fondled many ace football players. And once a  Stadium had come up adjacent to the Hazuri Bagh ground, it became one of the leading destinations for my uncle and his friend to watch football matches. Those days, perhaps they were Jashin-I-Kashmir teams from outside Jammu and Kashmir played games in Srinagar  (To be Continued)

My Birth Burg

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