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Nostalgia : Prison Tales III


Prison Stories III

In A Different School


In the din of war cries, with eyes glued to the television screen couple of lines from the book ‘Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sundance’ started echoing in my ears:  “I don’t know how to save the world. I don’t have the answers or The Answer. I hold no secret knowledge as to how to fix the mistakes of generations past and present. I only know that without compassion and respect for all of Earth’s inhabitants, none of us will survive—nor will we deserve to.” The lines from the book of Native American Rights Activists Leonard Peltier, ‘wrongfully’ serving life for past forty-one years took me down the memory lane to August- September 1965, when   shadows of war loomed large on the region, moreover made me remember one of my classmates Ghulam Hassan Wani, later a Professor in Botany- he died of cardiac arrest while offering prayers in 2018.

Ghulam Hassan Wani

It was our first year in college. These were the times when students in larger number partook in demonstrations, in August and September these protests graduated into full-fledged student movement comparable to 1968 student unrest of France led by Cohen Bendit. Like a couple of other friends, in Pre-University (Class 11)  Hassan like me never led a demonstration, rarely joined a protest rally and mostly chose to walk away from the rallies return home. He was   studious, spent a lot of time at his desk to make it to the medical college- that I think was the dream of our entire class. One day on the way to his home unmindful of happenings around,   a police party chasing some students picked him up and bundled him into Dodge Bus. The police buses with mesh-windows, painted blue with a thick red line in the middle was nicknamed ‘gaggar-tch’al’ (rat trap)- in fact, people called this bus by this name only. He was detained in Sub-Jail, Kothi-Bagh, Srinagar, for no crime, he had not even picked a pebble.  That he had not torn even a paper nor broken a brick,  like Peltier, he gave testimony after testimony, ‘I swear to you, I am guilty only of being a Kashmiri- a Kashmiri student.’ Nonetheless, knocking almost at every door of authority and power, it took his friends and family over seven months to see him out of the high walls- that too after his innocence was testified by a neighbour intelligence officer. My classmate was not the only one who had to suffer incarceration, and lose some months of studies for no fault of his; those days such examples were galore. In Bundpore area police had to pick up one Ghulam Mohammad Lone from a particular village, but they arrested a different man of the same name from a different hamlet, the poor guy despite all his testaments about his having no connection with politics, suffered more than a year detention under Preventive Detention Act (PDA), it was only after the government decided to release all political prisoners, also was set free.

Our buddy, after his release from prison every now an then turned nostalgic about his days in the Sub-Jail, Kothi Bagh and often talked about the inmates and incarcerated  senior leaders. The man he often mentioned  about and had a word of praise for was the “mess-commander”, one of the senior resistance leaders Ghulam Hassan Inqalabi, from Islamabad, Anantnag. Inqalabi had developed difference with then Plebiscite Front Chief, after parting of ways with the Front, he had joined the newly born Awami Action Committee and was its District head. He also talked about his lieutenant, Mohammad Saleem Beg of Sarnal then equally committed to the cause that their party stood far. Having left his textbooks chemistry, physics and biology back home Inqalabi and other inmates introduced him to Syed Ahmad Shahid, Sir Syed, Syed Qutab, Iqbal, Faiz and host of others. 

Our classmate, totally apolitical student good at biology and chemistry under the tutelage of these jailed leaders in this different school  had graduated into an expert on Kashmir and an analyst in his own right. For his in-depth analysis of political developments in the state, the sub-continent and outside some of his friends fondly called him Mao Zedong, but he was neither a Marxist nor a Maoist.        

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