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Peace Watch » Kashmir-Talk » Prison Tales V: Badamwari Agony amidst Blossoms

Prison Tales V: Badamwari Agony amidst Blossoms


Mothers with Tiffin Carriers



Having cured chilblains contracted during harsh winters by running  on   fresh snowfalls with deer’s and stag’s thrill; we would be geared by mid-February to be back to the school. Soothing spring breeze greeted us on the way to school, at times the lone almond tree in full bloom in the cherry orchards around the Jamia-Masjid made us detour our journey through the flowering almond gardens inside the four centuries old walled city at the foothills of iconic Srinagar hillock. Many a time during the recess period or playing truant from school, we walked less than a mile to the foothills to Koh-i-Maran, that our teachers Kashi Nath, Shamboo Nath and Arjan Nath called Hari Parbat to relish roasted water chestnuts. Enjoying   water chestnuts roasted in a particular variety of straw, and blackening our lips like African beauties used to be an enjoyable pastime.

In this month-long festival of flowers and music on Friday’s and Sunday’s men, women and children in throngs arrived into the orchard- my friends and I often used to be part of the bustling merry crowds on these two days.

Filling the air with music and songs, the folk dancers and singers added to the cheerfulness and merrymaking in the Waris Khan’s Bagh, the eastern wing of the Badamwari. Many Pandit families  (Kashmiri Brahmans) visiting the garden with brass samovars, an assortment of the brass cup and bread for enjoying the beauty of sounth  paid   obeisance to their gods and goddesses in a temple at a corner of the Bagh. And after wearing sandalwood or vermilion mark, tilak on their forehead joined the merry crowds.  I don’t remember having seen any of them sporting turmeric or black mark on their foreheads- perhaps the choice of colour had something to do with the caste system of Hindus.    

In huge jovial crowds in this garden laid down by an Afghan Governor and named after him, one would also spot men, women and children in downcast mood sitting on small mounds on the periphery, despondently looking at the high stone walls of the Srinagar Central Jail.  Some remembered their fathers and brothers who during the feudal-autocratic rule had passed many years in long dark barracks behind the high fences. Some reminded of their kith and kin implicated in false cases tried in the kangaroo courts in the jail premises.  Enjoying puffs of smoke from the hubble-bubble on these mounds overlooking the vast expanse of the garden rash with white and purple almond flowers, I remember having seen elders with tears welling in their eyes, sometimes pouring in torrents down their cheeks looking at the concrete fortifications and ready to share thirty-year-old stories, when as witness they had seen soldiers shooting down unarmed innocent men like coots in lagoons and lakes. These stories roused   inquisitiveness in us to visit the exact spot where the chilling massacre had been enacted. Since no memorial had been constructed at the site, our curiosity to see the dune where chests of Muezzin after Muzzein had been pierced with bullets when they were calling people for noon-prayers made us pace on all sides of the wall and finally brought us to the outer gate of the jail.

The outer gate had its own story to tell; it was not the inmates- the men of resistance only that lived a torturous life, but their kith and kin back home equally suffered the trauma. A score of women from rural areas perhaps mothers of some political detainees, with the fatigue of ripe age writ large on their wrinkled faces squatting on the dusty road were waiting for the opening of the gate for meeting their incarcerated relations.  Then the jail authorities allowed Muliqat to next of kin after a fortnight. Nonetheless, many mothers from far of villages, because of lack of transport facilities could not avail this opportunity and visited their children after a month or so that was true about even mothers from the city.  I have a vivid impression while playing cricket or football on the Makdoom grounds about spotting mothers of some students detunes carrying tiffin carrier in their hands   through desolate Malakah on their way to the Central Jail. In the tiffin carrier, they took some   cooked food as a token of love for their detained children.  Sweltering in their Koshur Burqas under the scorching sun they often cooled their perspiration under one or other hackberry tree- those days’ people planted hackberry trees on the graveyards for Sawāb of those buried in the vast burial ground. On their way to the Central Jail, I remember having seen some mother collapsing out of exhaustion- mothers of Kashmir, who have remained unsung indeed have been embodiments of sacrifices.    

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