Tanveer Rashid Magrey
August 5, 2019. This day has been entombed with indelible ink in the inner recesses of my head. The preceding events of this day did not bode well. There had been a circular for tourists to leave the valley; people in long queues were stocking on food, fuel and cash; internet and mobile phone networks were snapped throughout the valley. Everything fell into its place when India’s Home Minister Amit Shah tabled a Bill in Parliament to scrap Articles 370 and 35A, and also downgraded the state of J&K to two union territories. With a curfew in place and deployment of additional tens of thousands of troops, people in Kashmir swallowed this bitter announcement and could do little else.
I was in the last leg of my university degree. Very soon I would be out to fend for myself. I would have to leave my university hostel. On August 5, I had to leave earlier than scheduled. Amidst the knots of armed forces standing guard on every nook and corner, I left at dawn for home on the outskirts of Srinagar.
At 7:00 am, no passenger vehicle was on the road. The staccato horns of convoys passing by sounded like a bad omen. Over the years I had learned to hitchhike to reach my home. I thought it would do the trick again. I waved my hand to a motor bike. He pulled up. I rode pillion up to Hyderpora Pass. At Hyderpora, I again started waving at anything moving on the road. But none complied with my requests, and I set off towards HMT Chowk on foot. Armed men in olive overalls were walking in a file on the road.
At Parimpora Bypass, a deluge of students and people from the countryside were waiting for some vehicle to take them to their destinations. Most of them were carrying bulging rucksacks on their backs. A vehicle came to a grinding halt. Without much ado, I hopped into it. At Magam, a Shia populated town on the Gulmarg-Srinagar highway, the vehicle came to a grinding halt again. A bevy of policemen emerged from behind wire fences and gestured to the driver to return.
Shops in Magam were all shuttered. There was a ubiquitous gaggle of armed personnel, with rifles in their hands and vigil in their eyes. A deafening silence pervaded the air, broken only by a vehicle or two that sped past us. I was still 17 kilometers from home. I began waiting for another good Samaritan. A reed- thin man with a bag slung on his shoulders turned up beside me. I struck a conversation. He said, “I am looking for medicine for my wife but all the medical shops are closed. Now I am hoping that I will get it at the sub-district hospital”. He flailed his hands in helplessness. Before going ahead with his journey on foot, he fired a volley of abuse at the government.
Now again I was waving my hands to get a lift. Two motorbikes and one Maruti hurtled past me without giving two hoots. After waiting half an hour, a scooty driver wearing a helmet stopped before me. He took me 3 kms further, reached his destination, and left me alone on the highway.
After gulping down handfuls of water from a small stream to quench my thirst, I marched on foot with dogged persistence against the scorching heat of the August sun. All along the way, shop shutters were down. Spools of razor wires and steel barricades were laid at every roundabout and junctions. Armed men outnumbered the locals. After walking a few kilometres, I hitched a ride in an auto. The driver was carrying sackfuls of vegetables for some shopkeeper in Kunzer area on the Srinagar-Gulmarg highway. He slowed down in front of an army camp and drove zigzag through the steel barricades on the road. I profusely thanked him as he came to a screeching halt in the market of this town. I relapsed into my business of “Waving”.
After waiting more than fifteen minutes, a Maruti Suzuki stopped and the driver gestured to me to get in. The driver enquired where I was going. “Upwards,” I said, gingerly hoisting my heavy rucksack in the back seat. After a few minutes, he said, “Traffic is off the roads; people are facing a lot of problems in travelling.” Along the way he picked up a few more who belted out a slew of blessings on him. I drifted off to sleep but was jolted back to wakefulness by a hoarse cough from a fellow passenger.
The car kept moving towards my destination, and finally it reached there. No sooner than I alighted from the vehicle, a policeman enquired, “Where have you come from?” “Srinagar,” I curtly said.
The announcement of Amit Shah’s deed had been made while I was walking towards my home. Snatches of the conversations I overheard on the way brought home to me the significance of what had transpired even before I entered my village.
The eyes of my mother brimmed with tears no sooner than she spotted me in our courtyard.