It was a usual day. I was waiting for my brother, a student of class 3, to come back home from school. It was just two days back that an exchange of fire between militants and CRPF personnel (Central Reserve Police Force) had taken place right outside my brother’s school. I had forgotten about it, as such incidents have become a regular feature in Kashmir these days. I hardly thought that my brother would know about it. What would a child, merely 8 years old, know about such grave issues around him? Or was I wrong in thinking so?
As soon as he came back from school, he asked me for yesterday’s newspaper. This being unusual behaviour for him, I asked him why he was looking for the newspaper. He didn’t say anything – just that he wanted to show me something that he couldn’t speak of. Something that had happened in his school. With the kind of news about child abuse and drug use doing the rounds, I was a little worried about what it was that my brother wasn’t comfortable speaking about. Did he know of a child abuse incident or was it something else? My mind, like radar, went in all directions trying to assimilate information that would help me know what exactly it was that he wanted to show me. In that moment, I thought of myself as a ‘Sherlock Holmes’ in the making.
The day passed like this but I couldn’t find the newspaper. Finally, I found it lying under the rice cooker in the kitchen. I felt lazy, and told my brother that though I had found the paper for him, he had to make an effort to get it himself.
My brother did not go for the newspaper. He somehow mustered the courage to tell me about the incident. It was something I had not imagined of or thought about. Something that should have come to my mind instantly but for some reason my brain decided to filter out this piece of information as irrelevant. After my brother had narrated the entire incident, I opened the newspaper and saw a picture of a class 3 student hit by a bullet in her leg in the crossfire that took place two days back outside my brother’s school. The picture showed her lying on a hospital bed with a plastered leg. I asked my brother to come and see the girl in the newspaper but he refused to even hold the newspaper in his hand, let alone see the picture. He then told me that this girl, who now lay immobile on the hospital bed, was his seat partner (a term he used to refer to the person sitting next to him in class). I then remembered that my brother had been talking to me about her a few days back. He had told me that he always thought that this girl resembled me because she was plump, like me, and that she always reminded him of me. Today the same girl will be devoid of the pleasures of her school life for a considerable period of time, till she fully recovers from the accident, both physically as well as psychologically.
All this made me wonder what kind of a life these children of the valley are living. This is one of the numerous incidents that have made me think about the psychological effect of the turmoil on children. But this one incident has been more powerful than any other. Maybe because this time I could see its effect on my own little brother. Had the bullet hit the young girl in any other vital organ, what would her life be like – if she lived at all? What effect would such an event have on my brother, to see his friend, who always sat beside him, so badly injured? We may pass off all of these questions by calling this a one-off incident that children might soon forget about. But the question remains – will they? Children, like adults, will carry on with their lives, playing around and enjoying it, but we cannot deny the impact such incidents leave on their tender minds. Maybe not consciously, but unconsciously, these incidents definitely shape the lives that these young children will grow up to lead. Knowingly or unknowingly, we are trampling upon the buds before they can turn into beautiful flowers. We are cutting off the wings of the butterfly and expecting it to soar high. The atmosphere of fear and tension that these children of the valley are growing up in will surely scar their malleable minds and their sensitive souls.
I so dearly wish I was Hermione from “Harry Potter”. I would then travel back in time and erase all the sour memories from the minds of these beautiful children and push them towards a better life, the one that they deserve to live.