The first thing I saw was her hand. Dainty – holding a placard which said, “where are our dear ones?” Then more of her emerged into the front. The wholesome face, deep eyes ready to flow with tears through her soft cheeks and her hair veiled with a cotton scarf.
If there ever was a concern for someone, this was it. I flung my half-finished ice-cream into the dirt filled road, and realised my direction had changed. I was transported. I was now one among the swarm of people who had come to listen to the Iron Lady of Kashmir, Parveena Ahanger.
This was in the first half of April 2016. Parveena Ahanger had just come to Srinagar’s Pratap Park, Lal Chowk, to protest against the enforced disappearance of children, accompanied by the parents who had faced a similar loss. Indian troops had forcibly taken their sons in custody.
After that first glimpse, I became her devoted follower and a well-wisher. I sat in the front row with some people and started listening carefully to her so as not to miss a single word. Behind me, I could see people of different ages also teetering, but listening carefully as the Iron Lady talked about her tragedy. Emotions ran high during these hours. The parents cried and some even fainted during the 2-hour-long sit-in protest.
As the protest wore on, my 16-year-old self was consumed with anger against India. Simultaneously, I also started asking the question: how to get Parveena ji to notice me and talk to me amidst the crowd of people? After all, I fervently wanted to see a smile on her face!
When she concluded the protest, I made up my mind to meet her. I started thinking of ways to meet her. I didn’t want to meet her like a stranger, but like her own son. But how? In the meantime, people had already started moving out of the park, while I still sat at the same spot.
After searching the park for someone who could help me, I spotted my friend chatting with the Iron Lady. I thought that I could meet her if my friend introduced me to her. As I walked towards him, I started making sounds so that he would notice me.
All of this seemed to be in vain. Finally, I succeeded. At first, he gave me a peculiar look – and then, suddenly he greeted me. I was not interested in his greetings – I just wanted him to introduce me to Parveena ji, who is lovingly called Jiji. No sooner had we begun chatting than Parveena ji went to sit under a big tree with other activists who had been a part of the protest. They probably had some matters to discuss.
I was sad. She had moved away. I felt everything was going wrong for me.
I started pricking my legs with my fingers, punishing myself for missing the chance. My friend started asking me about my studies. To me, it all seemed worthless – till he asked me if I knew Parveena ji. I replied, “Ya .. I mean, I want to meet her.” Just a few broken words – and he took me straight to Parveena ji and introduced me to her as his younger brother.
Then, I was no longer a stranger to her. She asked me to help her get up. She hugged and kissed me – just like a mother does to her child. The moment she hugged me, I closed my eyes and started speaking to her in my mind, “Mother – don’t worry! I am with you in your fight against injustice.”
I basked in her undivided attention for a full 15 minutes – much longer than the time I had seen spending with others in the park. I cried to myself during the entire time I spent with her. When I sat down, I congratulated myself. I had done a good job. Finally, I had met her!
As the months passed, I started frequenting the office of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) – sometimes to get their annual calendar, sometimes to check out the date for their upcoming protests, but mostly hoping to meet Jiji. But I have always failed. I never had the chance to see her again.
I am still struggling to meet her. Sometimes, I also wonder about the hundreds of students who wish to meet and talk with her.
She is inspiring and beloved of us all. I hope to meet her soon!