On an exceptionally hot Saturday morning, my friends and I were on our way to a village. We wanted to explore the place and trek its mountains. We stopped a few kilometres away and bought some junk food and bottles of soft drink and mineral water. All of us were excited about the trip and scared too because a friend who had visited the village a few weeks prior to us had told us that he was chased by an army contingent and was labelled as a militant. The army personnel had shouted at him, “You are a militant, stop!” He said that it was his luck that his urgent steps towards the main road saved him from those who he called aliens.
As we came close to our destination, the fear started to accompany us. It was our love for the place that kept us going. We looked around to make sure that there was no army personnel in the area. The speed of our vehicle reduced, we were finally at our destination.
We parked our vehicle at what seemed like a parking area and looked for a place to sit and eat. For a while, we forgot about what our friend had told us and started to enjoy ourselves. We ate our food and felt blessed to have been born in a place that felt like paradise at the time. We were surrounded by mountains and rushing water that flowed at a distance. We were happy and wanted to stay there for the rest of our lives.
But how could happiness exist in a conflict-ridden place?
We forgot that we lived in a place where anyone can be killed at any time.
When we began our trek, we took pictures of a herd of sheep. We clicked pictures of everybody that we met on our route. We clicked pictures of each other. We were happy.
But as soon as we stepped on to the next track in order to reach the top of the mountain, a friend got a call from home. It was a call of disappointment.
As soon as he took the call, I felt that he stopped. We were curious and questioned him about it.
We got to know that the top Hizbul Mujahideen commander Sabzar Ahmad was shot dead in south Kashmir’s Tral area. People from every corner of the Valley mourned his death and protested against the killing of the militant leader. I was shocked to hear the news of Sabzar’s death.
We were in our trekking gear and only thought about reaching the top. But this sudden news made us tensed. The excitement was ruined. We felt sad.
Our parents and siblings called one after another, just to ensure our safety. We called close associates to know about the situation at city centre and the adjoining areas. We were told that the situation is at its worst and that we should go home as soon as possible.
We retraced our steps. We rode back home. Everyone seemed disappointed. Anything that came by, refused to take away our worry. We were lost in our own thoughts.
We reached the main road that showed our way home. It was densely surrounded by tall trees at its peripheries. I searched the road for people who I had seen that morning. Everything was shut down and I only saw the grey smoke of tear gas shells which covered the beautiful Himalayan sky. I didn’t see any of the policemen or the mourners, just lumps of smoke that were everywhere.
Soon, gun sounds got our attention. We were on the road, all by ourselves. Amid the gun shots, anti-India slogans surrounded us. The intensity of the protests by mourners got higher. The armed forces, in return, answered with gunshots, tear gas shells and everything that was capable of an explosion.
On the alternate road that we took to reach home, we heard many people shout different slogans on the way. We heard slogans like:
“Bharat Teri Maut Aayi”
“There Is Only One Solution; Gun Solution Gun Solution”
“Tum Kitney Jawan Maroge Har Ghar Se Jawan Niklega”
But the most repeated slogan was the one asking for freedom:
“Hum Kya Chahtey – Azadi!”