Srinagar: Portrait Of A City Under Siege

A gaggle of geese flocked in a majestic formation on the banks of Lake Dal facing the setting sun which  casts an orangeish hue on the lake forms an eerie and surreal spectacle. 
Mesmerized I stop my motorbike and gazed at the majestic geese. The moment is eerie: I stand hypnotised. The geese in their formation exude an aura of grace, peace and equipoise. I am transposed to a different world. There is inner peace and a warm feeling within me but only for a moment. The gaggle of geese and the peace is an illusion as ephemeral as the breaking of their formation. 
The hypnosis is broken as an army vehicle passes by.
I am hit by reality- the reality of Kashmir on day 27th of the curfew and protests that hit Kashmir after Burhan Wani’s killing. 
It is the reality that hit me as I left home early morning for the hospital where my Grand Ma was to be operated upon. 
This reality is of chaos, anarchy and absence of peace that defines Kashmir.
I leave home at 7 am. 
The dithering over whether to travel in my car or motorbike is settled in favor of the motorbike: it is easier to maneuver through the maze of alleys, lanes and by lanes if I drive into a stone pelting matching between protesters and the paramilitary forces.
I am stopped at Soura by the police. The way to the hospital (JVCM Bemina) is blocked; the police is not letting anyone pass through.
I take a detour- right through the heart of down town- a dangerous route given that the down town including the rural areas is the centre of gravity of protests. I arrive at Zadibal where I am stopped by the paramilitary forces who ask me to return. One of the paras looks at me intently and after getting to know that I am a journalist tells me: “why did not you tell me you were a journo? You can go now”.
I drive my motor bike through a town that looks like a ghost town; there is virtually no movement of people or traffic except for very few people huddled together on shop fronts (called vane pyend in Kashmiri and where public opinion gets formed here). They are poring over newspapers and exchanging news, rumour and gossip I think as I pass by. I am stopped again at Alamgiri Bazaar. I am wiser now. I flash my press card before the paramilitary personnel ask me questions. They let me go.
The inner part of Alamgiri bazaar is as deserted as the portions of town I have driven past.
An ambulance, perhaps carrying the injured or sick,  passes by and arrive at the Eid Gah- the massive ground where Kashmiris living in the city offer prayers on Eid Days. The Eid Gah is empty and wears a deserted look.  As I drive past Eid Gah, I notice a group of teenagers. They flash me and I stop. “ Where are you going,” they ask? “ I have to attend to my Grand Mother who is slated to undergo surgery today”, I answer”.  They look at me intently , look at each other , mutter something and say: “ You can go”.
A man frantically waves at me beckoning me to stop. He is middle aged. “ Please don’t drive straight past this road. The police just beat up a couple of motorcyclists. Take a detour and drive through that lane”,  the ,man says while making motions.
I drive through lanes, bylanes and then the main route and finally arrive at the hospital.
I park my bike and walk towards the “ emergency” section- the portion of the hospital which is meant  as a first point of contact for the critically injured or ill. As I negotiate with the person manning the gate, I notice a young boy, head covered in bandages and pock marks of pellets shot by the paramilitary forces at protestors on his face. The boy is badly injured but he does not seem to be cowed down or frightened. Curious I walk to him and ask: “ what happened?” Well Sir, the boy responds, this happened to be while I was fighting the police”, in a polite but firm tone or even in a defiant tone. The boy is accompanied by his worried mother who trundles him into a car.
I amble towards the ward where my grand ma is waiting for her turn to be operated upon.
There are many patients there. One young boy is nursing a wound- a bullet had grazed his body barely missing his vital parts. He is joking and in a good mood. I enquire the reason for/of his injury: “ shit happens Sir”, he tells me and continues conversing with a fellow patient.
It is now my grand ma’s turn to be operated upon. I and my extended family wait outside the Operation Theatre(OT). A young man, an engineer strikes a conversation with me. Among other things he asks, “ what will happen  in Kashmir now Sir? I profess ignorance as his and my eyes wander to another young injured protester ambling out of the OT. We chit chat.
“Begum Ayesha”, yells an OT attendant. Who is with Begum Ayesha?, ‘ he enquires in a stentorian tone. I am my cousins stand and walk toward the door of the OT. Our grand ma’s operation has been successful. She is still under the effect of the anesthesia. We push her stretcher trolley towards the ward. My aunts wipe off their tears and congratulate each other.
Grand Ma looks weak but seems relieved at the same time. 
After a while, my cousin approaches me and says, “ let’s have lunch”.
We walk towards the canteen. I meet an acquaintance. He looks worried and crest fallen. “ You know, some ATM guard has been killed by the paramilitary forces on his way back home yesterday night. He was innocent”, my acquaintance adds. “ Down town Srinagar is up in arms now. If and when you go home, please don’t drive through down town”, he counsels.
I offer my thanks and pass on this information to my extended family.  “ How will we return home now?, “ is the refrain amongst them now. “ We will have to wait till night“, says my oldest cousin. No one demurs.
We chit chat and walk back to the ward where my grand mother is.
I am tired and feel like returning home despite the danger. My cousin argues with me but gives up and counsels taking a longer but presumably loner route- not through down town. I bid good bye to all, kick start my bike and take a different route home till I arrive at the portion of Lake Dal where I am awestruck by the gaggle of geese.
As  the gaggle breaks up, I laugh an ironical and bemused laugh. Its an illusion”, I think aloud. “ I am projecting my desire for peace and calm onto a situation  that defies both”, I think.
Sad and morose, I kick start my bike and head home.

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