October 1947, Peer Bagh, And A Run In Dark

Abdul Aziz Khan. KO Photo by Zeenish Imroz

As Pakistani tribals were countered by Indian army in the fall of 1947, Kashmir Valley became a competing war-turf where natives passed through terrible times. Recalling one such time, 74 years later, an octogenarian recounts his traumatized 11-year-old avatar caught in the throes of nascent strife.

By Zeenish Imroz

RUNNING fingers in his snow-white beard, thoughtful Abdul Aziz Khan recalls his childhood lingering memory with a sense of deep anguish.

It was a historic huff, he recalls, forcing his tribe of simpletons to abandon their homes after troops were flown in sorties. When the same gunners shadowed their shelter, he saw an impending danger staring at them.

“Hiding from those gunners in an abandoned home, we were maintaining a dead silence before my year-old sister started crying,” octogenarian Aziz recalls his personal history of the bloodcurdling fall of 1947.

“One of the men hiding with us asked my mother to choke her baby to death but fortunately she fell asleep in a few seconds.”

Today, Aziz says, his sister wouldn’t have been alive if she hadn’t slept at that time. “My mother immediately covered her with her scarf,” he recalls. “When the army retreated, we heard the cries of a woman begging for her life!” How was that woman, Aziz could never know.

Today, his wizened face can’t conceal the heart of the eleven-year-old boy who would run in the streets of Lal Chowk abuzz with young and old buying colourful sugary snacks from hawkers outside the Palladium Cinema in the middle of the night.

The wrinkly smile and sparkling eyes were sleekly portraying the lively era Aziz has since longed for. A colourful canvas that was scraped of the cheerful tint. But soon, his birthplace, a center of trade, politics or cinema culture would become a war theatre, where some self-styled militia would parade with wooden weapons.

By the fall of 1947, as the sub-continent was profusely bleeding due to partition trauma, Lal Chowk had started getting the whiff of the lethal air. The streets, as Aziz recalls now, wore deceptive calm. But to feed their sense of security, people would guard their doors with heavy grinding stones called kanz.

Aziz’s mother Raja Begum was a lean lady who would religiously wear a black Afghani Burqa. She had to leave their house in Koker Bazar because of property dispute amid heightened tensions in the city and live with her maternal family in Peer Bagh where the scenario was all the more devastating.

An area falling in the close range of airport, Peer Bagh had already seen the arrival of the Sikh regiment airlifted to Kashmir on October 27, 1947. “People were running away from their homes, to save themselves from the torment of the hostile soldiers,” he recalls. Aziz and his family were also forced to run away.

Walking the whole night in darkness in a group of 20, they reached Gooyrpur, where they took shelter inside an abandoned house upon seeing stern soldiers.

“We saw copper bowls filled with rice and egg-and-tomato dish left untouched by the inhabitants who had abandoned their home to save their lives,” Aziz recalls.

“As army entered the premises of that house, a dog barked at them. He was shot dead instantly. It instilled a great terror in our hearts. One of those soldiers climbed to the attic and screamed, ‘O Prem! There is no one here!’

Some thirty minutes later, Aziz and others saw a multitude of Kashmiris, crying and carrying utensils on their head. They were running for their lives. Aziz and his family began the journey with this large group at night again and reached Changund.

“The soldiers would enter houses and let loose the terror for no reason,” Khan recalls. “My maternal uncle wearing a long pheran was mistaken as a Kashmir Pandit. He was left untouched, but forced to steal poultry from the coops of the abandoned Muslim homes.”

After a month, Aziz, along with his family, returned to his home in Peerbagh. He saw desolated poultry coops and roaming cattle in deserted farmlands. “Even people’s horses were taken for a ride by soldiers,” he says.

Broken and burnt by all the suffering, people would present their grievances to their leader, Sheikh Abdullah.

During the leader’s Budgam visit, he was cut short by the locals and appraised how their irrigation canal in Peer Bagh was diverted by army to fulfill their needs.

When an old man came forward to talk to him, Aziz says, “the angry Abdullah shouted at him, ‘Do I need you or the army?’

Following that, he says, the ‘tallest leader’ snatched the old man’s walking stick and beat him to the ground.

“Since then,” Aziz laments, “Kashmiris are facing the same ruthless treatment.”

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