Archive for December, 2016

A day in the life of kashmiris

Posted: December 3, 2016 in Uncategorized

“Toh Shabbir, aap kya chahatehain, Kashmir Bharath ke hi rahe ya Pakistan ke hojayein?” I asked Shabbir, my cab driver during our tour of ten days in Kashmir. We were on our way to the foothills of Gulmarg. He smiled, shrugged and said ‘ what I want or don’t want doesn’t matter me’m saab, no one asks us ‘. There! Yet another time he had dodged my question- I grinned.
Ladies and gentlemen, what came next turned out to be the most unforgettable 15 hours of my life.
Suraj and I trekked Gulmarg uphill for over 6 km, scaling all the way to its summit and got back to the foothills on horses back.
There had been a rumour all of that day that the riots could begin any time with no confirmed reports.
We had to drive 56km, all the way back to Srinagar and were glad our Gulmarg trek went well without any hitch. Shabbir started driving back, while we removed our jackets and gum boots, trying to get comfortable In the back seat.
Suddenly, Someone out of nowhere threw a fire lit tyre right into the middle of the road. Shabbir brought the taxi to a sudden halt, safely pulled up to a side and frowned as he announced- RIOTS HAVE INDEED BEGUN. The clock showed 3 pm. After 4 hours of trekking uphill and 2 hours downhill on horse back, we had not even had our lunch.
Shabbir took an inside route that would connect to the highway, assuming in all probability, that the route will be open. After driving for 50 whole minutes, we did see the highway ahead at about 200 meters away, but our path was blocked by huge tin cans dipped in kerosene and torched up. We saw a man making an attempt to move them, enough to let his taxi pass. I told Shabbir that we should help him too, so we can sneak out as well. But Shabbir gave a firm NO. He decided to drive all the way back, so we drove for another 50 min, now back to square one! My mind kept telling me that Shabbir didn’t really care and was just wasting time.
As we joined so many other taxies treading their way through, only a few meters at a time, we reached a junction where there were a bunch of hooligans, standing and waiting across the road, ready to throw boulders at anyone who dared to drive past. I saw Shabbir get down and speak to one of those guys for 5 min, occasionally chuckling. I was stunned! I was convinced that Shabbir is one among them- Just another con man making money out of India tourism but an outlaw supporting the miscreants. As we finally managed to steer past these hurdles and hit the Srinagar highway at around 6 30pm, it was evident that the protests on the highway were very severe, with mob spanning every half kilometre, waiting with gunny bags filled with stones,weapons and kerosene ready. The road of the highway ¬†itself was donned with fire and soot, with flakes of carbon lingering in the air, smelling of kerosene everywhere. All the tourists vehicles including ours entered an abandoned petrol bunk and waited there, judging too well that driving through that highway was nothing short of digging our own grave. Just as we began to discuss restlessly amongst ourselves, we saw a huge military convoy pass by. A ray of hope?! Every single vehicle waiting at the petrol bunk now quickly sneaked into the convoy since it was known that no one would throw stones at the military convoy. But We were the only ones remaining. Shabbir had refused, despite me begging him to join the convoy till the moment had passed, and the convoy was out of sight. I was worried we would get stranded through the night. I was now out of my wits. “Shabbir, what the hell do you think you are doing? Exactly what is your intention? Do you even want to help us and get us back safe to Srinagar?” I yelled at him.
Just as Shabbir, not losing his composure, had begun to explain that our safety is foremost on his mind, something unbelievable happened. The buses and other tourist vehicles that had sneaked in through the convoy came rushing back at once to the petrol station. We were shocked to see that ALL the vehicles were severely damaged. They say riots are the language of the unheard, and that day, Suraj and I got a first hand view of a typical riot scene- All window panes broken, one of the drivers lip cut because of hurling of stones at the windows, the stepney wheel of a TataSumo splashed with kerosene and lit up, and a whole bunch of tourists with glass pieces stuck in their hair, bleeding here and there….
I began to carefully pluck glass out of people’s hair and forehead, while Suraj and Shabbir doused the fire on the stepney wheel of Tata sumo, and tended to the severely wounded drivers. Those miscreants had obviously spared the convoy but had clearly aimed for these tourist vehicles and busses.
Amidst what seemed like mayhem to me, I couldn’t make time to express a word of gratitude for that presence of mind and thoughtfulness Shabbir had exhibited at that moment when he decided to NOT join the passing convoy, for, I was busy giving first aid for the injured.
Finally, at 10 30pm, Shabbir drove us back safely to the hotel, arranged for food to be parcelled and delivered to us and left.
That was the last day of our tour and we never got to see Shabbir again.
My words of gratitude remained unsaid. the next day, we took the flight back to Bangalore.
On the occasion of new year’s eve, 2 months later, we wrote him a thank you letter along with new year wishes and shabbir in return had sent his family picture with new year greetings written at the back of it. I still have that picture with me. His children, as beautiful as their home land itself, happily
 pose for a photo with sparkle in their eyes oblivious to the world of uncertainty and chaos around them.
As I lead a life of comfort here, I can’t help but think of the lives of kashmiris dreaming year after year, for a life, that is NOTHING but normal.