Soon after Ashok and his family left for Jammu, many more Kashmiri Pandits followed their footsteps. By the Mid-spring most of my KP neighbors had left for an alien land. “Raina’s” and “Dhar’s” had gone, so had “Saproo’s” , “Tickoo’s” and “Bhat’s”.My family and the “saraf’s” were the only KP family left in our neighborhood. Most of the time I and my family members were confined indoors because of the activities of the militants and also because Army was patrolling our area almost 24*7. The peal of the neighborhood temple Bell too was silent.
Hamida was still visiting me, though not that frequently. Her wits were still alive, but I could feel something amiss in her normal behavior. One fine day, I asked her , “Hamida, from last few days, I am feeling as if you are not your usual self. Is everything O.k?” She nodded her head in disapproval and said, “Nothing! I am just fine.”, and looked straight in my eyes. Then something happened. She held my hand and pulled me up from the Sofa. “come to the next room, I want to tell you something” she said. Ever since she had told me about the incidence of Ashok; I took every word of her seriously. And then she whispered, “Everything is not fine Didda, things are becoming worse and I doubt It will get only worst. Shabbir, my brother, has advised me not to meet you or any other KP for that matter.” I asked, “But why?”. “Read between the lines, Didda. You are my dear friend and I don’t want anybody to harm you or your family. I think you too should move out of the valley for the time being” said she in a pensive mood. And she left immediately after that. I never saw her after that.
I had to get curd from the “Ismail goor”(Ismail-the milkman).His shop was hardly 100 meters away from my house. I was thinking about my last interaction with Hamida. It was around noon. Ismail’s son Khalid was rolling down the shutters of his shop. I said to him, “ Don’t roll down the shutters, first give me half a Kg of curd.”He said in a rude tone, “Didda, go back to your home quickly.”And looked at me. His looks were threatening. I almost ran back to my house.I was angry at Khalid. My late father had taught him to read and write. He had given him free tuitions and helped him to secure a Govt. Job. He was like a family member to us all. During all these years he had never ever misbehaved with me.
As, I was thinking about the incidence, I heard a loud deafening explosion outside. I ran out to see what happened! I could only see dust and smoke at a distance .My younger brother Ramesh was running from the opposite direction. He held my hand firmly and almost dragged me back to our house. Without my asking, he said, “A bomb exploded just near “Ismail Goor’s” Shop. I was bewildered and scared.
By the evening, everything was normal. I still hadn’t bought curd. I was someone, who would not eat a meal without curd. I went again to the shop of Ismail. The shutters were still down. I decided to go to Ismail’s house and get the curd. His house was just 50 meters away from my house and I had gone there “N” number of times. He had a cowshed at the ground floor of his house and I directly went inside the shed. I shouted “Khalid, Ismailsaab, are you there?”. Khalid quickly came from nowhere. Anger was written all over his face. He pushed me back as he said, “ you mad girl ! what are you doing here. Get out of here.” Even during this commotion, I clearly saw at least 6 strange faces, ducked in between the bovines. It looked as if they were in a hiding. I came back disappointed. During night, I could not sleep for a long time. I was thinking about Hamida, Khalid and the bomb blast.
It was a moonlit night. And Sleep was still miles away. I opened the window of my room .My room was on the first floor and the windows opened towards the compound. The compound was flanked on two sides by our neighbor’s houses . There was an eight foot high by two feet wide wall securing our compound just opposite my room. The roof of compound wall was covered with slanting tin sheets, so that the snow will not accumulate on the top and will fall down smoothly. A cool breeze was blowing outside. The moon looked stunning. I was about to close the window when an image appeared behind the compound wall. I was scared. I hid myself, but I was still peeping outside the window. He was standing on the wall. I could see him clearly. He was a tall guy about 6 feet. He looked more like an Afgani than a Kashmiri. He was talking to someone on the other side of the wall, whom I could not see. I could hear him clearly . He was speaking Afgani or pushto or any other language but Kashmiri. I was scared to death and was sure that they had come to kidnap me.
Suddenly, someone started stoning my house as well as the compound wall. The sound was piercing the silence of the night and was enough to jolt the whole neighborhood and wake them up from their deep sleep. The stoning also alerted the army men outside the street. I could hear the trample of the boots of the armymen. The intruder too got confused and jumped back to the street. I had a sigh of relief.
Next morning, as I was passing by the shop of “Ismail Goor”, I spotted Khalid sitting in his shop. I was angry at him and tried to ignore him. “Didda, come here”, he said. Though I wanted to avoid him, but I still went up to him. He spoke to me in a cautious low voice. “I have been trying to caution you and your family. I cautioned you before the bomb explosion. I wanted you to go out of the cow-shed yesterday as they(militants) were hiding there and could have harmed you. And It was I Didda who stoned your house yesterday to raise an alarm against those Afganis. I am sorry, I could not inform you earlier as I too fear for my and my family’s life. I beg you to leave this place as soon as possible, for your safety and honor. Now leave this place and act as if nothing has happened. You too are under the surveillance of Militants.”I composed my calm, bought my last curd in Kashmir and went back to my house.
I narrated everything to my Brothers and my mother. We all decided to leave ASAP and come back once the things settle. A taxi was arranged by my Brothers. We only took some clothes and some important papers with us. By 7.00p.m we were at Jammu. We went to our Uncle’s place in Talab tiloo, jammu.
23 years have passed by. The return is still elusive. Who would have thought that KP’s as a community will be scattered emotionally and physically all over the Globe. Who would have thought, the alien land will become so familiar that our own motherland Kashmir will look like an stranger to us. But It has happened.
somebody has rightly said “Truth is stranger than fiction”….
Narrated by-Mrs. Seema Kaul(Didda)