I wake up with a tremour. The fear of flying coupled with a general anxiety about visiting the Valley at this time (after last month’s sojourn..do you blame me?) makes me incredibly nervous. The cab is a little late…the parents are awake and for the first time in a long time, the entire entourage (parents, the help and the dog) come outside to bid me adieu. My hands start to tremble in the cab. ‘It’s a sign…my final goodbye’. ‘Madam T3 jana he?’ asks the cab driver. ‘Haan’. And of course that’s not where I’m supposed to go! Get dropped at T3 and as I get off the cab, I realize I’m at the wrong terminal. Hail another cab…reach the airport, on time thankfully and just keep walking around in a daze. I just can’t seem to calm the nerves. One of my greatest fears in life is…fear. It’s a vicious circle, the minute I start feeling afraid, I become so nervous about the fact that I’m scared that I start behaving incongruous. Trip a few times and only after I buy a few books do I calm down. A few more faux pas later, I am convinced the universe is giving me a sign but I have already boarded the flight.
After visiting Kashmir continually for the past nine years, you would expect more from me, as I would from myself. But over the course of the past year, one has witnessed the growing suspicion towards the Non-Muslim in the Valley. Plus, I’m arriving all alone fifty days after Burhan Wani was killed. So it ain’t going to be a walk in the park. Anyway, share a cab and land up at the same hotel where I stayed last time. After all, I need to be near trouble.
Check in and an hour later I step out into a mild drizzle. The weather is perfect for a nice walk. Though, there’s a lot more vehicular movement most areas are cordoned. It’s an odd mix of normalcy and captivity. Walk towards Yaseen Malik’s territory and get into an argument with an armed personnel. He tries to flex his muscles and I try to pretend I ain’t scared of nobody. We argue for a few minutes and then his companions break up the party. ‘Madam aap aage jaa ke kaam karo.’ I try again and succeed. In the corner sit two men at work. I chat with the Rajasthani workers who have been working in Srinagar for the past sixteen years. ‘ Hume koi kuch nahin kehta yahan par. December tak rahte he. Phir March me vaapis aate hein.’
Take a quick glance at Lal Chowk, which looks as deserted as it did last month and start to make my way towards Badami Bagh. The Joint Resistance leadership was supposed to walk towards the 14 core of the Indian Army at Badami Bagh and though, it’s a little late, I want to go there to see what’s up. Autumn is almost here, the weather is beautiful and without the conflict it would be the perfect place to live. The light drizzle turns into a mild shower and I hail an auto. The movement of traffic is restricted but there are a lot more people around this time. A few pictures here and a few pictures there and I ready to go back. ‘Madam kaun se channel see he aap?’asks the auto driver. I inform him that I am a free lancer. ‘Humari awaaz pohachti he ke nahin?’. ‘Yes, people know what Kashmiris want,’ I tell him.
By this time we have reached my destination but he wants to chat. So while it rains we have a heart to heart sitting in an auto parked outside my hotel. This forty year old auto driver, from the territory of the Mirwaiz has completed Msc. Four of his friends have been missing for over a decade and he himself was imprisoned for a few. ‘Unhone itna mara poocha militant he, mene bola hu,’he confesses. ‘We just want our freedom because we were free in the first place. Both Pakistan and India just want our land and they don’t care about the people. But at least Pakistan doesn’t torture the people of Azad Kashmir. I leave my house at six a.m so that I can earn some money. What can I say to you? Look at our people. Madam is saying the people who were killed didn’t step out to buy milk and toffee. NC, tortured us for many years but I never felt as bad as when I read this. This is the worst kind of betrayal.’ We eventually say goodbye.
I come back to my room and wonder why I was palpitating. That’s till, the announcements, the whistling, the yelling and the hum kya chahte begin. So for now, the light remains on the entire night.