They lived in the same locality and shared the school, the playground and the mounting concerns in the streets. Then the fate separated them. Now, Jibran Nazir is the only one of the three boys left to tell the story about what happened to his two friends
All of a sudden, I felt dizzy and fell down. Unable to stand up, I felt scared as my vision blurred. It was a chilly wind blowing inside me.
“Don’t worry, nothing will happen to you”, somebody whispered in my ears. I recognized the voice. “Is that you, Sajad Bhai?” I responded but words died well before coming out of my mouth.
Deep inside, it shocked me. How can it be him? He is dead, already. I was part of his funeral. I had seen his corpse, mercilessly pierced with bullets, his wrists with marks of a rope, all his fingernails pulled off, his shoulder fractured and the bone piercing out of the flesh and his back with marks of infinite lashes. He had died in an “encounter”, a few years back.
I started feeling a genuine movement. Physically I was being carried somewhere. But I was busy talking to my friends – Sajad and Aatir. “Have you and Aatir solved that Mathematics problem?” Sajad asked me again.
This sentence took me to back 2009, when me and Aatir has requested Sajad to help us solve our math puzzles. He was senior, good at mathematics, served a telecom company and lived a few doors away from ours. Both of us were in tenth class.
At my home, we were in the middle of it when the area was cordoned off. My father came to inform, rather caution, us not to venture out. Sajad was busy solving our puzzles not knowing that the cordon was laid for him. “Don’t worry, it’s a usual thing,” he told us when we became uneasy. “You try to solve this problem,” he advised us while pointing his finger towards a textbook. Unfortunately, those were his last words.
As my father responded to the bangs on the door, he opened it. Somebody was looking for Sajad. He called for him and Sajad left our arithmetic mid-way and went outside.
I saw from the window, three soldiers pouncing on him and bundling him into a Rakhshak. Instantly, the cordon was over. We were dumb-founded. The cordon was lifted.
Later that evening, I saw Sajad’s father along with many local elders returning from the SOG camp. They were told Sajad was arrested for illegally selling out SIM cards to militants.
Finally, Sajad came back, on the ninth day, dead. After his death, he was dubbed a militant. His corpse did the story telling, however.
Two years later, in 2011 Aatir and me were huddled again in the same room, this time preparing for twelfth class examination, that “career-making year”. Aatir was not an ordinary classmate. He was better in his studied and much ahead of me. He would not bunk his classes. I would take his help to manage my studies.
Neighbours apart, me and Aatir had old association. We were going to the same Molvi Sahab for getting Quranic lessons. The strict cleric would never miss severe punishment if his disciples failed to do their homework well. In this class, Aatir was special because he would carry every student on his back so that Molvi Sahab would beat our buts with Aqalnuma, the well-oiled stick, he carried. But Aatr would enjoy a sort of impunity from this punishment because the bulky being could not be carried by any of his classmates on their back!
A good cricketer, we would convert freshly harvested paddy fields into the pitches for a while. It was a lot of cricket in 2010 during curfews. Occasionally when the boys would see a police or a paramilitary truck, the cricket would stop. For a while, it would be stone-pelting. Aatir didn’t pelt stones. He waited for us near the stumps. Once we return the irritated cricketer would usually reprimand us saying: “You don’t fight bullets with stones.”
But that too was gone. Now the valley was normal and schools had resumed. We were busy preparing for our examinations. One evening, we were heading towards the mosque for Maghrib prayers that unexpectedly, we encountered a column of SOG.
They had come for us. They were hunting for stone peletrs. As we saw them, we started running away. They chased us. I jumped across a fence into our neighbour’s compound and hid behind the bushes, but Aatir was caught.
“He never throws stones at you. I did.” I wanted to tell the angry cops. “Please leave him.” But terrified, I saved my shivering self. From behind the bushes, I watched him being thrashed. They took him along.
When Aatir’s family approached the police, they were denied a meeting. His father was worried about his studies and why not; Aatir was a topper in his class. “My son has his final exams of class 12 after few days,” I remember his father saying. “If he will is unable to take the exams, his academic year will be spoiled.” For a week, I did not sleep.
I didn’t see Aatir for almost two years after that. Slapped with Public Safety Act, he spent his complete two years in jail for not pelting stones. He had been sent out of Kashmir.
After a week of his release, I went to see him. He looked different: he had grown his beard, he talked very less, he was weak and his eyes were sunken but blazingly revengeful. He now prayed all five times a day and didn’t play cricket at all.
On the first day of Ramadhan in 2013, a few weeks after his release, I met Aatir when I was coming back from college. I could feel the pain he was suffering, most of all, for having missed his studies while being in jail. We went to offer Maghrib prayers together. I waited till he completed his prayers, I invited him for Iftar meals; I insisted on his coming and he gave in. He ate very little. “I wonder if you were fasting today,” I asked and we went into a long conversation like old days. He started looking into my books. I asked him about his plans to study. He said with a smile, “I have already had better education during last two years of my life.” He left and we never met again.
A week later, Aatir went missing. Soon, it was confirmed that he had joined a militant group. Few months later, he was killed in an encounter.
I remembered all these events. By then, I could hear lot of noise. Miraculously, I felt waking up from a space, as if, located between the two graves of my friends, located just behind the school we went together to. I heard doctor saying that there are no worries as it is just a small wound.
I open my eyes and saw the pandemonium. They were pelting stones again.