25 October 2019, Kupwara, Indian-administered Kashmir.
Slithering through the endless roadblocks and carefully avoiding the prominent military check posts, I furtively moved towards the bus stop.
The air smelt fusty from months of forced lockdown. The usual inviting smells and sights of the golden autumn seemed to have blurred into a stunned paralysis. The perpetual state of communications curfew and the intimidating footprint of the armed forces had gagged the otherwise rambunctious Kashmiri autumn into a morbid lull.
I moved forward resolutely. No leader, no extremist, I was just a passionate journalist who believed in the power of my pen. Just like the complaining red chinar leaves crunching noisily under my feet, I too was determined to oppose. The bag on my back pulsated red. It had the heartbreaking video of eight-year-old Amin with a bleeding eye hit by a marble during police clashes. It also had the mourning cries of a mother, lamenting the death of her young son during an overnight military operation. The world needed to hear and see the pain that brewed in the heavily anesthetized Kashmir. Something the government had deliberately choked by imposing a complete communications blackout after the abrogation of the Article 370. An acquaintance travelling out of the city had promised to hand carry my pen drive and deliver it to the International free press office in New Delhi.
“Janaab! (sir)” A sharp voice halted me.
A sturdy police officer blocked my way. “Show us your bag!” He snapped.
“Janaab, these are just some vegetables. I am in a hurry, please let me go.” I pleaded unsuccessfully.
Whack! A burly hand shook me off balance.
The proximity of the 100-watt bulb hanging overhead burnt me out of my stupor. I struggled to open my sore, blackened eyes. Hazing into some form, I saw the silhouette of a police officer sitting across the table. He slid a glass of water forward. As the healing water slid down my parched throat, I could feel life trickling back.
“Ghulam Ali, the fiery journalist.” Announced the officer, playfully tossing my ID card between his fingers.
“Janaab, my bag?” I pleaded for my rights.
“Come and take your laptop and camera from the police station tomorrow. Bade Saab (officer) needs it. You can leave now,” directed the officer.
I gathered my offended self and stumbled my way home. Not only had they robbed me of my professional voice but also bruised my ego by their militant assertiveness.
I contemplated taking up the overseas job and moving to New York. My voice and pen would be free there. I stood at the crossroads, staring listlessly.
Roads stretched many, tranquil and still,
Yet I chose the dark one uphill,
A decision easy, quick to make,
Why must I detour, wander and fake?
If the place I wanna go is home,
Then there is only one, on which I wanna roam.
I paused, smiled and walked on the dark, lonely road leading home.
Connect with Penmancy:
Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!