On a rainy day, through a quiet city a woman in red walks around with a bag on her back, occasionally closing her eyes to feel the rain drops on her face. She opens them just as quickly because her heart pounds in her chest. As she does this continually, for a few minutes she feels her self float above to get a bird’s-eye view of the poetic scene. ‘If only it weren’t this tragic!’, she thinks to herself as she meanders through the familiar terrain.
‘Madam, bade dino baad aee he!’, says the security personnel. I’m a bit taken aback but it is their job to notice people like me. I chit-chat with them as I take shelter from the rain. ‘We were sent to Amarnath for a little bit but I’ve just been here ever since.’ ‘Do you think the situation will change around Eid?’, I ask him. ‘Never know with these people…do you know they don’t think of themselves as Indians?’ He’s aghast. ‘I know they don’t!’ That’s my exit. ‘You can’t force them to’, I say as I walk away. A few years ago, I wouldn’t be caught dead chatting with an uniformed man. A few years ago, I wasn’t disrespected by random strangers as I walked around, Srinagar either. In a volatile situation like this-tact is of prime importance and not being a prisoner of your own opinions, is another.
I make my way to the ex assistant’s house where I’m covered in a blanket and fed by his family. People keep walking in and out. There are chickens, kittens and little children in the background. ‘You shouldn’t have come to Kashmir. We worry about your safety. Haalat pehle jese nahin he. Rising Kashmir ki reporter se bhi badtameeze ki he.‘ They show me an article which states that a female reporter was verbally assaulted by the security personnel. I try to change the topic. ‘If the shutdown continues, how will people survive?’ I ask them. ‘ In Kashmir we are always prepared. We keep enough ration in our houses and everybody helps each other out.’ replies my ex assistant’s father. ‘This time around they have to resolve the issue…too many people have been killed. ‘ ‘ Many were killed earlier too and yet it returned towards partial normalcy.’ I reply. ‘ This time it won’t! Go to any area, speak to anyone we all want the same thing.’
An auto drops me in front of the hotel. I cross the road to speak to some fruit vendors. As I do so, my friend Ocean calls. While I chat with him I take a shot of a passerby. The minute I finish my conversation, I am face to face with a cop. ‘Are you a tourist?’ asks the Jk police man politely. ‘No’, I reply. ‘ Then what are you trying to do?’ ‘Nothing,’ I reply. A few customary questions later, I have a question of my own for him. ‘ Sir, why the questioning? There is no curfew today.’ ‘ First we need to know where you’re from. If you’re a local-which you are not, which organisation do you belong to? For all we know you could be from the Millat. If you’re an outsider we need to ensure your safety and inform you to not trust anyone. These days you don’t get to know who is who,’ he replies.
The conversation continues and I am given an insight into the lives of the Jk Police. He shows me an identity card with his photograph on it but it states that he works in a pharmacy. ‘This is for our safety…when we return to our districts we pretend to be someone else. Do you know if I walked into a local hospital, the doctors will not treat me because I am from JKP? We are sitting over here to protect the fruit vendors, so that no one harasses them. But your people can also write that we don’t allow them to work or that we take money from them. ‘ ‘Why the resentment towards the media?’ I ask. ‘Your profession demands that you should be impartial and fair. Show both sides equally but you all don’t do that. Especially, the Kashmiri press always wants to portray us as the bad guys, even when we are trying to help they misconstrue entire episodes. You know all five fingers are not the same. Some uniformed man could be rude to you that doesn’t mean that you will generalise and think we are all the same. Carry on with your work.’ Though, he’s polite and we’ll spoken he seems a bit weary of me. He takes my number and I give it to him knowing not doing so will just arouse his suspicion.
The fruit vendors sit at the crossing outside my hotel window. I see them bustling with energy despite the present circumstance. One agrees to chat with me. ‘For the past few days we have resumed work. We leave our houses at 5.30 in the morning, so that we don’t get into any trouble. The only people who don’t want azaadi are the 5% of the rich, who have houses outside Kashmir. The rest 95% want freedom!’ he states.
A couple of hours later, I receive a message from the cop, asking if I need any help. ‘No thank you,’ I reply politely. My natural instincts forbid me to trust, in haste.