I prayed and prayed and I prayed hard. I bowed more times in front of Allah than I got up. Life was difficult, living was difficult, breathing was difficult, walking was difficult, sleeping was difficult. I would wake up with nightmares, either my head getting blown off by an assault rifle, either a tank blew me away with just a bang. Although, in reality it’s hard to see any bullets coming through the gun but in dreams, I see everything in slow motion. One-by-one the bullets bursting in my body and I would wake up wish a rush.
I had nightmares of my brother screaming for help. Save me! Save me! He would scream, I couldn’t really do anything. And that’s what life had become in Kashmir after the 99 war. I saw more dead bodies than people alive, but I never really realised one thing, did having faith helped me or got me more in trouble? But I prayed 5 times in a day, sometimes more, sometimes less.
21st May, 1990
Nobody really knew Kargil till then, except the Indian Army and bunch of us, at least that’s what I think. The news of Indian soldiers tortured to death by Pakistani’s spread across faster than the fire catching a forest. That day, the school was dismissed and there was chaos in the city. So many green cars, uncountable army men, and the noise, so much noise. Something bad is going to happen, but what, that is the mystery.
I reach home and Ammi(mother) looks relieved to see me.
“Thank God, you’re home,” she says, “Idul and Hasan went looking for you.” My two elder brothers: Idul was the eldest, Hasan the middle one, and I was the youngest. But I didn’t see them anywhere.
Its twilight, sun sets early in my town, my brothers haven’t arrived yet and Ammi and I are worrying, as we hear loud noises of fireworks. The time is passing slowly; every minute feels like an hour, hour feels like a year.
Loud thumping bang appear from the door, “Open the door, open the door, open the door,” Idul was screaming from the top of the lungs. I rush downstairs and mom follows.
“Who’s it?” Ammi asks.
“It’s me Ammi, open the door fast,” Idul screams.
I unlock the door, and it’s Idul with his hands soaking red in blood and the kurta soaking in blood, he’s holding the front of his kurta, like someone is holding a baby. It looks like he’s hiding a gun and indeed it was, an Ak-47 hid inside the kurta. Now, that I think about it, I don’t know he managed to pull this off, not getting caught by Army men, they were everywhere.
Ammi goes running after him, “Where’s Hasan? WHERE IS HASAN?” She inquires angrily.
Idul drops the gun out of his kurta and cries like he never did, from his throat, lungs, bottom of his stomach, he was in pain. And a panic strikes to both Ammi and I.
I can’t breathe, Ammi keeps asking where’s Hasan, every time harder, from the top of her lungs.
Idul takes a heavy breathe, trying to calm himself down, to get some composure. “He’s no more Ammi, he’s no more,” he says and holds Ammi from her legs.
Her mouth starts shivering, flaring nostrils, eyes filled with tears, but she doesn’t say anything. I’m in shock, and the only thing I can picture right now is he getting shot, my mouth is open and I really don’t know what to say. It’s not the first time I’m hearing such news, but I never really thought something like this will occur to my brother.
She sits down quietly on the floor. “Where’s his body,” she finally asks. “Behind the mountain range Ammi, It’s my fault Ammi, it’s my fault Ammi, forgive me Ammi, it’s my fault,” Idul cries and cries and cries.
“What happened?” she asks quietly.
“When we reached the school, it was closed. We were hearing loud noises, so I asked Hasan if he’ll come with me to see what’s happening. It’s only my fault Ammi.”
“Then what happened,” I ask.
“And then he went ahead of me running faster than me to the mountain, I stopped to take a breath, and something came our way, Idul was looking at it and it just blew.”
That image of my brother blown away by a bomb was something I can’t take off from my mind. May he rest in peace, I close my eyes and say little prayer. Because what I’ve been taught is that death is inevitable, and sooner or later we’re all going to die but it doesn’t have to be painful, I wonder if getting bombed is painful or is it a quick death. I close my eyes and hope it was a quick demise, not painful. He will always be my brother, who’s closer to God now.
Idul doesn’t stop crying, more than the brother passing away it’s the regret of not being able to help, standing there and watching, and not being able to do anything. No 17 year old is supposed to see that: first father gets lost and nowhere to be found, then taking the responsibility of being the man of the house, seeing his little brother bombed. Forget 17, it’s too much for a 27, 37, 47, or a 97 year old.
“Where did you get this gun from?” Ammi asks.
“I found it.”
“On the way down from the mountains,” he says, sweeping off his tears.
With flaring nostrils, clenched jaw, Ammi holds him by his hair and slaps him hard. And by hard I mean, hard, not a girly slap, the kind of slap that break jaws. He starts lamenting and I can’t understand what’s really going on.
“Where did you got this?” Ammi screams this time, “don’t you dare lie to me boy. WHERE DID YOU GOT THIS?”
“Khalid chachu,” he says and stare at his toes.
“That bloody ba***rd.” She nabs the gun from Idul. “I’ll be back, just don’t move from here.”
“Don’t go Ammi, don’t go outside Ammi, don’t go,” we scream and scream loud.
And she never came back, I don’t know what happened to her, nobody ever found out. One-by-one, three of my family members went missing, things aren’t supposed to end this way. There should at least be an admonition or may be an omen, but I guess life doesn’t work this way, you don’t get no warning, things happen and that’s it, deal with it, learn to let go, move on. I’ve heard so many people telling me to move on, but they don’t tell you is: does it get better?