Indian paramilitary soldiers stop a Kashmiri woman during curfew in Srinagar, Image from Dawn
DISCLAIMER: The story is pieced together from real occurences, the instance used is real in nature, but it had been ficionalized to some extent; as is required for the creation of a significant piece of art.
The first time I witnessed a war, my eagerness to grow up and do something about it rose to its peak.
I saw a bomb blast when I was ten. I was at school, in my class, writing my diary (yes, I had the company of words even at that time) and suddenly, there was a loud bang, followed by the sounds of glass windows shattering and children screaming.
I sat there like a breathing, living statue, scandalized. Blood flowed freely in my veins, but a weight of sadness weighed down my heart. My teacher quickly, mechanically got up, without a hint of fear or shock and helped each one of us get out of the building that was shook by the blast. We were made to go to the backside of the school and wait there until help came.
I was little, and I did not cry about this incident as much as I should have. I did cry, dear reader, but it was only because I had lost my favourite eraser, and a shoe. This incident still remains intact in my heart.
It was after months that I got to know the details of the terror I had seen so closely. I was told that a car was parked outside of the school gate, filled with explosives. I couldn’t help but wonder at the possibility of the catastrophe that could have struck us, if we did not have a huge playground, seperating our innocence from that horror. As I grew up, that playground became a sacred spot to me.
Later, in defiance, in protest, I saw people getting out on the roads; fighting the repetitive instances of violence, but with graceful steps, without a single weapon in hand- only words on their lips. Honestly, people armed with weapons looked more vulnerable to me.
This reminded me of a line by Ghalib, which says, “Ladte hain aur haath mein talwar bhi nahin,” (Oh God how she fights without even a sword in her hand) which later became something I decided to live by.
The second time I saw bloodshed, I saw innumerable women being unveiled on the streets, though forcefully, but I could see the fire in their eyes and I guess that was when it spread onto me & my Iris started to turn red.
But I was still just a child. I was told that to make a difference, I’d have to leave my homeland that was then stained with blood, to come back armed with the power of knowledge. I couldn’t have compromised with my studies because I really wanted to save my home and all my people. In war, we were all united, you see. All the little differences were wrung out as inaudible complaints.
So, I left my land and went on to wet the soil of another city, which became my home for the next few years. Nobody talked to me about my home. Everytime I recalled, a perfect and unimaginable picture was presented to me; a picture of my streets & the people that it had betrayed was nowhere to be found.
Maybe that’s what living in unintended denial looks like.
I knew I had to return & see it for myself, for my brain was tricking me. I had to return to see what lied behind those concealed images of utopia. I had not yet forgotten my first rendezvous with the horrors of war.
When I came back home, it wasn’t long that I was again acquainted with the same horror for the third time. When it hapened for the fourth time, dear reader, I didn’t see it at all.
I was physically present there, but what I saw did not hold much account. It did not change me as much as the previous encounters had. The violence held lesser and lesser value with each of its succeeding attempts in my presence. It did not hurt my eyes anymore. It did not affect my countenance.
I could sense the immense pain in the air, and yet after a while, I got immune to it; immune to all the restrictions and shackles. Freedom was a luxury now; one that, surprisingly, nobody could afford. It had stopped having the same effect on me as it used to have on me as a child.
I had found reasons and justifications for the dead calmness of my inaction. Nothing could be more painful to human mind than to submit. I bore a hell within me. Yet in the chaos and dismay, I found my resort. I found words; words that could heal my wounds like no medicine ever could, words that could make flowers blossom instantly on the barren land of my homeland, words that gave me a reason to bear days when I was laden with desires to commit myself to my land’s emancipation, but I was deprived of enough hope & faith.
So, instead of planting seeds, now I plant words. I plant words on walls, papers, and even on social media. I sit in that very playground and write. I plant words because they are the only weapons readily available to me. Maybe, they’re the only weapons I was waiting for all my life. Maybe they are my best instruments of war.
And with these words, I will keep practicing my form of rebellion till the time it consumes me.
~ Ismat Ara, 2017