The sweltering sun of July 8th had disappeared into darkness when I reached Sadiqabad (Hazratbal) market where vegetable vendor offered three choices- cucumber, cabbage or cauliflower. I settled on the former one. Barely half an hour later, I was busy preparing dinner when a call from countryside worried me. Burhan Wani, the Hizb Commander, and his two companions were killed in South Kashmir’s Kokernag.
In a matter of minutes, Burhan hogged the twitter. I envisaged the Burhan backlash as I hit the hay. Next morning, there was complete blackout. The customary hustle and bustle had faded. Kashmir was bleeding. Skies were crying. Volatile Valley was counting coffins. The region was painted red. Epitaxis added insult to the injury. After meeting nomadic treatment at Primary Health Centre (PHC), block Hazratbal. I could not find anything to eat for next 24 hours.
In the wee-hours on Sunday morning, I decided to conceive the daunting idea of travelling to Baramulla on foot. With clinical confidence, the athlete inside me defeated the ailment.
One last blank stare at the Rumi gate of Kashmir University infused a sense of insecurity in me. A private vehicle, with broken windshield stopped when I shouted for help. I bid him adieu forever at some anonymous location. From hereafter, I continued my road-race till I reached outside main gate of Government Medical College (GMC), Bemina. An Auto driver charged double the amount for proceeding till Shalteng crossing.
Clueless, I ran zigzagging my way across narrow alleys and link-roads. After treading treacherous tracks, I witnessed boys gassed and stones raining. Amid this bloody exchange, I faked confidence and continued my march. Here, I had a close shave with death.
Amid clashes, I walked a long distance only to reach Narbal. A lorry full of wooden logs came to a screeching halt. The driver asked to sit on the top of it. I swallowed the inconvenience till it reached Mirgund.
Few hundred meters ahead, a posse of joint patrol party was about to pounce on me with bamboo sticks. I shouted at the top of my lungs-“Student”. This ‘magical word’ saved me from the wrath of the angry cops. For a moment, I got blank.
Hurriedly, I unzipped my bag and displayed the O.P.D ticket issued by the above mentioned PHC a day before. I pleaded that I am unwell and can’t walk properly. Hearing this, they all scanned me till I disappeared from the spot. Here, I was directed to follow another route but I knew none. As they geared for the post-lunch pitched battle with children armed with stones on the other side of the fence, I wandered in an unexplored territory, battled to find my way via alien terrains. A visibly panic-stricken lady craned her neck through window and directed a relatively safe passage.
I quickened my pace and after a while I looked back to see if they were following me! Drenched in sweat, I was having my worst nightmares. What if I was bored by pellets! What if they had emptied their hunter guns at my face to disfigure me! My hammering heart skipped a beat. That incident still gives me goose-bumps.
The deafening silence on the deserted streets was palpable. Small groups of paramilitary troops and police wearing riot-gear stood on the either side of the road. The huge contingents with a keen vigil were manning the “spools of concertina blockade” on the roads. Mounds of rocks were used as obstructions on the terror-filled roads to stop the vehicular movement of civilians.
The ‘endangered’ horse-cart (Tonga) had hit the streets after a long lull. At a time when only ambulances were visible on the National Highway (NH-1A), transporting wounded and body bags, only Tonga available worked as a breather. It could not take the sole ‘passenger’ beyond main market Pattan. The eerie silence in the town was disturbed by the sirens of ambulances.
Emotionally charged masked men had installed mini-blockades to ensure zero movement. A mile ahead, loud bang of tear-gas shells and aerial firing forced me to duck down and crawl. I was close to tears but I faked bravado. Trekking the arduous trek, criss-crossing between side-streets, I finally tried to Inhale but could not find my breath. My chest was filled with in terror. The marathon speed forced me to take a hummingbird’s 300 breaths per minute.
The call for mid-day prayers was reverberating from the nearby mosques. Tired from top to toe, I decided to knock the door of a distant relative. Here, the mood had already turned militant. Their melodrama perturbed me for a moment. They huddled inside one room as I entered the house.
When I narrated the ordeal of my “terrible travelogue”, they offered me a hearty meal. I massaged my body with warm salty water to ease muscle spasm. Later, a hot cup of Pink salt tea with freshly baked bread boosted my stamina. Exhaustion evaporated.
A brief hiatus in tear-smoke shelling near restive Palhalan paved way to resume the risky journey. Luckily, a biker who had forgot the otherwise zigzag stopped for me in a filmy style. A loud creak and a cloud of dust billowed in the air. Nonetheless with snail’s pace, I was half-way home after skirting the Curfewed roads when I was joined by a young couple from frontier Kupwara.
Inching home, a twist soured the already gloomy mood. Rowdy stone throwers, waving sticks, intercepted and ‘ordered’ not to proceed ahead till further directions. Their ugly stares and awkward glances made the trio very uncomfortable. Two of them passed lewd remarks when they asked the lady not to listen to a Hindi film song on her phone. It enraged her husband. A minor scuffle generated a noisy debate of ‘Azadi’on the dusty road.
I had to cross the desolate surroundings on way but God was kind enough to send Sonalika tractor for me. Riding on a tractor trolley on a bumpy track like ours is akin to rib-shaking exercise and hip-shaking dance. With the help of hitch-hiking from complete strangers, the day marked by tears, tension and terror came to an end. Street blues continued till sun sank in the horizon. It was my toughest journey so far. The roads were unforgiving out there; bloodhounds and bandits could be seen at every turn.
The route was almost impassable but I managed to reach the desired destination. I knocked at the main door of my home @10 pm, thanked my stars for surviving in unthinkable. I gulped a tumbler full of water and retired to bed, begged sleep to come but insomnia overpowered. Recalling the horror of the day gone by, I tossed and turned, tried to give decent burial to the memory of July 10. Finally my eyelids embraced each other only to depart next morning in a sleepy hamlet far from the buzzing bazaar and bunkered city of Srinagar.