A huge thud and Zameer whisks away. The cracker he fired on the stairs of the flat he puts in, jerked the residents of the locality in fear. The landlord was furious and looked for him frantically. ‘He is in the mosque. I saw him running,’ someone disclosed.
However, Zameer was absconding till the fracas cooled down, and everybody went indoors. Late evening as I was watching television news, I hear a mellifluously husky voice, ‘Babijaan, Salaam’. I look around and see a smiling Zameer. I couldn’t show my annoyance at the aggressive prank he had played during the day, creating frightful panic among all of us.
His loving face and childlike demeanor presented a strange persona. With a tray of beautifully laden Shaami Kebab and Afghani Roti in his hands, he displayed the tradition of unmatched tender hospitality.
A 15-year-old Zameer was born and brought up in Delhi, along with his educated family that has its roots in Afghanistan. The youngest boy in the family jells well with the fairly small Kashmiri neighborhood, and in fact, has his bosom school pals from them alone.
‘What do you get by doing this?’ I asked casually. Zameer surprisingly answered in a valiant Afghan tone-‘Phatakha Phodnay Ki Awaaz Ka Maaza He Kuch Aur Hai’. This reply of his, cued up a long conversation with him. I could sense the fury of young Afghan blood, living as a refugee in the Indian capital. There is an underlying anger and fiery that has shaped Zameer’s behaviour and being. His worldview demonstrates the naive antagonism that he holds against all those who have wreaked havoc with the country he belongs to, and which he pathetically craves to return to. From Taliban to US troops, he has his impressionistic tales to tell. He recounts the trauma his parents underwent when they fled Afghanistan because of the belligerence of Russian forces. He narrates the sad story of his elder brother’s wife who missed her studies and career due to rulings of the Taliban. He describes the plight of his sisters who were insecure enough not to venture out for anything. The violent landscape of a strife-torn country that he has not been to, has already made inroads in his psyche. The distinction between apes and kings is well-established. The fighter mood is unwittingly embedded in him.
Zameer likes war games ala crackers. Most of his leisure time goes in playing these games in a nearby net café. A prodigy, he knows a lot about computers and cricket. While fixing my laptop, he tracked a link to a Kashmiri music folder and started humming in joy ‘Khusham-Amad (I like it)’. The reverberations of soft music wore off his stout outlook. There was a singing sweet Zameer behind the veneer of a toddling hardliner.
Somewhere in the course of an International Conference that I was attending in Delhi, Zameer flashed in my mind. A spokesperson of the Afghan Foreign Ministry was beseeching the case for sending more US troops to Afghanistan for maintaining stability and peace. An English-looking lady journalist from Afghanistan was fretting against elements who snapped her “freedom”. She too extended an “invitation” to alien troops to save her country. Almost all the participants from Afghanistan displayed what someone rightly described as a “pathetic dependence on the US”.
There was no Zameer amongst them. I was searching down the mouth narratives of a commoner in Afghanistan. And equally, the self-esteem of people who have lost their country to different foreign forces for so many decades. The national identity and pride were reduced to nothing. I could just imagine the shocked historian.
Colonial mindset has not influenced a school-going Afghan boy Zameer, but it has plagued the elite minds out there. One is genuinely wedded to the country; others are wedded to their vested interest. One sees the dream of liberation; others translate the nightmare of prolonging the occupation. One laments the devastation of his country; others prepare the blueprint of the country’s finish.
The morning I was packing back to Srinagar, Zameer came to bid adieu. He was bizarre. He quickly picked up the TV remote and switched on to CNN-IBN, his fav TV news channel, and shrilled to me-‘Babijaan, Jataay Jataay Ek Shot Dekho…Main Nahi Tow Muntadhar He Sahi’.
As I saw Bush shoed, Zameer was deriving a sadistic pleasure. Biting his nails, he was strangely excited seeing defiant Iraqi journalist Muntadhar Al- Zaidi in action. Will more US troops salvage his return to a broken motherland—the one that has become a battlefield for Indian and Pakistani versions of Great Game as a ‘main ally’ and ‘strategic backyard’ respectively. I left pondering and hoping Zameer grows to get the Great Game that involves multiple overt and covert players. Like the simulated war games he plays. Someday.
(This piece has been retrieved from the author’s Travel Journal after attending International Conference on ‘Peace, Stability and Equitable Relations Between USA, South Asia and Iran’ in New Delhi-2008)