It is a page written forty five years back on my mind. It would have got buried deep in my memory perhaps never to be retrieved but for reliving it again and again during my youth, middle age and now past-middle –age.
I had just bid farewell to school uniform- Khaki trousers and sky blue shirt and school bag bursting with books and notebooks slinging from my shoulders. I was no more worried about being spotted at the morning assembly in the school for untidy uniform and dry hair. To save myself from caning, I now no more needed to spray my hair with a sprayer at a barber's shop and quickly comb my hair. I and my friends had just crossed the hump that we believed denied us freedom – the freedom to dress to our taste and freedom from the shoulder pulling school bag- yes, we had just passed our matriculation and were in first year of college. I and my friends now dressed to our taste yes, of course to the capacity of our resources. I loved wearing white shirts and blue or black pants.
Many boys from neo-rich families used to come to college in suits during summers also. Teachers by and large had an aversion towards these boys who flaunted their riches through their expensive suits stitched by some tailors on the Bund, Srinagar. Our English teacher T.K. Gariyale – perhaps the best teacher in English language in our college often addressed them as dandies. On spotting boys dressed in three piece suits the wit and humor in our chemistry teacher Banday Sahib touched not Kohmaran but Mahadev peaks. Every day he had new quips for them in his quiver. Many anecdotes in chemistry class are still as fresh as morning dew in my memory- and wisecracks of Banday Sahib often resonate in my mind. I am reminded of an anecdote in our class: one day he spotted a boy in the last row, wearing newly stitched gaudy colored suit, a new camel-color astrakhan cap on his head and a golden wristwatch. I could saw a new spark in the eyes of chemistry teacher; redness started appearing on his fair complexioned face as on just sprouting rose bud on it's touching by morning sunlight. Slowly the color of his face turned rage-red and he quipped:
"Hallo ! You Mr. in the back row- are you just-wed. Boy replied no sir. At this Banday Sahib said louder, " Suit Bhai Hai, Karkooli Bhai Hai, Gadi Bhai, Gadau Par Chadoo Aur Shadi Karoo" (You have a suit, an astrakhan cap and a watch- all this is required for being a bridegroom all that now need is donkey to ride upon for going to bride's house). The boy after this episode said goodbye to sciences and joined changed his admission to commerce class, later on to become a successful executive in a bank.
It was really a period of thrill and excitement. I had hardly imagined that this thrill would be so short-lived and it would descend into anger- the anger that brought even the most bookish and timid in the class on the streets to join the protest rallies, to throw stones and engage in street battles with sepoys, shout full throat slogans; 'long live students unity', 'our morale still high', 'Down! Down- the puppet sarkar' and My demand- Your demand- All and one demand, Plebiscite and Plebiscite'. These protests in our college on the outskirts of Srinagar city were sparked against rustication of five students- it is a different story some of these students later made to the top in the state administration.
Our college was the youngest amongst all colleges in the city barely five years old and it was also smallest in terms of infrastructure and faculty – but majority of the boys in the colleges were from politically vibrant localities. The five boys had been rusticated by the college for participating in a political demonstration organized by the Jammu and Kashmir Students and Youth League then pioneer students organization in the state. Dreaming of becoming a doctor – that I could not become, I hardly imagined that the demand for withdrawing of rustication of the five boys would graduate to full-fledged students' movement in the state. And the student movement in Kashmir would throw up its own brand of Cohen Bendit's and young Turks like Ali Tariq's—a brand of eloquent speakers.
It was a post on the 'facebook' by a prominent senior most retired judge of the state during terrifying and horrendous curfew days; when news from local channels was banned and circulation of newspaper had been banned that took me down the memory lane and scenes after that followed the rustication of boys flashed before my eyes.
The post read: 'Illyas a prominent lawyer from Spore died of cardiac arrest'. I sought clarification from the revered judge if he was the same person who during student movement of sixties had suffixed word Alpha to his name. When word 'Yes" popped up on my screen- I remembered a whole range of student leaders of sixties. Many of these student leaders had suffered incarceration under Defence of India Rules (DIR), the Preventive Detention Act (PDA), Enemy Agent Ordinance and many other horrifying rules that were in vogue in the state during sixties. Many of these student leaders were eloquent speakers. I remembered many of these eloquent student speakers that kept huge crowds not only of students but all and sundry spellbound. I envied their articulation and eloquence and dreamt of becoming an eloquent speaker. I never dared to appear on the stage to articulate my views- perhaps for my timidity.
I still remember faces of these student speakers but I have forgotten names of most of them. There were many good student speakers from Sopore, Islamabad and Srinagar colleges who for their eloquence held the promise of leading people of the State for many decades to come but it is travesty of Kashmir politics that none of these bright youth could make it to the top in politics- the banyan tree those was so big it did not allow event the best saplings to grow.
The word Illyas Alpha –perhaps stuck to mind for the suffix Alpha. I had never opportunity ever to talk to this student speaker of sixties- it was only a couple of years back I spotted him at a seminar in a hotel Srinagar and confirmed if he was Illyas Alpha of sixties.
These student leaders of sixties and seventies will not make it even to footnotes of Kashmir history unless someone of them records his memoirs.