Memories of ‘Scarlet Biers’

It was during these times when I was yet to cross single digit of my age, one day wild screams and cries on the street outside like gusty winds entered our Daan-i-Kouth kitchen disturbing everyone: my grandmother, mother, aunt, my uncle, and siblings
Memories of ‘Scarlet Biers’

Those were the times when shingled roofs were a preserve of neo-rich, and the city lived up to its medieval charm. The birch bark mud roofs rash with magenta, purple, blue and white irises continued to give the city a royal aura. The small brick houses with latticed windows, oriel windows and intricately carved balconies on both the sides of the streets stood, and interiors of Mohallas bore testimony to great Arab and Persian influences on our architecture that had withstood over a century and quarter of despotic rule. Those were the days when strict and discriminatory rationing of all products: rice, flour, salt, tea, cloth, salt-tea leaves started a couple of years before my birth continued to be controlled by family relations of ministers and political hoodlum – making rags to riches. 

It was during these times when I was yet to cross single digit of my age, one day wild screams and cries on the street outside like gusty winds entered our Daan-i-Kouth kitchen disturbing everyone: my grandmother, mother, aunt, my uncle, and siblings. Everyone in the home including children rushed to the first floor of the house and started looking into the street outside and stuck out their necks like cranes to know what was happening at the two roundabouts in our locality. Thousands of people young and old infuriated as Tigers were carrying blood-soaked bodies of boys killed in police firing on wooden biers to the martyr's graveyard about two hundred yards from our house. With spilling out of the bodies of killed the wooden biers had turned scarlet. Like monsoon showers, tears trickled down from eyes of all women in our home and the neighborhood. Some out of adulation even showered shereni traditional candy balls on the biers. It was for the first time when I heard the word, Shaheed. The word after that haunted my mind for months without understanding its connotations. 

On that day, little did I realize the word will get etched on my mind forever, and the 'scarlet biers will haunt me for rest of my life like many others in my generation?   Because of living in the neighborhood of the martyrs' graveyard, I might have been witness to scores of burials of martyrs.  Nevertheless, I was in class eight or nine when I saw for the first a man being shot dead by armed police outside our home.  A young vegetable vendor with a willow vat of hak – collared greens on his head came out of a small lane in front of our house. No moment he emerged out of the lane the PAC men fired from their rifles, one bullet hit a telephone pole, and another pierced the young man, and like a fountain, blood gushed out of his chest. Promptly, unmindful of the consequences two boys- courage incarnate came out of the lane and carried the young man who had instantaneously died into the lane. Like a nightmare, the scene haunted me for many years. 

Countless bitter memories continue to live on the back of the mind of people in our generation and on little scratch come to the fore as if they happened just yesterday. In September 1967, the student agitation that had died down in September 1965 was reborn. Students, in our college, had also had boycotted classes against the excesses of the Central Reserved Police against ordinary people including the office goers of a particular faith. In our college boys staged a sit-in on the college lawns for the whole day and raised anti-government slogans. The sit-in continued for almost a fortnight, and with each passing student, agitation was gathering momentum. On October, students from various colleges gathered at Lal Chowk and Budshah Chowk and the CRPF, indiscriminately fired on the students killing Anwar Ahmed and Bashir Ahmed Mir, more than a dozen were gravely injured……..   

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