We Guarded Our Mohalla

The cold breeze from the North that soothed our nerves while going to school during the ‘morning-time’ school going days had ceased to blow.
We Guarded Our Mohalla

Those were hot summer days. The cold breeze from the North that soothed our nerves while going to school during the 'morning-time' school going days had ceased to blow. The evenings were so sultry that our sleeping rooms had become as hot as ovens. Those brutish bed bugs that relished sucking our blood as our enemies' derived sadistic pleasure in seeing it gushing out of our chests like fountains had come out of hibernation to give children and elders sleepless nights.  Like guerrillas and insurgents during the day they hid in small cracks in the wi'rowsee and inbuilt cupboards and stealthily carried midnight raids to feast on our blood. Then there were no ceiling fans and pedestal fans also were a rarity- that only some affluent families afforded. Nonetheless, an assortment of wawijs, were priced possessions of every family- even these used to part of bride's dowry.

Like many others in our Mohalla, to get comfort from hot and humid nights and save ourselves from midnight raids of bloodthirsty bed bugs, we also shifted our beddings to the Kani- the glazed terracotta floored second-floor hall of our house.  In airy Kani, we slept like logs of wood, even the cocks crowing did not wake us up. Nevertheless, none of us thought that it would be a different breed of bed bugs the Naar-i-Tchoors that will come out of their safe hideouts to give us and whole of Kashmir sleepless nights. 

There was panic all over Kashmir and elders compared the prevailing situation to that of November 1947. That had seen many villages after darkness in the din of gunfire torched to ashes. Mysterious fires had swept across the North Kashmir, in Baramulla, Sopore, Bandipore and other smaller township. The mysterious fires consumed villages after villages', hundreds of houses, storehouses, and cowsheds converted into rubble. Hardly a day passed without newspapers reporting fire destroying one or other village and hamlet. 

For government feigning cluelessness about the mystery behind these fires, all sorts of rumors were afloat. Some attributed these fires to the troops and some others to the central secret agencies operating in the state. To guard their houses against the "Naar-I-Tchoor" (Fire setting thieves) vigilantes patrolled the streets and even highways stopped even the government vehicles for searching for the culprits.  

In the City also rumors were rife that some communal elements from outside the state had entered into the city who were setting our houses on fire. "People commonly believed that Jansanghis a term used for communalists in Kashmir were behind these fires." Perhaps for having suffered subjugation for centuries, Kashmiris have learned to organize themselves in the hours of crisis far better than during the peace times. I would have no idea if any organization had asked people to create vigilante committees in Mohallas for catching the Naar-i-Schools and punishing them. Nevertheless, in a no time youth all over the City created Mohalla Defence Committees, with elaborate roasters for the night vigil. My friends and I also organized ourselves into a committee for guarding our Mohall against the Naar-i-Tchoors. The first thing we did chopped branches from a kikar tree, out of these made some clubs. We also got some old tin canisters for sending an alarm to people in adjacent Mohallas. In the evening in an open space in the backyard of our house, we spread a couple of mats and under the canopy of a mulberry tree. In the middle of the night we walked through lanes and by-lanes of our Mohalla, occasionally beating the tin canisters and crying loudly "Hushyar Khabardar."  It became a routine for most of the boys- including timid and bookish to take part in these vigil parades at night for safeguarding our locality from these Naar-i-Tchoors. 

Interestingly, these fires disappeared as mysteriously as they occurred. 

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