When we dug trenches

Children derived a lot of pleasure in jumping into these trenches
When we dug trenches
Representational Pic

In the early sixties, one fine Sunday morning while my mates and I were playing cricket in an open space of our Mohalla, we saw a lean boy of our Mohalla in Khaki's strutting in the middle of the ground. He was in our age group, he had never been to a school and worked as an apprentice with his washerman father. In wee morning hours, he accompanied his father to banks of the river Jhelum with a sack of unwashed clothes for washing clothes and after drying them up returned. Seeing him in Khaki uniform aroused our curiosity, leaving our bat and ball on the ground we pounced on him to know if he had joined the police. Bragging bravado, young man lean as a reed told that he was working as a 'home guard' to help people in digging trenches and shelters during the war. 

It was for the first time; I heard word 'home guard' and about its engagements during war times.  Nevertheless, On shop fronts, I had heard lots of stories about the 1947 war, that elders mostly remembered for the Indian warplanes bombarding villages in Shaltang, hundred of bodies littering in open fields without burial for days, shortage of green tea leaves and rock salt. Our grandmothers and mothers nostalgic about the rock salt popularly called Pakistan-i-Noon attributed every ailment to the use of the sea salt they called as Hindustan-i-Noon. 

The September 1965 India-Pakistan war was our first experience about war. Lots of stories about this war, wonderful concoctions of myths and reality even after fifty years continue to be pulsating in the minds of a whole generation- these instantly get resurrected whenever there is a war talk over Kashmir between India and Pakistan. 

 I would have no idea if sirens  were mounted in advance on the police stations or after the war broke. But, the shrieking sirens going off from all sides was our first experience of breaking of war. On Radio Kashmir an announcement was made 'to save yourself from air raids as soon as sirens blow people should take shelters in safe places, and blackout should be observed after dusk– all lights should be switched off. In open people should jump into the trenches.'  

Trenches were dug on sides of the main roads and at every open space. Children derived a lot of pleasure in jumping into these trenches, but I do not remember having seen people taking shelters on the blowing of the sirens. I had heard stories when fighter aircraft in 1947 were bombing villages in the outskirts of Srinagar people instead of looking for safe shelter watched them from their rooftops. In my wildest imagination, I had not thought that the experience of our elder would also be re-enacted during our boyhood.  I have vivid impressions when for the first time some Sabre jets whiz past overheads minutes later the sirens all over the city went off. That these jets will make more sorties, people instead of looking for shelter went up to rooftops of their houses. On the rooftops, many waited till desk for getting a diving Sabre jets. 

It was for the first time that the word 'blackout' entered into our lingua franca, later on, to graduate as a form of resistance. I do not know if it was out of naivety or defiance, in the evening whenever during war Sabre jets whizzed past the sky and sirens blew across the city overwhelming majority did not switch off lights of their house instead looked into skies for the Sabre jets as if searching for a lodestar. 

No sooner the Sabre jets disappeared from the skies lots of mythical stories spread around. 

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