In the valleys of Tangmarg, a few miles away from Line of Control (LoC), amidst snow laden mountains and Deodar trees that shadowed her home,Haya waited for her husband, Tabshir. Tabshir Wani.
Before you presume this is just another terror -strained love story, let me tell you, it is not. This is about ‘Izzat’, a word so pure that no English word could probably do justice to its meaning. It is about brotherhood,courage, commitment,pride- and so much more.
Allah had blessed Ghazanfar and Rifaat with a son a year ago and he’d just started walking. They called him ‘Badshah’, an emperor. He was their second-born after Sheema. It was a Tuesday morning, the year 1985. Ghazanfar donned his long brown Phiran to leave for the school where he taught- the nip in the air told him winter was coming. Rifaat had planned Dum Aloo for lunch and the mere mention of its name raised Ghazanfar’s spirits to cloud nine. He kick-started his old scooter and sped past villages, men,women, children all wrapped up in wool like sheep, roads that crossed streams roaring over ledges until he pulled the brake and the scooter screeched to a stop in front of the gates of the school.
At home, Rifaat was fondly watching her son blabber broken words – Ma, Zanfaar, Pa etc – when the radio crackled with static and a voice announced – “Information has just reached us that two car bombs exploded in Gulmarg killing 11 and injuring more than 33…”
The news had reached Ghazanfar too and he rushed back home, this time driving even faster as he crossed the same shops and houses . An aura of tension floated in the air as the shutters were hurriedly pulled down and windows latched firmly. Even the stream now flowed silently over pebbles. He knocked on his door thrice only to meet three armed men, standing tall in his home, greeting him, “As-salamu alaikum Ghazanfar mia”.
It was a usual phenomenon in the district. The terrorists would find a safe haven in the homes of villagers because many in the administration still wanted a free Kashmir. Although Ghazanfar detested violence and never had any sympathy for these armed fighters who called themselves Jihadis, he had no option but to let these terrorists stay. If he informed the army, they would only come and massacre his village to find these men; if he denied them refuge, the consequences were obvious to all. Looking at his infant son,he put on a pleasant face.
“Wa-alaikumus salam, Basheer mia. What made you undertake the inconvenience of crossing the border? We are always at your service, you could have simply ordered anything from there.”
“We fight for Azad Kashmir, Ghazanfar , you know that and till we have it, we shall not stop.”
How strongly Ghazanfar hated all this. Kashmir wasn’t a state or a country for him. Kashmir was his soul and it belonged to no one for it was already free, he believed. Every time he saw the faces of young men falling into the trap of politicians and terrorist outfits who kept their killing business alive in the name of Allah, he felt helpless.
“I support you completely. We shall not stop”, he repeated.
“I see your son is growing old. He is already walking. Give him to us and we will make him a man.”
Rifaat , in the kitchen, hugged her son hard in response like a lioness who would stand tall and ferocious to protect her cubs. Her dream was to see her son don the white coat and be addressed as Doctor sahib. She had plans to send her son out of Kashmir.
“Sure why not, but when the right time comes- he is but a child now, let us have him to ourselves for a while.” Ghazanfar protested affably.
Basheer nodded a yes. “Rifaat didi, prepare us a good dinner and keep a room empty. We will come back by night.”
Rifaat walked into the room with a plate full of Kashmiri Wazwan and Naan, traditional cuisine, and behind her came Badshah. Supporting himself using the wall, as he experimented with his new found walking skills, he crawled into the lap of Basheer much to the dismay of his parents.
“Badshah, will you play with this? Uncle Basheer will gift you loads of this,” Basheer let the child toy with the rifle. “May Allah bless him with the fierce spirit for our freedom. I can see it in his eyes, he’ll hunt like an emperor and kill the animals of our valleys who have made us their slaves.”
Basheer left that evening with his comrades and as the sun came down and the night grew darker, Ghazanfar and Rifaat wished he wouldn’t return. And he didn’t. He probably changed his plans or better still,got killed.
Badshah was sent to his uncle Izhar who got him admitted in a boarding school in Uttarakhand, under the name Tabshir, somewhere in a city called Mussoorie. He grew up there learning and leading a normal life. Back home, things became more peaceful as the army started cracking down heavily on intruders. In all this turmoil, only the civilians paid heavily with their lives. He would go visit home in summers and winters for one and a half month each. He grew up with Kashmiri traditions but away from Kashmir, and there was always a feeling of something missing.
As time flew, Tabshir grew into a dynamic young man, good at whatever he put his mind to. He loved squash, hockey, boxing, horse riding, debating and had the calm of a vast silent ocean. But how long can one run from one’s fate! He met a girl named Haya in Mussoorie who happened to be from Baramula district too. It was too late when Tabshir realized that she was daughter of a well known separatist group leader, a very infamous man in the valley, for he had fallen for the girl already. Too late! Why!?
Yes people back home would be proud to have Tabshir marry her and watch him join Jihad – the merciless, brainless multitudes working under a few power-hungry men. But it was too late. Tabshir had always wanted to play with arms, but for the freedom of people like him – the civilians – from the war that wasn’t theirs. He joined the Indian Army.Indeed it is quite funny, for Basheer’s words and prayers did materialise in the end. Tabshir was playing with arms with a fierce spirit but against the man-slaughtering Jihadis. What these men did in the name of Jihad was indeed an insult to the word itself.
When his parents got to know, they were scared, proud, happy, shivering- a tangled mess of emotions. They didn’t know what to do so they asked him to keep it a secret. He did- until he met Haya. Her mere presence was like the warm sun rays falling on his face in winter. He knew if he’d spend his life with anyone, it would have to be her. It was either her or death, he used to tell her. I think the Almighty took his words too seriously.
“Tabshir, let’s get married,” Haya murmured as they sat on the edge of a secret cliff they had found long ago.
“Haya”, he placed his large palm on her fair hand, “I have to confess something.”
“Yes yes. I love you too. I hate the coyness, my lady”, she mocked.
Tabshir chuckled for a minute and then looked seriously at her, “Listen please”
“I have taken an oath to eliminate the terrorists from our homeland. The wounds of their Operation Gulmarg in 1947 are still fresh in our people and all the barbarism since then in the name of religion has to stop. I am ready to scale any height,I am ready for the supreme sacrifice. I am going to serve in the army and I have sworn my allegiance to peace and harmony.”
Haya’s hand jerked back from his grasp, and a tear drop rolled off her eye to her lips.
“Haya, I hope you understand. Our love is endless but our people have suffered a lot. I know you detest violence like me. You detest what they do to our brothers, fathers, mothers, daughters, and sisters. You know what happened with Saffa’s son. He was a wealthy doctor in Mumbai, they brainwashed him and made him a two day terrorist. Tell me, do you not remember the horror on his mother’s face when she learned that her son had joined them and that he had died two days after joining them ? What will Azad Kashmir give us when in the name of Azad, they have stolen our Azadi (independence).”
“Tabshir, my father”, she sobbed.
“I know he will not agree. Hold my hand and I will never let go of you till my last breath. You mean the world to me but our mother, Kashmir, needs us. I promise to be by your side only if you agree to elope. I am not asking you to leave your family behind. I’ll only ask you to wait till I come back from training. Have faith in our love. I know right now, your father would kill me if he knew but with time, we’d win against all the odds,I promise.”
“I need some time…”
It had been nearly three decades since the day she’d held his hand, after thinking for a while, never to let go again. Kashmir was calmer than it had been in the days when he was a toddler. Although there were always a few hiccups, Tabshir and his villagers stayed fearless.
Haya stood at the window, lost in reverie. It was Sunday and Tabshir had promised her that he would take her to Gulmarg for skiing. He’d come home on holiday, after a long time. As she waited for him to come back from grazing the sheep, their daughter Zara played in the snow. Haya’s mother-in-law and father-in-law were more than parents to her now. Her own parents too lived nearby. Much to their surprise and joy, her father had left the party, and had become a journalist who wrote a book ‘Mera Kashmir’.
The last time I visited Tabshir, his child had a fancy dress competition in school and she had dressed up as an army officer. Tabshir was teaching his daughter, the Noor(light) of his eye, his favourite lines- “Keep your hellish hands and eyes away from the pristine heaven on Earth. Stay away if you cannot watch it bloom. There are people among us who are Hindu and Muslims and even Buddhists, there are Pakistanis and Hindustanis among us and in that diversity we decide to live, together. We are one. We are already Azad. Do not divide us.”