6 longest days of my life: Notes from curfewed Kashmir

After the nullifying of article 370  followed by the communication shutdown imposed in the Valley with no phones, no internet, not even landlines working, my parents who live in Srinagar, had become incommunicado. On the fourth day, I took a flight to Srinagar to meet my family.

The 90-minute air journey to Kashmir felt like one down an abyss. There was so little I knew about my people there. Yet I knew so much. From hours of crying and lack of sleep, my mother's eyes would be red. My father would be weaker than before. They'll hug me and cry, I knew, even when I had no idea how I'll reach home.

Right from landing at the airport to my unannounced arrival at the home, until the teary adieu, those were the longest six days of my life clouded with uncertainty, cut off from the rest of the world.

Uneasy and unforgettable six days — a struggle for the smallest of things like reaching home, searching for a refilled ATM, medicine, internet... a call to an ailing relative! In the last three decades, people in the Valley never witnessed such harsh restrictions. 

Rs 500 for 5 kms

Even for a journey of 5 km from the airport to my home in Sanatnagar area, I had to cross four checkpoints and spools of concentric wires. I was lucky enough to find an airport taxi, which charged me Rs 500. The boarding card worked as the curfew pass. 

The sound of silence

All I could hear in the Valley was the sound of the chirps. Even my footsteps sounded loud in the deserted lanes. The first thing I saw outside my lane was barbed wire and four security men. We exchanged a numb smile. Nothing much changed in the next six days. Just a few sounds got added, like the tinkle of the cycle, the sound of the rain and the echoes of azaan.

Voice messages 

I felt like a messenger with a great burden, carrying a dozen 'spoken letters' of my friends, cousins and neighbours who lived outside Kashmir and sent me voice messages for their families. I had promised them to deliver the messages to their families, and I could do it as most of them lived within 2 kms. It was a sight to behold how the voice of their loved ones brought lost smiles on the faces of their parents.

A plumber from Orissa visited us. He had not left the Valley despite the advisory issued by the state government for tourists and yatris. When he got to know that I am leaving a day later, he recorded a voice message for his family in Orissa and asked me to WhatsApp them whenever I got a network on my phone. He informed us that there were hundreds of labourers who were equally concerned about their families. 

A subdued Eid

Like everyone else in the Valley, we too celebrated a subdued Eid-ul-Zuha.  With no markets, no shopping and no guests, this was an Eid where I received no SMS or phone call and did not wish anyone.

One phone line for lakhs 

Imagine one of the oldest communication tool of the modern world, the one that has survived revolutions, wars and the turbulence of partition—telephone, not operating in the 21st century. The administration had arranged telephones in the district headquarters and police stations to facilitate communication. But how do people reach those spots under curfew? Is one telephone line sufficient for the population of lakhs?

Shutters down

A common sight I could find near my home was that of closed medical shops and ATMs with shutters down or worse, with no money. I had to walk a few kilometres to find a doctor and the medicines he prescribed.

Garbage heaps

Another common sight was of the heaps of garbage, dead animals and dogs, outside almost every colony. If they weren't cleaned, besides the foul smell, they would even cause outbreaks of epidemics.

A country without post office 

With no landlines, mobiles or internet in the Valley, this is the second-longest communication blockade witnessed since 2016. What makes it worse is that not even a single post office is operational. I visited a post office a kilometre away from my house where I found heaps of undistributed letters.

Weddings cancelled 

Thousands of marriage ceremonies scheduled to take place in the Valley have been cancelled, as uncertainty looms due to curfew and communication blockade.

Food stock & grains for pigeons

Besides every Kashmiri household stocking food and daily commodities, an interesting thing I noticed was that most of the households had stored excess grains for the pigeons. Bird feeding is one of the sought after morning chores practised by Kashmiris. Even in our lawns hundreds of pigeons arrive every morning for their breakfast, to whom lockdown means nothing.

Local baker and homegrown veggies

We and most of my neighbours helped each other by exchanging homegrown vegetables and sun-dried food. The local baker (kandru) and the milkman managed to work despite hurdles. 

Returning with hope 

After spending a week in curfewed Kashmir with my parents, I returned to Jaipur on the eve of Independence day. In the six days, the definition of the word ‘fine’ seems to have changed as I am saying that everyone in my family is alright, despite knowing that I have no information about them. I couldn’t even let them know that I have reached Jaipur.

Now all I am praying is that my parents remain safe. This is the story of every Kashmiri living away from the Valley.

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