Guest post by ARIF AYAZ PARREY
Over the corner shop at the busy crossing near home hangs a white board on which the words ‘Muzaffar Pan-House’ are painted in bright red. On the right side of the words, an artistic rendition of the side-view of Muzaffar’s face can be seen. His left hand is also painted in, holding a cigarette. The grey smoke emanating from the cigarette does not vanish before it touches the top of the board.
Muzaffar’s father sold the shop to one Asadullah a few years ago. Asadullah decided to retain Muzaffar’s name and picture. “After all,” he said, “his memory is as much to me as it is to his father.”
Muzaffar was killed on 11th May, 1994, when I was still in primary school. I remember the whole incident so well that it could have happened yesterday. It is said that one afternoon in late 1991, as Muzaffar was returning from college, he had seen a few soldiers beating an elderly gentleman with henna-coloured beard in front of his wife, daughter and grandson for forgetting to carry his ID card. That did it for Muzaffar. After that, his conversations were increasingly populated by references to the animal world. “Aes cha gupan?” he would ask, trembling with indignation. When he announced his decision to go for ‘training’ to his family, his father pleaded with him not to waste the bright career which lay ahead of him. His mother begged him to think about what would become of them, his family, if their only son opted for the path of violence. He had just one reply, “Aes cha hooen?”
He returned in early 1993 and soon established himself as the most fearsome guerrilla of the area. The shadow of his reputation lengthened and became the trail at which the authorities sniffed to nab him. Finally, he was trapped in a fairly large house in a nearby village alongwith five of his associates. They fought for five days, five full days, and to this day I marvel at how could six men, armed with nothing more than a few AK-47 rifles and some grenades outgun more than two thousand soldiers equipped with machine guns and mortars, besides a horde of rifles and explosives, for such a long time. What did they eat? When did they shit and piss? Did they not sleep and dream? How in the world could they hold out for so long!
Muzaffar not only managed to fight but he also succeeded in escaping from the rubble of the house under siege, albeit with two bullet wounds, one each in his left leg and his chest. Legend has it that he sought refuge in one of the poorest households of the locality and when he realized that he had lost too much blood and could not survive, he told the head of the family to turn him in to the soldiers so that the family could receive the bounty which had been unofficially announced on Muzaffar’s head. Unfortunately, such agreements, by their very nature, are without proof and thereby open to speculation.
What is confirmed is the fact that his body, in which atleast two dozen bullets had breathed their last, was handed over to his delusional father after a week or so. Kids are generally not allowed to take a look at corpses but exceptions were made of martyrs. I can never forget the final expression on his face. His teeth were protruding a little and his eyes were relaxed, as if he were laughing on a great joke. As it happens under such circumstances, I was reminded of the last occasion I had seen him alive. It was the time when he was just building his reputation as a fearless revolutionary fighter. I had gone to purchase some toffees for myself from their shop and had expected to see his father at the counter as usual. Instead, I was greeted by a smiling Muzaffar. A butterfly began to flutter inside my heart, because the crossing was always bursting with soldiers. He noticed my flushed face and declared enigmatically, “Jigra, these are free for you.” Toffees of memory. Sometimes fate amazes us with its pin-point accuracy.
After his death, a public tap, housed within a brick and tile structure about four feet high, was set up in his name, bearing the name, ‘Yaadgaaray Shaheed Muzaffar’. A public tap at the busy crossing was a good idea. People battered by occupations of life would come to quench their mild as well as terrible thirst. They would read the epitaph. They would remember. Those who did not know would enquire and then remember. The silent water swelled in their blood. It could flood.
One summer afternoon, the sun being angrier than usual for some unknown reason, soldiers arrived with weapons of a different kind. The dull thud of their sledgehammers was followed by the swoosh of pent-up water suddenly set free. They put a few rags on the pipe to stop the flow, scattered the remains of the smashed tiles and bricks and left, satisfied with their work.
Somebody had the good sense of mending the pipe and reinstalling a tap, although without the brick and tile structure. People still continued to visit the watering-hole. Memory continued to resonate.
So in the bleak light of one late autumn evening, the tap was once more surrounded by soldiers. They broke off the tap and sealed the water-pipe, beat all the neighbouring shopkeepers and passers-by, smashed a few fragile things in various shops and warned that if they ever saw a tap in that place again, they would let all hell loose.
Power is not good for the eyes; and, after all, it was a bleak evening. Of course the soldiers could not notice everything. Of course, they could not annihilate everything. Even a void is just an image of the thing which existed. The white board with the words ‘Muzaffar Pan-House’ painted in mnemonic red remained. So did the image of Muzaffar smoking evanescence. We, you and I, survived.
Somebody once told me, “To fight a dead opponent is ten times more difficult than fighting a living one.” I make a small calculation. More than seventy thousand Kashmiris dead. No wonder the soldiers are finding themselves outnumbered.
(Arif Ayaz Parrey is a writer in Srinagar. This article first appeared in The Honour newsmagazine, November 2010.)