The days were longer, spring was in bloom. Early morning birds were seen chirping on the trees, window panes; anywhere they would find comfort calling their loved ones. A perfect spring was on. I usually would wake up to this sound coming in from the veranda and window pane that was on the other side of the room.
11 July 2002 a day to remember! The day when I cried bitterly, mum & dad trembled with fear and the horrific thoughts came to my mind that sent shivers down my spine. Everything was so normal till the sun went its way to greet the other side of the planet.
In the morning I had my breakfast; dad dressed me up in my school uniform of blue & white, with a green and white striped tie round my neck, oiled my hair. Mum prepared tiffin as usual & my brother packed it in our bag. With dad tying, my shoe laces & brother waiting for me at the gate shouting “come on we’re getting late. The bus won’t wait”.
Off I ran with Mom & Dad bidding us” Neriv Kermav Khudayas Hawaale’”
We boarded the state-owned road transport (SRTC) bus which our school had hired for the purpose and were soon on our way to school. My friends greeted me and we were lost in our talk laughing, mocking at each other. In about 60 minutes the bus passed through the posh lanes of the city & we realised we had reached our destination! With the big board in green and white displaying the words “know thy self” inscribed on it. Many of us would never give a second look to the words that contained such a deep meaning for all of us.
We rushed out of the bus into the classroom. The usual HI’s & hellos followed the entry of our class teacher who in her usual authoritative tone instructed us to queue up for our morning assembly. Assemblies were fun as well as boring, passing comments while hiding from the eyes of our teachers added an element of excitement. The boring part being the daily routine of hearing lectures regarding dos & don’ts (which today I feel has helped me in many ways to develop as an individual). The session that day started as usual with the morning drill followed the prayer and random speeches by students. In the meantime we were checked for the uniform and cleanliness. The morning session ended with the thought of the day and we hurried back to our respective classrooms for attending the lectures
The day went on, with the lunch break in between. I had lunch with my brother as usual. I was slow with the food & thus most of my tiffin would usually find the inside of the garbage bin.
By 3:30 the school was off and we rushed to our respective school busses. Around 4:30-4:45, we were looking upon the familiar iron gate of our home.
Both my parents were in job so we had to look for the items of refreshment ourselves. We found tea with all ingredients mixed by mum, all we needed to do was to warm it up. My brother being elder to me did most of the work;
After revitalising ourselves, we decided to play cricket in our garden. Every day I would hope that today fortunes would favour me & I’d grab victory from my brother but even that day I returned disappointed.
At around 6, both Mum & Dad returned home. My mother always brought something for me on her return a wafer, a chocolate, or a packet of chips. I enjoyed the extra care shown to me and thought of it as a compensation of my continuously losing the matches to my brother. She offered her prayers she sat by my side to help me with my home assignment. Mothers are multitalented somehow; God has given them the ability to do multiple things simultaneously. Similar was the case with my mum handling my homework along with preparing for dinner.
My handwriting would always earn me a scorn from my mother & a note from my teacher “improve your handwriting”. On the other hand my brother would do his homework with ease with little or no help which often made me jealous.
Dad was always busy with office work. I used to wonder why the office people gave him so much work. After all a home is supposed to be a place to rest and relax. These questions always played in my mind but I didn’t dare ask him. That day also I saw dad carrying a big bunch of files with him & he went along with his work after brief refreshment
I completed my homework & mum asked me to learn the days assignment and that she’d would ask me questions about it later, and assured me that once It was done I’d be free to play carom or watch TV or whatsoever I wanted to do.
Dad always prayed isha namaz at home as it wasn’t considered safe to venture outside in the dark, so people didn’t leave their homes after magrib prayers, main reason being the armed conflict that raged between militants & Indian forces. We would close the main gate after magrib namaz
When Dad finished his paperwork we would have dinner and then both mum & dad would offer namaz; after which we would go to sleep. It was a routine; but that day after we finished eating-mom started washing dishes, dad walked to another room to pray. My elder brother went out to throw the leftovers from dinner in the dustbin where he heard some noise. Immediately he rushed in as said to my mother “zan khot kus taen dewaare kin” (I feel as if someone climbed of the wall). I immediately muted the TV. Mom told us not to worry as it may be a stray dog that might have climbed the wall & ordered us to bolt the door.
Within minutes we could hear someone knocking at our door. Everyone looked perplexed! As the knocking at the door intensified, I could hear a voice say speaking in fluent Urdu “meherbani kar k derwaaza kholiye”. My heart skipped a beat. My mother is brave-heart lady & she opened the door “kya hum andar aa sakte hai” inquired the voice in a polite tone. Only when Mom replied in affirmative, three pheran clad men in their early 30’s sporting long black thick beards & shoulders loaded with ak-47 rifles entered our house. I had already started to sweat & with my heart racing, my whole body started trembling with fear. They asked for my dad to which mom replied that he was offering namaz. They asked us to let him finish the prayers and saying this they sat down. My elder brother went to other room and informed my father who immediately rushed in and upon seeing the men greeted them with as-salaamualaikum. The reply walaikumasalaam. “Brother we want to stay for night at your home” said one of them. Hearing this I started crying bitterly my brother held my hand & mom hugged me tight. They assured us they won’t do any harm & will leave in the dead of the night. One of the militants hugged me & gave me a blue gel pen which had a sweet smell and a big babool chewing gum. Then He pulled out a photo album and showed the pictures of some militants that had been active in the state. He further asked if any of them had stayed at our house. “No we haven’t seen any of them” My father replied in a subdued voice.
In the midst of all this I was caught in profundity that army would come in sometime – kill all of us and burn our house .In those days the dreaded POTA was in force across the state and all I knew about it was that if militants took refuge in any house, it would be demolished and family members put behind bars or worse murdered brutally. Mom asked them if they would have dinner; two of them denied and the third said if we had anything left over only then would he eat & there was no need for to cook afresh. Luckily, we kept some rice for the birds. The same was offered & was accepted with gratitude.
After the dinner; they asked dad to wake them up at around three in the morning. We laid mattresses for them in one room and we four confined ourselves to the other. None of us could sleep that night & were counting hours as to when the clock ticks 3 and they would leave. I had been crying over and over again with mom consoling me. It seemed an eternity had passed when the clock stuck 2:30. Dad mustered some courage and knocked at their door. “3 bajgaye aap jag jaye” “it’s almost three” with quivering voice my father said. They woke up and informed that they would first offer tahajud and then leave. They offered the prayers, oiled their beards with clinic all care oil and offered the bottle to me; and got ready to leave. We opened the main door my father took some quick steps, slowly opened the main gate, looked into the lane and waved to them “the coast is clear” & they could leave. ”As-salaam-u-alaikum” they said as they faded into the dark. We closed the door rushed quickly in put up the mattress in its right place.
A sigh of relief!! . As we went to sleep brother said we should still check the room & everyone agreed. We started checking the room and what took our breath was when we saw they had left some ammunition there under the doormat. We couldn’t recognise any of it except for the grenade that we had seen in movies & news. We were caught in a big trouble. All our fears came right back to us.
Our maternal house was under construction we decided to hide it there till we could think of a proper place to dispose it.
We all started thinking of ways to getting rid of the rather dangerous “gifts” our guests had left over. The problem in disposing them was what if they realised about their missing items & came back for them. This thought of them returning back kept us on tenterhooks for the rest of the night.
The next morning we heard the news of a gun fight a few kilometres from our home. Dad quickly went out look out for the newspaper & in a few minutes he opened the main gate & walked at a brisk pace towards the door. I saw a copy of “alsafa” newspaper, a leading daily of the time. On the front page it carried the news of the gunfight between militants & Indian forces and declared that all three militants were dead along with a few Indian soldiers. We recognised the faces that were published alongside with the news story. A mixed feeling of relief & remorse filled us, upon seeing the bullet ridden bodies of the three “militants” who had been our “guests” just a few hours ago.
A week after the incident mom put the ammunition in polythene bag and carried it all the way to a nearby nallah where she tossed it in and watched it drown.
When she entered the gate that morning, the look on her face assured all of us that it was finally over.
It’s a day that we’ll remember all our lives