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I was hungry
I was hungry. Starving, actually. Sitting patiently in the car on my way to Ruby khalas house, I fiddled with my jean pocket. She wasn’t my real khala, but a close childhood friend of my mother. We were on our way to a small tea gathering held in honor of my dad. There were only 5 of us- my dad, my mom, my 7 year old sister Hannan, my cousin Nausheen, who was texting away like there was no tomorrow, and I. We debated endlessly about what we were going to do the next day.
We were supposed to go on a semi-camping trip with my dad’s college buddy. What’s a semi-camping trip, you may ask? It’s when you go on short strolls through gardens, not hikes on mountains, have campfires behind your luxury log cabin, not tents, and eat kabobs in the place of s’mores. I was trying to convince my parents that being in a government secured car during anti-government protest rallies (which stretch on for days) would not be the safest way to spend the weekend. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t with the government; I come from a large family of people who have dedicated their lives to the freedom struggle. It gets complicated, you’re either a Kashmiri and a true freedom fighter at heart, or you’re a gadthar, a betrayer who holds a position in the Indian administered government. The government officials focus on smaller problems, like education, roads, etc. The freedom fighters focus on the big goal: azadthi. I believe no one’s a real gadthar though, deep down everyone wants freedom.
In less than 5 minutes of arguing, we rolled up Ruby khalas driveway. I wasn’t too fond of Ruby khalas children. Or maybe they just weren’t fond of me. I get along well with almost all of our family friends’ children in Kashmir; in fact I have many close friends there. Unlike a lot of other Kashmiri-Americans, I’m not too stuck up about being foreign bred and I’m more culturally tied to my roots than most kids who reside in Kashmir. Ruby khalas kids were just really shy, I guess. In the 10 years I’ve known them, I don’t think I’ve held an actual conversation with any of them for more than 5 minutes.
We walked into the cool house, escaping the summer heat. We were lead into the family room which was decorated with silk Kashmiri rugs and Persian styles pillows. We were greeted by everyone, and were soon after served orange juice. I know the routine too well, after the juice they bring in the mat, then the plates, then the tea, then the kabobs, then the roti, and lastly the famous chicken patties that are crispy on the outside, by soft and mushy on the inside. We chatted about the current situation of Kashmir.
In April, the Kashmiri government granted 100 acres for the Hindu pilgrimage that stretches throughout India. Unlike before, the grant was permanent and not just for the couple month time slot of the pilgrimage. Kashmiris were outraged at this, claiming that the amount granted is far too large, and should only be temporary. 1 million Kashmiris gathered in Srinagar to protest against the government and march towards the Pakistan border. This was the biggest rally Kashmir has seen since back when the freedom struggle initiated in 1947. Better yet, I wasn’t sitting in my bedroom reading about this on greaterkashmir.com; I was actually in Kashmir witnessing everything first hand! I was completely ecstatic, thinking this was by far the best summer I have ever had. My parents refused to let me attend the actual rallies, since a Hurriyat leader had been shot while giving a speech at a rally. This drove me insane. Did they really expect me to sit back in the comfort of my own home while others fought for my freedom. This isn’t how I was raised. I grew up listening to stories of how brave my family members were some of them who are now dead. And my parents expect me to just sit here while 1 million people march towards freedom? You can just imagine how frustrated I was.
But as usual, they knew best.
My cousin Nausheen got a call from her brother earlier that day. My younger brother, Mujtaba was at their house and wanted to come home. Nausheen’s brother was driving him home when he saw a huge crowd outside their neighborhood. Driving was not allowed, hence there was a total strike. Scared, my cousin called Nausheen and told her not to come home since the roads were dangerous.
She, being the wonderful, caring person my mom claims she is, failed to mention this. She said he ran out of gas, and therefore could not drop my brother home.
We left Ruby khalas house at around 6, since curfew started at around 9 pm. Nausheen wanted to go home, so we drove towards her house in Peerbagh, about 15 minutes away. My sister was sitting in the front seat in my mom’s lap, and my dad was driving the car. It was hot outside and the AC was broken, but for some reason we didn’t open the windows.
We have a tradition in my family. Whenever we start a journey in our car, even when driving to the bus top; we read a Surah from the Q’uran so God will protect us on our trip. We forgot this time.
We were driving down a wide road when I looked outside and saw a boy in a bright blue shirt, maybe two years older than me, stretch his arm into the air.
What was he holding? Is his mouth open? Why is he yelling?
Before I could realize it, a stone hit the back of our car creating a large thud noise.
Hannan screamed, and we all ducked under the seats.
My dad kept driving, trying to get us out of there.
Less than two seconds later, the second one came through the side window of the driver’s seat, shattering the glass and hitting the bottom of my dad’s head.
I was barely breathing. We kept driving. I don’t know how my dad did it, but he kept going. In less than two minutes later, we drove up against a bunch of police men drinking tea and playing cards, less than 100 meters from where our car was hit. I couldn’t hear what they were saying; I was in a state of shock. They were talking, and talking, and talking, but none of them seemed to care. And then, out of nowhere, I boy riding his motorcycle drove past our car and pointed left. Left to what? And then of course, Nausheen remembered there was a small hospital nearby.
We drove in and my father was rushed out and my mother helped up the stairs. I was shaking violently. I still remember not being able to breathe, and my stomach was tied up into knots. Hannan was the same. She whimpered, “Is Abu going to be okay?”Gathering up what I had left of my voice, I said yes. I prayed to God silently inside my heart, hoping everything would be okay. I felt light headed and dizzy, but I somehow walked up the stairs outside the operation room. Across from me was a women lying on a bed, with her two young children staring at her.
So this is what it feels like.
This is how death tastes.
In this one moment, I realized how truly terrifying it is to be so close to losing someone so dear to you. How hard it is, to not only consol yourself, but also your sister.
Two minutes later (literally) my uncle walked out of his car with five other body guards. He’s not like the freedom fighters they show on CNN, he not that religious, he doesn’t have a beard, he doesn’t wear a keffiyeh on his shoulders. He doesn’t wear like a toga thing either, he’s usually basketball shorts.
We all got into the car and rushed to a doctor. On our way back, I saw the boy who made me go through this. He was sitting on the side of the road, chilling. He has no idea how his act of “fun”, of “anti-Indianess” could have killed my father. He could have ruined a family. He could have stolen two daughters’ father. He was acting on nothing. To him, protest and rallies are just a way to get out of the house and hang out with friends. He didn’t realize what could have been the consequence of his actions. He didn’t realize that the man he hurt was one of the four lawyers that lead the protest against Indira Ghandi. The man who fought for his rights in Geneva. But that doesn’t really matter. I could have been anyone’s daughter, and my dad could have been any other guy. What matters is that he could have taken away a life, and all life is sacred. He screams “Allah Hu Akbar”, or “God is great” but what do his actions portray? The Quran states (Chapter 5, verse 32) “Anyone who has killed another person, it is as if he has killed the whole of mankind and anyone who saves one life, it is as if he has saved the whole of mankind.” We didn’t hurt him. We weren’t India.
My mother begged my uncle to have one of the guard’s shake him up a little, and an intense burning passion of hatred ran through me.
At the same time, I felt like a hypocrite. I wanted to go out and protest, but then again: I had no intentions of hurting anyone. I wasn’t anti-Hindu, I was just simply a separatist. And so was he. Yet again, who even knows what he was? To him, this is just a big game. A joke.
That night I sat back and thanked God that nothing serious occurred. My dad would be getting a scan the next day, but the doctor said that he would be fine. The rock landed in the car and was as big as my fist. If it had hit ¼ of an inch lower, my dad would have passed away. I got a taste of what it feels like to be so close to death. And the thing is, I wasn’t even that close! I have a better understanding of life now. Death tolls to me are no longer just numbers; they are the digit that represents the number of hearts that have broken divided by five.
7 Days Later
It was August 15. The day when India received independence from Britain back in 1947. We were coming back from my aunt’s house; we went out to dinner with her. Driving at 11pm on August is literally a death wish. She sent us with two guards, so we were safe. We put a black flag on our car, signaling that we were for freedom. During the black out (everyone in Kashmir turned their lights off in honor of those who died for 30 minutes) I realized what a beautiful night it was. All the shops and cafes had turned their lights off, and there was a magnificently full silver moon hanging in the sky, accompanied by occasional clouds. The weather was perfect, a light breeze with warm air. I would be leaving Kashmir in two days. I felt miserably sad. How could I leave such a beautiful place? A place surrounded by mountains and snow? A lot of wonderful things occurred, and many dreadful moments had passed. As I was looking out the window, a group of young boys my age were raising a flag on a pole. It was the Islamic flag, Green with a crescent. As it rose majestically and sat beside the full moon, I voice crept out from deep inside my heart.
A voice that said: We’ll figure it out, Kashmir will be free.