‘How Will You Know If We Die,’ My Mother Asked As I Left Srinagar
On the evening of 4 August, my dad called me up and said, “There are rumours that the Centre is going to scrap the special status allotted to Jammu and Kashmir. They might also block all means of communication. So, do decide with your friends if you want to come back home.”
On 5 August, the unimaginable indeed happened: Article 370 was effectively revoked and communication blocked. There was a complete lockdown. Honestly, till then, I had had no plans of going home, not even for Eid, but after all that ensued, I decided to book my flight from Chandigarh.
I quickly booked my flight tickets for Jammu, and from Jammu to Srinagar for 8 August. From 5 to 8 August, I was restless, and didn’t know how my family was. Normally, I would always take some goodies for my siblings, but this time, I was short on cash and couldn’t shop for them.
Three days later, I was happy it was time for me to go home. I landed in Jammu early in the morning, and my connecting flight was at 3:45 pm. Business seemed usual at the Jammu Airport. There was no chaos and everything seemed normal... till I landed in Srinagar.
My flight arrived at Srinagar International Airport at around 5 pm. Once I stepped out of the airport, there were hardly any vehicles on the road. Budgam is where I live, and it is around 27 km away from Srinagar, so I was looking for a cab in which to go home. The normal fare from the airport to my home is around Rs 600, but because of the lockdown, drivers demanded more than double the amount – around Rs 1600.
I’m a student and I couldn’t afford to pay such a steep amount for a cab. So, I decided to walk to my uncle’s home which is near the airport.
I walked around a kilometre, sensing the fear in the air. Suddenly, a car stopped and asked me if I wanted a ride. I got in quickly. Along the way, we spoke only about the abrogation of Article 370, and how uncertain life had become in Srinagar. In fact, they didn’t even know what the media was saying because of the lockdown. While driving, I noticed the roads were teeming with security forces personnel and their vehicles.
Finally, I reached my uncle's home. I was glad to meet him, however, he was dejected as he couldn’t go to work. He is the editor of a news website, and without the Internet, there was no point in going to work. He told me it will be a long battle and that people will not accept the decision. No matter what.
I was heartbroken to see my uncle. I stayed at his place for two days because there was no way to communicate with my family and they didn’t know that I was already in Srinagar.
Two days later, I travelled with my uncle to my own home. Before I could enter, I hear my parents talking amongst themselves about how they could communicate with me.
They considered going to Deputy Commissioner’s office to reach out to me. Unsurprisingly, when I entered, they were staggered. In fact, my mother couldn’t believe that I had managed to travel from Chandigarh to Budgam. I hugged my parents, tears rolling down our eyes.
This time around, we were told not to step out – “It’s not safe,” my mother kept saying. We ended up playing board games at home.Carrom, chess, cards... became our only sources of entertainment. Eid came and went by, we didn’t even come to know. During this visit, I couldn’t even go to my favourite pizza place.
After spending almost 14 days at home, I decided to book my ticket for Chandigarh to attend college. I was scared I might fail because of being short on attendance.
I decided to take my two-wheeler and head to the DC office in Budgam, which is almost 17 kilometres away from my home. I had to call my cousin, who studies at Aligarh Muslim University, to book my tickets. The journey was not easy as their were security checks and the guards kept asking for my documents and purpose of travel.
Luckily, I managed to speak to my cousin and requested her to book my tickets. My cousin asked me to call her again two days later so that she could give me the travel details.
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When I reached home, I told my parents I was due to leave the day after. They felt bad and asked me to stay for longer. All of my family members were very emotional when they heard I was leaving.
I hugged everyone and wished them goodbye. When I hugged my mom, she broke down. “Please stay with us. If death is written for us, we all will die together. How will you come to know if we all die here?” she asked, weeping.
I had no answer. I couldn’t look her in the eye.
I’m back in Chandigarh and have not spoken to my family since.
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