How Lovers Steal Kisses During Lockdown in Kashmir
Four weeks have gone by since Kashmir was turned into a fortress following the abrogation of Article 370.
In a north Kashmir village earlier last month, Kaysir Malik, a young manager with a small media company in Srinagar, saw two strangers pacing up and down the road for the third time in less than an hour.
In their twenties, the two youths seemed lost but their surreptitious looks gave an aura of mystery to their presence in the village. Strangers are not a pleasant sight at a time when the Valley has been under security lockdown for nearly four weeks.
“Who are you looking for? You don’t belong to this place, do you?” Kaysir confronted them, stepping towards the youths, “What is your business here?”
“We are looking for Majid sahib, the fruit dealer,” one youth replied, “He had given a cheque to my father but it has bounced. I have to meet him over this issue.”
“But no one by that name lives in this village,” Kaysir said, promptly, his voice now attaining menacing overtones, “Don’t act smart with me. Tell me why you are here or I will call the neighbours.”
Four weeks have gone by since Kashmir was turned into a fortress following the abrogation of Article 370. The situation, however, continues to remain volatile and mobile phone networks are down, with no word on when they are going to be restored.
Many youngsters, however, are taking the challenges posed by the communication blockade in their stride, even as they struggle to vent their frustrations.
The two youths who surfaced outside Kaysir’s home had travelled more than 90 km from Shopian, in south Kashmir. One of them studies at a nursing college in Srinagar, where he fell in love with a girl from a village in north Kashmir a year ago.
He spoke with the girl on the night of 4 August, when communication lines were suddenly snapped and all Kashmiris, in an unprecedented security clampdown, were virtually put under house arrest.
Now, he had travelled all the way from Shopian, just to get a glimpse of her.
At Bagh-e-Mehtab locality on the outskirts of Srinagar, residents complain that groups of boys are often seeing loitering in the streets. Confrontations have been reported, many of which have turned ugly.
“It has become a nuisance. On two occasions, there was a fistfight and neighbours intervened to prevent the situation from getting out of hand.”Nawaz Din, a trader who lives in the area.
I met Aqib Nabi, a well-mannered boy from a business family at a park in Srinagar, who was pursuing Bachelors in Commerce at Srinagar’s Cluster University. He was sitting alone on a bench beneath the shade of a Chinar tree.
As conversation veered from the academic challenges facing the student community in Kashmir to the solitary lives they have been pushed to live under the prevailing communication blockade, he narrated the story of his two year relationship with a girl.
On 29 August, after making three failed attempts in a week, Aqib managed to throw a letter wrapped around a stone into her room. “Waiting for you at Joggers Park. 3 pm. Every day, except Tuesday and Friday,” the letter said.
It is a risky move that can land the girl in trouble with her family. “Just when I was coming out of the street, a group of youth asked me what I was doing there. I tried to lie but didn’t do a good job and got a beating in return,” he said.
‘Flourish of Innovations’
Sameer Bhat, a student of Sri Pratap College, got in touch with his girlfriend on the third day of the security clampdown. One of his cousins, his girlfriend’s friend, went to her home in Jawahar Nagar locality and installed a mobile app called ‘Talkie Pro’ on her phone.
Within limited distance, the app enables users to make video calls over WiFi without internet connectivity.
“The only open space around their house is in the graveyard, where I go once in three or four days to talk to her. However, neighbours are giving me suspicious looks lately, so I am thinking of buying a shovel and taking a friend along to avoid any situation,” he said.
Hilal Ahmad, who studies at Amar Singh College in Srinagar, used an innovative idea. Having already conveyed to his girlfriend to cut the TV cable and fake a call to the local operator, he landed at the girl’s home in Rajbagh with an ‘assistant’.
The girl’s bedridden mother is recovering from a knee surgery while her father and brother, both state employees, are out of home.
“I had to buy pliers, a cutter and adhesive tape to put up the right appearance. While my ‘assistant’ set the cable right, ten good minutes I spoke with her passed in a blink,” he said.
Then, the ‘assistant’ interrupted the meeting.
Time to leave!
It is Sunday afternoon, 1 September. Three days have passed but Aqib’s girlfriend hasn’t come to the park. Was the letter picked by wrong hands? Has her brother come to know of their affair? These thoughts have been tormenting Aqib since that piece of paper landed in the girl’s room.
As the sun prepares to go down, he is clutching to the last rays of hope, “Perhaps I have landed her in trouble. I should not have been so reckless to throw a letter in her room. Or perhaps she is waiting for the right time,” he said.
In the north Kashmir village, Kaysir instructed the Shopian youth to stay quiet and nod in agreement when asked. Kaysir knew the girl’s family and he straightaway headed to her home. After repeated knocks, the girl’s father appeared at the door.
“Kaysir, all well?” the man said.
“I am fine sir. No one by the name of Majid sahib, the fruit dealer, lives here, isn’t it? I told these youths who have come from Shopian but they won’t believe me. These idiots have been tricked, it seems.”Kaysir Malik, a young manager with a small media company in Srinagar.
The girl’s father repeated that no one by the name of Majid sahib, the fruit dealer, lives in the village, and that it was better for the young boys to return home. He even offered them tea but it was declined by Kaysir.
At this point, a girl craned out her neck from the window on the second floor. For a moment, she is frozen in shock and awe.
“Saw the girl?” Kaysir said, as they walked on the deserted road in the village.
“I saw the crescent of Eid,” the youth replied.
(Jehangir Ali is a Srinagar-based journalist. He tweets at @gaamuk.)
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