OPINION: Childhood Memories I Wish I Never Had

When I came to Delhi earlier this year to join the Masters program in Political Science in Jamia Millia, things felt different. This place didn’t seem like Kashmir, not even in the least. It felt like I had stepped into a new world altogether.

After leaving from the airport, my friend asked me: so what’s the first change you observe? How is it different from Kashmir?

Pat came the reply: you don’t find security forces after every five steps here.

And my friend was surprised; she said she wasn’t expecting that to be the first thing I’d notice.

That’s how it has been for us Kashmiris. We don’t lag behind when it comes to talent or competition, but the conflict we’ve witnessed has had such a profound impact on us that we relate it with anything and everything.

And we can’t even be blamed for it.

It has been quite a while in Delhi now and I’ve found some friends too, the closest being my roommate. She’s been a real find and I love listening to things she says. She often narrates to me various memorable times of her childhood.

Once she shared with me the collection of her childhood photographs – smiling, dancing, celebrating birthdays, enjoying trips with her family and much more. Seeing all those full-of-life pictures, I tried to imagine having a similar childhood that my non-Kashmiri friend kept telling me about. It would have been such a blissful one I thought to myself. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

I still love it when she narrates her childhood stories to me, though I’m reminded of bitter memories of my own childhood, yet, it gives me an idea about what my childhood could have been like.

She keeps telling me how she used to play with her friends, irritate them, fight with them; while I remember the times when I unknowingly kept playing with bullets.

She tells me how she’d run around and play all day without a care in the world; while I remember how, when I was just six-years-old, me and my dad had to run for our lives when we were caught in the midst of a fierce gun battle.

Again and again, I go through her photo albums, and as I do, tears trickle down my face as I realize I’ve none to show, for they were all destroyed when my grandparents house – where I’d spent most of my childhood – was gutted down along with 12 other houses, just because militants had taken refuge in a neighboring house.

She talks of tranquility, while I remember only terror.

“When pain makes it difficult to articulate coherently, quiet remembrance helps. Like many other Kashmiris, I’ve been in silence, committing to memory, the deed and the date. The faces of the murdered boys, the color of their shirts, their grieving fathers; these might disappear from the headlines, but they’ve already found their place in our collective memory. Kashmir sees the unedited Kashmir,” wrote Basharat Peer, the author of “Curfewed Night” in an article entitled, “Kashmir Unrest : a letter to an unknown Indian,” published in the Economic Times in 2010.

How true. I really don’t remember having listened to a lullaby to fall asleep at night, but I certainly remember sleeping amidst the sound of gunshots. I don’t remember much of my playing on the streets, but I certainly remember the silence echoing from the deserted streets and curfewed nights.

I don’t remember many happy moments of my childhood (which aren’t many to begin with), but I certainly remember the look of fear and dread on everyone’s face when Tiger (that was the Major’s name) would head the crackdown in our area.

I don’t exactly remember the first big word I heard and memorized, but I’m certain that Kalashnikov was one of the first few.

I don’t remember what I learned of terror first, but I certainly remember that I took army to be synonymous with terror without anyone saying so to me.

My family members call me “the child of conflict,” for I was born in 1989, the year that changed everything in Kashmir.

I was alive, yet I don’t remember life; I only remember deaths. The deaths I saw with my own eyes. The fear of death I saw in the eyes of those around me.

I’ve seen it all – valiant voices, stony streets, blood lusty bullets, coercive crackdowns, mourning mothers, fatigued fathers, devastated dreams, peace in pieces and what not.

What I say maybe one of the “usual” stories coming from Kashmir every now and then, yet I feel like shouting it to everyone. And why shouldn’t I? My childhood was stolen, my happiness chained and my dreams curfewed. I don’t remember the toys I played with, all I remember of my childhood is the bloodshed, curfews, crackdowns, disappearances, torture, killings and the mourning.

Even when my friends here fondly recall the beauty of their college days: the mass bunks and the parties, I remain silent, for I don’t have many similar memories to share.

I hardly remember all that. What makes the period from 2008 to 2010 significant for me is not the collegiate charm, but Kashmir’s second revolution – “The New Intifada” as it is called.

What dominates my memory is the anger that was visible on the streets of Kashmir. I remember Sangbaazi (stone pelting); I remember every single line of the slogans played through the Masjid loudspeakers, I remember the graffiti and I remember the deaths.

Sometimes during nights when I lay awake in my bed here in Delhi, far away from Kashmir, I wonder how things are back home. Are the mountains witness to yet another killing somewhere? Is Jehlum flowing silently, reflecting the red somewhere? Is the street bloodstained? Does the air smell of blood?

They say this year has been peaceful in Kashmir so far. But when I hear that, I am reminded of the words of a Kashmiri-American poet, Agha Shahid Ali, who said: “They make a desolation and call it peace.”

About Samreen Mushtaq

Samreen Mushtaq is a Staff Writer for Jamia Journal, and a PhD student in the Department of Political Science. She can be reached via email at: samreen_mushtaq[at]ymail.com

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  1. straight from the heart, brilliant piece…it does make people feel the plight of Kashmir…these issues trouble my conscience when the political authorities keep on dealing with them with every effort of seeking a ‘political solution’, and every time ending as a failure…wish that politics becomes more humane and people can live peacefully..

  2. you have done a tremendous job….really proud of you…God Bless you

  3. This is a grt piece of wrk Samreen…kp up the good wrk…loved evry word of this article…lukng frwrd fr more…

  4. Niece piece.dil khole k rakh dia hai.
    It is pleasing that people r cmng out wd their side of story the real one,the unedited version.

  5. Raw emotions expressed in a matter of fact manner…[a little bit of editing would have done wonders though], keep writing and best of luck

  6. brilliant, poignant and powerful.God bless!

  7. owsome……….

  8. Hey sammu.. very proud to see this note from you.. and I wish you all the very best for everything you desire for. I would just say that Keep up the good work :)

  9. Just Another Kashmiri

    Thank you Samreen for this article, heart wrenching.
    i hope your stay in Delhi, has been good. it will be, i am sure Indians are not bad as they act in Kashmir, at least some.
    please make sure that Kashmir being an integral part or not should not be ur problem or discussion. Please strive for a better mindset in Kashmir. Make sure that Kashmir become heaven of goodness, make sure that you don’t see any human being in Kashmir taking the path of radicalization.

    Nice Article, God Bless You :)

  10. One among the best pieces i have read in past years. Beautifully expressed and every single word just gives you the essence of truth but in other ways also reminds me of the world we are living in. I must the last sentence in which you have quoted Agha shahid ali has not just added grace to this wonderful write up but also summed up this whole piece in such a way that even a lay man can understood what is written above. Not only making people feel the Kashmir cause and what is happening there this wonderful art (i must call it a piece of art)also makes the reader let lost in another world. This wonderful piece has just struck me straight leaving me speechless. May God bless you Samreen……….
    Thanks for writing this brilliant piece.
    Sheikh S (:P)

  11. So do I..but these memories keep haunting us.Every time i read such articles something inside me dies or actually wakes.its a strange feeling.When will we overcome?Keep writing.God bless.

  12. The honest voice, witnesses and experiences of eighties-born kashmiries. Well told Samreen.

  13. Thanks, everyone .. M honoured!

  14. A child revisiting the pain of the lost childhood and simultaneously narrating the brute history of the torn vale.this is a work,parexcellence.well articulated and heart throbbing.

  15. Your writing is a real reflection of your mind…in the childhood people say child have a clean mirror heart and what the mirror had captured you have presented the same in that innocent way…May Allah bless you always and keep on writing about Our Kashmir in the innocent way which we Kashmir’s were once proud of…

  16. allah bless..

  17. The story should not be based merely on feelings and emotions, rather facts and findings

    The writer deserves praise for penning down her sad memories of chaos in the serene environment. Now frankly speaking, the writer did express her feeling in the form of narrating one side of the story. She failed or ignored to pinpoint the reason behind this emergency-like-situation there. Neither Kashmir is the only state nor Samreen is the only child who witnessed such untoward incidents and spent sleepless nights. If you remember Iron Lady Irom Sharmila’s struggle you would have a fair idea.

    The parliament of India passed “The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA)” on September 11, 1958 – which confers special powers to armed forces in what they call ‘disturbed areas’ in the states of ARUNACHAL PRADESH, ASSAM, MANIPUR, MEGHALAYA, MIZORAM, NAGALAND AND TRIPURA. IT WAS LATER EXTENDED TO JAMMU & KASHMIR IN 1990.

    We, Indians, have witness war in 1965, 1971 and most recently Kargil War with Pakistan and with China in 1962, and are well aware of the consequences. India can’t afford such wars again. I am not defending or advocating the Indian side or ruthless military forces, but highlighting the other side which causes the situation remain the same. The story should not be based merely on feelings and emotions, rather facts and findings.

    John William

    • @john william: you mean to say if anyone has met any tragedy in life, he/she shouldn’t reveal?Strange!
      let me tell you, she has not signed any contract with any party. She is just pouring out her childhood sufferings and you are suffocating for no reason.
      And please don’t teach any war history here. we know what india has done and when.

    • You are in a way defending the political system of India which is really corrupt and since a very long time . It is easy to write what you have written ask the people who have gone through this in ARUNACHAL PRADESH, ASSAM, MANIPUR, MEGHALAYA, MIZORAM, NAGALAND AND TRIPURA.In JAMMU & KASHMIR from last 65 years..The fact with Kashmir is we have been deceived since Nehru Ji came to Srinagar and promised for Plebiscite.After that in 1988 why did the kashmiri revolt go through the facts and dont see the findings shown to you by Politicians.The war what India witnessed was Indias problem as Pakistan was creation of Indian Political system.So please live upto the emotions of our as a Human, which are really sacred to us.You are trying to insert political words in the emotional words of a common Kashmiri Samreen Mushtaq who you did not understand as a Human but as a Kashmiri Muslim…That is the fact.

  18. I’m certainly not a Kashmiri but trust me i can feel the pain as much as you do Samreen.

  19. Dear Samreen,got engrossed in your story to the full extent.Completely nostalgic.Revisited the pain of 2nd May 2002, when security forces enjoyed tea, for the whole night, made by my family members out of the Milk kept in our refrigerator for my twin kids and next day set our house on fire, after looting our belongings.
    Samreen reading your story made me feel I was going thru yet another chapter from Basharat Peers’ “Curfewed Night”.Great Going.God Bless You.KEEP WRITING

  20. Dear John Williams.
    Every word of your comment above is true and valid.i too agree that kashmir has off late been awarded AFSPA status and innumerable people including children have suffered before Samreen and us all Kashmiri’s but she is not researching on that theme or writing a book,she has simply dipped her creative pen in the ink of tasteless and scary repressed childhood,simply carved a story out of the nostaligia of sense of loss.while i fully respect your articulate and scholarly arguement but submit that it is a story not a research article,so not her fault to cover everthing in the background.

    @Yasir,Gentleman you must revisit the ethic of writing and reacting on something.you have no right to throw impolite comments,let the author deal herself.

  21. Thank you all for your feedback..

    @john williams : I seriously have no idea how to respond to you, because I don’t know what facts should I support my ‘lost childhood’ with.. Do I need to write how many times I saw locals washing blood on the street, how many times I saw funeral processions of innocent civilians? What figures should I give? Of those killed last year or before?

    I respect your views but at the same time, I don’t understand why you’ve raised such points..because it is an OPINION piece after all.

    • Having read all the above comments, I observed that critical comments are not welcomed here.It also makes me wonder why people turn jingoistic to their state, than to India, when they write on such issues. @ Samreen: Thanks for reverting back.

  22. @john william : feedback is always welcome… i dnt think thr could be a better justification for it than Adfar Shah’s comment :)

  23. Simply a common voice of Kashmir who are not heard by anyone….

  24. Regretful and spiteful,yet inadequately good;want author’s permission to let truth trip off my tongue..!

  25. Very well written Samreen. I hope your future may hold more moments of personal joy, although I know you will continue to be concerned about Kashmir. And I hope you keep writing because you write well. I send you my love and best wishes.

  26. Dr.Arshad ali wasti

    Dear daughter Samreen, Really astonished to read that out of fear not a single word on Syed ali shah geelani,his strike calls which lasted for months last year?Samreen 10thousand Muslims were killed by militants,thousands migrated?Any word about them?Last not the least Kashmiri pundits.Samreen learn to write in a unbiased way..

    • mr wasti
      samreen has been ethical while writing the piece, strikes and curfews have born with us.fighters impose strikes and andministration impose curfew,why not ponder at that. ecnomic blocade 2008,why dont shy.mass graves why dont cry about that.creation of ikhwaninis and later then transforming them into spo’s.vote rigging of 1988.halplessness and nothing else

  27. Samreen , you have given a vent to your childhood emotions, as to how u feel your childhood was strangulated. At the same time u need to realise, as to why such so called atrocities by security forces were committed. I think securtiy forces hardly used to come out of their barracks prior to 1989.U have mentioned about Last years violence and deaths but u have neglected the causes.I hope in future u will be more analytical in your writings. Continue writing.

  28. [Comment deleted by Administrator. Please limit your comments to the article in question.]

  29. My reply is to Dr.Arshad ali wasti. Mr Wasti, like most of the Indians, just tries to bring in Syed Ali Geelani everywhere. Mr Wasti, let me tell you Kashmir is not only about Geelani. Why are you people so afraid of him…Why can’t you think rationally. The killings by militants will not absolve your soldiers of the crimes they have committed over years in Kashmir. If militants killed 10,00,0 who did the other 60,000 kill(remember independent human rights groups put the toll at 70,000).

    If Samreen writes about what she has experienced as a child, she has every right to. And why should she mention Geelani or any other person for that matter. Why bring politics in a personal story.And yes what kind of ‘fear’ are you referring to? In Kashmir there is only one fear among the people….The fear of being killed and brutalized by the Indian soldiers. And the death toll last year is a justification for that…Please Mr Wasti, come out of this false jingoism and try to look at Kashmir problem as an objective and unbiased observer.Then only you can find the truth…

  30. samreen brilliant write up keep it up… tears r just rolling down from my cheeks.. God bless …

  31. As humans its very important to be sensitive towards each others pain irrespective of which religion or country we belong to. Being only sensitive if someone is a Muslim or a Pandit is of no use. I feel that the youth of kashmir who know and understand the horrors of war should make sure that they work towards peace and unity. We have two options, either we go and take revenge or we forgive and help in making abetter world.
    War and hatred have no end, its cycle. You cannot end war by war. Peace is the only way.

  32. Samreen its a great write up,its not just your story..its the story that every kashmiri shares…
    I being here Banglore feel the same as you,a feeling one can hardly express in words…
    To understand our Story one Needs to look from a Human perspective…
    Keep up the Good Work…
    Allah be with us all…

    Quoting Agha Shahid Ali “We shall meet again, in Srinagar,/by the gates of the Villa of Peace,/our hands blossoming into fists/till the soldiers return the keys/and disappear. Again we’ll enter/our last world,the first that vanished/in our absence from the broken city…”

  33. I remeber many stories as a Child “child of conflict”…
    I remeber army men abducting one of my neighbours late in the Night who till this date has not retured,One among the thousands who disappeared into the dark mist between under the shadow of the Blazing AK’s…
    Half dead is what one can call them,their Families still hope that one day their loved ones will return,for them they are neither dead nor alive…

    I remeber my Neighbours Boy Anis Khursheed,age 17 whose voice was silenced with bullets last year..

    The Documentry By Sanjay Kak “Jashn-E-Azadi,who is an Independent Documentry Film Maker is one among the many Documentry films that cover the present and past of kashmir and the Sufferings of its Inhabitants…

    For those who lost their loved ones the Pain will never end…
    It’s the Heaven that Burns…

  34. Everybody here is Mad, and are showing their frustration on an opinion. For heaven Sake, this is India, we digest dissent from Arundhati Roy etc, etc for it is their opinion and it has to be respected.
    So has the writer of this Article, and it is our responsibility to stop being Pseudo-Nationalists.
    At the same time i would like to say/add, Kashmiris have faced problems and they have been because of Indian representatives, who misled the State of India and misused power and position. Responsible? Politicians of India, Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir. Sufferers? Common citizens of India, Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir. And believe my words, there is no orientation or training programme for Indian Representative in Jammu and Kashmir to do atrocities there. Neither does Indian parliament pass a resolution to kill Kashmiris. Indian State thinks Kashmir as Karnataka and Srinagar as Delhi. Some representatives (Jagmohan, Some army people)have done things that should never have happened, but then too the people of Kashmir utilized Army against Kashmiris.
    Even the civil society of Kashmir has betrayed Kashmiris, they enjoy Literature festivals all across the world and Ban the one happening in Kashmir at the behest of Pseudo agents like Mridu Rai (read about her) etc. (referring to Basharat Peer’s participation in Singapore and Edinburgh Festivals). Thus doing injustice to literature students of Kashmir University. It’s high time Kashmiris love Kashmir and understand that a literature festival doesn’t mean there is Normalcy in Kashmir, it means a step towards empowerment and hence Normalcy.

    enjoy and Make sure you all live happy.

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