(Kuka…Is there oppression in Kashmir now?)

Recently, I watched a red-color car struggling to get through the snow-ridden road opposite to the gate of our home. The driver, with the bald head and our neighbour, found it extremely difficult to control the steering of the skidding car. He had to park the car inside the garage, few meters away.

He was soon calling the onlookers like me and two other persons for help. Together we pushed the car. The submerged wheels were soon out of the deep watery snow until the driver stopped the car at his garage.

It was after a long time I had seen my neighbour- a bank associate these days. He seemed to be living an extremely busy life. It was not always like that.

The accidental meeting in the snow at once brought back those childhood memories. The winter and lazy days were enough to recapitulate those precious moments.

It was the time when the owner of this car- Kuka- used to be an unemployed man. He was in his mid 20’s. I guess I was in the primary school then. It was sometime in the mid 90’s.

Kuka was fast losing his hair. The fear of getting bald always haunted him. He never wanted to be called a bald-headed bachelor. That’s why he would use a variety of oil preparations to salvage whatever grew on his head.

Being the only graduate in our locale, he had once offered free tuition to two students. Both were brothers. The duo did not belong to the poor family. They could have afforded pricey tutor as their father was a rich man. But their parsimonious father would always want them to feed cattle, milk cows and do domestic work. No spending on education.

Since it used to be winters, which means long School vacations, Kuka tempted the father by saying he would give his sons free tuition at his home every evening. The scrooge father agreed readily.

Kuka was not a kind of person who would offer charity to people. Behind this generosity, lay an interest: Save his hair fall.

Kuka’s younger brother was my tutor. That’s how I remained a witness to Kuka’s schemes. He would ask the two brothers- younger and elder- to come on alternate evenings for tuitions. After he would finish their classes, he would hand over the bottle filled with some oil to one of the brothers and ask them to rinse on his head. During the process as his face would turn red due to excessive tel maalish (Oil massage), he used to talk at length of those news paper ads, doctors and oil varieties he had tried to save his hair loss. So far nothing had worked in his favour.

Kuka also talked about the conflict. He would say “Kate chu zulm” (Where is the oppression?). “Yem shor karan, temen loukan che yeh dawa” (Those people who make noise for them (killing, detentions and beating by Indian troops) it is a medicine). “Yethapaet cha yem ratan” (Otherwise they wont harm you).

Despite using every medicine, natural and chemical, consulting doctors, he failed to stop his hair fall.

Those days winter months meant plenty of spare time. Hence, days were spent mostly playing cricket at a nearby open field called Taing– a Kashmiri word for a raised mass of land. The snow on Taing was a perfect place to slide. Rikine, we would call it.

I was a kid and like others, I along with few other bunch of my friends were too small to bowl or bat. We would be only assigned duties to get the ball when somebody would hit boundaries beyond the tall poplars ringing the field.

As we would run here and there, joyful of playing with elders, we would often listen to the talks of grown ups, not about cricket, mostly about the daily conflict. Firing. Encounter. Killings. Crackdown. Raids. Protests.

Soon, these talks would turn into full fledged verbal brawls when Kuka would enter into a debate. He would never buy the argument that there was repression. That people demanding Azaadi, according to him, were not on the right path.

“Kate Chu Zulm,” he would often repeat. “Yeme che yethe louk”.

Nobody could convince Kuka. He was unflinching.

But Kuka was not alone. His cousin Yaseena, who used to be one of the players too would chip in and take his side. He too would blame Kashmiris for all the “mess”.

Both of them, Kuka and Yaseena, have taken oath to go against the public tide. They would often confront the word Zulm (Opression by Indian army and police) spoken by players, elders and people from neighboring areas by saying “Kate Chu Zulm”. Their, third cousin, Fayaz would often confront them. He had always plausible arguments.

“One day you would realise it,” Fayaz would often tell the two. “Azaadi is a popular call. We would get it. Inshallah”.

Our area witnessed numerous raids, crackdowns, firing incidents. The people would be often hauled by Indian troops outside homes during night and days. Despite suffering so much, nothing would budge them from their stand of point.

During evenings, the elders of the areas would often gather at Taing– which was dotted by plum trees. It was a favourite evening gossip place. The grown up boys would sit with them. We would maintain a distance. We would eavesdrop most of the times. The conflict gossips would overshadow everything. The elders would talk of Indian Zulm, killings, renegades, raids etc.

Kuka would often intervene by saying “kate chu Zulm”. His cousin Yaseena too would follow the same line. It would always annoy the elders who would respond by the silence. It would make them angry, and disappointment them. Their eyes spoke everything.

Kuka was stubborn on his stand, unlike his weak physique. He had a slender body. A long curved nose and thin hair on his head.

He was known for prolonging debates, talk, or anything. A kind of person who would drag the debate till other people would get silenced. Either by getting fed up with Kuka’s never-to-end arguments or just to end the debate.

Kuka was wily, having some traits of a politician as well. He would stoke fight between two friends to settle his scores with one among them. He would use deception and flattery to pursue his interests in the locale or elsewhere.

Few years passed, we too started playing cricket. We would bowl and also bat. Not like past where we would play as the 12th member of the team. Fayaz, Yaseen and Kuka other elders too would participate.

In the meantime like other elder boys, Kuka vigorously pursued to get his job. He left the idea of higher studies. After twists and turns, he finally was able to get through the banking exam. He became a bank clerk.

A year or two might have passed, Kuka was less seen on Taing. He bought a white Maruti car- those days a luxury- by availing the low-interest loan granted by the bank to its employees. As we would play on Taing, we would spot him whizzing on the road across the fields adjacent to our play ground.

Those days Kuka had lost almost all the hair above his temples. But he had grown long hair on both sides of his head and then would oil comb them to cover the bald patches on his head.

Owing to his partially bald head, and of his obdurate attitude, he earned a sobriquet-Rexene (Ragzene).

Whenever he would speed past the road, the Mohalla (Locale) children would raise slogans- Rexene..Rexene.

One day Rexene went on an official work and had asked Fayaz to accompany him to Budgam—a neighbouring province.

On return, Fayaz told me and other bunch of children in the playfield that ‘Rexene’ got stuck in the army convoy while driving back home.

In those days, like disciplined school boys, it was mandatory for civilians to stop their vehicles, and allow the army convoy to pass through first. Nobody could dare, even accidentally, to venture or bump into the army vehicles. If you did, the punishment would range from bamboo beating to detention. Invectives and expletives were part of the package.

“There was no space where he could have parked his car on the road. So he drove in between the army vehicles,” he said, as we listened intently. “After some time, an army man sitting at the rear end of the vehicle asked us to stop. Some troopers disembarked the army vehicle that was behind our car.”

Fayaz said they straight away grabbed “Rexene” by the collar of his shirt. They slapped him several times while he was still stuck in the driving seat. Then they used gun butts. The duo was released after Rexene apologised.

“I remained silent. It was the need of the hour. He was beaten till his face turned bloody. His ears were red and hot,” Fayaz told us. It did not end here. Fayaz, as always, had something funny in store.

“After some time, I mustered the courage,” he said. “I asked Kuka, wane cha Zulm (Is there oppression in Kashmir)”. “Kuka’s reply was silence and stony look,” he said.

The moment he narrated this incident, all of us broke into a big laughter. Thereafter all the children and elder players who would come to the field would taunt Kuka.

“Kuka wane cha Zulm”.

He would shrug his shoulders as nothing had happened. After sometime he altogether stopped coming to Taing as he reportedly fell in love. Whenever we would see his white car passing through the distant road adjacent to the field, we would shout in one voice and then break in laughters- amazed and happy.

“Kuka wane cha Zulm”.

Few years after this incident, Kuka’s biggest supporter Yaseena was coming home after finishing his work in the Rawalpora locale. He was caught by the Indian army men who had raided our locale, claiming we have given refuge to a freedom fighter they were chasing.

The cordon began. All the male members of our locality were asked to come out of their homes. Yaseena was caught at the outer ring by Indian soldiers who had surrounded our place from all the sides.

That day only two or I guess three men were beaten. But Yaseena was asked several questions.

“Where is the militant carrying Kalshinkov,” the soldiers had asked him.

“I don’t know. I was out to get fodder for cattle. How come I know,” he had replied.

The soldiers lost temper and ruthlessly beat Yaseena with the sticks and kicks. He too was beaten till his skin was peeled off his back.

Many people of our locality visited him after they came to know he was beaten up mindlessly by the Indian soldiers.

Next day, as I, my friends, and Fayaz went to the playfield. We were strolling and laughing. Without naming anyone we shouted “wane cha Zulm”. And as Yaseena arrived, we appeared to be serious and not actually attempting to taunt him. But looking at his swollen face, one of the friends shouted loudly, “Yete Kouta Zulm (How much oppression is here)”. And we laughed.

Yaseena gave a sad look at us, silent, and broken. We were struggling to stop the burst of laughter. I want to do it now..ha ha haaaaa

Today I realise that I have the same intensity to laugh again. Laugh again at a person who feels there is no Zulm in Kashmir.

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