Many years ago that I had the privilege of being part of the production team that made a documentary for an overseas television channel. The central theme for the film was relevant to what is happening now in the Indian Occupied Kashmir and along the Line of Control. It was with some trepidation that we approached the project because of sensitivities and we decided that the best way forward would be to take up the human interest theme. During our research for the script we came across many stories of barbarism, tragedy, courage and fortitude. This week’s piece is based on one of these narratives.
Chikoti is a small community overlooking Jehlum River, a short distance from the point, where this mighty watercourse enters Azad Kashmir from across the Line of Control. It is a beautiful spot surrounded by pine covered mountains, but this beauty is deceptive, for it has always been a place, where the residents face risk of death and injury from relentless violations of the ‘ceasefire’ by the Indian Army.
On a nearby hill stands a solitary home from where, one can see the bridge that spans the river and marks the line dividing the State of Jammu and Kashmir. It was a moonlit night as we climbed the steep and narrow path leading to this house and found ourselves on a patch of relatively flat ground dotted with walnut, apple and pine. We noted with interest that the few farming terraces in the area told their own tale of woe. The ones that were exposed to the Indian side were overgrown with grass and weeds, while the ones behind any cover indicated signs of recent cultivation. We also noted graffiti on one of the walls, which said, “Shaadi Mubarik”.
A young boy received us and led us into a small room decorated with faded paper buntings and more graffiti of the same kind as the one outside. An old woman sat in front of a ‘choolah’ making fresh wheat bread surrounded by the aroma of burning pine wood and hot ‘chapatis’. Flames from the ‘choolah’ cast a dancing reflection on the walls and roof, augmenting the feeble light of a simple kerosene lamp to create an unforgettable ambience. Some time and eight or nine ‘chapatis’ later, we were led into the adjoining room that made up the total accommodation. This room was decorated as a bridal chamber with faded paper buntings, dried strings of marigold flowers and the picture of a ‘just married’ young man and his bride. We stood there reverently, the silence broken only by a sobbing sound, as tears began to trickle down the weathered cheeks of the old lady. This is her story.
It was on a bright sunny morning that Hamida Bibi (not her real name) had happily accompanied her son along with friends and family down the hill to bring home a beautiful daughter in law. The festivities had ended by the afternoon, when the party started the climb back to the gaily decorated home, where the happy couple would begin a new life together. As they topped the path close to the house, they heard the sound of heavy automatic weapons opening up from across the bridge. The ground around them erupted as tracer bullets ploughed the earth. When the firing ceased, two blood soaked bodies lay on the ground – the bridegroom and his newly wed bride.
It was then that we realised the reason for the buntings and the decorated bridal chamber. The bereaved mother had clung desperately to the memory of that fateful day and had preserved her home as it was, when her happiness and her future had been barbarically taken away from her.
We returned to Chikoti in a somber mood and toyed with a dinner served by our local host. Driving back to our hotel in Muzzafarabad, each one of us sat alone immersed in thought. Mine were centered on an old woman, in a house decorated for a wedding - on a hill facing an enemy, which killed innocent unarmed civilians without any qualms.
The writer is a historian.