I was as free as a bird. So were my siblings and peers. Like Shelly’s high-spirited skylark caroling and whistling in lanes and by lanes, we were no less than a poet composing, or a glow-worm illuminating darker corners of a garden or a rose in bloom scenting everything around.
On the shop-fronts, I had heard many stories about the snoops reporting against the senior workers of the Plebiscite Front and then political thugs from the ruling party intimidating, and terrorizing them. For their moving in and around our locality, many other children also knew some informers of police by face. I have very vivid impression about one of them who lived a few hundred yards from my first school. I remember his name to this day. He was black complexioned, one-eyed, with deep pockmarked face and eyebrows as thick as wild bushes. He looked to me like a genie in the Arabian Nights. There was another, whose nickname resonates to this day in my mind- on spotting him to his annoyance children called him from behind by his nickname – Nuk. For his wife and daughters being of easy virtue, some elderly boys from by lanes used to call him “Juma Gaan”- pimp. If any of the two Snoopers was spotted in the evening passing through one or other lane of our Mohalla boys whistled at them and sometimes pelted stones at them. One evening, I remember we were playing “Gour-Mouj-Gour” hide and seek in our Mohalla, one of the two known snoops passed through the lanes, Dina in our group an elderly boy ran away with his astrakhan cap and disappeared in dark lanes of the Mohalla. Left high and dry he started screaming. For their vicious and dubious role, the two snoops were most hated persons in the locality.
Stories of brutal methods of torture from ironing peoples bellies and pushing hot potatoes into the mouths of people innovated by a senior cop were galore. On shops front, one heard stories of torture for stifling the voice of dissent on daily basis. Notwithstanding, the stories of torture the overwhelming majority in the three wards of city ward 4, 5 and 6 of the city refused to budge. The majority of people in these epicentres of resistance even denied to being cajoled with money.
Political discussions as written earlier in an earlier chapter were banned and warnings had been administered to shop owners against allowing any political discussion on their shops. Some barbers and tailors shops in our locality were on the surveillance list. The truth however, is that no one paid heed to the placards displayed against political discussions and the official diktats was rarely respected. Most of the shops hummed with political discussions; the release of detained leadership used to be the hot topic. The unlettered tailors, masons and barbers would be more informed about Kashmir related developments at the international level than the literate office goers who were afraid of snoops reporting it high ups. Some shopkeepers remained glued to radio sets, listened every news and highly critical satirical programmes like zarb-e-kaleem or Manat-Dab programmes broadcast from Azad Kashmir Radio Trarkhel, Muzaffarabad.
Every child unmindful of the informer on shop fronts bragged about bravado of their relations, who had crossed over to other Side of the line voluntarily or had been coerced to cross over the ceasefire line. Those days, a letter from a relation living in Azad Kashmir or Pakistan was a big news. It spread in the Mohalla faster than a post on the Facebook or on twitter. Notwithstanding the letter having been censored by the intelligence agencies at more than two places before delivery, the snoops would visit the family and ask them to show the letter. I remember, whenever an unlettered painter of our Mohalla received a letter from Pakistan, he immediately visited our house and asked my uncle or my elder brother to read it out to him. Tears would start raining from his eyes. His uncle, who had been exiled in 1947, for being a supporter of the Muslim Conference had married in Karachi. He had no son and wanted to adopt his orphan nephew. He often joined us on the shop fronts, after receiving a letter from his uncle in Karachi True, to his profession he painted picture of Karachi in colours before us as if he had been living there for years. Then he started dreaming of crossing over to the other side like our cousin Ali. In the first section of this book, I have already narrated story about his return. Not bothering about the snoops, more particularly the pox marked small-time tailor of our Mohalla, living in the humblest house who despite being worker of political party was working as an informer, I also loved bragging about the bravado of my cousin. For children in the family the lean, tar-faced, dwarfish cousin was no less than Gama Pahalwan, the only he-man, othér than Rustum about whom we had heard stories. Those days many boys elder to us dreamt of building their bodies like that of Gama Pahalwan or his nephew Bhoola Pahalwan. I had started believing that this Amritsar born wrestler belonged to our mohalla. In our mohalla, there was family popularly known as Gamas. For many years, believed the wrestler was from this very family. His story was not for us less than Alice in the wonderland.
Z.G.Muhammad is a noted writer and columnist