Some slices of the past one holds close forever.’ Like a magical potion, they lift spirits in moments of despair. Saturday, December 23, 1972, is one such date that has got imprinted on my mind. In October of that year, I had got admission in the English Department of Kashmir University, thanks to Dr M.S. Want. Nonetheless, like thick dark, ominous clouds, the blues of a previous couple of years still lurked in my mind, and sometimes feelings of dismay distressed me. It was a windy and cold morning, in a mood of desolation, like wanderer unmindful about the station, I took a bus at the Batmaloo terminus arrived at the mausoleum of Baba Payam ud Din Reshi seven thousand feet above sea level, nestled in thick forests with billows of mist adding a surreal aura to the surroundings. The mausoleum of the saint, who said farewell to his life of ease and royalty and prayed in dense forest for seeking God’s blessings had for me its own solace and serenity. From, here I took a shortcut to Gulmarg and on reaching to the famed meadow snowflakes greeted me. Coming down like fluffy cotton ropes, the snow created a threatening situation for me, and it turned into a nightmare when I was informed that the last bus for the City has left and there may be no bus tomorrow. In this depressing scenario, I spotted a bus, continuously honking, like a man lost in a desert chasing a mirage, I rushed towards it with the hope of getting back home. The seventy-two seater bus was packed with girl students from the Women’s College, Srinagar, and it was waiting for some girls who were yet to arrive. In the babbling crowd insides the bus, I spotted a few girls who knew me by face and name also, two of them were from our locality, one of them hired novels for me from the Book Corner.
I thought the girls known to me would vouch for my credentials, but they chose to pretend as strangers. The peon of the college, also a matchmaker, who was jeered by boys in our locality for his peculiar gait, even knew me. He too avoided me. Swathed with snow from top to toe, like a snowman, I approached the driver to give me lift down the hill; he gently told me sorry I cannot take a boy in a girl’s bus. Then, at the door of the bus, I saw standing three teachers of the college. I knew them by face, and of course, by name and subjects they were teaching, but none of them knew me. Till then none of them had been a teacher at Islamia College, my alma mater.
Of the three, I knew Gassudin Sahib, a physics teacher from my Zal’goor days, when with passion my mates and I raced on traffic-less streets with swallows continuously hitting with sticks on our Zal’goor – the rubber wheel. Those days, we looked at him and two more teachers of chemistry Mir Sahib and Jaffer Sahib with admiration when they passed through the street of our Mohalla on bicycles on the way to S.P. College. The other two teachers that accompanied the girls’ college students were Shama Sahib, (chemistry) and Bazaz Sahib (Physics) – I don’t know if he was related to Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz, but some of my friends knew him for his suaveness.
Some of the friends on the university campus knew both Gassudin and Bazaz, as superintendents in the examination halls inside the Central Jail, Srinagar. Like in 1965, in the early seventies hundreds of students from different colleges including professional colleges and Kashmir University had been jailed under the Preventive Detention Act (PDA). The then vernacular media in Srinagar more particularly the Daily Aftab and the Daily Hamdard had initiated a sustained campaign against the detention of students in such large numbers and expressed concern about their academic career. The campaign had caused a visit of the then Health and Jail Minister Lone and Home Secretary G. M. Mir to Jail for an on spot assessment. And after the meeting, they had decided against taking students in buses for sitting in the examinations in different centres in various colleges and resolved setting up centres inside the jails. Scores of students sat for the examination in TDC-I and TDC Final Examination in these examination centres inside the Central Jail. Most of these boys later in life made top academicians, professionals and administrators. Syed Mir Qasim, then Chief Minister, takes pride in autobiography for this decision of saving the academic career of hundreds of incarcerated students.
Coming back, to Gulmarg, seeing the three teachers about to board the bus the heart inside my frozen and numb body was pounding to collapse and explaining my position, I requested them for a lift. The three looked at each other. The word Okay from Gassudin Sahib like waves of fire flashed my face and brought warmth in my frozen body- I was asked to sit in the front seat and not to look back. Travelling in a girl’s college bus from Gulmarg to Srinagar filled with songs, giggles, jeers punctured with catcalls towards me was a unique experience hard to forget.
Z.G.Muhammad is a noted writer and columnist