In our childhood, there was nothing exciting and thrilling inside shops that could attract our attention. Most of the shops were very humble, with wooden fronts (pend) and porches (Kend-tchar).
Groceries were kept in vats, made from highly resilient and resistant kikar wood. The pictures in wooden frames in the shop of a willow basket maker often caught my imagination. He was an ardent supporter of the Plebiscite Front, a rebel who had dared the notorious super cop of the city. To exhibit his commitment to the cause, he cherished most he had hinged the pictures of the then resistance leaders, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Mirza Mohammad Afzal Beg on the walls of his shop. Alongside the picture the Plebiscite Front leaders picture of two army generals with lot of medals and ribbons pinned on their uniforms adorned a wall of his shop. Out of the two generals, I could only recognize Field Marshal, Ayub Khan. During those days, General Ayub Khan was the darling of people in our locality. On Fridays portrait vendors at Hazratbal and Jamia Masjid sold hundreds of his portraits. All the families adorned walls of their living rooms in our locality with a picture of Ayub Khan.
The basket maker despite being a headstrong person who refused to bow before the powers that be, was very humble. Out of curiosity, I asked him, who was the other General standing with Ayub Khan. I learnt his name was Field Marshal, Sir Claude Auchinleck- a top British general who served as Commander-in-Chief of British Army until partition in 1947 and served as Supreme Commander of All British Forces in India and Pakistan until 1948. It was their uniforms with lots of decorations that set me imagining to be a general one day. I felt on top of the world and imagined myself fully uniformed in the battle ground commanding an army. I dreamt of joining army but in our part of the city, there was no tradition of sending children into the army. None from our locality had even joined the state militia in 1947. The majority of people in my birth place hated the state militia as a force of collaborators.
On joining Islamia College in the sixties, I was thrilled to see my seniors in fully starched N.C.C uniforms parading on the main road and learning to use 303 rifles on the adjacent graveyard. Interesting, they kept the barrel of the gun on tombstones butt of the rifle on their shoulders, lied just behind the tombstone aiming towards the Fort. The Fort built by an Afghan Governor,overlooking entire city had emerged as yet another symbol of authority in the city.
Those days the college was housed in a building raised on the plinth of an abandoned slaughterhouse. It had well maintained lawns but no playground. Besides, the city bus hardly one or two buses plied on the road outside the colleges; the road was safe for all sorts of parades. The full throat commands of two smart Under Officers, Mohi-ud-Din and Gul Khan to this day resonate in my mind. It was the D-day for me when a teacher in charge of the N.C.C at college sought an option from me, if I was interested in becoming a cadet. I thought it was an opportunity to make a difference and realize the dream of wearing the uniform; I admired most. I was happy I would learn to place my finger on trigger of a rifle. Like many other teachers in the college, the teacher looking after the N.C. C also from outside the state. Since, the college was first to introduce commerce, in sixties, most of the teachers in the college were from Lucknow Aligarh and other parts of UP and Bihar
Next day, I visited the small N.C.C room to collect my a pair of socks and a pair of heavy military boots; made heavier uniform, which includes a khaki shirt, trouser, a Green Beret cap, a pair of socks and a pair of heavy military boots, made heavier with lots of hobnails. Loaded, with uniform , I reached my house and next day morning in full N.C.C uniform clicking my heels, sweating, I walked down to the college as a genera in making . Having heard lots of stories about machinations of the alien rulers for sapping martial spirit of Kashmiri, I started dreaming of rising to the rank of a general. The portrait of Field Marshal Ayub Khan in full uniform started rolling before my eyes.
Mostly, the N.C.C. parades were after our ‘science practical classes, with rifle reclining against my shoulder, I often remembered the stories, it was an offence to have even a bigger knife or a dagger at home. Possession of a sword during the Sikh and Dogra rule could land people in dungeons. The belt around my waists and military boots in my feet was giving me a sense of victory over the alien rulers that for centuries had banned recruitment of our people in the army. To keep my uniform tidy,I got it washed and starched from one of the best washer man in Dhobi Mohalla, just adjacent to our Mohalla. The feeling of becoming an army general had become part of my psyche, on the days of parades, in starched uniform, I strutted on the road like a general and believed, the onlookers were admiring me.
One morning an eerie silence had taken over the college, Students were whispering about some robbery in the N.C.C room during the night and wounding the night chowkidar Qudi Shah.Some students from another college in the city named after the apostle of non-violence Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi had attempted to steal the drill practice rifles from the N.C.C room or our college. One of the youngest boys perhaps could not escape the hard grip of the wounded chowkidar and was caught and handed over to police. And within hours, police arrested all companions. The story made rounds in the college for some days and it was learned that boys were inspired by film the Lost Command based on Algerian freedom struggle. The film based on best-selling 1960 novel The Centurions by Jean Larteguy, with Anthony Queen in the lead was running full shows in the Neelam Cinema . The boys were jailed for years and tried for subversive activities.
The N.C.C room after the incident remained closed for months.
Z.G.Muhammad is a noted writer and columnist