[Reader-list] The Stone Pelter by Meera Kaul Sawhney

cashmeeri cashmeeri at yahoo.com
Tue Jun 29 19:09:23 IST 2010

"So Abba, when did the Indians invade us?" asked little Adil. Abdul Ahad looked towards the sky and squinted his eyes in an attempt of calculation, "Millions of years ago" he said.
The Stone Pelter 
by Meera Kaul Sawhney
Abdul Ahad wakes up every day with a sense of duty. He looks around himself. His wife is still sleeping and the porous rays of light passing onto his surroundings are already blinding. Over years, Abdul Ahad has trained himself not to look at light. It distorted his focus. 

He had a very busy day. Stretching his legs to the length of the new bedsheets, which still diffused the scent of arabic Itar; he recounted his agenda for the day. Excited at the prospect of a busy schedule , Abdul Ahad pushed his feet to the plush carpet and got off the bed. Now was the time to take to the tasks at hand, he thought with a sense of purpose as he put on his blinders.

The day started with a demonstration against Indian occupation. "So Abba, when did the Indians invade us?" asked little Adil. Abdul Ahad looked towards the sky and squinted his eyes in an attempt of calculation, "Millions of years ago" he said. "Why don’t they go now?" Adil quipped innocently," we have been throwing stones at them for so long." Abdul Ahad sighs and looks up again. Deep in his heart he knew if this succeeded in Indians leaving the state, his family may end up on the roads. But he had hope in his heart. The leaders of the nation will definitely find him another role to play in the new kashmir. For some reason, this hope didn’t leave his heart with much hope.

"Where is the demonstration today?" asked Abida, his wife. In between the efforts in breaking down the tsochwaroo between his teeth, "Maisuma" saus Abdul Ahad. His wife gives him a stricken look, "again!" " Why?" she looked anguished," why choose places where the army is sure to shoot?" 

"It is their strategy", he muttered from within his noon chai cup. "But only innocents die." blazed on Abida, a terrified look in her eyes , scared that someday that innocent person might be her husband. 

" We have to fight" , Abdul Ahad reiterated, he swallowed and added . " for freedom." Abida turned around from the kitchen fire to look at Abdul Ahad. Her eyes boring into his face made Abdul Ahad flinch. " then why did you go in the procession for Chief Minister's reception in Sogam?" Abdul Ahad did not like this question. He stood up. His half eaten Tsochwaroo thrown to the carpet on which he was sitting. " Just mind your own business, who are you ? ISI? " , he screamed at her and stormed out of the house.

Hours later, after successfully completing the stone throwing at Maisuma, the anger against Abida had still not subsided in his head. Akram, his friend and colleague, put a hand on his shoulder. "You are charged today," he commented, " everytime you fight with her in the morning, you are more aggressive at work." Abdul Ahad looked into Akram's laughing eyes, " These women will never understand what we do to keep them happy." Akram laughed loud. "Ofcourse they never will." 

They were making their way towards their next procession. "Which newspapers are going to be there?" he asked Akram " Yaara ,who knows, who cares. We will shout slogans, they will record, they will go home, we will go home. " He said airily. " Ofcourse" . The business of stone throwing is really to pass on these skills to the younger generations. He thought of Adil and what he might end of doing in a few years time. His heart shuddered. He needed money. Enough money for Abida and Adil to leave for the villages maybe . For that, Abdul Ahad knew, he will need to continue working in this business for much longer than he had planned.

They reached Magarmal Bagh. It was'nt difficult to be one of the few hundreds in a bigger mob. The trick was not to be in the periphery of the mob, wear running shoes and not carry too much load in the pockets. And ofcourse keep your eyes alert lest you get hit by a shell. The stone throwing would generally start with those on the periphery and could start in any direction. Being in the middle prevented first injuries and gave them the time to move away from the line of fire, if any. 

"We could start a business now." grinned Akram. " those tourists are coming back". Smiled Abdul Ahad, " You want to be tourism mafia? will they let us make money?" Akram laughed loud," so what if they don’t, we will pelt stones at them." Abdul Ahad smiled. They had a joke. Everyday they went to pelt stones, they would bet on each others life. If both survived, they set apart a thousand rupees each for the family fund. The fund for the family of whoever amongst them gets killed first. 

Once outside the shrine, they covered their faces with scarves and hoods. An auto rickshaw stopped by and they got together to unload stones out of it. Another rickshaw followed, and then another. The stones were brought from a roadside pile a few blocks away, where they have been lying for a number of years and were originally supposed to fill potholes in the roads. Soon a number of other boys came out of the adjoining alleys, and joined in. They spread out and started piling the stones in different places, strategically located.

The bronze top of the shrine glimmered in the setting sun. Abdul Ahad and Akram followed the boys past the shrine to a place where one had a clear view of the main market. The market had been under strict curfew for the preceding week. There used to be four CRFP pickets there till the year before, but two of them were abandoned after protestors pelted stones at them persistently, despite CRPF shooting directly into the crowds and injuring many. After they were abandoned ,young men from the town pulled the ugly sandbag bunkers down and freed up space on the choked road that CRPF had occupied for 20 years. But there were two pickets still there, one inside a bank building and another next to a girls’ senior secondary school. Streets merged into each other further down from where they were standing. The media arrived. Soon a few hundred people started chanting rhythmic slogans with stones in their hands. 

First tear gas shells started landing on Abdul Ahad 's vicinity a few minutes after the slogans began. A few enterprising stone pelters had brought with them wet jute bags, and instantly placed them over the bursting tear gas shells. In fact one of them managed to catch a couple of them straight into his bag. Everyone clapped and whistled. This was an old game. Both sides were good at it. In the distance, a couple of armored cars appeared on the scene and started driving fast toward the crowd. The crowd splintered into the alleys. As the lead car reached where the they had been standing , a spatter of stones greeted it. The car stood there, unable to move, unsure of its purpose. No one came out of it. The intensity of rocks increased. The car retracted. The stone-warriors returned in triumphant joy. They had won the first round. The slogans became shriller.

A few moments later a boy came running down the street announcing that the CRPF was now firing expired shells. The expired shells emit no smoke, but are used simply as metal projectiles intended to injure. They were dangerous because you couldn’t see them coming, unlike the tear gas shells. Everyone ran for cover. Akram and Abdul Ahad ran toward the shrine as metal shells started hitting the streets with clanking sounds. Abdul Ahad was only a few meters in when he heard people crying out on the street. “Morukh ho!” ( They killed him !) He turned around to see if Akram was still behind him. He was'nt. He leapt out on the road. Akram lay there, hit by a shell in his face was lying unconscious on the road. A small pool of blood formed around his head. The CRPF fired shots at anyone who tried to pull the body to safety. Desperation grew. Akram was going to die right there in front of Abdul Ahad's eyes. The soldier came close to Akram and saw the pool
 of blood. " Come" , he beckoned Abdul Ahad, who stood in the middle of the road, like a statue. The CRPF retreated for a time long enough to allow the Akram to be lifted out. Someone from the alley piled him onto a motorcycle and he was taken away to the hospital. 

Abdul Ahad dragged his heavy feet back towards the shrine. He found a corner where he could collapse into. He could hear the metal shells and slogans with the patter of the stone throwing. The media on the periphery of the action scene clicked and recorded enough footage. The crowd dispersed. The media wrapped their day. 

(c) Meera Kaul Sawhney, 2010
Reproduced here with author's permission


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