From funerals to schools and people's lives, the change in normalcy is amazing.
On the first Saturday of September, when our flight landed at Srinagar airport, the airline staff announced: "You can now use your mobile phones."
Some of the cashmere on board, including myself, burst into a dry, humorless laugh. It took me a while to believe that after more than a month without communication with people at home, a month that was traumatized and troubled, this would be my first reaction after returning: laughter.
Disconcertingly, I accepted that the airlines do not have aerodynamic aerodynamic advertisements for their landings in besieged locations and there is no way to tell people that they have now entered a space made of awkward and forced silence. The change in normality was too sudden, too extraordinary to establish through an announcement.
Later in the evening, while traveling from the airport, I saw a lone vegetable vendor on the trail in Sonwar. I breathed a sigh of relief when I was reassured to know that people had some things available, at some hours of the day, at least in some places. Srinagar, who seemed desolate and lifeless while returning home, still seemed able to survive. There was no public transport, only a few private cars were on the road and some people could be seen walking.
The presence of the armed forces, however, was omnipresent. They told me that the last two days had been more lively, with relatively less restrictions and embargo by the forces on the popular movement. During the following days, I also learned that in the morning, between 6 and 9 in the morning, some stores opened in select locations within the city and this is when people bought their groceries.
But my first true experience of learning about life in Kashmir during the weeks that followed the August 5 decision of India to eliminate Article 370 and declare Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh as Union Territories, arose from me First experience learning about death in Kashmir these days.
My cousin, whose husband's uncle died in August, told me the terrible experience. For hours, the uncle's lifeless body had remained virtually unattended while family members went on foot to inform family members that they could about the disappearance. But there were only so many places they could walk to.
The last rites, although a little delayed, occurred with few people. My cousin's parents did not attend the funeral, simply because they did not know that death had occurred. I thought of everything that could have been a phone call, but it became real distance units in kilometers, interspersed and obfuscated with control points, concertina cables and crude control.
Weeks later, when I read an article in The Hindu about a funeral in Kashmir, he said that the obituary of a certain Maimoona Bukhari, affectionately called "Mouj", said that no congregational prayers would be made for her because of the situation.
Mouj, not only the Kashmir word for mother, but sometimes also the term of love par excellence for mothers and grandmothers in Kashmir, could have been any woman in Kashmir. I used to call my maternal grandmother, Mouj, and no part of me could imagine that her funeral, attended by all who loved her, had been devoid of pain or reunion.
I wondered how they are cured of a death like that, where the blockade shatters the collective duel and, on the other hand, reduces loved ones to human islands of pain, incapable of contact and solidarity with each other.
And if the siege had reduced people to experience death as islands, I witnessed how they also made them live like this. My little cousins who went to school had not been to school for more than a month when I got home. None of them had heard from their school friends in all this time.
The youngest of them, no matter how much her parents persuaded, refused to touch her books. As she saw it, they were going to be promoted without exams, a logical proposal with which adults could not argue because unfortunately it had multiple precedents in the uncertain terrain of Kashmir.
Both in 2014, when the floods wreaked havoc in Kashmir and in 2016, when the situation became unfavorable after the assassination of Burhan Wani, many schools promoted the children to the next class, very few of them with what was an appearance of exams or evaluations
In the years of mass civil unrest in 2008 and 2010, when school days were scarce, the programs had received massive cuts; even the state boards that do final work that evaluate students in only fifty percent of the original curriculum.
Therefore, September, which otherwise should have been a month of laborious preparation, since most of the final school exams in the Kashmir valley are held in early October, developed quite differently. The notifications were just beginning to appear in the few local newspapers asking parents to come with pens or hard drives to collect study materials for their children.
In a strange adaptation to the daily development of limited life within homes, school life was reduced to a series of tasks that children were increasingly expected to finish at home, under the guidance of their parents.
However, there were attempts to invent normalcy. Weeks before, the government had ordered the reopening of schools, but no father would send his children. "Yeti Chu Soari Band; bacchi koat soazoakh?"(" Everything here is closed; why will we send our children? "). In a place where everything is closed, parents argue, how could they push children to the first line of movement to restore life in a place where he deliberately stopped?
On the night of August 4, I noticed that the Internet suspension would begin around 11:30 p.m. and the telephone signals at midnight. The ground for the ominous communication block time had been established the previous week. Uncertainty, thick as smoke, floated in the air.
For days, the news continued to inform official orders asking all non-locals to leave the Valley, the local police will inform the details of all the mosques and their magnets, certain official departments are asked to guarantee the ration for the coming months, etc. And then there was also the massive influx of Indian troops.
Everyone could smell fate, and neighbors, friends and relatives would share the rumors or information they had heard. Prayers would start with ‘dapaan’:‘ It is being said ’and followed by an ominous possibility: who the source always remained hidden, not in secret, but not knowing it.
‘Dapaan"As a word he assumed a new centrality as prominent as that of"halaat’(Situation) itself. A late rumor in early August predicted, albeit somewhat vaguely, the J&K trifurcation.
The beginning of the blockade of communication on August 5, as people saw it, represented the beginning of the end they had been hidden from: the psychological warfare movement that everyone complained about manifesting on the physical ground. But after weeks of paranoia, physical realities would take time to establish.
Even during the days after August 5, many people in Kashmir, as I came to understand, did not know the full extent of what had happened, since even cable news did not work. The few who heard it from others thought they were rumors and even ruled them out for a while. Later, a close friend joked that in Kashmir, one could doubt the news, but should always rely on a rumor.
The rumors in September were different from the previous ones. Some talked about autorickshaw drivers receiving money from the government to start driving on the roads. The opening of schools had not worked and now government employees were increasingly asked to report regularly.
I wondered if the fact that there was no transport available and that armored vehicles and concertina cable reels continually occupied the roads had any meaning. I also wondered the stubborn stubbornness that was palpable in Srinagar's air: people slowly claimed survival but refused to be deceived into normalcy.
This was highlighted by the fact that almost every two days, I heard someone comment that from a particular future date, the ‘halaat’It will be bad again. I didn't know the source of these conjectures and neither did the people who would share them.
Perhaps it was disbelief because of the fact that life, for the most part, was still going on despite what had happened or perhaps it was somewhat polite and logical to assume after a lifetime of being socialized in a conflict. Either way, the consensus was that uncertainty had not yet been completely deciphered and that survival should not be confused with life.
If August had been a collapse of life as the cashmere knew, September seemed a slow and heartbreaking attempt to partially accept it. People worried about not running out of milk, panicked over the gasoline pumps that were drying up and were willing to venture out to look for fresh vegetables.
But survival predominantly dictated the choice of what to buy and what to venture to. One of my friends, whose father owned a store in the city center, Lal Chowk, told me about how the "texture" of shopping had changed: no customer examined the options; instead, people would come knowing exactly what they lacked and would buy it.
The day I walked through Lal Chowk, the closed shutters of the store greeted me. ghanta ghar (clock tower) overlooking nothing but desolation. This was a Monday afternoon when the area is pure chaos, full of people and vehicles. The before and after which I knew it was true bothered me, forcing me to marvel at how life had been drained from the physical environment.
Like everyone else, I took the mysterious silence from the streets home to examine later. Like everyone else, I still haven't succeeded.
This article was originally published in The Wire and has been reproduced with permission.