A sad Indian trooper stood tensely on Budshah Bridge with an unmistakable sense of edginess in his shifting gaze. I remembered him from my memory. I had seen him before, exactly on the spot where he was standing today. It was raining. It has been raining all month. This year, monsoons have breached into Kashmir, embarrassing Shahid Ali in heavens. Taking our usual careless walk along the pavement, I and my friends were about to walk past the soldier when an impetuous thought held me in my tracks.
“Paani kaisa hai (How’s the water, meaning the over-flowing Jhelum he was standing guard over),” I asked the trooper in a tone which I later realized was a bit too much for an armed man in Kashmir holding a gun in his hand.
He looked surprised and a wave of red angst clouded his face. You are not supposed to ask any questions of these men, not until Kashmir is free from occupation. I smiled at him. He didn’t smile back.
“Kuud ke dekho. Saala! (Jump over and see for yourself, sisterfucker!),” the trooper thundered with a fierce look in his eyes. His brow twitched but I wasn’t afraid. Even before he had finished his expletive, my friend whose encounter with a miltreewoul at an early age married him to the dark memory of it – ran in hurried steps to the other end of Budshah Kadal. He chose fear over friendship, which made perfect sense.
My other friend kept by my side as a shadow to guard me from the consequences of my act, our steps similar in pace like a symphony. I looked over my shoulder and saw the trooper’s face fuming in suppressed anger. We laughed. I had done the unthinkable.
Death is a stuff of myths construed around the question of Azadi in Kashmir. To be free is to take a walk towards your death, they say. I felt sorry for the lonely trooper. He wanted me to die, perhaps, and rid himself of the tiring job of watching over rebellious people armed with equally rebellious air, water and stones.
“You will get us killed,” muttered my friend who was back at my side.
I wondered if death was an escape from freedom, from the desire to live life on your own terms. It dawned on me that Azadi meant walking to a soldier who can shoot me down before I raise my voice and ask him the most mundane of questions like how was he doing?
As Sartre, that old bard of freedom puts it, “We are never as free as under occupation because it’s precisely during this period that men and women realize they are born free.”
My act was, in a way, a commitment to this idea of freedom.
Originally published here — https://archive.authintmail.com/article/reporters-journal/you-will-get-us-killed