August 2019 News

Valley's In-tense Hues Of Mid-August Blues

17 August 2019
The Tribune
Arun Joshi

Srinagar: Mid-August is a period of high tension in Kashmir, at least it has been so since 1989 when August 14 was 'celebrated' and August 15 was observed as a 'black day' - a far cry from the 1960s when school bands used to march to the tune of 'Sare Jahan Se Accha Hindustan Hamara' on the streets of Srinagar. This time Kashmir was drowned in its own collective loss. Amid this sense of deprivation, Bashir Ahmad, a vehicle owner ferrying me, had strong words for Pakistan: 'It is floundering and it is responsible for where we are today.' Incidentally, he said it as we were driving past Hyderpora, where separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani lives. For someone who has seen Kashmir since childhood and reported since militancy erupted, I thought I was on familiar terrain when I left the city on August 3, before it was turned into a fortress with its 15 lakh residents cut off from the outside world. So, returning to the city, nothing seemed to click, not even the pleasant weather or the iconic landmarks. There was limited freedom to move. All shops were closed as we neared the media facilitation centre on the premises of a hotel overlooking the office of the United Nations Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) - the vestige of UN resolutions on Kashmir of 1948-49. The gates were closed and a soldier was visible through the mesh, a reminder that the UN is 'still here'. My colleagues were surprised to see me, but then there were no means to inform any one. Kashmir had defied its own predictability: it had not reacted the way it did in 2008, 2010 and 2016. There were no visible noisy and violent protests, maybe because of the huge deployment of forces, who would not allow anyone to step out of the lanes, and the Internet shutdown. I was reminded I had not brought my eye drops and a colleague offered to take me to a chemist shop. Our hunt lasted more than 5 kms and half-a-dozen shops. 'We have exhausted our stocks. There has been no fresh supply for 10 days,' the chemist told us. As I got to my room, there was a loud thud and the light went off. A fault in the power lines meant four hours without electricity. The atmosphere was literally dark. I wanted to escape from this nightmare. I have seen the worst of times in Kashmir, but never before have I felt so lonely. The following morning, I could not make it to Lal Chowk where I had seen the unfurling of the Tricolour since 1990s. The whole area was barricaded and people were shut in their houses. The mood was dark. 'Darkness before a new dawn?' a security man responded to my confused look. Hope so.