Faith versus Frenzy
A short story
*Dr. K L Chowdhury
Pandit Shyam Lal, a retired middle rung official of the Public Works Department, lived at Chattabal in downtown Srinagar. On the afternoon of 24th February 1990 he was sipping tea with his wife. They were discussing whether to stay back in the valley or follow suit with numerous Kashmiri Pandit families who were leaving their hearths and homes to the unknown terrains of exile.
This is how they were debating: The situation is explosive. The terrorists have killed so many innocent Kashmiri Pandits. They are targeting our youth in particular. We were right in dispatching our sons to Jammu. They will find some shelter like the others who have fled; we call them back when the situation improves. We have nobody in Jammu or Delhi to call our own where we also could move. We have always lived a quiet and simple life in harmony with our Muslim neighbours and have nothing to do with politics. Nobody has threatened us so far and the neighbours have been sympathetic. Why should we desert our homes and flee into wilderness. We live a retired life and hardly move out. Let us watch the situation and wait before we take a step we may have to regret.
Just when they seemed to settle to that line of thinking there was a knock at the door. Shyam Lal rose to find out. He barely opened a chink when he was pushed back as four young men, attired in battle fatigues, forced their entry into his house. The couple was flabbergasted. There was no time to remonstrate as the intruders started searching frantically, going from one room to another, turning the furniture upside down, kicking bolsters from their way, looking under the beds, behind the doors and inside the bathroom. One of them ran up the stairs to the attic and returned to tell the others that he found no trace of the quarry. Another pointing a knife at Shyam Lal growled,
“Where are your two sons hiding?”
Shyam Lal slumped on the floor begging them to leave him alone. His wife folded her hands for mercy as they seized hold of his arm and started dragged him out of the house. There was no point in resisting. He stood up and walked out with them looking back helplessly at his wife. She was left alone, wailing and weeping. She did not know where to turn to. She shouted for help. The neighbours watched from behind half closed windows.
Now tell us where are your sons hiding? Are they in the neighborhood or with a relative?” one of the kidnappers growled.
For the first time did Shyam Lal look into their faces. They were all between twenty and thirty, all of them sporting short cropped beards, all speaking chaste Kashmiri.
I swear by my god they are not here; they are in Jammu. But why do you ask? What have they done?”
I am an old man and hardly move out of my house. We do not even know you. How can we inform on you?”
They spat at him. “You will know us soon, you wily old fox. We have information that your sons were here till last week.”
Yes sirs, they were; they left just four days back, on the 20th of this month. By my honour we are innocent. We have nothing to do with the police.”
As if you infidels have any honour! Your sons were in the vanguard of the agitation for the reopening the temple; were they not? You want to reclaim the temple land that belongs to us, eh?”
They were referring to the Bharav temple in Chattabal. The Muslims had laid claim to the temple land and forced its closure. The dispute was going on for many years. Pandits were no longer allowed to pray there as it was locked by a court order. The charge was totally irrelevant. It was the old lamb and lion story.
That was long time back. The temple is under lock since decades. We have forgotten about it. My sons have nothing to do with it.”
Why did your sons leave if they are innocent?”
That incensed the interrogators. They stung him with burning cigarette butts, kicked him with their boots, and slapped him harder than ever. He cried in pain and begged to be left alone, swearing again and again that he and his family had nothing against them and were not in touch with anyone.
Then what are you doing here, if not spying on us?”
Yes, I have no reason to be here now. I will leave at the first opportunity if you let me go.”
You have a lot to answer for before we let you go. Where in Jammu are your sons hiding?”
You are an informer. Your sons are informers. You are spies. You are members of RSS. Tell us the truth and we will let you off. Deny it and we will cut off your ears.”
He denied all allegations and received more slaps, more kicks and more cigarette burns.
And without losing time they got about their business. Shyam Lal made desperate pleas while they tied a rope to the tree, made a noose and secured it around his neck. He invoked the intervention of the prophet.
Please let me go. Have mercy on an innocent old man. My wife will die with me and you will have committed a double murder. Your religion does not teach you to harm innocent people. I have great faith in the Hazratbal shrine. I would visit the Dragah almost every day of my duty during the last five years of my service. My place of posting was in the vicinity of the shrine. The holy relic will come to my rescue for I am innocent.”
They laughed and guffawed calling him a hypocrite. And then they pulled at the rope. Shaym Lal fell down with a thud! The fragile rope had given way and tore where it was hooked around the trunk of the tree.
They were more shocked than their victim.
I told you I am without blame. The holy prophet knows it. That is why he came to my rescue. Do you still disbelieve me? Please do not invoke his wrath by killing me.” He retained the presence of mind to seek divine intervention and to remind them of retribution.
The terrorists were confounded. The hanging fiasco left them in trepidation for some time but a momentary pull of conscience was not going to sway them. They would not be cowed down by an infidel. How dare he curse them, this son of a bitch, and a non-believer faking belief?
They went into another short conference. No, this man has to die; it was not in the interest of the cause they were fighting for to waver in their considered decision.
One of them flicked open his knife and slashed him savagely, inflicting deep cuts in his limbs and his torso. He bled profusely and went into a swoon and lay in a pool of blood. They took him for dead and walked away.
The sun was setting, red and radiant, throwing long eerie shadows of the naked trees like dancing skeletons crisscrossing the field in a surreal play of light and shade. Dusk was falling fast when Shyam Lal came to. He was dizzy, unable to move, growing weaker every minute from the blood that still oozed from the cuts.
Was it deliverance, finally? This could be a god-fearing Muslim. He looked like returning from the evening nimaz. God is kind. He does not want him to die.
The militants tried to hang me but the noose came loose and I fell down. Then they knifed me repeatedly and took me for dead. But Allah is merciful. I have survived for I am innocent. That is why they could not finish me. Please be a good Muslim and help.” He was feeling lightheaded and weak, barely able to speak.
His cuts were stitched; he was given a blood transfusion. His wife was informed next day and brought to the hospital. He made a quick recovery in a week’s time. The couple refused to return to their home at Chattabal. They were shifted to Jammu and reunited with their sons who had taken shelter in a temple.
*Dr. K L Chowdhury retired as a Professor of Medicine, Medical College, Srinagar. Presently he is the Director of a charitable institution, Shriya Bhatt Mission Hospital and Research Center, Durga Nagar, Jammu.
He is a physician and neurologist, a medical researcher, poet, social activist. He writes on diverse subjects – medical, literary, social and political and has numerous research papers to his credit, his pioneering work being “The Health Trauma in a Displaced Population” which was presented at national and international conferences.
He was declared Shehjar's 'Kashmiri Person of the year' for 2007.
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The bizzare but graphic description of terrorist frenzy is bone chilling.Could Human Rights Groups take note?
Added By pushkar ganjoo
Nothing new. It is expected from the muslim terrorists. But their atrocities against Kashmiri Hindus has gone unnoticed due to the pseudo secular Indian Media.
Added By Ramesh Raina
Very well written! The description is both chilling and heart rending. How appalling, these enemies of humanity are still at large. None other than Modi can bring them to book and punish duly.
Added By JL Bhat