Autumn is fast approaching in Kashmir. The chinar, though green yet in September, is slowly migrating to darker, brighter hues. Soon it would be brown, and golden – rich with autumn’s presence. The point being not missed by the apple growers. Autumn is the richest season in Kashmir when saffron and apples abound.
Under the weak branches of apple trees there are four fresh graves somewhere in Shopian. Shopian is famous for its apples. The growers there quip, “Sopore has the quantity, Shopian has the quality.” (Sopore being the largest apple producing district in Kashmir. Even though the production is huge, the quality of apples from Shopian is considered superior to Sopore’s).
For the past fifteen days Shopian has been under curfew. There is a curfew for every season in Kashmir. It’s the government’s escape route to peace. Like fire exits in high rise buildings. A battalion of padded army men imported from India is placed on every nook and corner to enforce peace, while the police handles all the PR stuff.
The curfew this time is in response to the killing of one man and partially blinding one girl in Shopian. Before this the government curfewed Ramban when the BSF fired on unarmed people and killed six people. (The number of deaths was contested by the Chief Minister on Twitter who admonished the media for misquoting the number. He put the toll at 4). Before Ramban a similar incident happened in Bandipore. There is of course no pattern to the killings, that would be dwelling onto a conspiracy theory. They do it mainly because they can, and then get off with it. No questions that require answers are asked. The government, as a matter of routine, orders an enquiry. The people, as a matter of routine, smirk at the enquiry. The results of the enquiry will be heard, if at all, when the incident has faded from public memory.
Meanwhile the curfew continues and soon people will run out of stock of sustenance. Then the government, like a movie villain, will present its more merciful side and lift the curfew. The people will come out of homes, some lorries carrying provisions would be allowed into the town and the people will be ‘allowed’ to buy provisions before being locked under curfew again. Of course, the humiliation is not lost on the people. In protest, the people will keep businesses shut and schools and offices closed. The government will not bother much about this. It is just one of those things that keep Kashmir on the edge.
No one knows who these boys were, except that they died. One of them was a fruit dealer waiting for a consignment of fruit boxes. One of them was looking forward to opening a new shop in the main market. Little things look so miscalculated in the grand plot of life. One of them was newly married too.
The apples are picked by hand, carefully dropping them in waiting baskets and buckets held by eager children and family members. The apples are placed on sheets spread out in the orchards and are cautiously packed. Packed to be sent away, in absence of permissions to trade anywhere else, to India. Most of the best quality fruit of Kashmir is exported.
The apples turn out each year – red as ever. In this season of mellow fruitfulness, we paint ours bright crimson. Fresh, every time. Every time, they make their way to India.