Khanyar looks like a ghost town. The roads were completely deserted as if the residents had fled somewhere else.
A few boys sat on the footpaths, talking among themselves. A policeman was eating an apple from a cart. I was scared someone will throw a stone at me, no one did. I was scared someone may shoot a bullet or pellets, no one did that either.
At Khayam I saw a few cars and bikes pass by. Then as you go down the Nowpora bridge, there are only Indian armymen and a few stray dogs around the dustbins and nothing much else. The CRPF men looked bored carrying bamboo frames and glass shields. I always wonder what they talk about among themselves – about the people they have left back at home, or the ones they shoot to kill, or the people left behind by the ones the kill. A CRPF man shuffled his feet, another adjusted his paunch on the shield. A man sitting outside his house selling petrol in a Fanta bottle looked at me. (Petrol pumps open only at six on some days when the rest of the bazaars open.)
Everyone stared at the cars that passed by, trying to judge why would that person be out at this hour. We are only a short distant away from death.
At Shiraz Chowk, there is a thin razor wire separating this side of the city from that side. There is another razor wire a few meters away before the turn for Nauhatta. A CRPF man was playing with his baton. (If you have never been in the city, this all may sound very confusing. But if you have, you’d know this is at a distance of hardly five minutes on foot). There was only a small company of CRPF men stationed over there.
A beggar sat behind the archways of the shrine gate and a man on the raised platform outside the shrine.
The door of the shrine was locked and an iron gate pulled across. A hundred threads were knotted to its bars – a hundred wishes yet unanswered.
The man sitting outside told me that that there have been no prayers at the shrine and the adjacent mosque for more than a month. Almost a month an old man sitting there had said that the shrine was closed because the police and CRPF used to enter the shrine chasing the boys.
Its been closed since.
Returning back, I saw an old man riding a cycle with his grandson sitting on the crossbar. He was perhaps out to take the little one for a ride.
Later, on in a different part of the city I saw huge buses moving about with tin sheets tied to the windows. More policemen perhaps. The city is trapped in razor wire coils manned by CRPF and police. Double lane roads have been converted to single lanes for no apparent reason. Traffic policemen are busy, fining bikers for violations (or otherwise, I have no idea).
There are no traffic jams anymore in the city except at six when the markets open. The bazaar opens at six, shortly before the maghrib prayers and close down soon after the prayers. By nine, the city is shut again. They lock everything and take the keys, uncertain what tomorrow may bring. You know, I so want to tell you how the sun shines these days in the afternoon when its bright and warm, and how cool the shadows are, how the leaves rustle as the breeze comes up in the evening – but I know that in times of war the skies are red at night. Later I came to now that some boys had been arrested and many miles away a twenty year old had been killed.
When in 2012 the shrine was burnt people used to come outside its still standing walls and pray. The new structure was almost complete now and redone to resemble the old one from my childhood where I used to visit with my grandmother.
I tried to imagine all the prayers locked up behind the door of the shrine. The weeping and wailing women who used to pray with such resignation. And now me, a lone figure standing outside the doors I had never thought would be turned on me.
But I still prayed because faith transcends closed doors. And because my hope for this city is eternal. Beyond the endless barricades, beyond the garrisons and guns, Srinagar is still a beautiful city and I am still in love with it. One day the doors of the shrine shall finally be opened and we will return to untie the knots from the iron bars. One by one.