Zaffar studied with you?’’ asked my colleague from Kashmir. Surprised by the anxiety in his voice, I could just about nod my head when he snapped back saying he might be dead.
His voice seemed to come from miles away as he said Zaffar was shot by some unidentified gunmen in broad day light. I was told the bullets pierced through his neck; two hit his thigh.
I wondered why anybody would kill a harmless soul like him. But I do have an answer I believe. The sword is mightier than the pen in the state we both belong to; his pen might have done the damage. What he wrote may have cost him his life.
‘‘I wonder whether I have committed a mistake by trying to carve a profession out of my hobby,’’ Zaffar told me once. Having topped the PG Entrance exams in Chemistry, Botany and having cleared Law as well, he settled for an MA in Mass Communications instead.
With the news about Zaffar, a familiar fear has returned to haunt. I felt it when I heard of the October 2001 attack on the state assembly — on the road my mother takes every day on her way to work.
I felt it too when I heard of a neighbour’s death some time last month. It sounds insensitive now but while the world was shocked by news of the death of the moderate separatist leader Abdul Ghani Lone, I only felt relief when I confirmed the shootout had not taken place in a press conference and that all my journalist friends were safe.
I still can’t get over the strange death of Zaffar’s namesake — who was my younger brother’s best friend. The 22-year-old was found dead in the AIIMS mortuary after four days of his mysterious disappearance.
The tragedy has left a great void. My brother lose his friend, and significant memories of his childhood.
My first tryst with death goes back to my years in school. I was about to board a bus to school when four corpses were carried out from an army truck.
The dead happened to be my neighbours who had been detained in a routine crackdown in the area. My legs failed me but I managed to reach school to collapse in the premises.
As the dance of death continues, I think about how cheap life has become in Kashmir. Even as thousands lie buried beneath layers of earth, the warmongers still bay for blood. The clouds of war darken the skies and Kashmiris are crushed between the politics of two countries born of the same mother’s womb.
Published in ExpressIndia dated June 06, 2002