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Of stolen apples and unforgettable memories

A video showing the armed forces personnel being caught stealing apples from an orchard in Kashmir has gone viral on social media. In the video, the farmer, visibly angry, reprimands the forces, who ask for forgiveness. What explains this bout of anger is the memories attached to this practice. FPK is reproducing a piece published in March 2012, that talks about the practice of apple stealing by the forces, which was fairly common.

 

A few weeks back, on an unusually humid day in the month of Ramazan, I was returning from Sopore after meeting the bereaved family of Nazim Rashid. Nazim, 28, was tortured and killed in the State Police’s Special Operations Group (SOG) camp in Sopore.

In between tears, his father had spoken about the hopes he had from his only son. Nazim never meant any harm for anyone, his father told me in his room, and that he always wore a smile. In Nazim, he said, they have lost everything. Everything, he repeated.

The politicians, the policemen, and the government officials, who later tried to ‘sympathise’ with the family, were sent back by the people of the neighbourhood. People came out, protesting in large numbers, to welcome them with stones and anti-India and pro-freedom slogans till they ran away. While talking about the NC, PDP leaders and police and the army officials, Nazim’s father addressed them, beginning with two words: Yeam Hoen… (These dogs…)

One of Nazim’s cousins said a pro-India politician was somehow able to reach their home. He had cleverly visited their house at a time when everyone was praying inside the neighbourhood mosque. To save himself from the public ire, the politician immediately went into a prostrate position inside their garden. He pretended to pray, hoping it will earn him some respect among mourners assembled in the house.

When the boys from the locality got a whiff of his presence, he had to run for his life halfway through his prayers. Some boys from the locality later told the family that the said politician had, in fact, started praying without ablution.

We were heading back to Srinagar in a speeding Tata Sumo vehicle. On the Srinagar Baramulla highway, a photographer, who was accompanying me, sat in silence.

Our silence was filled with sadness. As the vehicle drove, it was difficult not to think of Nazim’s old father, left behind in immense grief. “Aze taen kemes dutukh insaaf? Mae kya den? (Which family has got justice till now? What can I expect from them?),” Nazim’s father had lamented.

The driver made an abrupt halt near an army camp. An army convoy was about to drive out of the camp and become a long, uninterrupted line of a convoy on the highway. After a few army trucks drove out of the camp, without waiting for the rest of the army vehicles to come out, our young and adventurous driver suddenly accelerated ahead of them. He broke an unwritten rule of army convoy: they drive uninterrupted, first, and ahead of all other civilian vehicles on the road. When the driver went past the convoy, a passenger kept aside an Urdu newspaper he was reading till then, and said: “peate heakhekh che yeathe peath neereth broanth namtes manz (You couldn’t even think of driving past the army convoy like this in the 90s).”

“Meaklae tem doh… (those days are over),” the driver shot back with a smile and drove on.

After driving a few more kilometres, he had to apply brakes again. This time a few army trucks, and one army gypsy, had made a halt near a picturesque stretch of apple orchards on the either side of the highway. Some of the troops were pissing near the apple trees. Some troops stepped out of the army trucks, and gleefully jumped over the fencing, and freely walked into one of the apple orchards. The apples had ripened. The orchard was in full bloom. Bunches of red apples, like red dots on the trees, could be spotted from the highway.

A few troops positioned themselves outside the wire fencing of the orchard; some went inside to pluck ripe fruits from the trees as if the orchard belonged to them. They didn’t ask for permission from anyone. As the troops entered the orchard, other troops gave them cover, positioning their guns on the highway. Some kept a vigil at the top of their army trucks. Their officer, without saying a word, remained seated inside his gypsy. He watched his soldiers pluck away fresh apples.

The entire exercise was carried out like a military operation. Some troops were trying to pocket some apples stolen by their fellow soldiers inside the orchard. As they grabbed apples, trying to pluck as many as they could lay their hands on, some apples fell off from the trees. They didn’t pick them up. Someone inside the orchard – may be the orchard caretaker – stood frozen at the sight of the troops stealing the apples. He had a look on his face as if he expected them to seek his permission. The fact that his presence inside the orchard was not even acknowledged by the invading troops made him feel offended. Nearby a cow chewed on a heap of apples put in front of her.

The troops inside the orchard gleefully tossed apples to other troops on guard. Some apples fell out of their hands. The troops, who had positioned themselves outside the fencing, struggled to contain all the stolen apples in their hands and pockets. Apples kept falling out of their pockets; they kept plucking and pocketing more apples.

Everyone on the road watched the scene with suppressed anger, bitterness and disgust. People in civilian vehicles could only watch the troops take away the apples. Had the troops been without guns, and few in number, the smothering anger of people would have erupted into fistfights.

Some troops were also tossing apples to other troops waiting for their share in the army trucks. It was then, a young boy, unable to contain himself for long, shouted out in Kashmiri from a halted public bus: “alai, chioet chuer..!(Hey, apple stealers!), he mocked the troops. The troops, unable to comprehend his shout, ignored it. They went on to bite a few more apples. They took away the rest and stored them in their vehicles.

It was a terrible sight. It hurt to see them raid the orchard and steal apples and not be able to do anything about it. The smile on their faces as they stole apples, and the helplessness of the people watching it all, was unforgettable.

You remember these things forever. You carry these memories everywhere you go. They remain embedded in your consciousness. And you don’t ever forget. Like, for example, you don’t forget the first time you were slapped and shocked out of your childhood innocence by an Indian trooper who asked for your identity card on the roadside; or the first time you were abused by an Indian trooper during a search operation when you didn’t properly answer all his questions; or the first time you were dragged out of home during a pre-dawn crackdown and made to sit in biting cold in an open field. All these memories stay with you. They accumulate over years, often returning on odd, even happy occasions.

I remember in my childhood days how the troops would jump out of army trucks on a roadside, spread out near the apple trees, and then piss beneath the trees. Something about this act was unforgettable. It kept playing on the mind, like an image that refuses to fade.

Body wounds heal with time, the wounds inflicted on memories don’t. They fester. You cannot reconcile with the humiliating existence under occupation. It is a source of great unhappiness, this occupation of our lives, like a permanent loss of something vital. You’re aware of it, always. And it hangs heavy on your mind.

To forget these memories, and turn your back on them, means to forget who you are and the place you belong to. Remembrance then, in the face of such memories, is resistance. It’s painful but necessary.

The troops drove away in their trucks after stealing apples, unquestioned, like on many other occasions in the past, like in many greater excesses involving human lives in Kashmir. The troops atop the army vehicles could be seen relishing the stolen apples. As the trucks drove away and disappeared into the distance, they blew threatening whistles to keep away the civilian vehicles from their path. The orchard caretaker, like many other people that day, could only watch them leave. Afterwards, he slowly stepped forward to assess the damage.

The photographer who was travelling with me forgot his fast in anger. That day, like never before, he abused (in Kashmiri) the Indian troops and their generals and all those who represent Indian occupation in Kashmir.

One day these stolen apples will haunt them, he said aloud.

I had never heard an abusive word from him. He was always polite, and calm. That day he lost his cool. He couldn’t take their pictures. Choicest abuses poured out of his mouth like a sincere prayer. Other passengers in the vehicle joined in to send out their respective curses. It went on till we reached Srinagar.

One day these stolen apples will haunt them.

 

Majid Maqbool is a journalist and editor based in Kashmir. He tweets @MaqboolMajid.


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