That fateful evening of the early 90’s is still as fresh a memory in my mind, that recalling it, sends shivers down my spine.
It was almost dinner time, when we heard the routine firing of the evening, something that had become a usual affair in the 90’s.
But it was different this time. The ‘Mujahideen’ were attacking the CRPF post just opposite to my maternal home, from my maasi’s (maternal aunt) rooftop.
The windows of our house were wide open, but no one would dare to move an inch to shut the windows and draw the curtains.
Being a kid then, I remember how the kids in the family were kept safe in a dark room on the ground floor, every time such a thing happened.
Hiding in that dark room as the night fell was a routine, and we knew the drill. In there, all we would hear was the bullets hitting the iron gates, that sound is etched in my memory, and the abuses that the men in uniform would hurl at the ‘Mujahideen’.
The elders of the family were prepared to lay down their lives to make sure that no ‘stray bullet’ hits a child of the family. Our extended family consisted of around 60 members.
And the elders would often protect us with their bodies, moving us past windows, exposing themselves to the line of fire, and moving us to safety of the dark room.
I vividly remember, how after making sure that the kids are safe, the elders used to lie down on the floor. Back then, I never understood why they did so but now I can make sense of it.
Running for safety, nobody thought of open windows, wide open windows, on the fourth floor where two gas cylinders were kept.
A loud bang shook the walls of my maternal home.
“What was it?” was the question evident on each face.
The idea of moving upstairs seemed unthinkable, nobody moved from their places.
But then, I have this faint idea, i don’t fully remember now, that somebody went upstairs and broke the news that two bullets had hit the wall, exactly inches above the place where the gas cylinders were kept; who knows how many of the 60 members would be dead on that day and who would have shouldered the coffins?
The exercise kept going on all night, and that fateful night, I saw them crying and praying together for the morning sunrise, but there seemed to be no end. It was much darker than the usual dark nights of the 90’s.
More than the concern for our own lives, the concern for my aunt and her family, whose rooftop the militants were firing from, turned the situation ever from grim. Firing was incessantly exchanged between the ‘Mujahideen’ and the ‘men in uniform’. We were not sure, if we would ever see our aunt alive again.
Somehow, the windows were finally shut and the curtains drawn, to make already haunted place with bullets embedded in one of the walls, ever more haunting.
Once in a while we would witness small moments of silence in the dark night, but a single provocation from either side would break that silence and make our heartbeats sink again.
Late in the morning hours, the sound of the fires disappeared in the darkness of the darkest night, and it was assumed that the ‘Mujahideen’ had left the place.
Nobody would dare to peep out of the windows to reaffirm if it had stopped or not, but silence had engulfed the smoke in the air.
Though a sense of relief could be felt now, but there was no sign of sleep. The kids were made to sleep and the elders stayed up besides us, like our guardian angels.
I am sure while guarding us, they would had discussed the ‘Crackdown’ that was supposed to follow such nights.
It was Sunday and kids had no school to attend. It was supposed to be a fun, day but fun was not what this day turned to be.
No one had the slightest idea, what they thought was over, was actually the glimpse of what was in store for the next day.
People had started to move out of their homes, the sun was shining bright but the hustle and bustle around smelled very strange.
I still remember that most of the male folk were out of the homes, and so was my Father, astonished that there was no sign of a ‘Crackdown’. He had his beard shaved, and had just stepped out of my maternal home.
Women folk finished collecting the hundreds of bullet shells, that had been fired last night towards our places of living.
Little did anybody know what was being planned next.
My mother never asks my Father to stay inside, but that day she did. But he had ignored her intuition and already moved out.
All of a sudden gunshots were heard once more, panic gripped the surroundings, once again.
“Where is Aba (my late maternal uncle)?”
“Where is Abu (my father)?”
“Who asked them to move out?”
Now it was clear that nothing was over last night. The militants were in the hiding, but now they had moved two houses to the right – the place that belonged to my mom’s paternal uncle.
A loud bang was heard as a grenade lobbed at the CRPF, post missed the target and exploded on the road.
“Now what?” was the question on each face. The trauma seemed never ending.
Two of out family members were out, and a grenade had just exploded outside the gate. All the worst possible scenarios kept haunting each mind. A collective grief engulfed us in addition to a collective fear.
I heard someone say “My father is injured”.
My mother, was oblivious of what had just happened. News was broken to her. She was unstoppable, far from her usual sane self, wandering like a mad person looking for my Dad she moved towards the place of action.
She was crying out her heart out, imagining the worst to have happened.
She finally saw him, at my aunts house,but not listening to anyone until he was provided the medical assistance, and doctors confirmed that the wound was superficial and there was nothing to worry.
The militants managed to escape and search operation had proved futile.