A Football From Kashmir
It was a bright summer day; a fairly warm Monday could also be said. Wearing my black tie and white shirt, I ran past an almost fortified building which read “RADIO KASHMIR – SRINAGAR” in bold white letters. I was running as my school’s clock had always been a bit ahead than mine, which was one of the reasons why I usually ended up arriving late, the other obvious reason was that I hated waking up early. It made a crisp sound as I stepped on the golden Chinar leaves fallen on the pavement, the Indian paramilitary camp towards my right was all covered by those golden leaves. Entangled with the barbed wires, stuck between the hanging wine bottles and clustered inside the watch towers, these leaves made it all look blazing. Across the camp’s high fence, I saw a Kalashnikov pointing right at my face, as if staring at me since ages. For me, mornings start in the same manner, I witness the same view outside my school every day.
“Ma’am, may I come in?”… I asked, standing at the door, my school bag on shoulders. My classroom – ‘Standard 7th, Section A’ was on the second floor of the ‘Burn Hall School’ building, a school building which had been gutted down to ashes during the violent years of Kashmir, some of whose classrooms had been converted into an Indian military camp and which had suffered a bomb explosion less than a year ago. As my teacher affirmed the request to enter the class, I stepped inside. Quickly, she stood up and wrote ’26 June, 2006’ on the top left corner of the blackboard, which apart from reminding us about the date also secretly meant “The day’s class work shall now begin.” My friend, Shadab was extraordinarily excited since morning. “You know, I have got a surprise! Today’s lunch break will be fun”, he said, as we eagerly waited for the lunch break to begin. Soon the bell proclaiming the beginning of the much awaited lunch break rang, and we all rushed outside to see Shadab’s secret unfold.
Shadab, unlike me, was a boy of many sports, and his favourite among them was football. But the school authorities didn’t issue us a football during lunch break, their reason for the denial being that the break was meant for lunch and not sports. Frustrated due to this denial, he decided to rescue his fellow football lovers out of this forced misery. Using the resources available, he had made a football sized object, round enough to be kicked, by crushing layers of old newspaper one over the other and then finally covering the whole round ball of crushed paper with a tape, so that it could bear our kicks. As he walked out of the class, proudly holding this new invention in his hand, we all went along and assembled in the basketball court for the game to begin. Yes, we played football on the basketball court. It wasn’t that there was no other space to play, in fact there was plenty, but this was just our way of playing, the ‘cool’ way.
Autumn in Kashmir.
As the game progressed, this new invention caught the eye of our seniors, an invention they wanted to play with too. When the lunch break was about to end, one of them came to us to practice a few shots with this football. But the final shot he made was so long that the ball landed outside the school fence, lost, because the school guard won’t allow us to step outside campus during school hours to get the ball back. It would lie outside our school campus till the school ended and we wouldn’t argue much about the ball with our seniors too because we were just in grade 7th. With a sad face, we went back to class and the class work resumed. Later, in the evening, someone pointed out towards the window of our class and we noticed a huge military deployment on the road outside our school. On an average day, there would be a substantial amount of military deployment on the road for the security of the cricket stadium right across the road. The cricket stadium was highly secured not because the stadium had once been an international venue meant for playing cricket but because the stadium now functioned as an Indian military camp.
That day the deployment was huge, almost thrice the usual number. Military vehicles suddenly blocked the two ends of the road and armed personnel ran from one end to the other. From what we could see from our class window, we could make out that something was seriously wrong. Almost a year ago, there was a huge IED explosion outside the cricket stadium/paramilitary camp due to which all the window panes of our school building were made to dust, the ceiling fans and lighting were put to ground and our school’s rectangular iron gate was made into a sphere. The scene outside refreshed the memories of that day. As the school got over, we quickly left for home, wandering what had happened.
The next day, Shadab was even more excited than what he was the previous day. In his hand, was the day’s newspaper, the front page of which read :
Srinagar, June 26: Panic gripped high security Sonawar area when an unclaimed article in a polythene bag was found near the boundary wall of a school, just opposite the Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium. Traffic on this important route was suspended and all vehicles parked in the area taken to safer places. A large number of security and police personnel cordoned off the entire area and school management was directed to keep the students inside. Later a bomb disposal squad was summoned who opened the polythene bag and found a football. Traffic on the route was later resumed. Last year, a car bomb blast in the same area killed three troopers and injured several others.
Shadab was excited because his simple homemade paper football had unintentionally made it to the front page of leading English daily.
That day I understood, the football which made into headlines was no ordinary football, it was ‘The football’, it was made by Kashmiri hands and was bound to be looked upon with the same suspicion as a common Kashmiri is looked upon, a suspicion of being harmful, of trying to create trouble, of trying to destroy one’s own land, a suspicion which I absolutely fail to understand.
Momin Javed is a student of class 12 at the United World College, Pune, Maharashtra.
The news article mentioned in the story was published in ‘Greater Kashmir’ on 27 June, 2006.
Photo: Souzeina Mushtaq