On 8 July 2016, I was home for Eid. It was my fourth evening back in Srinagar. I was in the living room, flipping through a family album. The room smelled of musk, and the embroidered curtains fluttered in the breeze. My father entered the room looking bewildered and sad. In a quavering voice, he said, “Burhan is dead.”
I opened the window that faces the street. Two women, squatting in a corner, were wailing. As they saw me, they confirmed my father’s news. The 22-year-old commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen had been killed, along with two of his comrades, by Indian armed forces near the town of Kokernag in South Kashmir. My mother gave a deep, mournful cry, and started beating her chest. I knew right then that this death would consume us for a long time to come.
Across the street, the shops were closing. People were leaving their homes to gather at an intersection on 90 Feet Road. I followed them, picking up a few of my friends on the way.A crowd had already gathered. A group of young boys was burning a truck tyre. A few others climbed the billboards, tore off the government advertisements and started sloganeering for Burhan. All around us, far into the distance, thick rings of smoke were rising to the sky, along with wails and slogans. The air was grim and scary.
I thought back to three days earlier, when I had come out with my family to finish our Eid shopping. Throughout the day, we had meandered through Srinagar’s crowded alleys and streets. The air was festive. Everybody was buying something or the other. At Jamia Masjid, teenagers smiled and waved at each other.
Now, there was only anger. My friends and I stood at a shop front, watching the protesters as they shouted slogans and threw stones. Many of the people around me had suffered personal losses under the military occupation. Burhan’s death had brought with it old memories and a new resolve to fight oppression. They were probably living vicariously, seeing their anger being vented out by the young protestors.