On October 27, 1947, in a small room of our house in Shalteng village, our grandmother slept in the centre. My three sisters, who were younger to me, lay to her left and I dosed on the mattress on her right. A loud bang woke us up. It felt like a cloudburst. We woke up to hear more such explosions aimed screams and shouting. The happenings terrified us more so as we were unable to understand the reason. My grandmother goaded us to the courtyard and as we were about the leave the main door we heard a flurry of loud explosions. We retreated.
But, my grandmother stood at the gate and saw villagers rushing towards a meadow. She then came back and goaded us like a heard of sheep. Although, I must have been around 10 years old, I vividly remember the night. I saw people running without proper clothes, some screaming and almost everyone panting. It felt like it was judgment night.
While we were running towards the meadow, I realized my youngest sister was missing. In the melee, my grandmother’s heard had lost a member and such was the situation that she didn’t even realize it. I started crying and shouting her name: Sariae…Sariae…. in desperation and helplessness.
Instead of going back in search of Sara, we marched forward; it drove me crazy. In the frenzy I started hitting myself vehemently when I heard a neighbor, Abdul Rahim Rather, shouting: “Hey! Ghulam Rasool, your sister is with us, don’t worry she is perfectly alright.” I heaved a sigh of relief.
We were in the open now and could hear airplanes hovering over our heads. But, I didn’t realize that they were dropping bombs on us. The village heads had decided to march to a neighboring village about one kilometer away. Our group was the last one to reach Mallar village and join a terrified assembly of villagers. Seeing Sara holding hands of one of my neigbour made me smile on the ‘judgment night’.
We didn’t sleep that night as Indian air force pounded Shalteng.
At the crack of the dawn as the bombardment stopped, we set back to Shalteng to pick our valuables. My father was a shawl-artisan and had lots of costly material stored in the house. On the night of bombardment, he was in Srinagar to meet his sisters who lived in Taenkpur near the District Commissioners office. In the chaos, I picked up a hand-woven mat (Waguv) and a partially broken earthen fire-pot in a wicker case (Kanger). The valuables remained untouched.
With a kanger in one hand and a waguv in other, I along with my sisters, grandmother and other relatives marched towards river Jhelum which passes through the fringes of Shalteng. As we boarded a boat to cross the Jhelum, the kanger broke and I left it on the banks of the river.
The news of bombardment had reached Srinagar and my father had left his sister’s house in our search. When he reached Shalteng, he found the village abandoned. He would say he looked into every house and coutyard and all he could find was cattle either roaming or laying dead in the village. His search took him to the banks of Jhelum where he had found the broken kanger. The fear that his family had been killed had gripped him before the boatmen told him that many villagers had crossed the river in the morning and were putting up with relatives in Grejbal village. He connected the dots; one of our relatives lived in the village.
When we reached Grejbal, we were confronted by National Conference volunteers – “Red Army”. They told us to retreat. “You are unfortunate people you have brought along tribal warriors,” they told us. It was first time, since the bombardment begun; I got a complete picture of what was transpiring. We were in a war!
But, after much confrontation and persuasion with NC’s ‘Red Army’, we managed to move forward and reach our relative Ghulam Ahmad Rather’s house. He was warm and gave us food. Our father joined us hours after. In the late afternoon hours, the relative told us that there was enough rice in the house but it needed to be thrashed. His wife was expecting.
Therefore, two of my neighbours—Aez and Kheat were assigned the task. As the girls started to work with mortar and pestle (kanz and mouhul), I sat nearby watching my sisters play. We heard an airplane approaching and before we could take cover, I saw Aez and Kheat blow away into pieces. I also received a splinter in my back and in sheer pain shouted: “Baba moudus ha” (Father I have died). The dust wafted around the house and I heard my father shout back: stay where you are son.
The airplane kept on hovering and we stood motionless. The silence was intermittently broken by wails. Our host’s wife, who was expecting, had undergone a miscarriage. The foetus had come out through a deep cut made by a splinter. The bomb had exploded meters away from me in the courtyard. It had killed at least five people; two village girls, our host, his wife and the baby.
My father found me and my sisters after almost two hours when the warplanes left only to return after sometime. Everything was gloomy, I couldn’t see anything. There was a canal (nambal) behind the house and my father took us into the marsh covered by thick grass. Half submerged in the marsh, we remained motionless till it was dark.
When the Sun set, we moved out of the marsh. Our family decided to move to Batmaluen where my mother’s cousin lived (My mother had passed away few years ago). His name was Ahmadullah and he was city magistrate. We stayed at his house for a night and the wee hours moved to Taenkpur to my aunt’s house where we lived for the next three and a half years.
Shalteng remained deserted for months. When we returned to collect our belonging later the scars of war were evident. Every house had been set ablaze by the Indian army which had pushed back the tribal warriors. We were punished for nothing and had to start life from scratch.
(Ghulam Rasool Bhat lives in Shalteng where Indian air force carried the first bombardment in 1947. Bhat narrated this memory to Seerat Yusra Ali)
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