While one Hijazi got a mass audience at the peak of the Soviet War, the other found no takers for the common cause and ended up as a poignant poet.
Living by the ‘conviction has costs’ credence, the 1976-born Hilal Ahmed from Aglar village of north Kashmir’s Pattan sounds a familiar post-1990 strife-spent story.
Going by his nom de plume, Waseem Hijazi, this wheelchair man is part of the conflict class once lionized for upholding the collective cause.
Back home after what he describes as the “metamorphic” experience, this software engineer has now found refuge in Urdu poetry, as a means to console and comfort his “bleeding heart”.
The poet in Hijaza was born in 2017. That was the time when he had begun to understand the hostile hues of his homeland.
All of a sudden, he says, the warm society had turned indifferent towards him and his tribe. He had faced what the defiant deadeyes of Kashmir often decry “unsympathetic amnesia” from the society in throes of quotidian tensions and trauma.
Hilal became Hijazi after getting inspired by Urdu novelist Naseem Hijazi — whose novel he had first read in Class 7, and went on to read around a dozen time. It was the same novelist, many say, who had stoked the sentimental storm back in the late eighties in the valley.
Like many Kashmiris, this Hijazi from Pattan went on to sacrifice studies, youth and comfort in life for the cause. But years later, he ended up as an isolated person in his own society, about which he says, “Societal approach is very negative towards disable and former dissidents”.
Whenever these thoughts trouble him, he takes a trip down the memory lane and relives that eventful day in 1993 when he had decided to follow the footprints of masses across the fence.
Then as a Class 12 student, Hijazi left home for “Sarhad Paar” with a bunch of buoyed boys of his age. It was the time when Dargah Hazratbal was under its first siege.
Government forces had besieged the shrine on 15 October 1993 to counter militants hiding inside. It was the longest ever siege where two battalions of the Indian Army were involved against the seven pro-independence JKLF militants led by one commander Idris. Finally, on 16 November that year, militants vacated the shrine after authorities agreed to give them safe passage.
Three days before the Dargah siege could end, the Pattan lad left home in a teen’s readiness to be the part of the popular struggle.
“I had never thought of joining arms,” he now mulls over the move that shortly flipped his life. “I would be mostly drawn to academic and literature. But back then, resistance had become a way of life in Kashmir.”
The 15-day treacherous trip through the frightening woods and frozen peaks tested the resolve of the young group. A bitter cold numbed our body parts, Hijazi recalls. “And walking on a slippery mountain was not an easy task.”
He had a narrow escape when he slipped from a snowbound mountain and rolled down for nearly 50 meters. “I remember reciting the Kalima,” he says. “Somehow, I hit a rock, without getting hurt.”
With each move and moment, that adventurous march was proving to be a herculean task for the group traversing the mine-littered routes with empty stomachs, parched throats and dazed minds.
“Apart from the hiding government forces,” Hijazi says, “the presence of prowling wild animals badly terrified us after we spotted a beast on our way.”
Amid all this, as the 55-member group was inching closer to their destination, they were losing their members to some travel mystery. “I don’t know what happened to others,” Hijazi recounts. “They suddenly vanished from our sight.”
But the guide had set the clear rule for the group: No U-turn, no holding back, and no time for lament.
By the end of that nerve-racking journey, only 35 managed to reach “Azad Kashmir”, where torment awaited the Pattan boy.
No longer did he land in Muzaffarabad, Hijazi met an accident and suffered a spinal cord injury. It seemed the end of his life, but his colleagues never gave up on him.
Later, as a poet, he would describe that incident as: “Bohut shouq tha humko bhi ghoomnay phirnay ka aay dost / Magar kya karain humari he tangain hum se rooth gayi hain” (I too harboured wanderlust spirit, my friend / But alas, my limbs gave up on me.)
For over a year, Hijazi remained hospitalized and underwent two surgeries. “During that period, I used to study a lot,” he recounts. “My comrades helped me survive through that terrible time.”
But Hijazi was not the same person anymore when he came out of the hospital in a wheelchair. “But I decided to fight back my victimhood,” he recalls.
A Science student back home, he chose Humanities on the other side of Kashmir. He subsequently studied software engineering and mastered scores of computer programming languages. “I was working so hard that I lost the idea of the world around me,” he says.
During that phase, the people who stood by his side began leaving him one by one. Some were getting killed upon returning home, while others became busy in their own life.
Hijazi has vividly captured that lost brotherhood feeling in his couplet: “Ufaq kay us paar jo gaye hain / Main us karwan se bichhad gaya kyun” (The caravan that went the other side / Why did I get separated from it?)
But while devoutly pursuing his academic career on the other side, Hijazi noticed the rattling 9/11 strike freezing the war cry.
Uncle Sam’s curt “War on Terror” proclamation—“You’re either with us or against us”—and advent as the global policeman made the general of the 1999 Kargil war and coup d’état standing to quiet the guns in Hijazi’s second hometown.
Following that, in January 2002, General Pervez Musharaf announced a sweeping crackdown on the twin pro-Pakistan militant outfits, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, after New Delhi named them masterminds behind the 13 December 2001 Indian Parliament attack.
In his book, In Line of Fire, Musharaf would later justify his martial move, “Muslim societies must shun extremism and terrorism if they ever hope for emancipation and a release from these conditions. But at the same time, their demand for a just resolution of certain political disputes must also be addressed.” (Page 295).
The shift changed the militant mood in Muzaffarabad, says Hijazi. “Majority of insurgents suddenly wanted to move on in life.”
At the same time, General Musharaf proposed his 4-Point formula to resolve the Kashmir conundrum. It was the time, as then Foreign Minister of Pakistan Khurshid Kasuri writes in his book “Neither a hawk nor a dove”, when both India and Pakistan had almost reached the point to settle the Kashmir issue, which was acceptable to all except Syed Ali Geelani — who dismissed it as “a formula of dissolving the Kashmir issue”.
In the backdrop of these developments, the other Kashmir was witnessing a clear change. Many former insurgents dismissed as the “delusional men” by Delhi were now heading home for a new beginning.
Availing the government’s rehabilitation policy, most of these Kashmiris returned with their Pakistani spouses who years later would plead for their repatriation in Srinagar.
In Muzaffarabad, Hijazi followed the footsteps of his brethren in October 2007, leaving behind the 14-year-long life of trauma and resilience. Like others, he too was looking forward to the “good life” ahead of him in Kashmir.
He came back via Attari-Wagah border by train and got a warm welcome at home. It was a very emotional moment for Hijazi to meet his now-retired teacher father, battered mother and grown-up brothers. He would detail that homecoming moment in one of his couplets: “Jab gaya tha tou ek karwan tha mere sath / Jab aaya tou tanha he louta tha main” (I had left home in a caravan / But returned all alone.)
Back home, he would soon start an institute to teach computer programming to his folks. At sundown, he would arrange Quranic lessons for his townspeople. But due to a lukewarm response, he was forced to close the computer institute. The software engineer shortly started selling pesticides for a living.
“Sadly, there weren’t any takers of my programming skills in the area,” he rues. “The young generation was not interested. But I never blamed them for that. Unfortunately, in Kashmir, we’ve limited scope and vision. Here, a PhD holder considers a job at primary school a blessing!”
In order to be as much independent as possible, Hijazi learned to drive a car and installed a hand function in it. Being tech-savvy, he was also sharing his views on social media. But the programmer faced the official censure, leaving him even more disappointed.
Feeling that there’re no takers of his ideas in his homeland, Hijazi eventually left taking Quranic classes and ended up being a poet.
In his solitude, the Urdu stanzas gave him the instant solace he was looking for.
Since 2017, Hijazi has written hundreds of unpublished poems. He keeps sharing his works with his friends on social media for feedback and quality improvement.
Through his poetry, he pays tribute to his homeland and its vibrant spirit. He also laments the state of indifference towards the disabled, especially those who suffered disability for the common cause.
The perceived sense of cold shoulder is making his tribe regret their homecoming decision.
“That feeling is quite genuine,” Hijazi says. “I would’ve been a successful programmer there today. But here, most of us are even struggling for basics.”
What equally pains the poet is the marital treatment towards the former dissidents.
“While the other side happily married their educated daughters to Kashmiris who were not even metric pass, Kashmiri society has disowned and distanced their own,” Hijazi decries.
Even lack of moral support from his family has now left him dejected. Pushed to isolation, the young romantic of yore, who left home for the collective cause and ended up losing his stride forever, has now become nobody’s Hijazi.
Omer Farooq is a Sopore-based scribe whose works have appeared in many local publications.