Thirty two years ago, she lost her usual sightseeing after witnessing the deadly world unfolding from her window.
Hours after the bridge butchery when dusk finally settled over Gaw Kadal, Sarah’s world became black forever.
Standing on Zoon Dub or a cantilevered balcony designed in Kashmir’s traditional homes for the moon viewing, she would gaze at stars above and pulsating life on the streets below.
But on January 21, 1990, that waned window of Kashmir could no longer host her for the serene sightseeing as the world outside had suddenly turned deadly.
That day, as over 52 Kashmiri bodies were piled up on Gaw Kadal bridge, Sarah saw the lurking shadows on streets — enforcing a deadly calm in her lively neighbourhood.
“Massacre haunted us for months together,” Sarah told me as we met 32 years after the carnage. Inside her tiny room, she was fighting silence and stress caused by that incident. The dreadful recollection made her thoughtful, and tearful.
“We wouldn’t light candles in our Dub for days together,” she recalls what looks like a case of unreported routine created by the event which changed Kashmir forever.
“We embraced the darkness, for the fear of casting a shadow on the scary street below. At times, we would lay down on our bellies to block the light leaking from the gaps on the floor of our Dub. They dreaded us all, for years together.”
As scary as it could get for the young Sarah, the post-bloodshed routine at Gaw Kadal—the site of the first massacre in Kashmir, post the armed upheaval during the late eighties—was testing her nerves every other day. She was daily fighting the demons in her mind.
Today, as the ghosts of the past are still haunting her window where, as a witness, she watched the gory scenes, Sarah has metamorphosed into a miserable being.
She was just a fresh-faced bride when the slaughter scared her so much that she had to resort to medicines to alter her mental state.
The doleful drug habit has almost plagued her previous avatar. 32 years later, she has aged beyond her belief. In the early fifties now, Sarah still dreads to step on the Zoon Dub of her rundown home.
We met in winter—the season of distress, as she describes it—for a reluctant meeting. Her neighbourhood facing Gaw Kadal bridge looks no longer the same. New stores and the dent caused by the 2014 deluge have dispersed many natives. But Sarah is one among the few faces still making it an old neighbourhood address.
“That year it was winter too,” she suddenly comes out of her thoughtful stance. “I was in the middle of my normal routine when the street shrill made me run towards the window.”
As a witness, Sarah watched Kashmiris—protesting the previous night’s outrageous act in the neighbouring Chota Bazar—being gunned down. The din of death made her crawl on the floor of her Dub. Peeping through the window, she saw a young boy caught between the fallen people, both alive and dead.
“He rose up, from the fallen,” she remembers while turning her head towards the window. “I was there—watching it all. I was confused and baffled when I saw bullets hitting my brethren on the bridge.”
Blood was still flowing down the street when a military truck arrived to clear the bridge from the dead.
“We lost more than our men that day,” Sarah says. “We were at the beginning of the war in Kashmir and there was hardly any time to pause and ponder about the life we were living. Event after event was rattling us and making us feel that the end is near, very near. I still feel that. And those thoughts are still making me restless.”
The young Sarah could hardly come near the window where she would earlier glimpse the busy bazar, the bustling bridge and the meditative water body turned cesspool.
While she lost her window, the Yarbal Kakni—the neighbouring women assembling at the ghats of the water body for chitchat in bygone Kashmir—would avoid their relaxing routine.
Suddenly after the slaughter, the military gaze had become piercing with the picket installation.
“Women became a rare sight on streets and windows,” Sarah continues to voice her anguish. “Most of us entered into the living graves of our rooms where we would dread the untimely knocks and sound of vehicles outside.”
Today, Sarah’s shivering hands and fraught face has become the symbols of that strife routine.
“After that massacre, events like Kunan Poshpora gave us sleepless nights,” says Sarah, who in her twenties was diagnosed with an abnormally rapid heart rate.
She’s still taking medicines to calm down her pounding heart and perturbed mind. Her life mainly revolves around her room. And the very routine is gradually undoing the lively character she once loved.
“I’m carrying that massacre in my head for the last 32 years,” she says looking at the dark Zoon Dub. “And it’s killing me every day!”
Meher Qadri is a former staff writer at the Mountain Ink.