A wedding and a funeral in Kashmir

Mouj was buried in a hurry. Her obituary said: ‘There will be no prayers for the departed soul at her home due to the prevailing situation’

Published - September 13, 2019 06:00 pm IST

Women walk past a road closed with concertina wires in Srinagar.

Women walk past a road closed with concertina wires in Srinagar.

In her 80s, Maimuna Bukhari, affectionately called Mouj or granny by her extended family, was the last elderly figure in the dynasty. A typical Kashmiri, she believed in pampering and force-feeding everyone, old or young, with her goodies. On August 25, my eye caught a two-column obituary in a local newspaper.

Mouj had died three days ago, just after evening prayers. The grandmother who had pampered me all my life was no more. It was too late to bid a final goodbye or touch her feet before she was lowered into the grave or even pour some earth over her coffin.

My cousins had a gruelling time trying to inform relatives of her death. In the absence of communications, they visited homes physically, knocking on doors in the dead of night. I was one of the unlucky ones who wasn’t woken up.

Then came the challenge of arranging the final rites. The gravedigger and the female performer of ablutions could not be contacted that night. The family waited for dawn to perform the final rites. Relatives arranged for “curfew passes” to attend the funeral.

The dead don’t need a curfew pass. Mouj was buried in a hurry, with a few relatives watching over. The chautha or fourth day ceremony was also a limited affair, since the graveyard of Malkha is located near Nowhatta, which has been sealed off by concertina wires since August 5, when the Centre revoked Article 370.

The obituary for Mouj said: “There will be no congregational prayers for the departed soul at her home due to the prevailing situation in the Valley.” Maimuna Bukhari died peacefully, in the silence of the curfew-like constraints in her city. She would have wanted her relatives to attend and offer their last prayers. She would have liked to collect their wishes for the hereafter. She was buried with none of this. Nevertheless, may her soul rest in peace. Ameen.

The autumn sun is ruthlessly hot this year. The afternoon of August 24, when my wife’s uncle, Ghulam Mohiuddin, collapsed outside the bathroom, was very hot. He complained of chest pain and cold sweats. It was a heart attack.

Should we migrate?

We wanted to rush him to hospital but he insisted that his elder son return home first. His son had gone to buy some household essentials. With no mobile phones to call him, we could do nothing but wait. When he finally returned, his father’s skin was already growing clammy. We hurriedly bundled him into a car and raced to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital. There, Dr. Irfan, the cardiologist, warned us: “His survival chances are only 10%.”

He wanted to do a ballooning procedure. There were very few staff and paramedics, so Dr. Irfan took his personal car and went to pick them up from where they were stranded in various parts of the city. He returned and performed the procedure. “The next 24 hours are crucial,” said Dr. Irfan. “He survived because of divine intervention,” said the paramedics.

The hospital corridor was abuzz with debates on the future of J&K. Whenever the families of other patients spotted me, a journalist, there was a barrage of questions. “Should we migrate? Will there be a genocide? Is J&K safe for our kids? Have all the sacrifices gone in vain?” I could offer no answers. There was one relief: my wife’s uncle survived.

No loud music

For four decades, Nasir Shah, a tour operator in the Valley, has scaled the toughest peaks with his tourist groups. This time, the obstacle was solid. His son Yasir’s wedding had been fixed for August 28. A week before the date, the family elders gathered to take a final call: should they announce, like hundreds others, through scrolls on local TV channels, that there would be no function? Or should they organise a small one? Finally, they decided to invite just the family.

There was to be no festooning or music or lights. The order of 800 kilos of meat was changed to 200 kilos. The special chefs, the wazas, said they had no helpers; they had all left home after August 5 and didn’t return.

A motorcycle was organised as a go-between, so that the families of the bride and groom could exchange notes on the timing of ceremonies and so on. This two-wheeler had many a narrow escape as it negotiated armed troops and concertina wires. The bride lived close to the old city of Khayam, which has a history of protest. “I had a narrow escape,” said the groom, “they hurled stones at my car when I went there to invite a relative.”

On the day of the wedding, some masked men came to Yasir’s house to deliver a message: ‘No music to be played or songs sung loudly. Kashmir is in a state of mourning. The people of Kashmir have been disrobed. We cannot celebrate anything.’

The motorcycle brought a final message from the bride’s home: ‘Please come only after 10 p.m. Stone-throwers and security forces engage in pitched battle in the area till 9 p.m. each day.”

The groom left home after 10 p.m. He was stopped by security personnel at a bridge festooned with shining concertina spools. In Kashmir, there’s a custom where the groom’s car is stopped by friends who demand money to let him pass. This time, it wasn’t a fun custom but a serious search. They said they were ensuring that “no anti-nationals move around”.

“I had to prove it was a wedding and I was the groom,” said Yasir.


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