We are the people who swallow fire: a personal account of what Internet restoration means in Kashmir

Sabreena Gul

Too little too late happened last week, and it is expected of us that these crumbs thrown at us should fill us with exuberation. Seven months after that fateful day in August, we were reintroduced to the world of the internet. It didn’t bring much happiness, it couldn’t bring happiness, in its stead though, it reinforced a sense of helplessness and brought back memories of haplessness which had in essence, never left us. There used to be small moments of happiness in our lives in a larger world of uncertainty and oppression – cozy moments that we would celebrate low-key, in our own ways. That is not the case anymore. At least, it doesn’t seem to be, for now. That day, it seems, the sense of feeling any kind of happiness was sucked out of us, out of our lives. Too heavy a blow was struck against our existence and suddenly, we were ghosts – of our own selves and beings – struggling listlessly to come to terms with our eerie transformation.

On the eve of August 5, the feeling of menacing destruction was very clear, impending doom, for sure. I tried hard to hide the state my heart was in, agitated and pounding fast as it was. Usually inexpressive and carrying a bold facade of unbreaking strength, I tried to be just that. When my sms failed to go across to my cousin, away from me in her hostel, my largely pretended strength, my small real strength and my heart, all began failing me. I tried to sleep away the distress, which was again, self-defeating. I opened the notepad of my now rendered useless phone and tried to frame my fragmented and disconcerted state of mind, and heart, into words.

Fragment 1 (lifted straight from my notepad dated 04-08-2019)

“Dogs are barking and their howls are reverberating in the distance, in this dead of the night. How can they choke us like this? Yet they have….’message not sent’, a notification on my screen displays as I type. Here’s my sister, lying awake next to me, listening anxiously to the frantic cries of the dogs, and some other inaudible sounds and voices, like me I am sure. We do think alike, many times. And to the ominous trumpets of the siren, ringing in the background all around us. There is a smell of something burning, sneaking in through the glass window panes of the room and it doesn’t help. Just adds to the choke-feel. Where could this be coming from at this time in the night?”

It was still unknown and uncertain. We were awake, all of us, awaiting we knew not what. At dawn, the morning light seemed to have gushed in at once, revealing our anxious and colorless faces. My sister was crying, the baby was due in a few days..and there was no way to communicate, no way to move.
Caged is our usual status, however usually we are allowed intra-cell access if we don’t make noise and follow prison rules. But this time around, we were bound by ropes. The morning progressed into the day and I typed and saved my next bout.

Fragment 2 (August 5, 2019)

Some time has passed.. surely..the decision has been made. Two people, uncouth, bloodthirsty, incompetent have used their ugly power to decide the fate of several million people. That’s not all..no less, however, what can be more ‘all’ than this, after all? Yes, there are other things..like the TV screen, displaying NO SIGNAL. The choke is complete. Choke..like my sister did, in the morning, over a gulp of hot tears that passed her throat. “It’s not in my control”, she said when I asked her to have patience. In a sub-world where I communicated everything to my own self, I told myself that it was cruel and funny at the same time to ask her to keep rowing her boat of hopes when my own is sinking in despair.”

There were a few other questions that were raised in the family that day. Why don’t we go out? Why do we not assemble outside? There were no answers. We couldn’t. So the person who raised such questions in emotional desperation was asked to rather shut up. Thus adding another layer of choke. I remember when my father came back after prayers at the nearby masjid (very close to our home). “Lukh chhi naar tsapan” (people are swallowing fire) he said. How brave of us, how resilient, I thought then and I think now. I had thought then that when one day our story reaches the world outside, people will marvel in admiration of us. “They are the people that swallow fire”.

So today when I’m able to stitch the disparate fragments together, somehow, I hope people who come across this piece try to realise that only because we face it with dignity, does not mean the blows aren’t heavy. Today I am able to send my piece across because I can, a million times my thoughts were smothered. They attempt to disintegrate our very beings into ruins. I cannot help but quote TS Eliot, and cry, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins”. We survive, preserve the fragments, and carry an ever-increasing weight with us as we live.

 

 

 

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