Syeda Begum

Syeda shows pictures of her dead son.

Syeda shows pictures of her dead son.

I met Seyda at her house in Srinagar. We interviewed her in the courtyard then moved into her one room dwelling for the recording. She spoke Kashmiri and I could understand very few of her words. I heard her story in translation and interviewed her with the help of Syed Asma, Umar Beigh and Parvaiz Bukhari. What I understood deeply were her tears, a sorrow too deep to look at straight on. Below is my interpretation of her story. If I do not capture her words as she said them, at the very least, I hope to reflect a bit of her emotion.

The door is still broken from twenty years ago when they killed my eldest son, Nazir Ahmed. I heard the noise outside and shouted for him to come in. The paramilitaries did not let me out. They came in and broke doors and windows. At that time I did not know he was dead. I went all over the city searching for his body. Finally I found him—prepared for burial.

I keep staring at the door, waiting for it to open, but no one comes. I imagine my sons walking through. My neighbors don’t use the door. They call in from the side. They care for me, bringing me enough food to eat. Oh what would I do without my neighbors? My stomach aches with sickness. My neighbors say I can wake them even in the dead of night if I need help. They have a car and can bring me to the hospital. They are helping me now that my sons and three brothers are all dead.

Even before I was born, my brother was shot through his head in a protest. That bullet followed us one by one. Now I am alone. In three years, three of my sons died, one after another, each year. In these times one could be killed for anything. My youngest son, Tariq, was down by the river, Jhelum. The paramilitaries chased him along the riverbanks. There was nowhere for him to go. So, he jumped in and he drowned. Two days later his body was fished out of the river along with a couple of others. He was 18 years old.

After Tariq and Nazir died, my son Ishtiyaq started keeping the company of militants. I don’t know if he was a gunman, but he was with militants. He watched his brothers be killed for nothing, just for being alive. This is how it is. You can be killed for anything. I did not see my son much. He would only come to visit every once in a while. The military would come to our house looking for him. Ishtiyaq was killed in a gun battle between the army and militants. He was hit with a burst of fire across his chest, the copy of a pocket Quaran he was carrying on him was torn by bullets his chest received. I found him dead and identified the body at the police station. I brought the body home and buried the body. I felt the light in my eyes fading. Darkness.

Nisar, my last son left living, lost his mind. He would wake up screaming in the middle of the night so often that the neighbors would complain. It got so bad that he would just go outside naked and screaming. I had no idea what to do. Finally, I brought Nisar to the psychiatric hospital. They put him on medicines, but nothing helped him. Then one day he disappeared. He left home naked and never returned. I never heard or saw from him again. If he were alive, he would have definitely come back to me. He is disappeared.

Some seven years ago, I went to see some distant relatives at the hospital who had twins—a boy and a girl. They are poor and asked me to take the baby boy with me for company. I raised Moshin as my own. He will perhaps go back to his own parents when I die. What else can he do? He tells me that he will stay with the neighbors after I die. They bring us food enough for the both of us.

I spin yarn sometimes. But I never ask anyone for anything. Nothing will ever change here because whatever people do, it is India that always wins.

All four of my sons and my husband are gone. All my brothers have died. Whenever I hear noise, I just go in my house, close it up and sit alone in the dark. I sit and stare at the door and no one comes.

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