Stones rain down on rooftops and sarcasm brings down the roof in this intriguing story about a mystery stone pelter.
The summer of 2016, when the government was trying hard to protect the people of Kashmir from the dangerous day-time streets by making them stay inside their comfortable homes where they could watch cable TV and play indoor games all day long; when the government—just to put a break on the moral degradation of the people of Kashmir and to protect them from exposure to fake news—shut down the internet for months; when the ungrateful people of Kashmir—just to spite this benevolent government devoted in all sincerity to protecting them—got shot by government bullets and pellets in their scores; the summer of 2016, I say, forced the innate human desire to spice up things a little too much into the open in someone in our mohalla. It was common practice in the thankless people of Kashmir to pelt stones at their benefactors and well-wishers but no one had yet tried to throw stones at anything or anyone else. This was about to change in our area.
One evening, just half an hour before the evening prayers, my mother, my brother and I were watching an interesting south Indian movie on the TV; and just when the hero created a cyclone by rapidly moving one foot in circles in the air, and the pathetic hoodlums were blown away by it, when we heard a loud bang. My brother turned down the volume and we all listened intently—Bang! Bang! Bang! For a couple of seconds, my mind flashed back to the nineties when, to drive away bhoots, the people of our mohalla used to beat the empty cooking oil tins, corrugated tin sheets and the roofs of their houses with sticks; then I realized that someone was pelting the roofs of the houses with stones. We got up and moved to the windows to look. I had a clear view of the entrances of a couple of houses in our neighbourhood. Parvaiz Bhai had opened the door just enough to poke his head out and then Bang! Bang! The stones rolled down off the roof of his house and came to a rest right at the door. They were of considerable size—the stones—and could have injured, if not right out killed, someone. Parvaiz Bhai was indignant and rushed out and began to hurl all kinds of curses at the unseen stone pelter at the top of his voice. And bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang! It was raining stones! “Ok, ok, I am sorry, I am sorry!” shrieked Parvaiz Bhai and rushed inside. The stones began to land on other roofs now. Only a couple landed on ours. For at least half an hour the stones kept pounding hapless tin rooftops around the neighbourhood. Then the mysterious stone thrower stopped as suddenly as they had begun as if to demonstrate to the whole mohalla that it had no power over the situation. This continued like clockwork for two more days and on the fourth day a meeting was held in the hamam of the local masjid after the asr namaz. The upshot of the meeting was the formation of two groups of men who were to look for the miscreant on alternate days as he or she pelted stones. The goal was to catch the culprit stone-handed.
As the hullabaloo of the stones began that evening, a group of ten people was tiptoeing through the lanes of the neighbourhood, trying to look for their source. But to no avail. It was as if the stones were materializing out of thin air. Parvaiz Bhai and I were walking side by side at the back of the group. Every time a stone hit a roof nearby, everyone ducked and their arms shot up over their heads. Parvaiz Bhai touched me on the arm and moved his head a little closer.
“I think it is Bashir, the carpenter,” he said, breathing into my ear.
“Bashir, Hajra’s son.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Because, firstly, he almost never has his wits about him, and secondly, this is the time of his evening drink; he will most probably be with his drinking buddies on the other side of aarpath.”
“Not necessarily. Only yesterday this time I saw him slink away round the corner at Habba the baker’s shop; he was carrying something folded up in a piece of white cloth.”
“Probably something to share with his buddies across the stream.”
“Who is it then?”
“I don’t know. No one does; that is why we are moving about the lanes of our mohalla like thieves at a time when we should be either home or headed to the masjid.”
“Hmm, let me think, hmm … I know, I know, I know who it could be; they want us to hate stone pelters, our own kids, hmm…,” Parvaiz Bhai said, addressing Arif’s back. Arif was the tallest young man in the whole mohalla, and the strongest too.
I knew exactly what Parvaiz Bhai was going to say next; but mercifully before he had time to spew his malice against our kind and gracious government, Sula’s voice reverberated through the nooks and crannies of our mohalla, calling the faithful to the evening prayer.
After three unsuccessful evenings of looking for that wily miscreant, the enthusiasm with which we stone pelter hunters had begun had faded to a considerable degree. By now everyone had become used to the sound of stones hitting the roofs and the reactions to the sound were less dramatic—a sudden turn of the head or a colourful curse or a combination of the two was the most the bangs could elicit from us. Although it was definitely a nuisance and it was hard to deny that it had disturbed the peace and quiet of our mohalla, it was generally concluded that, because no one had been hurt and no damage except a couple of broken window panes was done, the stone thrower was nothing more than a small-time mischief monger out for a little bit of fun in those boring times. Parvaiz Bhai, who was walking at the front of the group, had a piece of lead piping in his right hand, with which he was beating a regular rhythm against his left hand. He slackened his pace and joined me at the back of the group.
“I have examined the stones that are thrown by the miscreant,” Parvaiz Bhai said.
“They are the stones with which that pond was filled by the Dars.”
“You think the stone thrower has easy access to the stones and may be living near the pond?”
“Could be, hmm…, but I was thinking of something else.”
“You know that pond was supposed to be haunted by our local tasrupdaar?”
“So, you think the tasrupdaar is taking revenge on the mohalla?” I asked incredulously.
“Why not? It was his and his family’s home and the Dars’ filled it up with stones and probably destroyed their abode.”
We had reached the main road by this time and, thinking that we deserved a little rest, all of us sat on the run down stone wall of the empty roadside plot of land owned by Sula the Muezzin who, back when he was young and full of vigour, used to grow vegetables for sale on it. Several members of the search party lit cigarettes and others formed a couple of groups discussing the matter at hand. Parvaiz Bhai took me a little away from the others and as we sat on the wall he continued from where he had left off.
“So, you don’t think it is possible?” he asked with a significant sideways movement of the head and a little narrowing of the left eye.
“I think throwing stones at people’s houses is not something that a tasrupdaar would do to take revenge,” I replied. “It is more likely that he would possess someone.” I continued.
Parvaiz Bhai was about to say something when suddenly a volley of oaths made him and everyone else stop whatever they were doing and look in the direction of the road. A police vehicle, very aptly called a Rakshak (Protector) had stopped, no doubt to check whether we hadn’t gathered to cause any trouble to the general populace. The usual reaction on seeing a Rakshak in the distance in those days was either, if you happened to be one of those misguided and ungrateful boys, to remain ready to pelt stones at it or, if you were not one of them, to gather your tail between your legs and flee, because you never knew when the youth of the locality would decide to ambush it and evoke a response in self-defense. Yes, self-defense! What else? Someone is passing peacefully through your area and that someone has just one function: to protect you from mad people with mad ideas; what do you do? You attack them; you try to maim them. It makes you think that, probably, this whole valley is filled with mad people, a humungous insane asylum, and the security forces are here to protect us from ourselves. If we had had the chance we would have sought the safety of the lanes of the mohalla and the Rakshak would have passed without noticing us. As it was, we hadn’t noticed it until the police personnel had alighted and emitted that volley of oaths (every one of which, I am sure, was uttered in the enthusiasm of discharging their duty and expressed their complete dedication to their jobs, and had nothing whatsoever to do with anyone’s moms and sisters, wives and daughters), probably because we were too preoccupied with the issue of the stone thrower. All of us stood up with our arms raised and ready to be frisked.
There were four of them, completely decked out in riot gear. One of them was taller than the other three and the source of most of the oaths.
“Mother fuckers! You dog-in-laws! What are you doing here?” he shouted, looking around menacingly.
“Waiting to throw stones at a passing party?” he continued shouting at us.
Given the circumstances in the valley and the seriousness of the task entrusted to him as a policeman, he had every right to know what we were doing there. Moreover, the travails he, most probably, had undergone at the hands of those stone throwing miscreants completely justified his anger.
Arif stepped forward and, the hot head and the imbecile that he was, said, “Why should we tell you? It is none of your business.”
That was the trigger; the tall policeman pounced upon him. He began to use his heavy boots and his baton in the great tradition of liberalism, with complete disregard to where they landed on Arif’s body, accompanying every kick and every hit with a colourful oath. The other policemen, taking the cue from their comrade, began to use their gear on the rest of us. For almost ten minutes my body was oblivious to every sensation except the feel of boots and baton coming into violent contact with it.
We had to visit the hospital the next day. The upshot of the whole incident was that the whole affair of looking for the stone thrower was given up. The stone thrower, probably having extracted as much fun as he or she could, stopped throwing stones after a couple of days.♦