On an Eid day in summer 2014, then 14-year-old Sahil Ahmad Lone was busy, like many children of his Barpora village in district Pulwoam (Pulwama), in playing games. Throughout the day, Sahil and his friends made merry and were excited in celebrating the festival of Eid. Sahil’s day had started with a bath and wearing his newly-bought dress, in which he offered the ritual Eid prayers. As the day progressed, Sahil relished various delicacies with his family and friends. When dusk fell, he started to realize that the cherished festive day was now nearing its end.
At night, Sahil lay in his bed, unable to sleep. At 1 a.m. in the middle of the night, he rose up and started crying, profusely.
Recalling that night, Sahil said that it was the images of people affected in the more than two-decade-old conflict of Kashmir that started to haunt him. “As I closed my eyes, I pictured mothers of my nation who had lost their sons to the conflict, mothers who had been waiting for years for their disappeared sons. I thought of mothers whose daughters were raped by Indian forces. I saw a mother who had refused to sit in shade because her son had lain on the ground for days in the scorching sun. I saw a mother whose son was languishing in an Indian jail for decades,” Sahil said.
As a child, Sahil said, he couldn’t bear to see a horse being flogged by its master. How, then, could he bear to see his people suffer? “I am very sensitive. I couldn’t bear to see the tonga-wallah beating his horse while on my way to school. The beatings to the horse would make me cry at night. You can imagine how much the suffering of my own people must affect me. But unlike many, I didn’t choose the gun; I picked up the pen.”
The story of a woman who had been waiting for her son for more than two decades moved Sahil to write one of his widely-read stories, “Laash” (Corpse). “It was 1:30 a.m. and I started writing, while tears were rolling down my face,” he recalled. The story was published in one of the leading Urdu dailies of Kashmir, Taemeeli Irshad. Sahil received accolades for it from near and far. “Tameeli Irshad has a huge readership in Kashmir. I was praised by many. I was very happy that my work was being appreciated,” he said with a sense of pride.
Among those who praised his story was the human rights activist Abhay Singh of Chandigarh. “It was a great moment for me to be praised by such a renowned human rights activist,” Sahil said. He recalled Abhay Singh’s words about the story: “Skilfully portrayed pain of Kashmiris.”
Sahil has more than 40 publications to his credit, most of them fictional Urdu stories, “some of which are columns that talk about social issues prevalent in the society, and I write Ghazals too,” he said. He has been published in leading Urdu dailies of Kashmir and in national and international magazines. One of his stories titled as “Gumnaam Qabr” or an unknown grave is about a woman whose husband is picked up by government forces, and is later disappeared. “Like thousands of other Kashmiris, he disappears too. The story is about the struggles of his wife how she searches for him and in the end finds an unnamed grave, and it is there she concludes the fate of her husband. And hence gives up the search, and that is why the title unknown grave,” he said.
The story was published in Pindar and Qaumi Tanzeem from Patna. Calling himself as someone whose writing stems from the surroundings, Sahil says he wrote “Khudkashi” or Suicide when there were student suicides taking place in valley, “The story was widely read and I received good feedback. It was about the discrepancies in the education system and how it was ruining lives of students,” he said.
Similarly, he has a story on the dowry system Known as “Jahez” translated in English as Dowry. The story talks about the prevalent social evil of domestic abuse due to non-payment of dowry, “During those days reports of domestic abuse by the family of grooms were common, that hurt me and I penned down Jahez,” he recalled while talking about his story. Adding that a woman was killed by her in laws because reportedly the family hadn’t fulfilled the demand of dowry even after marriage, “As I told you, I am sensitive and these things hurt me. I write to give a vent to my pain,” he added.
Now 17 years old, Sahil is a Class 11 medical student at a school in Pulwama. When he speaks, he sounds wiser than his age. He talks about religion and politics with ease. However, it is the subject of writing that he seems to be most comfortable with. “A writer doesn’t choose fiction. It is fiction that chooses a writer. Fiction finds you and asks you to write it,” Sahil said with confidence.
Despite the fact that Sahil has published 40 stories, the journey has not been easy. From being accused of plagiarism or being helped by elders, Sahil has been questioned by many. “They wouldn’t believe that someone as young as me could write on such complex issues with such ease. Hence, the accusations,” he said.
He said it was his parents’ support and his sheer determination that didn’t break his passion for writing. “Writing is just an addiction: yi chu insanas karan bey chain (it doesn’t let you sit in comfort). You are always thinking about ideas and stories,” he said. Talking about the restlessness of the writer, he recalled writing a story inside an examination hall. “I was writing an exam and an idea came to me. I started writing, leaving aside the examination.”
Such is his passion for writing that he has written stories on his low-end smart phone and then uploaded it at a local internet café. “It was tough, but my passion was tougher,” he said.
Although Sahil has written on subjects other than conflict, he said that one cannot really run away from conflict. “I have written on other issues such as dowry, love, and student issues, but when you are living in a conflict zone you cannot avoid writing about it,” he said.
In April this year, an incident occurred that made him once again start writing stories about the sufferings of people. “You try to avoid some things but then they happen and you are left with no other option but to face them,” he said. He was returning from school when he saw a group of armed men ruthlessly beating a young man. The video of the beating later went viral on social media and was met with widespread outrage. “Even if I wanted to write about something else, those images just didn’t allow my conscience to,” he said.
Not only has the Pulwama boy witnessed suffering but he has experienced it, too. On a spring day this year, when Kashmir was engulfed in student protests, one such protest was taking place at Government Degree College Pulwama. Sahil’s tuition center is right besides the college. When government forces began shelling tear gas and firing pellets at the student protesters, the students ran for their lives. Sahil was on the street at that time. He took refuge in one of the by-lanes. However, luck wasn’t on his side. As he tried running away from the tear gas smoke, an armed forces’ vehicle drove into the lane and caught hold of him. “They kicked me straight into the vehicle and wrapped my sweater around my eyes. Then they started beating me ruthlessly inside the vehicle. Every time I tried telling them I wasn’t in the protests or that I had never pelted stones, they would threaten me with death,” he recalled.
He said that the police vehicle roamed throughout the district and he was beaten all this while. The beating damaged the ear drum of his left ear. “Later I was taken to police station Pulwama, where we were placed in a room with no light. It was meant for four people but we were fourteen boys there,” Sahil said.
He said the police did not beat him in the police station. “The police didn’t beat us, they only abused us,” he said. On being asked if he ever tried telling the police that he was a writer who had published work in various Urdu newspapers, Sahil had an interesting incident to narrate. Just when he was about to tell the police about his credentials as a writer, he heard one of the officers using choicest invectives against the media. “They were unhappy with some news items. After I heard their anger against the media, I decided to keep mum. I spent a week inside the police station,” Sahil said.
A week later he was released from the police station, along with the other boys. “It becomes extremely hard for poor people and those with no contacts to prove their innocence. Thankfully, it took me only a week,” he said. Despite the ordeal, Sahil considers his police station experience as a learning one. “I became a better writer, and I realized it’s the call of my conscience that makes me a writer,” he said.
Right after he was released he penned down the experience, titled as Faryade Mazloom or the wail of an oppressed. The piece got published in three newspapers each being published from London, Pakistan and Pakistan administered Kashmir’s Muzaffarabad. The story yet again stresses upon the sufferings of his people.
Sahil said he is inspired by the likes of Nimra Ahmed, Umera Ahmed of Pakistan and India’s Arundhati Roy, and aspires to become like them. He said he considers fiction as different from other forms of writing. “Sometimes I can write three to four stories a day, and sometimes I have to wait for months. Aap zabardasti story nahi likh sakte (You cannot force yourself to write a story)” he said.
He believes a writer has two lives, one for the everyday, and the second for the literary. He said this dual aspect of his life confuses people. “People find me confusing, but I am not. I am just a sensitive writer. I feel the pain of both the militant and the policeman who loses his life,” he said.