Walking with Ghalib Afzal Guru

Ghalib Afzal Guru in his teenage years

Junaid Nabi Bazaz visited Sopore in February 2014, several days before the first anniversary of the hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru, to write this piece on his teenage son Ghalib Afzal Guru. Ghalib was only fifteen years old at that time. He is now twenty and  recently cleared his 12th board exams and is now on path to fulfill his slain father's dream - to be a doctor. Wande Magazine reproduces this piece on Afzal's fifth hanging anniversary to celebrate life and resilience of the people and dreams he left behind. 

Two days before Afzal Guru walked up to the gallows in New Delhi’s Tihar jail, Ghalib Afzal Guru, his son, had gone to a relative’s house in Kanispora locality of Baramulla and stayed there through the night to enjoy a holiday with his cousins on next day. February 8 was the last day of urs (annual congregation) at a local saint’s shrine. In happier days, Ghalib was taken to the shrine by his father Afzal and mother Tabassum. Now, Ghalib, 15, played cricket, his favourite game, throughout the day without any inkling that his father was going to be executed tomorrow.

That day, Ghalib, tired, returned late from the playground. He took supper and went to bed. Ghalib, whose second religion after studies is cricket, had played to the best of his abilities to match the style of South Africa’s AB de Villiers, his favourite player and a role model. It worked and he had scored well. In the bed, while he was playing with the perfection of de Villiers in his imagination for the next day’s match, he fell asleep.

Next morning, on February 9, while his father had been executed and hurriedly buried inside Tihar jail, Ghalib woke up casually. His relatives were privy to the news that Afzal was no more but no one could muster the courage to break the news to him. They acted normally, as though nothing had happened. Soon enough, he was offered tea, dressed in warm clothes and taken to his maternal home in Azad Ganj locality of Baramulla where he had been living with his mother Tabassum soon after his father was sent behind bars.

That foggy morning, he saw uniformed men patrolling roads and standing behind barricades to check the antecedents of people who crossed them. The uniforms were everywhere but he assumed that it was a common practice, having spent his entire life in Kashmir, one of the most militarized zones on earth.

“Something was wrong. But I had never thought that my Abu was hanged,” he told me.

Once he arrived at his maternal home, a column of sloganeering people had surrounded the building. But he was lost in the thoughts of cricket match, about the long day ahead and the dexterity that he was going to employ to play like de Villiers. He dashed into the kitchenette of the three-storied house and searched for his grandfather, Ghulam Muhammad Bhuroo. He has gone outside, his uncle told him and walked him into the lobby.

“See Ghalib, every soul has to taste death,” his uncle began.

But Ghalib was unable to get his point. “Your Abu, the Martyr, has been hanged in Tihar Jail,” he said finally.

“I could not believe it,” Ghalib told me, “I thought I was in a dream. It was four days later when people came to our house that I believed what they said about Abu.”

His uncle then took him to his real home in Jagir village in Sopore where Ghalib has barely lived. Last time he stayed there for a few days was when his grandmother (Afzal’s mother) passed away. Prior to that, he has hardly been in Jagir since his father’s arrest. Ghalib has named his hometown Bhorabhanki, a calm and dull village in Billu Barber, a Bollywood movie after he watched the movie.

“Jagir is calm, sad and filthy, like Bhorabhanki,” he says.

Two years ago when Ghalib was in the seventh standard, a teacher asked students to write an essay Meuon Gaam (My village) in Kashmiri. Ghalib was excited because finally he had been asked to do something in school which he had wanted.

“I followed my heart and wrote what I actually feel about Jagir; a sad, calm and filthy village. My teacher disliked it but I know it was the best,” he says.

In about 20 minutes after he left Baramulla, Ghalib reached his hometown. He scurried to a room where Afzal spent most of his time. For the next 20 days, Ghalib stayed here, the longest period that he has ever spent in his 15 years of life in Jagir. It was also a time when the entire Kashmir was protesting against the hanging of Afzal.

Twenty days later, he went back to stay at Baramulla.

“Time heals everything,” he says, “The time when my Abu was arrested has passed. The time when he was sentenced to martyrdom also passed. And the time when Abu was martyred has also passed. These time periods have just made me stronger to fight against any odds in my life.”   


On a cold February morning in 2014, few days before Afzal’s first death anniversary, I met Ghalib at Guru’s Nursing Home in Sopore town, some 33 km away from capital city Srinagar where Afzal was first arrested in 2001 as an accomplice in the Indian Parliament attack case. Tabassum has been working here since Afzal’s arrest. The hospital became her home in July last year, four months after Afzal was executed, when she shifted to a spacious room on the third floor that earlier served as a patients’ ward.

I reached Sopore at around 11 am. Ghalib was attending tuition classes, which had begun at 10 am. The classes were going to end at 2:30 pm. Tabassum told me that she roused him from sleep as Ghalib had watched his favourite Paul Walker’s Hollywood flick Fast and Furious and slept late last night. After taking a bath, he had gone downstairs to the hospital reception for checking two local dailies. He had pored through their front pages and, finding nothing interesting, returned to his room. He had neatly kept books in his bag and left for tuitions.

Around 2:30 pm, Ghalib slowly walked out of the tuition centre. He was wearing a grey pheran and had a shy look on his face.

“Hi, how are you,” I greeted him, pretending to be his long-lost bosom friend.

“I am fine,” he replied curtly in a tone laced with scepticism one faces while meeting an excessively friendly stranger.

Trying to clear his doubts, I asked him about the classes and how his day had been. “Today we read about the French revolution when French attacked the Bastille,” he said.

Ghalib is a student of the ninth standard. He cleared his first board examinations last year with excellent grades of 97.2 percent and was one of the toppers at his school. But for Ghalib, scoring high percentage in exams does not mean much. He believes that children should be allowed to pursue their own instincts. His dream of becoming a cricketer was altered with the hanging of his father. Now, he wants to become a doctor, a dream that his father could never realize.

 When I began conversing with Ghalib, he came across as an intense and skeptic child who was reluctant to open up. But once the conversation warmed up, he opened up and, like a long-lost friend, took me into his room where I asked him to be my friend.

 The room has a stained, white marble floor, half of which is covered by double layered blankets. In one corner, there are two hospital beds. Next to them is a big steel cupboard in which the mother-son duo keeps their belongings. In one of its small chambers, Ghalib has kept few magazines and a diary. On the opposite side of the cupboard is a large window, which offers a panoramic view of the Sopore town. In another corner, there is Ghalib’s study table with few copies and pens on it. While we entered the room, we sat on the bed.

“Baya,” he calls me, “I just want to become a cricketer, nothing else.”

“But I have to become a doctor first, then cricketer. Because it is the dream of my parents,” Ghalib says. I asked him which country he would like to play for.

“Africa or England,” he replies. “Why,” I ask. “See, I won’t play for India because they killed my father,” he says.

In today’s class, a teacher has referred to Zain-ul-Abideen’s tomb in Srinagar, a benevolent King who ruled Kashmir for 50 years from 1420 to 1470. Ghalib told me he wants to see it but no one may take him there.

“Budshah’s tomb is not the only place. Teacher talks about a number of places which I want to visit and see,” he says, “but I don’t think I will be able to go there soon.”

After Ghalib joined Tabassum at the nursing home in June last year, he lost touch with his friends at Baramulla. Now he feels all alone. Tabassum had brought a laptop to keep him busy, but a few weeks later, Ghalib’s interest waned.

“I just want to be with my friends and play cricket,” he says. So far, he has not been able to make friends in Sopore.

Every day, after Ghalib finishes his classes at the tuition centre, he walks into his room and engages himself with his books. After finishing his homework, he picks up the laptop but it bores him soon. Then evening falls and his mother returns. They dine together and, after showing his homework to Tabassum, he climbs on the bed and goes to sleep. The routine is repeated next day.

Ghalib hates this life, obviously, and compares it with the life of a prisoner. When he took me into his room, he referred to it as ‘Tihar’s Jail No 4.’ I asked him why, “Is this not like a jail that I am not allowed to move from here,” he retorted.

After Afzal’s hanging, Tabassum has turned more possessive about Ghalib. She keeps an eye on him through day and night. “Now I don’t trust anybody,” she says. 

Ghalib was born on 12 August in 1999, three days ahead of India’s Independence Day at St Joseph hospital in Baramulla. Tabassum was at her parent’s home in Azad Ganj locality of Baramulla. A day before his birth, she had developed a shooting pain in her abdomen. Her parents took her to the Baramulla district hospital where doctors had declared that the baby had died. Next day, Afzal took Tabassum to St Joseph’s hospital where doctors told them a similar story, repeating that the baby had died. But Tabassum was adamant. She kept telling the doctors that her baby was alive in her womb. “But none of them was paying any attention to what I was saying,” she says.

At around 3.30 pm on August 12, doctors carried out a surgical procedure on her to take out the dead baby from her womb.

“A miracle happened,” she says, “Ghalib was alive. I knew”

At the time of his birth, Ghalib had four chords strangling him around his neck. “He appeared as if he was hanged,” says Tabassum, “Since that day, he is the apple of my eyes.”

On the day I met Ghalib in Sopore, he was preparing to visit his maternal home for attending the urs at the shrine in Baramulla where he had gone last year, two days ahead of his father’s execution. I offered him a ride in my car. When we were about to reach, he pointed at his friends who were standing outside his maternal home and waved at him when they saw him. 

“They are my friends,” he told me, “They are waiting for me.”

(The piece was first published in Authint Mail in 2014)

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