September 2, 2019
I started this project on the 20th day of the curfew in Kashmir. I spent a lot of time that day thinking of what it would be like to be unable to communicate, to be unable to travel for 20 days and to live through a curfew. It was hard to piece this image together given the complete suppression of voices from the valley. That is when I decided to do a series that tried, and maybe even failed, to imagine this experience at a human and personal level. I thought it would be more relatable if I would do this based on the popular format of a 30 day challenge and that posting a fragment daily would capture how painfully long 20 days, or a month, of curfew could be. I was also tired of all the divisive conversations on social media with people taking sides based on their political allegiances and wanted to have a conversation based on empathy and an understanding of the human experience.
I was in the middle of a workshop in Bombay all day so only heard the news at 6 pm. Tried calling home. Could only hear dismembered beeps. Cancelled the next day’s workshop and rushed with my husband to the airport to catch a flight back to Kolkata. All flights were full. Spent a sleepless night at the airport. Ate so many doughnuts I felt sick.
We found seats on a 3:30 pm flight. The plane circled the sky over my city for an hour before finally landing. We couldn’t find any taxis at the airport. Withdrew money from both our accounts. 10K four times. Another night at the airport. Phones were not working any more.
My surname got us on the last bus organised to take select people, with select surnames, to the city center. We walked home through familiar streets but couldn’t recognise them. Walls of camouflage and metal in the place of the sleepy huddles of midnight Kolkata cops. We tried to reach my in-laws (who live down the road), but barbed wire barricades had cropped up everywhere, and we were turned back over and over, without a chance to ask why.
If we couldn’t meet them at home, where else could we find them? Usually it’s the coffee shop, but the only place we could think of today, was the police station. We heard that everyone was going there to try and get a curfew pass. We pressed through the crowd, scanning each face, unable to breathe, and finally a familiar voice called out to us. We waited all day together, eavesdropping for any news, or even rumours. No luck. Come back tomorrow.
I was supposed to have spent the day at a community workshop for a new art project. But the only place any of us could go was the police station. My father-in -aw was put on the waiting list for the curfew pass. I was next in line. I tried to plead for an emergency pass so I go see my parents, my sister, find out if they were ok.
Rejected. I argued back, gently.
Permanently blocked from the list. He pulled up my Facebook feed and threatened to charge me under the Public Safety Act. I had no idea what it was. Silenced.
We spent the day unfreezing leftover food, rationing for seven days, doing laundry, repeatedly counting our cash, obsessively making sure everything was charged. I spent a lot of time hanging over the balcony, trying to discern my parents’ home in the distant skyline. Felt like a bandh day, and despite the dull blue sky, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that we were bracing for a cyclone.
It had become a building ritual — watching primetime news in the houses that have a dish TV. We stepped into our neighbours home for the first time in our five years here. “Rule of law has been restored, all claims of violence are debunked." A tray of biscuits was brought in but we all politely declined, knowing how precious even a packet of Parle-G was. “Kankinara is peaceful after months of violence post the elections, congratulations all around.” We watched in silence, unsure of each other’s political allegiances, till finally someone hesitantly piped up, “Shall we switch to Al Jazeera?” We all chuckled nervously. It was the first time I had come even close to laughing in days.
Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.