Noor Sahab in Horror Land: Gowhar Fazili
Guest post by GOWHAR FAZILI
Some old memories came to mind when Noor Mohammed Bhat, a college lecturer in Kashmir got arrested for asking in an examination, “Are the stone pelters real heroes? Discuss.”
I studied at Burn Hall, a missionary school in Srinagar. In the mid-‘80s, they would make us recite the national anthem in the morning assembly on one of the week days. Interestingly, while the little kids would do as they were told, the ‘big’ ones who had just crossed their sixth grade, would for some strange reason go off tune so that Jana Gana Mana… would start sounding like “Jaaaaaanaooauea maaaoAAAonaa gaooooOOnaannNNaaaA…”, like it were a sound coming out of an audio tape that was stuck or a damaged gramophone record! This bad behaviour invited corporal punishment. Shah Sir and Mohinder Sir (P.T. Masters) used to lurk behind the assembly and surreptitiously appear and whip on our legs at lightning speed. They would lash at the whole queue in a single run and be gone before we knew it. While the tune in the queue that was being freshly hit would get restored, the queues furthest from the P.T. Masters would go really off the tune! They would keep running about madly like this from one end to another but the cycle (orchestra) would continue till the whole song was over. It used be maddening for them. Though they were quite ferocious if one were to encounter them in person, (having been used regularly to instil fear and maintain ‘discipline’) somehow as a collective, we dared them in this manner week after week and year after year.
I have still not figured why we used to engage in this mischief only during the national anthem, while we sang other songs like the school anthem, ‘What is the leaf in your armour my brother?’ (Referring to the Chinar leaf shaped school badge) and ‘We shall overcome… One day!’ and ‘Make me a channel of your peace! Where there is hatred let me bring in love…’, so on and so forth with rocking verve and absolute passion. It was only the national anthem that seemed to invoke rebellious vocal disorder! I seriously doubt we understood politics back then, especially because the times were so different (it was in the years prior to 1989 when kids were not socialised into politics the way they are now). There must have been something suffocating or alienating about the national anthem; may be it was the language that we could not make sense of; or maybe because it was imposed with such authority; or may be going off tune was simply a ritual of initiation into manhood. Whatever be the case, I remember we used to really enjoy our little rebellion even though the whiplashes were painful. The red mark and swelling across the calf muscle would last for days!
Noor Sahab reminds me of my childhood and our ritual mass prank. The mischief must have brought smiles to the faces of all those pranksters who wrote that wretched English exam (though it did cost Noor Sahab dearly; he is still in jail and has been refused bail). I don’t know about the purpose of his action, his intellectual acumen or the strength of his political convictions. But I am sure that at least among the Kashmiri students (and those like me who will never manage to outgrow the chuckle of those youthful years) he will be remembered and the memory of this act will be passed on for a long time to come.