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Jimmy the Terrorist

By Omair Ahmad

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Curfew was declared. Pickets were set up at the major crossroads in town, but this was a mohalla so there were only minor crossroads. A large truck painted in camouflage trundled up close to Shabbir Manzil and disgorged its contents. These were no ordinary police, even their khaki was different, and they were armed with submachine guns. The street shook a little when they jumped out, a stream of young and middle-aged men with surprisingly clean boots.

The people of the mohalla, like stunned cattle, found themselves herded into their homes, the peace enforced by the threat of gunfire. That was when the resistance rose, and speeches were made. But they were only made in the safety of the home, and sometimes in the mosque. This was Rasoolpur after all, resistance did not mean picking up a gun. The greatest violence we knew was that of a cutting remark.

But the world was bigger than Rasoolpur; Moazzamabad was bigger than Rasoolpur, and the world was so much bigger even than Moazzamabad. The world crept in, almost by stealth. Slowly things that we had only heard about—things that were happening in the rest of the country—began to happen in our town. In small ways. The muezzins set their loudspeakers in the mosques a little louder, or maybe they just sounded that way in the new situation. The chants and bhajans from the temples sounded louder as well. At some point of time, it was difficult to tell exactly when, there were more insistent calls to prayer being sent out from our mosque early in the morning, and the chants from the temples around our neighbourhood began to reach us earlier and earlier in the morning.

To those cooped up in their homes the war to be the loudest began like this, until there was only the noise of aggression, no call to God at all left in the way that people were summoned to state their loyalties.

In that compressed and wound-up space rumours spread, first like stains and then like small fires. Somebody had been killed by the police, a priest had been caught with guns in his Maruti van, a young woman had been raped—always such women were beautiful, and then ritually slashed and scarred. Always the mob was coming to kill. All of this had happened before, but it took on an added edge now. Jamaal was a teenager when the curfew days began. He learned that curfew fear was of a different quality and texture than any other he had encountered. Sitting in his house, he saw the fear not only in his own face when he looked in the mirror, but caught it on his father’s face as well. He could see the mark it left, a yellowing and tautness of the skin that was unmistakable. And he could see it in the twitching of the eyes that would always look away after brief contract. It was a virus in the gut, spreading silently in the blood, infecting the heart and the mind.

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