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How Sweet, Smart Kids Under Occupation Come To Worship Militants

In the heart of Kashmir, where happiness was a warm AK-47, the weapon was my voice, and my dream

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(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photo Shutterstock)
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Like my peers, I loved the gun, and the star status of the militants captured my imagination, too. The gun would soon be within my reach, I was convinced, and I often cursed my luck for depriving me of various chances to hold the AK-47. Whenever rebels came to our village, I was busy feeding chickens and missed the excitement of the gun. On a day that some rebels actually let villagers touch and hold their guns, I was watching Mickey Mouse cartoons on TV. Once, one of my friends got a chance to hold the gun, and for a whole day he boasted about it. It was hard to suppress my jealousy. He was younger than me, weaker, and even shorter. He didn’t even know the full form of AK, which I had memorized for a long time, yet he was the chosen one.

As my luck was taking me nowhere, I concentrated on AK accessories. Gunfights between rebels and Indian troopers would often leave a trail of fine shiny cartridges and twisted bullets. It was a thrill to visit these sites, where the trigger was pulled and where the target had stood. I could easily find cartridges, but not bullets. The bad news was that the bullets were rumored to be poisonous, but the good news was that the casings were said to command the impressive price of $20 per kilo. Washing my hands rigorously with soap became my habit, in case the rumor of poison was true. I didn’t try to sell even a single cartridge, as I knew it would have landed me in trouble. The military was always looking for any clue that might indicate a connection with the rebels.

Empty cartridges were everywhere, but I wanted a new bullet. But even owning a bullet was becoming a herculean task. One day I realized that the color of a faded brass bullet casing, which I had collected from the compound of a high school, was somewhat similar to the wooden shade of a chewed pencil. Bingo—I got an idea. I peeled a pencil of its paint and cut it to the size of a bullet. The wood color matched the bullet color. With a sharpener I carefully made a pointed end of the pencil just like the front of a real bullet and inserted it into the cartridge from its open end. My copy was complete, and I was now the owner of an “almost” bullet.

Now the trick was to carefully show it to my friends. I did that by keeping a distance between them and the bullet, and they were suitably impressed. For almost six months I was the proud owner of this almost bullet until one day a cruel friend of mine detected the pencil trick. I still hate him.

As the gunfights became more frequent and school hours rare, children were confined to their homes for longer stretches. We found solace in games, which 90 percent of the time were inspired from the violence raging around us.

We made wooden replicas of Kalashnikovs and played the usual military-rebel games. Once I made a replica of an AK-47 so detailed that my horrified father threw it into a chicken pen. “You will get us arrested,” he scolded me. Almost every month and sometimes every week, there was a crackdown in our locality. The soldiers would hoard the men to some open compound and then search our houses. Depending on the mood of the soldiers sometimes even a flashlight could provide a reason for suspicion and for taking somebody’s father or brother away.

We also created our own mini-bullets during these long holidays by emptying the nib of a ballpoint pen and meticulously loading it with phosphorous harvested from matchstick heads. Then we loosely attached the nib to the tip of a thin steel wire and lit a matchstick underneath; the ignition of phosphorous would send the nib a few feet into the air like a missile. Once I packed too much phosphorous into the nib, which exploded with a bang. Years later, I realized how foolish I was to have risked my eyes.

Before the advent of the gun we used to love to copy famous movie stars, imitating their voices and reciting their dialogues. Now the times had changed. We mimicked firing guns and exploding bombs. After our prayers, we would discuss different sounds of guns. Everybody would chip in with his expertise: that the sound of AK-47 is different from an SLR (Self Loading Rifle) or a Pika gun, for example. Anyone who broke the news of new type of weapon was held in high respect. One of my close friends, a notorious liar, even claimed to have seen a missile at the hospital ground. He said it looked like a lotus stem, a famous Kashmiri vegetable.

AK-47 machine guns hang in a shelter for Syrian rebels in the Salaheddine district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on April 12, 2013. (DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)

The mimicry game was soon going full throttle. By clicking our tongues or banging two objects, we would try to imitate gunshots and explain which gunshot the sound resembled. Then somebody discovered that clapping in a particular way produced a really good result. It was simple: You have to stretch your palms very tight, so that they make a convex curve, palms thrust outward and stretched fingers inwards. Then, you clap hard in such a way that only the two palms strike each other but not the fingers. One day while walking along a desolate road I continued to clap hard without realizing that an old man was walking behind me. At the mosque, the old man had complained to my father about how he had run for cover after assuming my clapping sound to be gunfire; that evening my dad scolded me for scaring the old man. I was sorry for the old man, but I was more proud of my skill.

But the competition here too was steep. Bored with the clapping thing, some of my friends discovered a banging-fist technique: On your left fist place some paper, so that it covers the round hole made by the index finger and the thumb. Then strike it hard with the palm of your right hand, and that peculiar sound resonates in the air. The impact also tears away the paper. We experimented with leaves, polythene and many different types of paper. The eureka moment came when we produced the Kalashnikov sound by using carbon paper—an achievement that we celebrated with rapid gunfire that consumed most of our carbon-paper stock. Some of us even pinpointed which brand of carbon paper was best and the difference in the sound quality of used and unused carbon paper. Every day we would end up with black hands and black mouths. In the age of martyrs and sacrifices, this was our part, and it was worth it to hear the sound.

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How Sweet, Smart Kids Under Occupation Come To Worship Militants

In the heart of Kashmir, where happiness was a warm AK-47, the weapon was my voice, and my dream