‘When I close my eyes, I see Faisal’s body on the steering wheel of the car’

Basim Ahmad Bhat, a 14-year-old Class IX student, was in a car with his four friends when they were fired upon by armymen on Monday evening in Chattergam on the outskirts of Srinagar city. Two of his friends died, two are in hospital. Basim survived unhurt to tell this story:

It was a cloudy afternoon. I was waiting on the highway in Nowgam for some of my friends from school. Suddenly, a white Maruti car stopped in front me. Faisal (Burhan) was in the driver’s seat, there were three other friends. Faisal asked me to go with them to Suthoo, a village some 3 km from my house, to watch the Muharram processions.
Shakir was sitting in the front but got out to let me take his place and moved to the back seat with Meraj and Zahid.
It was a smooth drive to Suthoo. But when we reached there, we realised that one procession had already left and the other had not yet started. It was turning dark so we decided to return. On the way back, we were joking, laughing at each other. The Bollywood song ‘Ek mulaqat zaruri hai sanam’ was playing in the background.
We reached Chattergam, just outside Srinagar city. The light was getting dim and the paddy fields to our left were fading in the fog. Meraj told Faisal, “We will go to Pahalgam after a few days. I will treat you to a big bash there.”
Suddenly, I felt a little shake. Faisal had tried to overtake a ‘tipper lorry’ and our car had brushed against it. The driver of the lorry yelled at us. Faisal accelerated to get past him. It was then that some soldiers standing on the roadside whistled loudly – perhaps asking us to stop.
Faisal didn’t see them, but we alerted him. “I will stop on the edge of the road,” he said and applied the brakes.
There was no checkpoint on the road, no barricades. Just soldiers. There was no army vehicle either – or at least I failed to notice any.
But before our car could come to a halt, I heard a gunshot. I looked at Faisal, I saw blood dripping from his arm. He lost control of the car which hit an electricity pole.
Then I heard a series of gunshots from two sides. “Hatai Mouji (Oh my mother),” Faisal screamed, his head on the steering. “Hato Khudaya (Oh my God),” shouted somebody from behind. I looked back – Meraj, Zahid and Shakir were motionless.
There was total silence inside the car but the guns were still roaring outside.
I tried to open the car’s door but failed. I then rolled down the window and crawled out.
I was lucky. The paddy fields on my left were slightly lower than the road surface. I rolled over for a few metres. The bullets whizzed past me – the soldiers had seen me and were firing. But the fog
helped me escape. I ran for a few hundred metres, jumped over a compound wall and found myself inside a house. Those inside were surprised but I quickly told them about the incident. They gave me a glass of water and a Rs 10 note, saying it was for the bus fare to reach home. It was dark when I entered my house. Everyone was weeping – they had already been informed about my death. They saw me, hugged me but continued to cry. I pacified them. I wanted to go to the houses of Faisal, Meraj, Zahid and Shakir to inform them about what had really happened. But I couldn’t gather the courage to do so – the entire neighbourhood was already out wailing and crying. I now know that my life will be never the same again – I have lost two of my friends and two are in hospital. It has been three days now but I haven’t slept even for a moment. When I close my eyes, I see Faisal’s body on the steering. I see Meraj, Zahid and Shakir. I see the blood splattered on the car. I tell myself it was was not a bad dream – how I wish it had been one.

(As told to Basharat Masood)