Around the time violent clashes were taking place between Hindu and Muslim students over a cricket match in the Kashmiri summer capital of Srinagar, another tale of violence and, in a sense, redemption was unfolding in the Hindu bastion of Jammu. In this story a Hindu man imparted a valuable lesson to a Muslim child, but in the hardest, most tragic way imaginable.
A few months ago, I saw a tall man walking into a coffee shop at Nishat on a misty Kashmir winter afternoon. As he talked to the Café owner, I realized why there was something so familiar about him.
"Satyan Magotra," I said.
He turned his head towards me and said. "Yes, I'm Satyan." He hadn't placed me yet.
"Well, if you're Satyan, would you recognize me," I threw a challenge to him.
He looked confused as he tried to figure out who I was. "Sorry mate, I don't know you," he said. I didn't want to prolong his ordeal so I reminded him how we had met in Jammu some 17 years ago and that we used to frequent the same coffee shop. While we were acquaintances rather than friends, I felt the urge to connect with him and relive some of those youthful moments.
My son made friends with Satyan by asking him about cars and then guns. "I have a pistol," Satyan said. "A pistol!" Mehran's eyes shone with excitement.
"Coffee?" I asked. "No, I have someone to see at Lal Chowk," he replied. I persisted, "I'm also going the same way and we could perhaps go together."
The next moment, I was in the front seat of his posh car. We chatted about the times we had spent in Jammu together as he drove on the beautiful Boulevard Road along the scenic Dal Lake. Within another 20 minutes, we reached Dalgate and I asked him to pull up the car.
I work for Kashmir Observer as editor and our office is situated right at the beginning of the Boulevard, the road that leads to the famous Mughal Gardens.
"Why don't you come over and have a cup of tea with me?" I asked not so seriously. "Our office boy makes some wonderful tea."
He thought for a moment and then said, "Okay," and parked his car along the edge of the road.
"So what do you do these days as he reclined on the sofa," he asked. "I'm an editor with this newspaper," I replied.
"A newspaper man, huh," he muttered.
I found him to be a jolly sort who was more talkative than I remembered.
He directed a barrage of questions at me, and when some were met with monosyllabic replies, he seemed disappointed. "Seems you have changed a lot," he told me.
"Why don't you come over to my home for lunch tomorrow," I changed the subject. "I could get some precious trout if you like."
"I haven't had trout for a long time. I'll call you in the morning tomorrow," he said as he left my office.
I got back to work without thinking too much about the 'reunion'.
Satyan kept his promise and called me the next day to enquire whether I had purchased the trout. I had. "Yes, come over and have lunch with us," I said. He was staying at a hotel and he asked me if I could come to pick him up. I agreed.
Mehran knew if anyone could get him his air gun, it was Satyan. However, my friend explained to Mehran that guns could wreak great havoc...
I asked my son, Mehran if he would come with me to get Satyan from the hotel. Mehran, 13, is a 7th grader and fond of expensive cars and guns. His favourite channel is Star Movies and he is terribly fond of the "Fast and Furious" series.
For the past one year, Mehran had been asking for an air gun, an idea that I wasn't too fond of. "Look son, guns are meant to hurt people. They cause so much bloodshed around the world," I tried to explain, citing the many unfortunate incidents that have occurred partly as a result of the open gun policy in the US. "Did you not see what happened in Peshawar, where the Taliban used guns to kill some 150 kids," I argued.
Mehran had his own intelligent rejoinders. "Papa, I want to become a professional shooter and participate in the Olympics," he argued. I wouldn't budge because I hate guns, even if they're loaded with pellets rather than bullet. To me, a gun is a gun and it is meant to hurt.
Mehran is not very aware of the raging conflict in Kashmir as I have carefully avoided discussing it with him, knowing he will figure it out on his own someday. He studies at a private school where teaching of religion (Islam) is mandatory, something that I detest. I have no choice to shift him to some other school and it takes me quite an effort to make him unlearn certain weird things he picks up there. His religious books do refer to the wars in Islam and that titillates him quite a great deal. He often poses difficult questions like: "Why do Israelis kill Palestinians? Who are ISIS and Taliban and why do they kill people?"
I explain to him how violence is a vicious circle and it does, in truth, recoil upon the violent. He gets his answers.
That day, Mehran and Satyan took to each other right away. My son made friends with Satyan by asking him about cars and then guns. "I have a pistol," Satyan said. "A pistol!" Mehran's eyes shone with excitement. "Yes, a pistol," Satyan replied.
He'd call me at odd hours and send messages to my Facebook inbox. Perhaps this signalled something was bothering him, but I didn't pay much heed.
Soon the two were engrossed in discussions about guns, cars and much more--as if they had known each other for a long time. Mehran knew if anyone could get him his air gun, it was Satyan. However, my friend explained to Mehran that guns could wreak great havoc, giving examples of shootings in the US, Pakistan, Middle East and elsewhere. I was happy I had called someone home who could explain the ill effects of having a gun in the house. It helped Mehran mellow down to a great extent on his demand to have a gun.
Following the lunch, Satyan tried to stay in touch with me. He'd call me at odd hours and send messages to my Facebook inbox. Perhaps this signalled something was bothering him, but I didn't pay much heed. A fortnight later, Satyan visited Kashmir again, this time with his wife. He called me up and asked me if I could take them to Dachigam National Park and a few other places too. Usually, I don't get time to sneak away from work but I didn't want to hurt his feelings.
Satyan came to our home with his wife and we all decided to go to Dachigam first, then Naranag--a place towards the north of Kashmir with a great historical value. It turned out to be a great day and both our wives got along like a house on fire. The two women even planned a summer holiday, which they hoped to enjoy at our newly constructed house.
We began refurbishing the house and were looking forward to great times with our friends.
On 5 April 5, 2016 when the NIT row in Srinagar was getting out of control, I was at the news desk when my wife called me up. She informed me she had written a message to Satyan's wife on WhatsApp and his daughter replied instead: "Aunty: He is no more....he shot himself."
On April 4, 2016 Satyan shot himself with his licensed pistol at his Sainik Colony flat in Jammu leaving everyone in a state of shock.
Shock ran through my being and a shiver ran down my spine. He had called me up just a day before. "Could you please confirm," my wife asked.
I called up Satyan's wife. Through sobs, she said, "Bhaiya (Brother), Satyan shot himself dead." She then hung up.
On April 4, 2016 Satyan shot himself with his licensed pistol at his Sainik Colony flat in Jammu leaving everyone in a state of shock. His wife and two daughters are unable to come to terms with the tragedy. So many questions remain but the only person who could answer them is gone.
I was devastated not just because Satyan was a friend but because a family was torn apart. I thought about his two lovely daughters and his young wife and the difficult times the tragedy would put them in. I couldn't work and left the office.
I took a flight the day after to Jammu to see the bereaved family, enquiring from Satyan's daughter the address of the place they were staying. The police had sealed their flat.
I reached Jammu in the afternoon and an auto-rickshaw took me to the house. It belonged to Satyan's mother-in-law upon. She reluctantly allowed me in and when I showed her the photos of her daughter on my laptop, she broke down. Satyan's wife and two daughters had gone to Haridwar--a place where Hindus immerse the ashes of the dead in holy waters.
Nobody has the slightest idea why Satyan took the extreme step to end his life, but his mother-in-law offered a hint. "Son, one must live according to one's capacity. Satyan was living a fake life full of luxuries, and pomp and show. He was heavily in debt," the old woman said to me.
Where he had once badgered me to buy him an air rifle on an almost daily basis, Mehran was now strangely silent on the subject.
I left with a heavy heart, saddened that I couldn't meet the family to console them. I stayed at an inn for the night before catching the morning flight back home.
Mehran knew I had been to Jammu and what for. He proved more mature than I expected but never asked me questions about Satyan, the "uncle" he'd been so fond of. Satyan had shot himself with the same pistol he had once shown to Mehran.
In the days that followed, I noticed a change in Mehran. Where he had once badgered me to buy him an air rifle on an almost daily basis, he was now strangely silent on the subject.
Satyan's suicide by gunshot has taught him a very good lesson, the hard way. But can we afford to lose more Satyans to tell the world, "guns are meant to kill"?
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