| A woman, standing in Karen town in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir with her son, waves to relatives across the Neelum on the other side of the border. (AFP)
As Bashir Hussain knelt down to offer Id prayers in his native village, one thought suddenly came to his mind — he must be a very lucky man.
And lucky he is. If fortune had not smiled on him, the 47-year-old resident of Kamal Kote village on the Line of Control in north Kashmir’s Baramullah district would not have been offering prayers. Because dead men don’t pray.
On November 21, Bashir was in his small maize field trying to harvest the year’s yield. Though the produce would last him and his family hardly six months, Bashir exuded the satisfaction of a farmer whose labour had translated into ripe corn shoots.
Then, suddenly, a ball of fire streaked across the field towards him. As he screamed in agony, the dumbfounded farmer realised he had been hit by shrapnel from an artillery shell fired from across the LoC.
As his relatives moved him to the nearby hospital, Bashir was more worried about what happened to his cornfield than whether the injury had been fatal. Doctors at the local hospital found his injury serious and referred him to the Valley’s main hospital in Srinagar city.
The wounds have not yet healed fully, but Bashir had no complaints. Neither did his fellow villagers who joined him for this year’s Id prayers.
It was a different world that Bashir and his neighbours found themselves in last Wednesday, when the sound of bursting crackers were the only explosions they heard. Till the day before, the boom of artillery guns drowned everything else.
“The news is too good for me and my family,” Bashir said of the ceasefire that the Indian and Pakistani governments agreed on. “The whole village is buzzing with this news. Guns have fallen silent in this area and that means we have a new lease of life. I don’t need to worry for my children and cattle each time the Pakistani and Indian armies targeted each other on the Line of Control.”
This was the Id gift Bashir and his fellow villagers had wanted for so many years. “I am grateful to the leaders who made it possible for us even though I have spent my entire savings on my treatment,” he added.
“We can only pray the ceasefire holds. For the first time, we are enjoying the sun sitting on the rooftops here. You see the air is so cool but it is tension free,” said Mohammad Arif, an Uri resident.
After nearly 14 years, business took off and people socialised in Bashir’s village, while traders from Uri town dispatched dozens of loaded carriers with essential items. As villagers rushed to stock up for winter, voices, so long subdued, rose with every bargain.
“We roamed around freely this time in remote villages carrying the essential items and even lots of firecrackers. The villagers happily bought the items as the atmosphere is relaxed,” said Abdul Rahim, a local businessman.
Similar scenes were reported from almost every village along the LoC. “This is the healing touch that we needed,” said Mohammad Khan, an Uri resident. “Everyone here prays the ceasefire continues in the coming days, months and years.”