We are all used to ghastly stories of death and destruction coming from Kashmir and the recent few weeks have seen a steep rise in the number of civilian casualties in the valley once known as heaven on earth. You walk through the streets of Srinagar and a haunting unease can be sensed in the air reminiscent of peak days of militancy. Every fatigued eye you look into has a stony opaqueness which reflects back your own emotions like a mirror depending on the opinion you have about kashmir and the prevalent situation there in. We all have something to say about kashmir, and we may differ in our view points on many things but there is no denying to the fact that the youth, the future generation on whose shoulders we are expecting to shift the burden of our nation has been the worst hit. In such a scenario when ‘student’ and ‘protester’ have become synonymous, ‘studies’ and’ protests’ are sides of the same coin, bullets, bombs and gore is the only thing you hear about, any news which brings a glimmer of hope, is bound to generate human interest.
CBSE declared class 12th result on 26th of May and to the surprise of all it was a school from this militancy torn valley that has topped among all the CBSE affiliated schools in the state and a student from this school, Sama Shabir Shah has topped in Jammu and Kashmir with 97.8% marks. What invokes further curiosity into the story is that Sama is the daughter of separatist leader Shabir Ahmed Shah who is currently lodged in Tihar jail.
This last bit of detail, about Sama being the daughter of Shabir Ahmed Shah adds a bit of journalistic interest too and you inadvertently interview this girl ten times over in your head before the actual meeting. As a journalist you are trained to sense a story, a headline and over time it becomes instinctive. You look for a catch line, a phrase, at times a controversy to spice up your story and sensationalise it. And this one seemed like a perfect situation so you decide to take it easy and slide into the interview slowly before getting to the tricky part.
You start with the normal pleasantries according to the plan with an eye on the big prize, but two minutes into the interview and that twinkle in those innocent eyes and that soft voice through the honest smile makes you realize that the person sitting across the Mahogany table is just a small girl child ignorant of vagaries and idiosyncrasies of life. It hits you like an epiphany that the only story to be digged here is that the girl child despite all odds has topped the CBSE exams and deserves her moments of praise and appreciation as it must have come after a lot of hard work. And again, there is an inspiration in her tale for the youth of valley, if told right.
Suddenly you realize that the traditional saffron kehwa served to you has turned cold as you have forgotten to sip on it for long and somehow it reminds you of the importance of warmness of heart and feelings. You place the cup back on the table with one eye on the fragrant steam coming out of the Samawar and lean back into the chair with a certain element of calmness as if you have been transported back to your own school days.
“Oh, I came to know at about 12:30 pm that the result has been announced. Vijay Dhar Sir had called from the school to congratulate. He told me that I had scored 97.8 %. And then after sometime a journalist called my mother asking for her permission to interview me. It was then we got to know that I had topped.” Probably the feeling is yet to sink in, and you decide to let the conversation take its own form and shape.
” I was among the top 15 in the state when the class 10th board results were announced. I scored 96 percent back then. But that was different. I was a student of Presentation Convent back then and it is affiliated to J&k State Board. CBSE is a different ball game altogether.”
Different! How so ?. You try not to break her rhythm. ” CBSE is is a bit tougher. The questions are a bit more conceptual in nature and you need in- depth knowledge of a topic where as in state board examinations the questions are comparatively straightforward and less twisted. So you need to adjust your preparations accordingly “.
Sama is all praises for her old school, Presentation Convent and the stress on discipline in the school, she believes has helped her to remain on the right track.
The exuberant child in her would come to the fore at times and she would look towards her mother, Dr. Bilkis, for an acknowledging nod who would just calmly smile back at her but the pride of a mother can be seen floating in her eyes which have become a bit watery by now. The smudging of kohl around the eyes tells you that a few drops of happiness have managed to escape the fences of her eye lids. Sama’s voice which is a bit more confident now brings you back to the discussion, ” I have not been a believer in the theory of 15 to 20 hours of studies a day. I used to study for around 3-5 hours a day and that too not at a stretch. I used to take breaks in between and try not to tire myself out. And I used to study during the nights and have never been an early morning bird. Actually it’s about what works for you and there is no ‘one size fits all’ kind of a solution to this. The only tip I can give to other students is that there is no shortcut to success and hard-work is the only way out.”
Seher, the younger sister who was listening from a distance till now decides to come closer on hearing her father’s name being taken and sits besides Sama holding her hand. An unexpected grimness surrounds the conversation suddenly and the smile vanishes but the firmness in the tone still persists, ” I dedicate this success, these marks to my father who has been the primary source of inspiration for me and to my mother who has been a pillar of strength for all of us in the family”. There is a pause, a long pause in fact. She places her arm on the shoulders of her younger sister and pulls her closer towards herself as if trying to hug her but mindful of the company around at the same time.
“Yes, studying in kashmir is very challenging because you don’t have those regular classes like every where else in the world. Like in 2016 we all students had to sit at homes for more than 6 months because of the volatile situation in the valley. You really need a lot of will power and courage to stick to books in such a situation. And on a personal front too, the whole academic year has been very tough and challenging for me as my father was sent to Tihar jail last year.” She continues without a break and you don’t want to interrupt her too ,” Yes I have seen my father in jails from a very young age and I have been to almost every jail in the state but I had never seen anything like Tihar before. It’s so worse, so bad. The way inmates are kept there is really inhuman. That definitely is not a place for political prisoners at least. I have not been face to face with my father for over an year now. Moreover, my mother too received summons last year and had to spend a considerable amount of time in Delhi, so it has been a really tough year.”
Seher tries to break free from the embrace of her elder sister and sits up straight as if she too was expecting a question. Sama caresses the hair of her younger sister and continues, ” It was an emotionally traumatic year for all of us in the family. Stabilizing oneself is really difficult in a situation like this. But my mother stood like a rock in the face of adversities and gave me the strength to stick to my goal. It was she who made me realize that my father has been in jail for the last 31 years now and I should be using it as a strength rather than a weakness. Hence I dedicate these marks to my father and my mother. There was no point in remaining depressed all the time and discarding books like a victim”.
Victim? Why did you use the word victim?. ” Ah! People keep asking me if I cry. Does my mother cry? Am I able to study? And questions like that. So there is always something on the back of your mind which makes you feel so. And these constant reminders about your life situation never let that feeling go away”.
You can hear the voice wavering and that journalist inside you wants to pester ahead, probe a little bit more, a little further, but the cameraman from a national news channel has set up his lights and camera by now. It’s a signal for you to wind up. So you end up asking about her future plans.
” Yes my mother is a doctor, and incidently most of my aunts and uncles too are doctors but I want to be a Judge. From childhood you keep reading about the judiciary, the judicial system and it’s importance in a society. And when you look around, specially in kashmir, you see a lot of injustice thriving around you. So I want to be a part of this machinery and try to ensure justice for the people of my state. I don’t want any other family in kashmir to go through what my family has suffered. After all a society is known by the law it has and by the kind of justice it permeates to its people.”
Suddenly your phone rings and it’s your chief editor who asks you if you have got what you came for . You don’t know what to say, you put the cap back on the pen, fold your writing pad and end on pleasantries like you began.
(The author can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)