["Jaddu ki" (Magic) Cigarette - usually hash]
As Harzatbal's evening call for prayer resounds over the Dall, Ajaz walks through one of Srinagar's many martyrs' graveyards. The young man in worn-out jeans and a body hugging tee swaggers past unkempt tombstones counting friends and family that are buried there - there were 21 of them. He tells me how he can still see the smiling face of Mushtaq, who was his senior at school, who would have been 27 this January. He tells me about another friend, Javed, who was his parents' only son. The day he died, he was wearing Ajaz's clothes. Javed had come to our house in the morning through the and changed there. Javed was 23, and Ajaz still remembers even six hours after his death, when they took him for burial, blood still oozed out of his bullet wounds. Every epitaph standing on a grave tells a story - a tragic story of a generation.
[Ajaz, 23 has no interest in studying or any real quantifiable aspirations, except for having fun. He is apathetic to the political situation. He hangs out at 8 ball snooker den, a place where he can the violence and bandhs of the old city.]
Ajaz lingers for a bit, starring-glassed eyed into a distance, till he eventually snaps out out of it. "Enough of this tragedy, let's go have some fun." Ajaz is part of Kashmir's "lost generation", an entire generation of youth who have growing up with in Kashmir ravaged in 20 years of turmoil. They are a generation numb with no real ambitions or motivations, just pre-occupied with a struggle for survival. Ajaz spends his days at 8 Ball, a smoky snooker den at Lal Chowk, in the city center. The parlour is inhabited by 15 to 20 year olds, innocent and trying hard not to be. Some were tougher than others, but there was a limit to how much trouble they can find at 8 Ball. This is their home turf, a place they escape the tear-gas and rubber bullets of the old city - to gamble and smoke all too many cigarettes. Some of the older boys like Ajaz sometimes walk to the football ground nearby showing off their hair, their sunglasses, their cigarettes, their tattoos and sometimes even their girls.
[A parlour scene at 8 ball snooker den. The parlour is inhabited by 15 to 20 year olds, innocent and trying hard not to be. Some were tougher than others, but there was a limit to how much trouble they can find at 8 Ball]
Ajaz puts flame to a little block hashish and watches it crumble into his palm. Sajid, a boy with the hard cheekbones and a black jacket with a woven trim, empties tobacco from a cigarrette with his long and delicate fingers. He looks mad for some reason but continues on diligently. If you look at them closely you get a sense of over grown teen-age urgency and escape, the sense that all these details-- the part in the hair, the length of the fingernails, the jacket trim, the cigarette grip -- matter greatly. "Smoking up is Haram. But I can't go through a day without rolling one. It help us forget," Ajaz tells me as Sajid grunts in approval. Ajaz's cellphone rings to a polyphonic rendition of song from Ghajini, it's Farhana. They flirted awkwardly on the phone, the conversation seemed no different than one two lover would have in Mumbai. There was some romance in Srinagar after all. Ajaz first stopped at Broadway Cinema, a bombed out theater the upper floors of which have been now converted into a bar. A couple of beer cans were procured and cigarette cartons refurbished. He then waited at the earlier decided rendezvous point. Farhana waited till she was in the rickshaw still she let Ajaz light her cigarette. She was dress respectably in a salwar kameez but she admitted that she only like wearing jeans and tops at home. "I want to go to Delhi or Mumbai, so that I can wear a skirt and be free - just like in the movies," she told me as the rickshaw sped toward the Dal Boulevard. Ajaz waited till they were on the Shikhara to suprise Farhana with a can of beer. She popped it open and sipped as the boatman frowned yet at the same time maneuvered them further away from the orthodoxy of Srinagar. They steel a kiss as a dark pummel of smoke makes itself visible over the city.
[Ajaz and Sajid smoke at the Fair Grounds in Sringar. The conversation meandered, as it always does in Kashmir, into what they call the ‘Kashmir masla’ — the issue. “Keep us this side or that side, how does it matter, we just want to get on with our lives,” said Sajid]
[Kashmir finds itself in a new the grips of a new found religious orthodoxy, where it is not socially excepted for young Kashmiri women to wear western clothing. Where as young men have almost abandoned pheran for t-shirts and their salwars for jeans.]
[Scuffles break out often at The 8 Ball snooker parlour in central Srinagar. They are usually results of bets gone wrong, the older boy usually break them up before it gets ugly.]
[Farhana, 21 is Ajaz's girlfriend - sips her beer as she laughs on a Shikhara on Dal Lake. It is one of the few places she can be herself away from the prying eyes of Srinagar's moral police. Farhana drink and smokes discreetly and thinks the two habits to be both an act of rebellion and modernity.]
[A broken fountain behind the Hazratbal Mosque in Srinagar. Signs of violence are never far]