Hajin: A picture that captured the attention of all photographers at the funeral of 12-year-old Aatif, who was held hostage by militants and then killed inside his home in Hajin area of Bandipora, was that of a child who had climbed the fence of the Eid-Gah, where the funeral was being held on Friday afternoon, while tears were rolling down his face.
In between, he tried to hide his face with his small hands. After a while, he came down from the fence and joined the funeral prayers.
The child was Uzair, Aatif’s best buddy. Though they studied in different schools and in different classes, Aatif and Uzair played together in that very ground of the Eid-Gah where he bid him the last farewell.
“Aatif was adorable and very quiet. He was good at both batting and bowling while I could only do batting,” Uzair said in his innocent voice while speaking to this reporter.
“Yes, he would often bowl me out,” he admitted, his face emotionless. “He was my friend for more than three years. The first time we met was during a Kabbadi match at the Eid-Gah ground,” he said, mentioning that Aatif’s home, now reduced to rubble, was quite near his own.
Days before the encounter took place between government forces and two Pakistani Lashkar-e-Toiba militants in Hajin on Thursday, Uzair had noticed that Aatif was nowhere to be found.
“I had not seen him for at least a month.
I searched for him everywhere but I did not have the courage to go to his house, though I did go to his darsagah (school where the Quran is taught) and also asked my cousin, who studies at Aatif’s school, if she had seen Aatif. She said that he hasn’t come to school for quite some time. I thought he may have gone to his maternal place,” Uzair said.
During this month, Uzair remained mostly confined to his house on Sundays, when he and Aatif would play cricket at the Eid-Gah.
“I occasionally went outside to places like the Eid-Gah and Jamia Park with my cousins,” Uzair said.
Aatif, though, was Uzair’s best buddy, the keeper of his secrets; it was his company he really wished for.
“Though we played cricket with my cousins, Suhaib and Zeeshan, he liked only my company and we would often walk to the Eid-Gah and the Jamia Park when we were not playing,” Uzair recalled.
Uzair’s mother, Jabeena, is worried for her son. “He has become quiet and weak. He has not even eaten since the time he learnt that Aatif was killed in the encounter. The loss of his friend has affected him deeply,” she said.
Uzair said that on the fateful day of Aatif’s killing, his heart told him that the worst had happened. “I was preparing for school when the firing (at Aatif’s house) started. Later, when news came that a child is trapped inside the house, someone told me that it was Basharat (Aatif’s cousin). But when the dead bodies were evacuated the next day, my heart knew it was Aatif,” Uzair said.
“When his body was brought to the Eid-Gah, I climbed the fence to see his face for one last time. I thought they would remove the shroud from over his face, but it didn’t happen. Something pinched my heart and I don’t know what happened, I started crying.”
Aatif said he missed his friend “dearly” and his death has “done something to my heart”.
To console young Uzair, smallest among his two brothers Ufair and Zubair who study in Class 11 and first year of college, respectively, his parents have brought all the kids and cousins home to keep him “involved”. But Uzair has fallen silent.