As a child, I studied at the Lal Ded Primary School, an institution run by the Hindu Education Trust. This trust had a chain of schools and colleges in the city of Srinagar. It was a minority trust established by Kashmiri Pandits and located about two kilometres from my home in an old building owned by some rich man.

Here the teachers were mostly from the Pandit community, but the students came from all communities. Although the building belonged to a rich man, it was not a rich school. All the kids came from modest households. There were regular classes throughout the week, and Saturday was meant for cultural activities, where the children would learn Kashmiri folk songs and enact little plays written and directed by our Hindi and Urdu teachers.

I remember my Urdu and Sanskrit teachers as being very tough. They always wanted us to learn by rote, which was very difficult for me. I was often punished by these teachers in very mean ways; they used a cane or sometimes placed a pencil between our fingers and squeezed our hands as we screamed in pain. Those were horrible punishments, so learning these languages was very difficult for me.

My teacher could not explain to me the difference between some of the letters of the alphabet. In Kashmiri, we do not have any letters for ‘bha’ or ‘gha’. Kashmiris pronounce these sounds as ‘ba’ and ‘ga’; the sound of ‘h’, the aspiration, is missing. Most of the time I would fail the test for these languages.

Eventually, I lost interest in the Urdu language. It became boring and torturous for me. I abandoned Sanskrit too. It seemed impossible for me to improve my grades. But eventually, luck favoured me. Urdu books became available in the Devanagari script, besides the Nastaliq script. And I soon got higher marks in Urdu than all the other students, all of whom excelled at the Nastaliq script. Everyone in the school was surprised. I gave up Sanskrit because it was impossible to memorize the gardhanas.

I feel sad to think that if these teachers had inculcated in me some love for languages, I could have perhaps learned both Urdu and Sanskrit very well. Today, being a professional in theatre and film, I see this lacuna in my abilities; I am unable to read Urdu and Sanskrit texts in their original form. This vast ocean of knowledge is not available to me, and translations do not always give you the sounds and the textures of the original.

Notwithstanding these punishments meted out to us by our strict teachers, we were happy-go-lucky children. Some good teachers were like our grandparents, always encouraged us to learn more.

Near the time of the annual official school inspection, since our school was on the banks of the River Jhelum, locally known as the Veth, we were instructed to clean the school furniture in the water. We would float them on the river like some sort of raft for some distance, going with the flow of the water.

The Jhelum (its ancient name is Vitasta) originates as the sacred spring of Verynaag in the south of Kashmir located at the foothills of the Peer Panjal mountain range. It flows down into the Valley, winding its way through fertile fields and many towns till it enters Srinagar. The city of Srinagar was founded by Ashoka the Great and has been the capital of many dynasties. The banks of this river are dotted with temples, mosques, ziyarats, ashrams and khankhas, as well as homes of Hindus and Muslims.

Earlier, this city had seven bridges connecting both the banks of the river.

Because of the growing population and the expansion of the city, two more bridges were built. The bridges were named after rulers, poets and generals. The Jhelum or Veth was (and still is) the lifeline of the city. It had been a witness to the rise and fall of many dynasties.

Now, coming back to school – for the inspection, we had to present our best to impress the visiting government officials.

On 8 August 1953, suddenly, the school closed, and all the children were asked to go back home. And we were told not to return to school. The children were very happy about this at first.

When I left school for home every day, I would walk through lanes leading to the main road connecting to the Habba Kadal bridge. From that main road, I would go through more lanes to reach my house. Walking through those lanes that day, I sensed a strange silence everywhere. People were rushing, not talking to each other. Hardly anyone walked on the main road when I reached there. It was almost empty except for some army men stationed on the bridge every twenty feet with their guns mounted with bayonets.

I saw a cyclist try to cross the bridge. He was caught and given a slap for not walking on foot as the city was under curfew. I was so frightened when I saw this that I started to cry.

Someone from somewhere caught hold of my hand and helped me across the bridge. On the other side, he handed me over to another person and told him to help me reach my mohalla. This person, without even talking to me, held my hand and kept moving.

When we turned into another lane, we saw a large number of young people running in all directions and pelting stones towards the main road where soldiers were on security duty. The sight was so scary I was in tears again, but this stranger reassured me that I would be safe. We kept moving until we entered the next lane. There he handed me to a third person. I remember that none of these people appeared to know each other. Nor did I know any of them.

Finally, this third man led me to my mohalla. Since I was in class two at the time, I had no idea what this was all about. Looking back now, I presume it must have been the dismissal and arrest of the prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, on 8 August 1953. This was done by the Sadr-i-Riyasat, the constitutional head of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Abdullah was imprisoned for eleven long years. A case was registered against him and twenty-two others, accusing them of conspiring against the state for allegedly espousing the cause of an independent Kashmir. It was called the Kashmir Conspiracy case.

This agitation carried on for some time and we had many holidays from school. Stone-pelting, and people agitating and fighting with the security forces were part and parcel of my growing up. One gradually learned to cope during these disturbances and, during shutdowns, to keep the supply lines of essential items running.

This exuberance of the Kashmiri people is age-old. It has served them for decades. The power of the olive-green uniform and what it means becomes clear from a very early age for every Kashmiri child.

Excerpted with permission from Before I Forget, MK Raina, Penguin Random House.