By Abhimanyu Kumar Singh
At the Dargah of Hazrat
Amir Kabir, scores of pigeons,
grey like the darkening sky
(Whose moods are as fickle as that of a beloved)
A child charges at them,
While they fly for cover
And for a brief moment there are
Two skies, one underneath the other.
Two gardeners – one washes his wares in the fountain as I write this, the other sits fiddling with them – and a man mowing the lawn with a preternatural devotion, at the Jama Masjid.
As for tourists, two white men
Under one of the trees in the lawn
Sit two women covered entirely in burqas – I can’t help feeling they are discussing some esoteric matter of great spiritual import, so engrossed they look and mysteriously content.
The fierce silence of the deodar pillars tells me
Autumn came early this year
“Nothing that grows in the Dal
Goes waste,” says Raj/Bilal.
“The lily petals we feed to the cattle; as with the grass.
The fish we eat ourselves,
Like the lotus roots
Which you can either fry with
Spices or cook with chicken or meat
And add some yogurt for taste.”
I ponder over the irony of his
Statement, made in a country
Where unarmed children are killed
For their love of freedom and young women are raped with impunity as
The State fears the power of their
Dreams. Where what is really valuable –
Freedom, dreams, love – counts for nothing.
“That little bird was
Fighting with the eagle,”
Points out my father-in-law, as we return to our abode for the night, taking
The boat back.
“It kept circling and attacking;
The eagle fluttered its wings and
Went down a little, hardly bothered.”
“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror
which we are barely able to endure and are awed
because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
In this country without post-offices,
I wish to remember all the
letters that never reached their destination.
Planning our tour, Raj/Bilal, whose family
Owns the houseboat we are living in,
Says we could drop by at Charar-e-Sharif first on our way to Yusmarg. “A militant attack took place there,” he says, looking at me expectantly, hoping for me
To say, yes, I remember but I was very young then and confuse it with the Hazratbal Shrine, disappointing him a little, I think. (Politics slips into every conversation here like a truant pebble that gets into your shoe on an unpaved street and refuses to come out)
My memory just got in the way of his
History or is it the other way around?
The boatman asks, as if on cue,
As I come out of my room:
“Memory cards?” He has batteries, says an inscription on his boat, and
The boatmen are supposed to know all secrets of life and the universe
(Was Gautama not one too?)
But I am afraid to ask, to raise sleeping ghosts from their mass graves, though I don’t suppose they sleep untroubled. As it is, my information is limited to newspaper headlines and occasional magazine articles: the half-widows, the mass rapes in Kunan Poshpora, the barbarity of a rotting state in 2010, when they shot and killed over a hundred young men. (The stars do not shine when those dates recur; the moon took to wearing a black badge of protest ever since; all the constellations bawl in summers; the earth became an insomniac the day Tufail Mattoo died; the sky became a dervish when we hung Afzal Guru by the neck for no fault of his but to cure a sickness by piling more of it on us.)
Oh Shahid! How we failed you.
But it was bound to happen for States like nothing more than to oppress poets, to show them their place; after all, if language is everything, there is no greater adversary.
Newspaper headlines screamed in the mainland telling us that the young men were terrorists funded by the enemy; their deaths were not to be mourned. But newspaper headlines don’t know that beauty and terror are one and the same thing.
(I ask him if he is tired but he says it is not that. “I will rest soon”.)
In the taxi
On our way to the houseboat,
My father-in-law asks the guide, Raj/Bilal,
A young man with a curly mop of hair and hooked nose
About the route Jhelum takes.
“It goes all the way down to
Pakistan,” he says.
Everyone goes quiet.
On the radio, the presenter announces the results of a painting competition held recently for children.
(The Hindu kids who won have not
turned up to collect their prizes and I
chat with him, “for
Some reason,” he says,
His tone betraying his
In the small wooden room
we have hired on the houseboat,
an enlarged and framed photograph: a man rows a boat
full of flowers, towards a darkening horizon; his back facing us, head bowed down.
It has a line inscribed underneath which talks of peace and progress (the rest I don’t get).
On the right hand corner, an emblem:
Two crossed swords below the
Three little ducklings
Strut their stuff around
In the Dal lake without any parental
Supervision. One of them
Blood is everywhere
on the decaying walls and proud minarets of the Hazratbal Shrine.
23 years ago, the BSF killed 51 people, who were asking for their dignity to be restored to them so that the waters of Jhelum becomes cool to the touch of our fingers again and not scald them with an ancient fury; the grand boulevard that charms my mom-in-law (“just like in Niece!”) screams NO over and over again and its NO is not just for the Kashmiris but for all hearts that crave Azadi.
Blood is everywhere: under the soft grass that grows here – nourished by the tears shed in remembrance of Kashmir’s martyrs – on which sit young women dreaming dreams so powerful in their denunciation that the earth shakes every night when we sleep, secure in our ignorant hubris that will cause our apocalypse.
In Self-Defence, said the government.
In Self-Defence, said the Generals.
In Self-Defence, said the wolf,
Polishing off a plate of rabbit-meat.
Abhimanyu Kumar Singh is a journalist and senior editor at Youth ki Awaaz. His poems and fiction have appeared in several journals.
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