A letter to Kashmir from New Delhi
People become lessons for others. Yahan ka bachcha curfew jaanta hai. Do you?
- Total Shares
I can’t get through to the Valley. Today, they have snapped the mobile connections. Maybe peace will come.
I leave with no footprints. Only words. After we walked on the streets empty as if nobody in this city ventures out anymore and we thought we could defeat everything by goodwill, we knew we came from different worlds.
For the last week or so, I have seen photos of young boys and girls with faces that had been marked with dots. They would lose vision and maybe their lives. I hear you had no internet. They say 37 are dead and over 2,000 injured.
Maybe we will hear of more deaths tomorrow. I hope you are alive. Only a Kashmiri knows this reality, which is the reality of their lives. Today, it is Friday. Last night, you were pushed into darkness with no connection. Today, my Facebook feed had no news of Kashmir.
I remember a poem by Mahmoud Darwish. He was an interlocutor for us. "You will be forgotten, as if you were never a person, or a text... forgotten". I hope we don't abandon memory because forgetfulness is a gift. These exchanges are part of a correspondence over the last two years. With strangers.
In such an absence, I read through the letters, the transcribed notes. Why was I doing it? I don’t know. Maybe I was only trying to understand this place. “Get over your past by making it public,” they wrote. Sometimes, all we have are words. In absentia, this is what I have.
A telephone call from a stranger in the Vale, July 12, 2016
Today, I saw two children outside my house. They were with their father. One of the children, and he was about five years of age, was pelting stones at the shuttered shops in our neighbourhood. He was shouting Allah Hu Akbar. Then, he asked his father if he could throw more stones, and his father asked him to go ahead.
The other child had a toy gun, which he hoisted up and pretended to shoot an airplane that flew overhead at that moment. They laughed. The streets were empty. These are the curfew days.
You know nothing about our lived reality but I feel maybe you should know how we live. I am not one of those who believe that only those who suffer are qualified to tell their stories. I will tell you stories but you are naive. Let me tell you that when they project themselves as victims, you should not believe it. We are part of a resistance culture. We see it as an illegal occupation.
God never sees the outcome. What he sees is your efforts. The outcome doesn’t matter. To us, what we are doing is what matters. That’s what matters to god.
Now, let me tell you about us.
My brother was arrested over PSA, and when he came out of the prison and stood in the daylight for about five minutes, he hadn’t known they would take him back in. Another PSA was slapped on him. You see, they say it is for three months that you could be in prison.
So I asked the father why he let his children do it. He said he was frustrated. All of us here have stories. You ask me how my childhood is different from yours. I can tell you we grew up with curfews, crackdowns and encounters.
We learned to keep windows shut. Did you hear about that girl who was sitting in the window and got hit by a bullet? When they use pellets they directly use it on the heads. The protester is an innocent person too. He has no weapon but stones. How do we measure innocence? A normal AK 47 can kill 30 people at a time. What can a stone do?
The transition from a protester to a victim... how does that happen? People become lessons for others. Yahan ka bachcha curfew jaanta hai. Do you?
Now, this man, who asked his children to continue throwing stones, used to be a militant. He was from JKLF and was made to surrender and he hoped he would be able to live peacefully. But then, we have known such promises mean nothing. So he surrendered and he was arrested thrice and PSA was slapped on him. You don’t know much about PSA, do you?
It is a police state. If you are arrested, you are forgotten by others simply because they can’t do anything. If you are from the resistance, you are treated worse than others. You are put in solitary confinement. I have been jailed twice. Once, they took me because they came for my brother and he wasn’t there so they took me. Then, I came from Bangalore and we had planned this rally for my father and they arrested me along with other boys from the neighborhood.
Why should I trust? It is a complex problem of learning. I have had experiences when names had been leaked to the police and these young men were hounded and put behind bars. I started being an anarchist, distrusting media and every other institution.
We call it a resistance organisation. Frustration collects over time and finally an outburst from all these years happens. It punctures the narrative of peace and aspiration.
In 2008, people switched to stone-pelting. In 2010, they killed unarmed protesters.
You see it as victimhood. We, common Kashmiris, see it is as resistance. There is a lot of difference. Sometimes resistance comes in the form of literature. This is the culture of resistance.
Kashmiris have tried each and every way out. Rather than talking to leaders, the Indian government put them under arrest and then the command fell into the hands of the youngsters who later became the founders of the armed struggle. This is an emergence of anger from the 1940s. Burhan Wani and others were common people who protested on the streets and then they were booked under criminal charges.
In 2016, Dawood Sheikh was killed in Kulgam. Dawood, 21, and was one among the “listed” stone-pelters. Since class 11, he was summoned to the police station every time there would be an incident of stone-pelting. In 2014, after having been detained by the special operations group (SOG) for questioning, he killed one policeman and joined Burhan.
He was arrested 20 times at least. His family was harassed. Here, when they come for you and you are not at home, they take away your brother or father.
He joined militancy in anger. Peaceful protests are not allowed here. Curfew is imposed on us. The cycle of violence continues.
You are not letting outbursts happen and it can explain why Dawood picked up gun. It is a long process. You can’t stop children from protesting. Now, we have a mindset that they won’t allow for peaceful protest. The State is forcing us to pick up guns. Then you have AFPSA, PSA, etc.
The other day, a 13-year-old was taken away. He was beaten severely. When my father’s rally was being planned, they arrested 30-40 odd boys from here (Lal Chowk, Anantnag).
There is nothing people can expect because of what we have seen in recent years.
There was an engineer in our locality who was acquitted after 17 years and he was an accused in the Lajpat Nagar blasts.
So the man who laughed while his children pelted stones and fired with toy guns said what difference will it make that I transited from violent means to non-violent means.
Nothing changed, he said.
He has this phobia against peace. The nation is occupied.
You know what Kashmir is? She is like a bride in waiting.
Let me tell you the story of this bride. The bride has been ready. But her parents wouldn’t let her go. She demands bangles, necklaces, and they get her everything. The bride is inconsolable. She wants to leave but they hold her back. Kashmir is that bride. Azadi is her husband.
Her freedom is denied. She is beautiful. She doesn’t want to stay back.
You want to know what azadi is? We don’t want to be with India. We want to be on our own. It is a complete shutdown here. It has been since Burhan was martyred. This is our life. I know it won’t make sense. But this is all I have to say. So many of you are interested in Kashmir. After 2008, everyone wanted to write about Kashmir. I helped a few. Maybe it is good. But then, you are naïve. You must not believe everything you hear. You must come here and see.
A letter from the Vale
“What do you see from a mountain top? Why do the clouds have a wanderer’s tag? The feeling that you get when you see that high flying eagle soaring right below your feet, the feel of high breeze when you cling on to that rock with the sweat dripping down that spine. It is that. That’s a high.
But you also see the ugliness of a man who has occupied the Vale, which you see through the smoke of your cigarette! It's all so blur, and your mind denies you to see the beauty for long but to fume more anger towards the occupier.
What have I done to be occupied or be watched? I don’t live in a corporate world, neither I care for the luxuries of that world. I am a man from the Valley, a highlander that’s what they call me. I have my own worries than to harm my neighbouring country.
I have a ruthless winter coming in; more ruthless than the enemy that sits in my backyard. I have to think of the food supplies because the only way that connects us to the outside world would soon be buried under that beautiful snow that you find so beautiful.
I have to think about that lonely bulb which glows in my smoky room, the energy it uses is being stolen by the same occupier to keep my beloved’s cozy apartment lit. Soon all the water pipes would freeze to death making me fire that chunk of wood to loosen them up. All the roads would die a death of sudden shock, the whole world would stop for me, and life would come to a standstill.
But the purple flower she talks about would bloom through that pile of snow, and soon I would smile the way sun peeks through those wandering clouds. And soon the guns of the occupier shall sound off, blood will flow in the Jhelum, the snow will melt, and we shall sing about my martyrdom. Thus the death would be rejoiced in the Vale that they call "Kashmir".
"I am very lucky when it comes to physical hurt. Stone-pelting is a drug which corporate Indians like you won't understand. It's like throwing stone to a bullet. You are almost dead but your luck keeps you alive. I lost my father. I am not ashamed of dying for the cause. At least I have a reason to live and die. Life is beautiful in its own way. It has an ugly side but that doesn't mean I would demean others. Everyone is horribly insane."
Letter from a traveller
I’d come in the months of snow and make dolls out of the snow that you said would bury you in the winter months. Snow is beautiful. One I shall name after you.
They say this is the Valley of saints. You said it too. But I see no saints on the streets. Only the two sides. And only understand more about men being ruthless. I, who you call as an oppressor, walked along the boulevard as dusk fell in a curfewed city in November of 2014 a day after two young boys were killed at a Muharram procession.
The Chinars rose against the skies, and the waters of Dal had turned bluish. A lone shikara tried to find its way home. The waters rise and fall. They reflect things. Sometimes, they reflect the sun, and sometimes the solitude of the moon.
The other day, I drove past the graves - marked and unmarked, old and new. There were but a few men and they lit their cigarettes, and in their pherans, they looked like they were accustomed to such silences. They looked at me, and they turned away.
I sat alone on a bench and watched the still waters of the Dal. I got up, and walked a bit more. I wanted to understand unfreedom. You said it was a trap. You said the blossoms will put all beauty to shame. That would be in March.
I looked for a coffee shop. I kept walking for a long time. A few shikaras wandered in the water. I read their names - Raja Rani, Buckingham Palace, Paradise, Heaven. They had little plastic flowers on them. Yellow, red. But all was lost to this twilight.
I was in the land of the occupied among the armed guards, and in curfew. They said you can’t move around. I remembered my dead magnolias in Delhi. Winter is a harsh time. Nothing survives. Most things wither away. Like you. Like me.
In the distance in the garden where we had tea once, a red tree stood, solitary and flaming. You said the blood gave it the colour. In gardens such as these that store the blood of the martyrs, the wild flowers of narcissus grow uninhibited.
They call it Malkha and it lies in Shaher-e-Khaas. Last time, three young boys met me there. One lit a cigarette and asked me where I had come from. A red shoe was lying at the entrance bereft and forlorn. They left me alone and disappeared. I couldn’t read the epitaphs. I couldn’t count the dead.
The city is full of Chinars that shed their arms as an offering to autumn and in hope of being reborn when the spring comes in your valley. You said the vale looks beautiful then with the blossoms and the flowers.
Do you see me as oppressor? Do you envy my freedom?
Maybe, the lilies will grow again after all this bloodshed, and you can love again.
You had said the Broadway Hotel used to be a theatre once and then became the torture centre. You told me the names of the trees and I asked about the lilies and you laughed and told the lilies don’t grow in winters.
In your city with its beautiful lakes, the waters have no memory of a laughter. But that’s how I see it.
Yellow leaves scattered themselves in the autumn wind. The air was brutal. I couldn’t stay beyond two nights. A night was spent in the company of three women in a beautiful house surrounded by orchards and mountains overlooking a blue lake.
As the fire burned in the living room, the three women and I spoke about the displaced and the dispossessed. We spoke of those that live in half bodies and of the waters that submerged homes leaving nothing but bloated dead dogs and cows.
I had seen 313 dead cows floating in Bemina. I dreamed of cows for a long time after that. Dead, bloated cows.
We drifted from one to another like birds. Three beautiful women, who lived here a long time ago, spoke of a time when they had discotheques, and coffee shops and cinema halls, and picnics where one saw two women make out. They told stories with ease.
They spoke of beauty parlours that had ceased to exist in the years after militancy ravaged their peace because they said women should not wax their legs or look tempting to men. Oh, that word. If you could just that word here. It should be enough for a lifetime. But they tired of trying to utter that word. It never comes.
They wore diamond rings on their fingers, and emerald studs in their ears and spoke of a bygone era when neighbourhoods had fewer houses, and people didn’t ask what religion you followed. They went out for coffee, and had affairs. One stoked the embers in the fireplace of a house isolated from whatever else went on in the city. They had met after a long time.
They laughed like little girls. They spoke of college and the wooden blocks that separated the boys from the girls and how they placed notes in the cracks of the wood and even now, they said, the boys and girls hold hands in the woods, and in the gardens because the city has so many of them. You could find women, and wine on the shikaras. It is a place of everything-guns, grenades, teargas, pellets and love and poetry.
I remembered your poems. I assumed you wrote in anger and you had a wall and I don’t breach walls.
But I left you a book.
I wanted to make you a paper plane.
We spoke in metaphors.
Now, everything must be on the table. So I can arrange and try to solve the puzzle on the pages.
I wanted to ask you if the bridge to eternity leads anywhere in particular? Can I find it on the map?
You wrote of murders. You showed a house abandoned, and unclaimed. I wanted to ask you how you found it.
Maybe I don’t understand occupation. I came, and I saw for myself a garden with faded roses and a lake with grey waters and a city in curfew.
Read the book by Mahmoud Darwish. He is my favourite.
He called a poem Cordoba. Remember Cordoba??
Letter from the Vale
The thing about love is that it never fades away. The love remains, as in case of my father. My mother still loves him, yet he doesn't live. Their love grew stronger. One day I am sure they'll reunite and then there will be songs, which my mother wrote for him in his absence.
One day I asked my mother why she loved him so much. Her reply was like a river, the love just kept flowing. She told me that God chose him for her. Why would I not love something that God chose for me? It has to be perfect, she said.
I asked her how was she was so sure that it was him only, and she looked at me and said there are signs we need to pick up and we should always look for them. She was so sure about meeting him again in afterlife that she imagined another wedding with him. She said God would marry them again and there would be no separation. She said my father had promised her on his death bed one day while she was trimming his beard as he looked at her beautiful face. She kept listening and continued with her work, tears just fell and she knew he was speaking truth and he would never give up on her even when he was gone.
Years have passed and my mother still believes it. I don’t want you to be sad for me.
I stopped taking those medicines last night. I love mountains and I want to climb every one of them. I don’t know what I am looking for up there but I know I see someone. I have lost people, those who loved me and cared immensely. They all left like the dead leaves of Chinar crumbling beneath our feet.
A bird is what I want to be, lost and in a trance. My heart holds no malice and there’s only love for you.
What is your childhood memory, the one that horrifies you even now when you lay your head onto the softest of pillows?
For some of them it might be the day when humiliated in front of the school class for some petty thing. Or the bombs exploding and rattling gun fire amidst of the silent reading sessions but of course you did turn up to your parents at night and sleep in order to forget such atrocities. Even the grades at class were brutal for some as it would bring shame to the parent.
And then there were some like the guy who came with a same house as all above. The only difference with this mister was that he was the quieter one. He never thought about the future because what stared at him was the grief of his loved one held as a captive. Yes we are talking about a guy whose father had been occupied in a gruesome jail called "Papa 2".
Iwas such kind which you could hear from the mouths of men in alleys; whispering into the corners about the curse it possessed. The temple of death what I intend to call it, a place where death was contracted to the very owners of biggest democracy in the world. It gave me jitters for one, even when I try to picture it. Serpentine roads led to the gates. It was winter like ever, pine trees held together in arms to make it look even better. The mother of the captive held a tiffin in her hands, her teeth were grinding each other with sweat and shiver to follow. The little boy stood there holding on to his nerves. He never smiled.
The moment finally came.
The name of captive was called for the "waqt-e-mulaqat" had begun. He lowered his head to be kissed by the mother he had always loved and cried for when in solace of those dark walls where there was nothing to do but despair. She kissed him and held him in his arms, the same way she did for the first time when he was born.
He lifted the blanket on the baby which was in her arms. You are there in the hell cell, and you try hard to imagine how your kids are shaping up; how beautiful they had become.
The little boy held his hand. They sat down on a ground facing a crowd of a similar fate.
His father told him not to worry and do good in sports and be average in studies and take care of his mother for him. The father told him that those who die for a cause do not die, they are remembered and kept alive by the generations to follow.
The kid didn't know what it meant but he remembered it and was too scared to forget it. He chanted it during his class with his eyes closed as if in a trance.
Those eyes still stare at these mountains in search of the lions buried beneath. They shall rise and we shall tell them their freedom has come.
A letter from a traveller
Last night, you said you wanted to be a bird. I asked you why did you want wings and you said you wanted to reach the highest mountain. Someone is waiting there for me, you said. I asked you who is it that waits in the cold, and in such whitened isolation. You said your father waits there. You said there is a "why" that needs an answer. I told you not every answer exists. But you said you would find peace if he told you why he left you. You were scared the other night. You feared death. You told me how your father gave up.
“What before this rifle could have turned my eyes from yours? Except a nap or two or honey-colored clouds?
Once upon a time.
Oh, the silence of dusk.
In the morning my moon migrated to a far place Towards those honey-coloured eyes
And the city swept away all the singers
Between Rita and my eyes — A rifle”
- Rita and the Rifle by Mahmoud Darwish.
This is not in the book I left for you. You must smile more.
You will see many more things. I'd rather you see those. Snow, and rains, and beauty. But not blood, and ugliness. And I'd hope you never forget so easily. Because memory is precious. Of things that could be. And those that didn't make it.
Letter from the Vale
I am telling you my part of existence. Goodbye.
Letter from the traveller
I am trying to. See, I have come there so many times. I wanted to send this for you and everyone there. From a book called 'You can't go home again' by Thomas Woolfe.
"Come up into the hills, O my young love. Return! O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again, as first I knew you in the timeless valley, where we shall feel ourselves anew, bedded on magic in the month of June. There was a place where all the sun went glistening in your hair, and from the hill we could have put a finger on a star... Come up into the hills... O lost, and by the wind grieved ghost, come back again.”
- Thomas Wolfe.
Maybe now I get the madness. When guns boom and stones fly, where is reason in all of this. And against the great betrayal of the State, my woe is obliterated. You see me as an enemy. And I can't say I am not. Not when you call it a siege. Here I am, on the other side wondering if peace is possible at all.