There will be no revenge

there wil be no revenge.pngone day you shall face the same

you will look into the mirror and see us

what worries us now, shall worry you too

Time, you see, sees everything

it records and notes

you will stare into the darkness

and the darkness will stare back at you

your people will run about, scared

your fathers will be lost for words

your mothers wont talk to their children

because that’s what parents do,

they don’t share the grief

our grief will fester in your hearts

we wont call for revenge

Remember time, it notes and sees

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Kashmir is a Nightmare Tonight

Kashmir is a nightmare.pngMy heart, it sinks.

I am looking into the darkness for answers and not finding any.

What  is it?

Article 35A?

A war?

Psy-ops?

Srinagar is crowded with muted people, like in a nightmare. They walk about with eyes half closed. Peering at what monsters hide at an uncertain distance. Everyone is afraid. Everyone is unafraid. They rub empty hands to keep them warm, as they strain their eyes with a blank face. The empty arms of their pherans hanging lifelessly on the sides. Kashmir, tonight, is a nightmare.

There were notices given to ration ghats to sell off everything because to a country starved for good news, food must not be in short supply. No news comes out of the iron corridors of power in Kashmir. Everyone is speculating the end of their world in whatever ways they can. What gets you through the night may not survive you tomorrow.

Will there be a war?  India and Pakistan have spared no opportunity to squabble like unruly neighbours. Their collective noise has only brought misery to Kashmir. And now, everyone says we are inching towards a war. So, while the snow is slowly melting in the thaw of early spring India has sent additional men to heat the air up with smoke and sirens.

The unbridled hate that has been so lovingly showered on Kashmiris in the past days, if not weeks, if not months and years has left little to imagination. One must be quiet in these times, very quiet, I have been repeatedly warned. There are families with children in India and anxious parents living alone, now awaiting war. It may come in any form. In the shape of a thousand more soldiers. In the shame of public beatings. In the form of dead children. Only they see the end of this war.

 

The Baby at her father’s funeral

baby (1).jpgLet me quietly add one more obituary to my blog. I don’t know who these people are, but I would document this here. Just like the deaths of Nayeem and Iqbal, killed in 2016 in Handwara, or Kaniza in 2017 or  Tahir in 2013.

They brought her wrapped in a blanket. To see her father’s face. Her dead father’s face. In a sea of weeping faces and hands reaching out, she cried! Like infants do.

She will not remember this day. She will not remember her father.

She will never know her father. They killed her father. She cannot voice her complaints.

He will now be a stranger from her mother’s stories. A man who birthed her, and then left. A person who couldn’t ever be present. She will have her memories without him.

Her whole life without him.

The baby’s mother is from Indonesia. Her father was from Kashmir. What would she make of him? Or think of his father’s home?

She wouldn’t know what to cry for in her little blue blanket.

In a fell swoop the occupation of Kashmir has created another orphan, another widow. Many are finding excuses for this. Some are celebrating this victory. The Indian army has defeated a three month old in a blue blanket. She will wrap her unsaid feelings around her and wait till she has more to say. She will find her words eventually. I pray she does!

Violence always finds it cheerleaders. When the police trucks were mowing people down, there were people hurrah-ing for more. I still find it hard to look for pleasure in other people’s miseries or believe that there actually exist people who take pleasure in the pain of strangers. But such is life. And hatred.

I pray that this young girl is spared all that!

 

(Abid, a resident of Kareemabad, Pulwama was killed when armed forces fired live ammunition on civilian protesters near the site of the gunfight in which three militants were killed. According to reports Abid had left home early morning to get milk for his daughter.)

 

Old Pictures

Old picsI look at old photographs and wonder where did life go? My thoughts are not, who these people are or were – I am not curious about their lives as present in the pictures, but more about the future that befell them. Who did they become? What happened to them? I cannot put a picture down without feeling a little sad that I will never know what happened to the characters.

Recently someone posted a picture on Twitter of four Kashmiri women laughing. That was the caption and very much the contents of the image – it showed four young women in beautiful ornate pherans, with daejj on their heads, sitting cross legged in front of a dark background, laughing. Like friends laugh among themselves – merrily and with abandon. As if one of them had said something absolutely ridiculous about the photographer and others had heard it. There wasn’t a frown in sight.

I wonder what became of the women after the photograph? It wasn’t a really famous photograph; I have no idea who the photographer is or who the nameless women are. But I know the photograph was taken in 1986 or thereabout. Did the women live through the 90s? did they have the same experiences as the rest of us? Or did they become someone really important and famous? Or were their lives hidden in the mires of insignificant details of family connections.

Or was this one photograph, now circulating the internet, a special memory. Are they still friends? Do they remember the joke? The immortal laughter? Did they ever walk down the Goni Khan Market and looked enviously at the displays? Or did the store away money to buy novels at the Hind Book store?

Cartier Bresson Henri’s iconic picture of Kashmiri women praying at dawn holds the same secrets. All we know is that they were Kashmiri women who probably climbed a hill (Hari Parbat) for prayers – fajr prayers. What did they pray for? One woman holds out her hands in prayer towards the skies – on that slightly clouded morning in Srinagar in 1948, what did the lady ask for? Was her wish granted?

129379589991340221_bab29b8f-960b-49fb-8b8b-91856ba6d6f8_280076_570.Jpeg

I look at these old pictures cannot but wonder what happened in the life of these people after that moment. Do they realize how famous their stances have become?

It becomes even darker if you see the pictures from old newspapers of the 1990s. The people, mourning, crying, running or lost. They are nearly indistinguishable from one another and yet hold unique secrets. I wonder if they are alive, if they survived the nineties, because so many didn’t. They were here, where did they go?

These pictures from a different time are a privileged entry into a world which no longer exists. Kashmir and the people, changed by war and fear have very different stories to tell across the years. The women caught laughing in 1986 could have never imagined how the times would change just within a couple of years and nothing would be the same again. I hope they remained friends, however. Perhaps its my longing to know the life of the city before my time, how the people lived before history got written.

The uncertain charm of past moments and the locked mysteries of the climax of the characters’ stories makes me wonder if someone long after see me in an old picture and think what became of me?  When these books are balanced, someone might come across a picture fallen off the table and weave a tale around it. Someone’s private life would be scrutinized by a stranger’s eyes. What would I, who secreted so many sections of my life to nameless diary, say to that?

 

On Admiring the Women of Kashmir

The Beautiful Kashmiri Women & Minding Your Own Business (1).png

“Kashmiri women are beautiful”

For the number of times I’ve had Indians (friends or otherwise) tell me that Kashmiri women are beautiful and go on to use other adjectives like item, maal etc. and the cringe it garners, this blogpost tries to explain my view point.

The idea of beauty in mainstream India is deeply problematic anyway- the preference for fair skin to a more prevalent darker tone in India is at the fore front of how many Indian men usually perceive beauty. And as a “race”/ethnic group Kashmiris are generally fair. Here is an interesting Google search box:

Why are K

So while few Indians are much obsessed with fair skins of Kashmiris (and to some extent the same applies to women of any other ethnicity who are fair) is it the right way to “appreciate beauty” to say that Kashmiri (or Punjabi etc.) women are beautiful? Is there a right way to “admire” the “beauty” of a race of people/ethnic group? What does it mean when someone says Kashmiri women are beautiful? Doing so they are obviously judging the women on their criteria of beauty – whatever those may be. But the fundamental point to answer is what gives men the right or the authority to judge or rate the beauty of women.

Lets say, as an individual I know many girls in Kashmiri. I might find some of them beautiful (beauty being an extremely subjective thing). But should I generalise this and say all Kashmiri women are beautiful? I have grave problems with the generalisation. It dehumanizes women and treats them like objects. So, it may be perfectly alright to say that Kashmiri shawls (or apples, as someone on Twitter said) are gorgeous, the same cannot and should not be said of women. Shawls are a sale-able commodity produced to fulfil an aesthetic purpose, women are not. Shawls are a character-less entity lacking personality and individuality, women definitely not. When you collectively complement “the women”, you turn “the women” into an object – a thing that is pretty; another one of those exotic Kashmiri things. Exoticism and Kashmir have a long and troubled history of appropriation and misrepresentation and this is a derived product. It is an orientalist (and imperialist) view of Kashmiri people where they are treated to as having ample physical charms and desirable bodies, and their caricature is enough to fill in a male fantasy of women without having any independent identity. Thus, reducing them to being lesser than the others and as objects of pleasure.

It is partly the entitlement men feel they have in treating women as something of a lesser degree than themselves that comments like “women from Kashmir are beautiful” become acceptable in the common parlance. As if men come with a mental checklist of items which women in Kashmir tick-off. Fair skin – check, red cheeks – check, brown hair – check. Reduced to an inhuman doll – check. Like women in general are a ‘product’ waiting to be validated by them and Kashmiri women are the generally accepted gold-standard.

I am reminded of how during the Western imperialism of Africa, the Europeans depicted Africans as savages and beasts – and not as humans. A similar pattern can be seen in these comments. This sexist and racist trope of objectifying women for their physical attributes and treating them like objects of desire (and lust) does exactly that – treats them devoid of their humanity – in an embarrassing, sexual kind of way. Once in Kargil, I was sitting next to a group of bikers from Delhi who were talking about the Dardshina race of people in Dras. They spoke of them being tall and having long limbs. They spoke with disbelief and an enchantment one would feel while describing a rare animal seen for the first time. The tone of their voice struck me, and I felt embarrassed at how the bikers with their very voice and words had stripped the indigenous people off their humanity and made them objects of curiosity. It is a similar humiliation one feels when you hear Indians talk about Kashmiri women as being white and beautiful – as if that is the achievement women from Kashmir have gained and is the prime attribute they have.

This is how “being beautiful” is commodified (think the commonly used trope “Kashmir ki Kali”), belittled and subjected to lewdness. So, now you may be wondering that you know this Kashmiri girl and you find her really pretty – how should you complement her. At best, you can tell her (if she allows) that she is beautiful. Not the entire race/community. She is not a prototype from an assembly line. She is an individual who is beautiful in your eyes. (Also, be a gentleman and lower your gaze. Don’t creep her out!) She is not a representative of the collective beauty or otherwise of Kashmiri women, no one is.

“Shall We?” – 3

Somethings need to be said. Somethings not.

Its been a while.

And I havshall we_ - III.pnge begin to fear that I may have forgotten the stranger after all. Did he ever exist?

The Botanical Gardens in Kashmir in winters are a lonely place. During summers college lovers sneak into the gardens to spend time hiding the bidding of their untrained hearts among the bushes. Expressing the excitement, the nervousness, the fear in coy whispers.

Looking out of the gazebo, Love had seemed a bit pointless. Like the silly morning breeze in Kashmir. When the whole city is asleep except the muezzin and the kandroo, and time stares blankly in the quiet, I realized that the stranger may have never been in love at all.

The faraway warrior. Fighting his own personal battles.

He has a habit of silently walking in and our of my prayers. As an unfulfilled desire, he is always there and yet never spoken of. The stranger would look out of his window and see his reflection in the rain of an unknown city. The rain drowns the humdrum of life and locks you up inside. Alone, to confront the memories of the past. The past where the Botanical Gardens were an unabashed reality and the chinars were full of promise in autumn rain.

But when the rain had asked the question, Shall we?

The memories were silent.

 

 

What Can the Men Do?

Last eveniWhat Can the Men Do_.jpgng the city almost drowned. But the brave men of Kashmir (but not Raj Bagh) saved the entire population. The men folk rebuilt the bunds, diverted the water and fervently prayed that the rains stop. Then God listened to the men and accepted their manly pleas and the rains subsided. So the little valley rumbled in a collective (masculine) sigh that there wont be a repeat of a 2014-like situation.

2014, which we all remember as the year when women and a dog in Raj Bagh caused destructive floods in Kashmir. Women in Kashmir are known to run families, protests and occasional casual calamities. This could have been easily prevented but as everyone realizes girls in Raj Bagh will just not stop wearing jeans. To top it all, scooties have spread like a, God forbid, flood in the city. The girls are taking the wind under their hijabs and buzzing about like its nobody’s business.

Will these women not let the men live in peace?

As Bilal, the young man in a pink cardigan, took it upon himself to stand by the Jehlum and point out that out of all the ills in the society uncontrolled women is the absolute worst. These women, the uncontrolled kind, have become a liability which, he sermonized to a small gathering and a larger audience through Facebook Live, must be checked. He was shocked as he narrated that no one, literally no one, was asking the girls where they were when they return from wherever they had been to. How can a society not have floods when the men are not asking the right questions? To be fair, Bilal also thinks that the family who (and  he is an eye witness to it) prepared 17 quintals of meat for some reason is partly to be blamed for the floods.

If it is not quite clear how women’s apparel and earthquakes are connected then you clearly havent paid attention in Urdu poetry classes. If wearing tight clothes wasn’t bad enough, these women also go with zulf pareshaan (untied hair), the same condition which is known to bring dark clouds of misery and incessant rainfall which the poets confused with blessings.

And lets not even talk about celebrating a dog’s birthday – a topic so scandalous that when the maid narrated it to my mother she lowered her voice to a whisper and nodded her head in the shame of having to relate it. How can such things be tolerated? Who in their right mind will make a cake for a dog? A dog, not even a cat!

But if it is not for the mobile phones, the jeans and the high heels, or the scooties what could it possibly be? There is another potential reason for the floods floating around in the form of a video where a guy is serenading a girl with a rap song and promises to take her around on, Khuda raechhin (God forbid), a scooty!

I say we are doomed.