Lost Forever

Its a long way to home. Always.

Srinagar. The Bund is a bending road around the Jhelum. Like memory it takes subtle, soft turns. I saw the stranger walk down the Bund in autumn, and my memory from years ago is like it happened yesterday. Perhaps it did.

That promenade around the Jhelum is like a metaphor for Srinagar, fallen from grace.

He appears from below the Chinar trees, the golden leaves’ dust on his shoulders. He smiles, but his eyes are hollow.

“Don’t lose hope, love” I want to yell. But he doesn’t see me. He sees right through me. I can almost feel his gaze. Piercing, like his eyes. It warms my heart.

As we walk together, I can smell the leaves in autumn – with their strong dry fragrance, and his cologne. We walk past the Goodfellas cafe, the chairs in the lawn are hunched. At another restaurant, the sign says open, but the door is closed. The coffee shops are all closed in the city. A few men sit in the park opposite on the benches around the trees. There is no one else.  “What do you love about autumn so much?” he asks.

We walked in silence for a while. The question hung in the air. I had once questioned what lovers in Srinagar did in winters, when it is all hard and cold. I think I know now. They wilt. The stranger’s hollow eyes are an answer enough. His dream seems to be deserting him – it isn’t fair for anyone to be so beautiful and without dreams. But Life is too busy to take such questions, and we must pass this promenade of memory and into the maze of the city. The cacophony of the city doesn’t reach here. We seem to have found a corner of the place, most people have forgotten. Two men were digging the side of the road. What if they found treasure hidden at the bottom of the city?

In this place bereft of all romance the sun sets early these days. It rises late. The sunset is very golden behind a grey sky. It is the only thing that makes sense, the clockwork of nature. We were walking away from the sun, and our  shadows were long and touching as we got off the promenade near the Post Office. Even if I wrote him a letter, I would not have been able to post it. This year all the love letters were delayed. Love was put on hold, momentarily, and lost forever.

It was getting dark and the markets crowded. Near the unfinished construction barrier at the Fountain, the hawkers and the cars were adjusting themselves to the pedestrians.

An old man calls from his chestnut cart saying this is the last of this year’s season.

“Its like short lived romance, where everything is possible.” I say, “It also doesn’t last.”

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Autumn Spectacle

It is fun to do such a post every now and then.

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The Walnut Picker

There is no moral to this story. There is no special import either. It’s a record of fifteen minutes of an afternoon in autumn in Srinagar. Autumn is still young and the walnut tree in the neighbour’s garden has thick clusters of dark green leaves yet. It stands alone among a few poplars and thorny bushes.
Through the branches I could not see his face. But he was young and slender. He wore faded black jersey which said something on the back in yellow and grey pajamas.
I don’t know who he was, or how he came to be in our neighbour’s garden, but his being there was clearly no secret. If I heard him, the neighbor’s must have too, and since no one objected, I assumed he was not a thief.
Walnut trees are tall, sturdy and tough to climb. He made no attempt to climb it. The tree stood tall above him and he squinted as he looked at the high branches where walnuts grew: brown at this time of the year.
He was clearly enjoying the warm afternoon, and the aroma of old leaves in autumn. He walked leisurely on the fallen leaves listening to their soft rustle. He picked a stick and cleared his way among the bushes, looking for any fallen walnuts yet unpicked. There were none.
He walked a few steps away from the tree. Looked at the hanging walnuts near the top of the tree where they hung like ear rings of the sky and paused. He held his baton in his left hand and took a firm aim.
The cane whooshed as it flew upward towards the sky. It hit the branches of the walnut tree but missed his mark.
He picked it up again and twirled it a few times and threw it at the walnuts again. And again. The third time he threw it, the stick did not come down. It got tangled in the tree. But it hit the brown walnuts and with a tap they fell down.
Again walking as if the world could wait for him, he roamed around the tree turning over the leaves to find the fallen walnuts. He put them in his pocket and looked at the tree again.
He snapped his stick into two: easily, as if it were a twig in his hands, and aimed at the tree again. This time he aimed higher but the cane flew over the tree and landed on the other side.
He felt the walnuts in his pocket, glanced at the tree and walked away.

The First Day of Autumn

This is the first day of autumn. The autumnal equinox occurs today.

  I have too many questions on my mind. This is one of them. When do we write off a city?

 When the floods came in 2014, there was a certain amount of despair in Srinagar. A certain amount of gloominess that comes only from watching ruins. Large parts of the city were deserted. People used to sit outside ruined homes, trying to salvage whatever little could be saved. Mostly Srinagar stared blankly into the void and the void stared back at the city.

 Autumn brings in the chaos in our lives. This is nature’s Instagram account where everything is sepia toned and shaded. It is not very cold yet, but we are heading towards that.

 Autumn may also bring in war in Kashmir, at least, if you believe a lot of Indian news channels. The naiveté surprises me, thought the rhetoric doesn’t. For many of the war mongers, it will be an excursion – listening to tales of bravado which they can pass on to generations and brag about for years. As much of things to do with Kashmir, it will not effect them. It will not be fought on their streets, among their people.

 Before we realize time the chinars will be covered in red and gold leaves. I am waiting for that. In the barren city of Srinagar, it will be quite a show. I doubt if the people have given up yet.  It will be dishonest to say that this year has been just difficult, it has been devastating. There has been a war, and all humanity murdered. I just completed Ernest Hemingway’s “Farewell to Arms”. For Hemingway, war is an occupation where humanity survives only on the hope of its end. And this is emblematic of Kashmir today – we are hoping for one war to end before they wage another. I doubt the soldiers on either side want to fight a war, but it will be imposed on them just like on us, if the powers that be decide so.

 There has been a complete shutdown for almost three months now. Almost all of it under curfew imposed by the government. The government is on the other side of the fence; they are not from among us and I have no good words to say about it. I, like everyone on this side of the fence, want people to not be arbitrarily killed. 86 people have died in this summer. The whole city is a war front which the media does not see and show. People, locked up in their homes, have given up work, money and opportunity to survive this war and see the end of the conflict. Enough, I hear my sighs whisper. Enough of the summers of bloodshed.

 When the floods subsided, and the city rose from the ruins like a person lost in the sudden brightness of the day, there was much loss to wail over. On a bright day of that autumn two years ago, I walked to Amira Kadal Bridge. It was few days to Eid that year, and the city was, much like this year, barren. Piles of mud were being thrown out of shops, all stocks had turned to mush in the flood waters and the floors of many shops had cracked. The shopkeepers looked around with hollow eyed desperation. On the bridge, there was a small mob of people gathered around a hand cart. I wondered what the hawker was selling. A man held out a watch, a simple dial with a plastic strap. Its face slightly dirtied by flood, but ticking. The times were still changing, as they always do.

 I, like everyone else, don’t know what will happen next – and I will not speculate about the future. Will we be caught in a senseless war between India and Pakistan on our territory? Or will be be occupied by autumn’s revelry? We have had enough of both India and Pakistan in our homes. I wish the unwelcome guests go back and cease the war among us. There is no dignified argument for war, but there is every possibility in this autumn – war or otherwise.

 This time, more than ever, I am waiting for the chinars to change hues. For the clocks to tick a little bit more.

 Lets not write off Srinagar just yet. Not yet.

Four

I feel profoundly for this blog. From the title, to the words that go in it. It is me in ways I never thought I would be me. Or could be.

Four years down and it feels like home. With rooms to escape and balconies to stand on. With windows to see the world through. And doors to let people in.

I have interacted with some amazing people through this space. And been called names by others.

We take what we get. Thank you for being here. For all the comments, likes, shares and follows.

Happy Fourth, Rich Autumns.
(Four years ago, I was still debate the logic and timing for a blog. But November it is!)

23 October 2015

Since I did not have a camera. not even a phone, when it happened, I must write a blogpost for it.

23 October 2015.
Srinagar, Kashmir.

There is a curfew in the city. It is 9th Moharram and a Friday. Also, RSS goons have killed a young truck driver for being a Kashmiri  for no reason, though people say, they suspected him of having beef. (And they are the master of everything, didnt you get the memo!) So it is not clear why the curfew was imposed. Though it is clear that no transport was allowed.

Since there was nothing to do, I was reading on Twitter how @_Faysal, went to buy milk and was stopped by the Indian Army a hundred times way. And watching from my veranda, as the leaves on trees shook in the air before falling down. As my tea got cold. As a giant chinar stood stoic and still. And no sounds came from anywhere, as if the city had gone to sleep. Except the birds.

The sunlight was making patterns on the neighbour’s tin roof. A crow was strutting on the wall, trying to avoid my eye. A bulbul perched on the electric wire and caught my eye.

Curfews are an old thing now here. Its a regular feature.

Schools were supposed to finish exams today. Young cousins were looking forward to the days of absolute freedom which follow the end of year-end exams. A picnic had been planned, I guess. Now its off to Monday at least.

I was recently told that a cousin who started Engineering here in Srinagar is still in final year, while her peers have returned from India after completing their degrees. That is at least one year extra in college.

The bulbul flew on to the open door. I shooed it away thinking that it would fly into the house and get trapped in the rooms. But it calmly flew on to the steps and chirped.

There is no redemption from despair in Kashmir. You have to live with it. I guess you learn to live with it. There is a new cafe opening in the city I am looking forward to. And I am sure there will be something tomorrow to look forward to again.

And soon this autumn will end for a colder, truer winter.

I threw a pinch of bhujia  from my bowl at the bulbul. It pecked at it straightaway and flew whence it came to return with its pair.

We should be ready for Spring.

Best for the Last

“Will you dance with me? was the last thing that had crossed my mind. Or rather, should have been the last thing.

But Srinagar is never in a mood for dance. That summer had been sad and long. Painful for both of us. And love wasn’t love anymore. It had morphed into a memory where no one wanted to travel. The rain had disappeared and the Botanical gardens with it. There were no almond blossoms, nothing to separate the season from autumn.

In my mind, he was now staring at the Chinar. The red and brown leaves falling. The boughs a bit bent. Kashmir would soon lose this sheen. The world would turn a pallid grey. He would leave.

Isn’t that Kashmir’s tragedy? The best is always lost first.

There was a time when all we had wanted to was to look good. But that doesn’t last long. Time works wonders with looks and desires. I remember how gently his hair had fallen on his forehead. I remember that he had secretly loved his looks. I remember I had done too. Though, neither of us confessed. And that is the only thing I remember.

And now all I see is this young guy, with a wide-on-the-butt-narrow-on-the-legs pants sashay into the coffee shop, one of the many things that Kashmir now has. Nobody seems to notice him, except me. And me, for a reason the kid knows nothing about. All of a sudden, the autumn in Botanical gardens has paused. The brown leaves are still hanging there, and there is promise yet.

Outside the summer sun is setting. A group of tourists are excitedly admiring a jamawar shawl in a display window. A bus conductor runs after a bus to climb into it. Three girls from college finally notice the boy and dismiss him immediately. The crest of his carefully puffed hair falls. I laugh out and check myself immediately.
He stares out of the window. I follow his gaze but there is nothing in the clouds today. His faraway looks melts the autumn away from Botanical Gardens. From the gazebo it is still in Spring.
In my memory the question hangs unasked,”will you dance with me?”