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.)

 

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The Rules We Make

The Rules We MakeThe recent events in Kashmir are disturbing, like always. Can we really have a ceasefire in Kashmir?

Just, cease. Stop. Go away.

Take your guns, battle-ware, violence away from Kashmir. And leave.

I think that may not be possible. Not so easily.

But can the violence really stop till the combatants are there?

I am not sure if this qualifies as a war, but there are two parties to it. There are civilians, people who live in Kashmir and want to continue living in Kashmir.  People who want to work and earn from their work in Kashmir. And never leave, because we have a saying in Kashmir, “trade one house for a thousand more, but never set foot outside the door”.

Then there is the army. The ever present eyes watching from bunkers and old bungalows. Steel capped, armour jacketed men from India doing their country’s bidding in Kashmir. Occupying vast lands – practicing Warcraft on the native population. Yes, keeping the population under “control”.

Friday, the 26 May, the police and forces fired inside the Jamia Masjid as per eyewitness accounts. The Nowhatta area is a pseudo battle ground. On most days, it is like a usual market place. There are restaurants selling really red tandoori chicken, a huge shop selling furnishing items, smaller shops with wares on the road, heavy traffic, buses, a car wrongly parked et al. There is little police deployment there on a normal working day. But come Friday, there is nothing except army, police laden with guns and boys with stones.

On Friday when the army laid siege to the Jamia Masjid there was bloodshed inside the mosque. There was blood on the floor of the mosque. Someone had been hit by pellet guns. As per the standard operating procedure the pellets had been fired to kill.

Thankfully no one died. The spirit of Kashmir lived another day.

This follows closely the government’s call for ceasefire in Kashmir. The ceasefire is for border operations. The war within our cities continue. Mehbooba’s penchant for violence is expected to take a sinister turn post Ramadan. If this is a cease fire, what is otherwise.

Why, I ask, we can’t have an easier life? Or a right to live?

A few weeks ago a young man was mowed down by a police truck. The moment was captured on video. This infuriated the police who arrested the maker of the video. The alarming coldness of the act is not a concern of the state, its record is. In the absence of a video the news act would have been passed off as an accident – but the video shows otherwise. I wonder the family of the 22-year-old will see that video again and again and hope that the truck wouldn’t hit him.

Death is permanent. Those who are gone are gone. There is no glamour in young men being butchered on the roads.

Every week we hear about the murder of a young man in Kashmir. Yet there is no discussion on the structure of violence that the state has built in Kashmir where all murder and death are just circumstantial and one party is absolved of all responsibility. It has become very easy to blame Kashmiris for their own deaths. It is like a generation has committed itself to a mass suicide. Overtime. No one wants to hear or even talk about the anger common Kashmiris hold for having to put up with living in a militarized zones. There is no discussion on the daily subjugation that is so ingrained in the lives of these very young men who pelt stones or are mowed down. They and the army men both know who the stronger party in this trade is – the one with the guns, the one with force and power and the one with the law backing them.

A telltale picture of this was a series of three photos taken by a photojournalist. They show a young man talking to the army man (showing his ID perhaps), the second one of him being slapped, and third is the after math.  For most Indians a small incident like this would not matter. But to the conscience of the young man it does. No one wants to take public humiliation lying down. Nothing much was made of this incident. But in the by lanes of Srinagar, a young man laid uneasy at night thinking and despising the occupation even more.

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Pictures by Aman Farooq 

It is a constant reminder that you are not free. That you are not equal. And that whatever happens to you, you are not important. Your lives are ruled by the rules we make. And your lives are worth little.

At the back of our minds is this very tragically Shakespearean struggle to be or not to be.

The next Friday, 1st day of June, they drove another man down. And all the bells were ringing. The vitriol was forthcoming. A man lay crushed under the police vehicle, his bones crushed and blood filling his lungs. I wonder about the man behind the wheel of the car, the one who decided to mow another person down. Not just hit him with a car but crush him under it. Did he get down from his seat and walk away, or a posse of other policemen came to protect him. I wonder about them too. Was there regret filling the air like tear gas? Or was there a sense of pride at work done? Or was it helplessness at having fulfilled someone else’s orders, and become a murderer in turn.

The murdered is a memoir in the library of unopened books. He writes his story in different books and every time it is the same and every time he dies in the end. He might have held a lot of promise but now he lays in a grave. I can’t get over the alarming rate at which young people in Kashmir are being killed. It has slowly settled into a normal where a death is not considered shocking enough; there needs to be more added gore to make it noteworthy like mauled under a truck. This slow descent into desensitized territory is what makes carnage normal. There is nothing normal about living in state of fear and always, always yearning for an escape. The curfewed peace in Kashmir is not peaceful at all. And I yearn for an escape from that.

My Cakes Were Crumbling

Two days ago the biggest disappointment I had was that the roulade I was trying to make cracakes.jpgcked when I rolled it.

The next day, the biggest tragedy I had was that an ambulance driver rammed into my car, from the side.

The same day, Indian army killed four civilians in Kashmir.

My privilege is that I wasn’t. The magnitude of your tragedies determines your privilege.

Now, I am a very average person. I have an average person’s dreams – to study, to travel, to earn, to cook and to live. Just to live. Day after day, there are people who cease to do that in Kashmir. In this “posh-teer” the occasional rainfall splutters with wails of people who could have been there. Young boys who too had average people dreams – to do something extra-ordinary, to rise above the din of mundane life. Children who have lost their eyesight and their parents. It only takes a fraction of a second for lives to turn upside down. All this while, my cakes were crumbling.

Yet there seems to be no way out. A murder by any other name is murder still. Whenever there is a very methodical, very clinical, dissection of Kashmir issue in the media, my eyes tend to roll. The experience of Kashmir cannot be written by people who see it as tourists, academic experts and least of all Indian journalists. Everytime there is a curfew in the valley, there is one person who moves from hope to despair and sinks a little more into depression. Its not always a reflection of the state of economic affairs, not completely, its psychological – existential even. What are you doing with your life? Are you making an impact on anything? Are you even doing yourself any good?

No one bothers about things like these. These are personal wars the whole city fights. Getting along day after day. One school day missed after another. One wistful longing after another. And yet, describing life in Kashmir is incomplete without this colossal waste of opportunities and desires. How battlefields are drawn and dissected and dreams are scissored to fit political narratives.

And what about the dreams of the dead? Death is so normal in Kashmir that we don’t even pause to think about it. We, the really privileged people whose tragedies include wasted cakes, go around death in Kashmir as puddles on the road. We acknowledge it, we are troubled by it, we hate the people who did it, but we move on. There are other things to be done. The ones who are gone are truly gone. These four young men who were killed in Kangan last week, might have had some ambition too. Same for many many more.

 

Silence

 silenceDoes silence come naturally to us?

I admire words for the powers they wield. But words frighten me. There is a form of self censorship that gets built in. We live with that, slowly becoming invisible under the skin. As kids, we were taught not to point towards anything on the road if there was an armyman on the way – I still don’t do that.

Expression is easy today owing to social media, but it is not any bit safer. Slowly, a culture of silence is being built where speaking out (and not necessarily against the state), if not criminalised, is severely deterred. In 2009 private media channels were banned. Later SMS, even though not public communication, were blocked and remained blocked for four years. In 2016, Kashmir Reader was shut down and reinstated after 3 months. We haven’t really moved. All this is well known, and quite frankly was seen as nothing so extreme  from the government. If the laws allow the state to arrest anyone and not bother with leveling some sort of charges for years, gagging the press is not an extreme condition that people live with. It is “just” intimidation. Should people be scared to speak what they feel? Probably that’s what they want.

Words are contentious. An official handle of government of India tweeted a poem calling for the mass murder of Kashmiris. Parodying lyrics of a song, the ‘poem’ extolled the army to murder as many people as they could. More recently, a journalist with a “mainstream” media channel favoured “genocide” in Kashmir as a solution to rid India of whatever it calls “terrorism”. There is no shame or horror felt in calling for mass murder of Kashmiris in India now, it seems. The journalist was only voicing her opinion, of course, but we have heard the same in social media forums over and over again. In our demand to end the conflict, we have been made the perfect “other” – the dispensable, repressible other.

The innumerable strikes and protests are seen as “their” problem – something the people do of their own volition and choice – not as a response to or a reaction to a very basic fact of life here. This is the people’s problem, one that they have taken over themselves, not something that a military state should be bothered about. The perpetrators are the victims and the victims become the abusers. The media doesn’t balk at this irony. It reports this as a matter of fact. Strikes are routine. Curfews are normal. Death is usual. Life is less than life. India has settled into a culture where references to Kashmiri’s suffering must only be seen in the presumed sacrifices of their army men. This is also used to justify the torture committed by the “sacrificing armymen”. I worry where this puts us, as  a people – Kashmir is a place where such things happen. Just happen. Come to pass and are forgotten.

A fashion magazine went a step ahead and used the pellet injuries as a theme for a photo shoot. Like collecting trophies of hunted animals. It is not just insensitive, but almost criminal in its mockery of the sufferings of Kashmiris.

Oppression is an everyday story that is hardly told. Asif (you know him from here) was arrested in September when he was found sitting under the awning of a shop using his friend’s Wi-Fi connection. The policemen found him, and even though there was no stone pelting, he was arrested for rioting and possession of weapons. Now he is 24 with a police case pending against him: for using the internet. The police actually used his Facebook to justify his detention. Point to be noted, his Facebook had news from sources like Greater Kashmir, Al Jazeera (for Kashmir) and some news about ISIS and Syria. Soon after being released he went to live with his aunt in a different place.

The building of silence extends to social media too. Last year, Facebook started removing posts which mentioned Kashmir. Early on in July, Facebook suspended accounts of many activists and academicians for posting about Kashmir. So, there is a void in which we have to exist. You could however avoid the Facebook censorship by leaving off a few words from your updates, like “Kashmir”. In around August, when we were under curfew for about a month running and phones had been just restored, a friend called me from India. He asked me about Kashmir and the situation there. I did not answer. I told him that the phones in Kashmir are tapped and there is a chance that I (not he, of course) could be arrested for speaking in such a climate. He laughed and I felt embarrassed at that. But again, phone lines tapped in Kashmir is not a new thing. Caravan ran a story on this long time ago.

Just recently, the website of With Kashmir was blocked “as per the instructions of the Government of India”. With Kashmir is not a news organisation. They call themselves a bunch of “opinionated bloggers”. Blocking a site that calls itself based on opinions is ironical, and I would say silly had it not been dangerous. Opinions can easily be ignored, but the state felt it had to go ahead and block their voices – create victims out of thin air. The state creates more victims than anything else in Kashmir. (With Kashmir has since moved on to a different URL). Even the University of Cambridge disallowed a professor to write a sentence – a single sentence – on Kashmir in a paragraph about her hopes for India’s future.

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Screenshot of With Kashmir withkashmir.com

So, can you go on forcing the silence forever? Or metaphorically, will the caged bird forget its song?

I don’t think so.

Somebody will find new words for old tyranny, be assured of that. Someone will write new obituaries for old deaths.Or metaphorically, someday new birds will find the old songs to sing again.

Fa La La La La, La La La La

I have a song in my head and it goes like “Fa La La La La, La La La La.”

Christmas comes at a very opportune time. At the close of the year, when however terrible the year had been, everyone hopes for a better one next year. Now, I have been skeptical of New Year’s Eves and all the celebration, but one cannot help being delighted at the Christmas imagery.

Some very clever person elf must have guessed that an obese white man in a red coat from the land of snow will win hearts all over. Everything is festive about the pictures of Santa Claus. Snow falls. Fire burns. Shadows play. Gifts are wrapped. Tinsel shines. You cannot be sad or angry at that!

In Kashmir, I am sitting in the cold waiting for snow. It seems difficult today. The water sometimes freezes in the pipes now. The night temperatures fall so low that it is a miracle that air doesn’t freeze and become solid. One cannot venture out without longing for the indoors. The window panes frost and cloud. The outside becomes obscure. The one who is gone is lost from sight.

Yet there is no snow.

The schools are closed now for winter vacations, so the kids have nothing to do. Again. This year, the academic year functioned for 5 months. Everything else too. But worse things happened in this little valley of ours in the remaining months. People were killed with impunity, children were blinded with impunity. The curfew stretched on for four months, the strikes for even longer. Everyone blamed everybody else. The summer and autumn were gone in this frenzy. There is no salvation.

Sometimes I make up the argument in my head, “People are being killed on the streets and you are thinking about this?This could be anything – from nun chai to baking cakes – trivial things like the colour of pheran. But, I confess, I do think about these things. I have a folder on my computer full of cake recipes which I want to try. Sigh! I must be a horrible person.

In the days of the curfew, when you are too full of anger and grief to do anything, I sit almost paralyzed by the happenings of the world. The war came right to the street corner and brought home what it really means to live in a conflict zone. Yet again. The anger came simmering out and you couldn’t be non-partisan anymore. So there were protests and there was a huge push of propaganda. The political cycle was played again, complete with visits by the government of India’s officials. A few weeks into the crisis, op-eds started pouring in that India needs to learn from its mistakes in Kashmir. While India learns its lessons and acts upon them, is Kashmir supposed to wait and count her dead? Apparently, murder in Kashmir is no big news in India – indeed some have been openly baying the army for killing more Kashmiris. I am tired of these political shenanigans. Enough already!

2016 leaves us in a lot of tatters. And no one knows how the future will unfold. After 2010, such an uprising was unfathomable. And yet here we are! So many children have been buried without shrines this year. By next year, they will be faint public memories but stark figures in history. So many people have been blinded by pellet guns (which, by the way, are still not banned) and will not regain any vision. Sometime in March I had posted that there is no attack like an attack on personal freedom. That was when people in Paris said they were scared of doing regular things because of the uncertainty left by the Paris attacks of last year. For a brief period the upheaval had turned their world upside down. The same can hardly be said of Kashmir. Uncertainty is the way of our life here. We had just celebrated Eid when, as if by design, life suddenly stopped in Kashmir. Day after day, yet again, we were bombarded by the news of death and blinding of people. At the end of the year, I don’t mean to keen over the curfew or the city, and I do not want to sway and make grand predictions or write lessons for the future either. They never come true. If there is anything worth panegyrizing it is that when the government abandoned the people, the people didn’t abandon each other. From volunteer kitchens in the hospitals and donations to them, to the little acts like hitching rides or tuition for neighborhood children. We survived.

I feel everyone here is debating the Kashmir issue yet again. Internally, in small meaningful ways. This summer has cast a very long shadow. There have been no “inquiries” about the use of pellet guns and the deaths caused by them this year. No army men have been questioned. There is no justice. Just yesterday, a man narrated how his neighbour’s son was arrested and accused of burning bikes and rioting. The son is a student of Class 5.

Conflict erodes life. We have seen that this year. Kashmir is a test case, a lab for politics. Most experiments fail. And failures are fatal – for Kashmiris. We saw that again this year. If there is anything I am sure of right now, it is that the year is coming to an end in two days. Indoors, the woollen namda feels hard and familiar on the cold floor. And there is no snow yet. However, in my slightly frenzied mind I would continue to hope for small things, like small sparks to light big fires, like small steps to complete long journeys. When you are lost in the jungle, there is only one way to reach out, to keep walking the trail. I do not wish curfews or strikes or this conflict to sustain and claim more lives. I do however hope for a stronger voice. People have given their time, money and of course lives to see the end of this conflict. I hope their voices are heard. I hope prayers are answered. Like everyone else on this side of the divide, I want the summer carnivals of bloodshed presided over by some bureaucrats to end and the perpetrators punished. I hope the snow falls, fire burns, tinsel shines and continue to do so. I hope to live free from the trappings of guilt. To live free from the mercy of gun wielding foreigners. To live free. To that, my mind rises in a crescendo of “Fa La La La La, La La La La”.

Somehow We Survived

I will be repeating myself when I say that Srinagar is a cold, cold place. The wind blows little needles in the face and waters the eyes. In my dreamy, detached, ever hopeful existence, Srinagar is so many miles away that the only things that anchor me to reality are the cold and tea. And by tea I mean Nun Chai with its ever comforting warmth like a hug from a worthy friend.

Early this year, I remember telling a friend that this is going to be a good year. We were going on the Boulevard Road and the sun was about to set on a day in the prime of spring. He agreed. Now, we are just moving from a curfew and lock down of five months. Everyone who knows anything about us knows that this is a fragile, fragile situation. Kashmir is like a samovar full of tea, with embers keeping it simmering all the time.

Among the many disappointments we had this year, I will remember with gratitude the sanctuary nun chai afforded me as we spent the summer locked up inside our homes, reading and watching the leaves turn. Outside, the curfews raged, and so many young men were killed. Everyday we mourned for them. Everyday we died a little. Everyday we made tea and thanked God that we are getting by. The leaves faded from green to gold and then left the trees barren; and the skies shifted from blue to gray. The colour of my brew was still pink. Like roses the colour of broken promises.

But somehow we survived. My friends (and sometimes random people one meets by happenstance) from India ask me how did we manage for so many days with no markets open and little money. I have no answer. We just did – with patience and some luck. And lots of resilience. I spent some weeks of the year in Delhi. I had nun chai over there too. A pale, milky brew it came out. Quite out of place. Like the stranger in me. Its flavour lost in the heat of India’s plains. There is no decent way to reconcile to the disappointment of a vile cup of tea. I needed to be back home.

As we end this year on a very somber note with the war raging in one part of the world and uncertainty looming over ours, I look at this empty cup of nun chai. The spent dark brown leaves have collected at the base. Someone may stare at the shape to read the tea leaves. Will the coming year lose its promise in the prime of spring too?

This has been a long, long year. The summer never seemed to end and the autumn dragged its feet – its cold, beautiful, scarred feet. I don’t want to sound pedantic. On days like these I find heart in the fact, that when everything goes wrong there will be nun chai to fall back to. It is the promise of a very old custom. It shall forever bring me back home.

(PS: Today is “International Tea Day”, and thank you Mr. Ross Chambers for suggesting that I write something about Nun Chai on this day. I must thank the shared joy of nun chai for being the source of many a conversation on social media with strangers and a lot of inspiration. On that note, I had this year before the curfews began a memorable occasion of having nunchai in the huts of very friendly nomads in a meadow tucked somewhere in the mountains of Baramulla. Prepared freshly on a wood fire, the tea was as buttery as salty it was and had a very subtle but distinct aroma of smoke.)

For a recipe of nun chai check this post.

Like Snow in Summers


On July 8, 2016 Indian Army killed Burhan Wani, a militant commander of a group demanding freedom of Kashmir from India. The aftermath has been a mass uprising in Kashmir. People have been protesting and the government declared curfew. Till 15th August, India’s Independence Day, there had been no let up in the curfew and 38 people had died.

When his phone didn’t connect after repeated attempts, he knew the phones had been blocked. He could go on for days without talking to his parents, but at times like this it seemed urgent. Srinagar was so far away – and everything around him was so removed from home. It was like thinking about spring in autumn, or remembering snow in summers.

“Hello. Greetings”
“Greetings, son” said a sombre voice at the other end. His father sounded distant and slower. 
That was the last conversation he had with his father four days ago. 

***

He was vaguely aware of the music before he was awakened by it. Nabeel woke up early. Too early for a holiday. And with great annoyance. He waited in the bed, eyes still closed. Wishing sleep would come again. Stretching his toes. Trying to think of something other than the song blaring from the loudspeaker. A particularly sappy one – one he had never liked.

India’s Independence Day announced itself on a hundred unread Whatsapp messages from his office group. He ignored. Trying to go back to sleep. Trying hard not curse. He couldn’t.

There seemed to be no escape for him. Shielding his eyes against the sun, he looked outside the window to see who was playing these songs, but the sound seemed to be coming from nowhere in particular. All he could see was the abandoned half-constructed building next to his. Then Lata Mangeshkar sang about martyrs.

Yes, what about them? He wanted to yell at whosoever was playing these songs.

He gave up. He rubbed his eyes and looked around. He decided to make tea, but that would mean going downstairs to the dingy little grocery store to buy milk. That would mean meeting people. That may also mean attending the flag hoisting.

He had overheard some kids talk about the flag hoisting in the ‘society’ – one of the things people in Delhi did. He didn’t know where they would do it – but by instinct, and habit, he wanted no part of it. Outside a group of women was chatting loudly over the music – he could hear them through the door. He turned away – tea could wait.

He had never held a flag in his hand.

Four days ago, his father had called to tell him to stay inside his room and not to go outside on 15th August.

It was still 10 o’ clock. The music was still playing.

He checked his Facebook. More curfews in Kashmir, more people dead in police action, more protests. There were no notifications, as expected. He hadn’t posted anything in weeks. The last post was when 12 boys had died. Now, social media informed him, it was more than 30. Three of them from his neighbourhood. He wasn’t sure what they were doing, but he one knew of them – the one who sneaked out at night with him to smoke in the darkness.

He took a bottle of water and rinsed his mouth.

He had returned to Delhi on 10 July having spending his Eid holidays at home in early July. Srinagar was under curfew then. He had left his home before dawn, in the darkness, to reach the airport. All along the way army men patrolled empty roads and stray dogs barked at the passing car. No movement was allowed during daytime. It was almost a month since his return; Srinagar was still under curfew. He knew his father hadn’t been to work in a month. He wondered if he was still buying the medicines. His diabetes medicine was expensive, and often he would skip a pill in between intentionally. Was he taking it regularly? Now that it hit him, there was no way to know.

Internet was not working. Phones were not working either.

So he waited and felt the whirring of the fan overhead. He pulled his legs up and tried to concentrate on the soft snoring of his roommates rather than the songs from outside. Noida was a swarm of high and low rise buildings perennially covered in dust from some construction. This city was still being built. It was always under construction. Every morning an army of workers would converge to the skeletal structures and disperse. In the evening they would emerge again. Nabeel lived with three other boys in one newly let out apartment building, with no furnishing and erratic water supply. The other three were not from Kashmir, and Nabeel had met them when over time moving from place to place, job to job he had finally landed there. Their agreement to stay together had somehow worked thus far – the fair Kashmiri who didn’t speak much – even though they worked at different places and had no mutual friends anymore.

What about the martyrs? They were kids, weren’t they? The next day’s newspapers would carry the death toll at 38 people, most of them of Nabeel’s age and younger. Twenty five years. Killed by an army operating within its laws. The singer extolled him to recall and weep over the deaths. Yes, he would. His friend had multiple injuries from the pellet gun which was the government’s weapon of choice against the protesters. It sprays small balls of lead at no particular target. He had been shot from a fatally close range.

Did they find any cigarettes on him then? Cheap Four Square brand. Did his mother come to know about his smoking after his death? There was no way to know the answer to life’s unending little mysteries. How did he feel now? What did he see before dying? What did he say? Was there anyone around him?

He must save his memory. He must not forget him.

This year had been particularly bad. He had read with a tremble in his spine how some CRPF guy had need put needles in the eyes of a five year old. Five, he could not get over the ages of these people. They were either too young or about his age. Was that an age to die? What if he was in Kashmir? Would he be dead too? Had he cheated death by coming here?

He looked away from his thoughts. There was a cockroach in the sink trying to climb its wall. The women were still outside the door. Bracing himself he went out in his t-shirt and shorts. The women saw him and smiled at him. He looked down and hurried away. They continued talking. The grocer’s was at the ground floor. There was a small crowd of children asking for things and women in long dresses chatting while waiting. He put the change on the glass-top and asked for a packet of milk. It appeared; he snatched it and tore away to his apartment.

The boys had arranged for a cook to come and cook meals for them. But today being Independence Day, he had taken the day off. He was planning to his wife and kids to India Gate. That was two days off in a row; yesterday had been Sunday. That meant there was nothing to eat in the apartment. In the afternoon, the other boys had already made plans.
“Going out?” his flatmate Mohit asked him.
“Not really. Are you?”
“Yes. See you later.” And with a strong whiff of deodorant Mohit was gone.

Later in the evening and not knowing what to do Nabeel pushed himself to go to the mall to get some coffee and to get away from his apartment. He realised that it was a mistake as soon as he reached. It was loud and noisy like a child’s birthday party except that the guests paid for everything and there were no gifts. At each entrance of the mall, there was a huge and a gaudy decoration of paper flames in the three colours of the Indian flag: orange, white and green. The place was decked with buntings in the three colours. His flatmates had brought a bunch of three balloons last night – green, white and orange. Nabeel had accidently burst the orange one, and it hung, spent and useless with the thread. The food court was on the top of the mall and as he made his way through the escalators, the dazzling lights of shops caught his eyes. There were mannequins dressed in green, white and orange, display screens which blasted the three colours and offered special discounts, a counter was even selling ice cream in the three colours. People were wearing lapel pins in the shape of the Indian flag and some had small streaks of the colours in their hair. A woman outside the mall had offered him a lapel pin too, and was surprised when he had refused.

He ordered his coffee at the counter. There were three people in front of him with large and elaborate orders. Clearly they had come with a group. The boys were celebrating Independence Day by wearing a kurta over jeans.

“One latte, please.”

He tendered the exact change and waited for his order.

There were not many tables vacant, but he found one at the back. In a distant corner, away from the centre of the floor where families were having a picnic of South Indian food and young couples were sipping cold coffee or eating sundaes with plastic spoons. He watched as he sipped the coffee. The people of the free world were enjoying their history.

Now, he hadn’t spoken to his mother in three days as the government had blocked the phones in Kashmir. He had heard about Burhan Wani, the killed militant, before he died. He thought Burhan was exceedingly good looking, and that was the first thing Nabeel mourned when he heard about his death. Some policeman had clicked a ghastly picture of his fair face after death. And then the curfews had come. He had secretly counted the number of people killed, but then lost count at about twenty two.

He felt his eyelids droop. He sipped coffee.

“Do you have money? Should I send some?” he had wanted to ask his father but the question choked his voice. His father would have never accepted it.

He knew his father was relieved that Nabeel was in Delhi, away from Kashmir and Nabeel resented that. His office was a small networking company and Nabeel was still a novice at the job. He had joined it after much prodding by a friend who worked there for sometime before moving to Dubai. His parents hoped Nabeel would do the same. Nabeel wanted to be back in Kashmir; with his friends at Khayam Street dining on barbecue meat as they used to every month with their savings. Now his friends had some meager jobs collecting data for a government agency and Nabeel was in Delhi.

The next day when he went to office the people were still talking about the long weekend – the parties and the picnics. He had spent the long weekend curled up in a corner reading Ernest Hemmingway and the angry social media messages. He had not had any dinner for two days and skipped lunches for tea. The girl in the next cubicle was eating something out of a box. Nabeel looked over and she smiled at him, ashamed to have been caught. Prachi was an affable young girl who loved eating more than anything else.

Then she rose above the cubicle wall, “How was your weekend?”

“Miserable. I have not eaten in two days” Nabeel confided in her. He realised he hadn’t also spoken to anyone in two days, but that he didn’t tell Prachi.

“Really? Here,” she offered him the box.

“No, thanks. I just had breakfast outside. How was your weekend?”

“Awesome.” And then without warning or invitation she launched into the details of her weekend trip to the cinema, the movie she saw, her saunters in the new giant mall, and how they had wished to go to Chandigarh for some reason but weren’t able to.

“Hmm.”

“How are things in Kashmir? I heard on the news there is some trouble.”

“Not really good. A lot of people have died.”

“Oh, shit!”

***

“Did you go out today? Were the markets open?” he asked his father on the phone.
“No, I didn’t. I don’t know.” 
His father had not stepped out of his house even once in the last month. There had been no let up in the curfew since. 
There was silence on the line as both considered what to speak next.