“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.




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.


A Requiem

Its been 101 days since the last bus plied in Kashmir, ferrying people still in Eid festivity to their homes. How much can memory serve?It was still summer then and Ramazan had just ended. When the curfews began, all life disappeared. Overnight Kashmir was at a sort of war – with India, make no mistake. People protested, the Indian army killed. You can use any verb that floats your boat – retaliated, killed in self defence, killed in extreme conditions, blah, blah.

This may sound a bit extreme to you, so let me bring in the autumn here. The chinars have just started to shade – a little brown at this time but mostly green.

So, summers were gone in a whirl of protests and chaos. But, overtime, we have learnt the art of survival in this chaos. Remember the floods? We lived through those with  massive civil cooperation. Kashmiris all over the world sent in aid and people organized camps for distribution. The government was nowhere to be seen, at least initially. Civilians rowed boats through the waters to rescue trapped people and deliver food to those who didn’t move out.

This time too people were where they were needed. In hospitals. As volunteers. Assisting the medical staff in relief operations. A person donated a five lakh rupees which saved on his son’s wedding by having a simple ceremony to a hospital. Quintals of meat were donated to SMHS hospital on Eid.

There is some sadistic pleasure derivable from the suffering in Kashmir. This was very apparent in the last 100 days. Many blamed the victims. “Why are they pelting stones?” “Why are people out in a curfew?” “If you throw stones, don’t you deserve to be fired at?” Some gentleman also compared stones and bullets, saying that the stones were hurled with an aim to kill and the bullet was fired in self defense and to deter. People who have never lived more than a day (if at all that too) under curfew argued how Kashmiris should live under a curfew – peacefully, without raising a voice. Safe to preach from a distance? Easy to suppress a voice that has no force? We were lectured by a minister from India what being a Kashmiri means and how we should behave in general. Why must we not protest, I ask? There is nothing peaceful about a curfew. Phones and internet were blocked, to a point that phone companies wulled over closing offices in Kashmir. For India’s populist media this is a routine exercise. Their failure to understand that Kashmiris have been demanding an end to a brutal, cruel conflict was showcased again and again. Painfully. In the initial days, injured kept pouring in. Thousands were injured by pellet fire. Hundreds lost their eyes to it. Even the dead were attacked. Funerals were tear gassed and people were not allowed to shoulder coffins.

Briefly the army was called in again. And then taken out. Thousands of people were arrested and are still being arrested, every night. Their future is uncertain.The state creates its own demons and seeks redemption.

But the chinars, are slowly roasting their hues to rouge. The gardens are filled with the fallen leaves. Like gold.

As if in an answer to itself the government killed a 12 year old last week. In July, the CRPF personnel pierced the eyes of a five year old boy. I don’t know where to place this grief. Again curfew was imposed, and the empire placated.  At what cost? The continuous lock down has meant losses in education, business and so, so many opportunities. The grounds of Kashmir University are largely empty. And yet there is not a squeak from anywhere.

Of course, some people were very keen on sounding the trumpets of war. In Delhi, I am sure, they must have sounded musical, but in Srinagar they sounded dangerous and sardonic. News channels made a full circus of it and if there was a spark they were keen to turn it into a flame. A Whatsapp group of which I am a member had a person from New Delhi proclaim something like “WAR…WAR…WAR…” as if declaring war on Pakistan was the only way left to save his sanity. There was no mention by the gentleman of the Kashmiris killed by the Indian army. Another Indian friend (and more who know me only through this blog) sent a “stay safe” message. In all the mess, that curfew was still not lifted from Kashmir was forgotten. Conveniently.

The city is full of the aroma of roasting chestnuts. The fragrance wafts under the blossoming chinars on the Residency Road. There are no dull moments.

The last hundred days also brought out the essence of life we lead. There is a chasm that India and her people haven’t quite crossed to reach us yet. On this side of the Pir Panjal, she somehow ceases to exist. And as she considers her force again and again to enter, she fails again and again. So has been our story, ever. People don’t give up their cherished desires and aspirations for nothing – howsoever romantic they may sound to others, especially if they are any bit romantic. The much vilified “youth of Kashmir” does not, and cannot, exist in a political vacuum. Denial and force haven’t gotten any results thus far. And the autumn is fading fast.

(c) @zikrejaana. Used with permission

To read more about the 2016 uprising, follow this link.

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.


Oh CB,

I am writing to you from Kashmir. Srinagar, to be precise. To be fair, I didn’t want to respond to your open letter, or even read it, but the giggles it generated on Twitter made me kind of want to read it. And then, you know, replying is only polite.


So, I received your letter yesterday. Now, if the NIT incident made you realize that something terrible is happening in Kashmir, I do wonder at your understanding of Kashmir. The NIT incident is a perfect example of how media choses to demonize Kashmiris over trivial matters. But anyway, the way you have appended Handwara after NIT by saying “thereafter, bloody clashes have broken out in north Kashmir.” is a master-stroke. As if Handwara had something to do with NIT, or even should be treated the same way! You offer no condolence, let alone sympathize with the victims of the Handwara killings. Your country’s army killed four unarmed people, and critically injured many more. But that doesn’t find a mention in your letter, despite being the thing on every Kashmiri’s mind right now.


Lets skip over your paras explaining the Kashmir issue and the 1990s militancy and mixing it unnecessarily with ISIS. You haven’t understood what historians do. It follows you don’t understand history as well. 


You talk about taking parts of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan and China, but you won’t because you are not ‘okay’ with heavy civilian casualties. Really? Is that why you tendered condolences on the Handwara killings right at the top of your letter? Is that why you chose to address issues like AFSPA and human rights? Are you sure you would not be okay with calling them ‘collateral’ later on? 


No, but for some odd reason you ask us to focus on Article 370, because you feel “it is not empowering Kashmir”. Nothing about India empowers Kashmir. That is not the relation we share. That is not how and why India exists in Kashmir. You could have asked to remove the AFSPA and for justice for the victims of the atrocities committed by the Army. But instead you don’t want us to blame the Army, because they have a ‘tough job’ which can result in collateral damages like an eight year old kid who was playing with his friends , a 70 year oldwoman or a 19 year old cricketer and indeed so many many more. These were innocent people. How is removal of Article 370 going to help in punishing their killers? 


You see, CB, the problem is this. India is not what is standing between Kashmir and total Islamic fundamentalism as you seem to understand. Pakistani Army, the “local leaders” and the “experts” are not always the problem. You and Indians like you, really need to look at your country’s actions in Kashmir. It’s not all Priety Zinta and Hrithik Roshan in a shikara. And the youth that you wanted to address, they have faced the brunt of the Indian Army – been beaten, paraded, held in custody for no reason and worse. All the while empowered by legal machinery imposed by the country you think is the best option for us. Really?


If you ever had paid attention to Kashmiris before writing this highly insensitive letter, you would have understood the root of problem Kashmiris have with India. We just have had enough of being told what is good for us by Indians. I cannot simplify it enough, or break it down even more. We are tired of listening to Indians like you telling what Kashmiris should think and choose, because we have so little intelligence of our own that we don’t what is good for us. Just when we had learnt to ignore Sunny Deol movies, you have a new breed of journalists hell bent on misrepresenting facts to a nation which has little to no knowledge about Kashmir. And you are pandering to that gallery.


Et tu, CB?


We could point out cases as recent as 2016 to show how this army which you want to hold blameless has murdered Kashmiris with impunity, but I won’t because it will not serve much purpose here. Remember 2010? Your paramilitary killed 120 unarmed men (most under the age of 30). There were no retributions for that. There was no punishment for any of the troopers. And you want us to trust you? The youth that you wrote to survived not because of India, but in spite of India.


Cute that you brought up women’s right issues in Kashmir. Heard about Kunan Poshpora? May I suggest you to try reading Shahnaz Bashir’s “The Half Mother”, you might get some perspective on the life of women whose sons have been taken by the army and vanished. Enforced disappearance. There are also detailed reports by human rights organizations detailing abuses (including those by the Army) available. Peruse them too. That is the childhood of the youth today. You cannot wave that away just by saying India is a “real economy” now.


Oh, on that note the girl who was ‘molested’ by the army is still under police custody. The mother of the girl claimed (confirmed what so many Kashmiris were already saying) that the video disclaiming the Army’s guilt was taken under duress. All this and there is no role of any “Islamic fundamentalist” in this.


Next time, you write a letter consider toning down your patronisation. That is the least an ordinary civilian can do – empathize and not sound like a condescending know-it-all. Frankly we cannot suffer more of those. Your letter and its tone are of no help.



So long,

Rich Autumns



The City is an Island

This is a hastened up post for I didn’t know what else to do.
The city tonight lies in shambles. It’s as if we hadn’t enough to cry for in the past years. Throughout the past night and much of the day we could only read about other people being caught up by the flood. An uncle was weeping on the phone. His house was flooded completely and like so many others he had moved to the attic, still in fear that the water would rise further. And no one would come for rescue.
At first, we could call each other and know their status. But then the phones stopped working. The networks died. And now we don’t know about each other at all. We are all locked up. The worst part is that family members so many miles away, in foreign countries, cannot know anything about their people back home. Kids away for their parents, worried for them – that sort of crises. The social media of Kashmir was one long SOS call.  
Whole day we heard the story grow in snippets – as the flood took over the city in parts. Like an invading army, entering from all sides. Rajbagh was the first to go. Jawaharnagar followed. Gogji bagh, Abi Guzar, Goni Khan, HS High all gone in a blink. And now Srinagar lies in a maze of submerged bridges among roads lost to the Jehlum. Small islands of housing clusters remain. People have climbed to the roof tops. The Dal Lake was the last to fall, but fell it did. I am sorry to say that.
And dear Lord, now this night is upon is. Its all dark and scary. And people are terrified. God, please stay this night with them. They need You especially tonight. Like every other night.
The helplessness coming from all the news from Kashmir is tangible. But we have braved the curfews and crack downs – when there was nothing to do except watch the sun rise and set. Empty days full of hours upon hours of uncertainty. There was no way to earn bread either. But we sallied forth. With some faith in God, of course. But this time it is a bit different. That was anger, this is desperation.
There is a slight glimmer of hope. Rescue teams are still working to get stranded people out. But the water is rising and falling in patterns hard to understand. Every now and then there is breach in the embankments and another neighbourhood is flooded.


This seems to be rather long night to pass.