“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.

 

 

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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.

 

The Addiction

Rich Autumns & Ithe.png
This post is a little bit personal. So, I am not sure about what to say exactly.
I took the last few months away from Twitter, and practiced being me, and not being Rich Autumns. I was in India for some time and in Kashmir for some time. But mostly, I was occupied in creating a space for myself where Rich Autumns would not join in.
I had to be me, find myself a name. My old name.

So I decided to quit this blog and Twitter. I had started this blog as a space to write random things, little things about Kashmir and let it be free, let it take its own space and expression.

But this time away was tough. I found that I missed Rich Autumns. I missed the person who wrote these words on the blog. So in private moments, I passed Rich Autumns around like a joint. Reminiscing. Thinking. Wondering. I missed the stranger.

Regular readers here (and there were not many to begin with) would know the stranger as a nameless entity. His physical being is not important. The stranger is a creature of smoke and shadows. He appears and disappears like love and happiness in everyone’s life. He leaves behind a pang of sadness in his trail. A sadness that is as romantic as dreamy it is.

The fact is that the entity of Rich Autumns has afforded me a cloak in which I could disappear. Beat myself down to the bone and enshroud myself in words that only I could write to myself. These are very private moments floating openly without shame. Like unsigned love letters in newspapers.

But these are hardly my words, these are Rich Autumns’ words and on my own I could not say them. There is a certain hesitation with which I would say them, but when I don the cloak, Rich Autumns writes its own words. Free and careless. And, true. Words are a strange magic. They flow unrestricted in sadness and with checks in happiness. Right now, as my life passes in front of my eyes there is nothing that I could pick apart and own. There is nothing that gives me a sense of ownership or the happiness of its contentment. Except, Rich Autumns.

 

They Left…

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They packed their bags and left. At the end of the night, perhaps. In big loud trucks. Sitting with the impedimenta of occupation. They left. Their green trucks with hefty tyres. Snailing through the crowded streets of old Srinagar.

Past the ancient houses, looking mournfully at the clouds of smoke they left behind. Someone was keeping watch. Someone tallied the last bar. So many, many days. Years. There was no count. But they were leaving at last.

Huddling close in the back of the truck behind a curtain made of rope. Sharing pictures on mobile phones. Snaking their way through the city of others. The foreigners were returning at last. The exhausted city was yawning. It was a long, sleepless night.

They left behind mud walls of a collapsed bunker. Sand bags sleeping between them, like dead bodies. And shattered glass. A lot of shattered glass. Shards jutting out of wooden frames. Shards hanging on wires. Shards on the floor. Someone had been carving a place in the mud with glass.

They left behind unanswered calls. Long hours of waiting outside the iron gates. Cold wintry nights. Screams of boys and jeers of laughter. They didn’t take the rusty smell of blood. Somewhere hidden in a trunk in the back of the truck, the record of all that was never said.

The glass was left behind. And little stones in the mud. Some children would come pick them up. And play with their hands cut on glass. They left and we are burning candles again. They left, it was time.

(On the army bunker that was removed from the city)

We Are Here: Moving from Blogger to WordPress

we-are-here

You brought it on, Blogger. Dont blame me now! Send my love to your new lover, and treat her better.

You know how the time flies. Five years, five long years. Does that mean nothing to you? I was so young, so naive, so new. Why else would I be writing things like this or this? This was me, five long years ago. With you. Happy! Only yesterday was the time of our lives. We were born and raised, in this autumn glaze.

I had never been so happy as I was when I found you. We went through hard times together. Does that even mean anything to you now? Don’t you remember?

I finally found a name in you. People knew me from you. “Where is Rich Autumns?” they’d ask. “Blogger, of course!”. And you in a big way are the person in making me Rich Autumns. But now that seems, like a million years ago, when we were younger and free.

But, I cant put up with this anymore. It’s not like I didn’t try. I installed and uninstalled your useless app twice. Twice. Do you even realise the misery of downloading apps on Android phones with limited memories. Well, of course you do. I know I have a fickle heart and a heaviness in my chest, but I cant keep up with your turning tables anymore.

Dear blogger, I am leaving you. And, I don’t even have the nerve to say it thrice.

But I cant help feeling we could have had it all. The Americans and the Russians and the occasional visitor from Slovenia. I could stay there, close my eyes, feel you here forever! Along with the people who wander on to the blog looking for apple season in Kashmir and reach here.

Who would have known how bittersweet this would taste?

I miss the customization Blogger had. Its all white walls here. Bare and empty. Look, dont get me wrong. I loved that you allowed me to alter whatever I wanted. But then, you removed the Dashboard and you wont reply to may queries. I mean what part of “the new layout sucks!” is hard for you to get. I can’t give you, what you think you gave me. It’s time to say goodbye to turning tables. I left behind all the memories of being read and noticed. And totally ignored.

But I’ve been walking the same way as I did. No one knows me like you do. But if I can’t make you feel my love, I think it is best to move on.

 

Hold me like I’m more than just a friend,

Rich Autumns

Appeals and Answers

~I~

The old man was no hero. He had never been, and it is very important to understand that.

Appeals & Answers – a short story

He had been more like a moth on the curtains of time. Fluttering in oblivion and waiting, hoping, for a simple death. People would rather like him, if they could recollect him. But they would forget, he knew and was at peace with that.

Srinagar is a cold place now-a-days. He had spent the entire day at Dargah in his checked tweed coat, mildly dusty in the winter sun. It had been crowded, and he was okay with that too. He had crept silently along the walls and sat near the door. Close enough to escape without being seen, far enough to not obstruct those coming and going out. The crowd did not seem to move. There were too many people, all stationary, frozen in their places. The prayers were over, so most were just waiting for the next prayers.
Srinagar was a cold place. Dangerous. It’s no place for young birds, someone had told him. It was a sad place where life had ceased to exist, somehow. Look where are we now! He wondered what had happened. He looked at the pulpit of the sanctum for an answer. None came. The medieval city caught in a violent war. People didn’t want it anyway. And now from the corner of his row, he looked not just at uncertainty, but financial penury. The giant chandelier with its many glass pieces looked down on him, and he felt its stare on the small of his neck. It was still daylight, but the old man decided to leave. With a final bow and a silent prayer, he took his feeble self out.

The grim city with its hopeless pandering to the elite. The city was run by thieves, of this he was convinced. It was cold and his eyes were watery. Three men from Indian Army stood near the bus station, checking Ids of a few students from the university before smugly gesturing them into the waiting bus. The air was thick with the fumes of oil from the stalls where hawkers sat among piles of fritters and halwa. A few years ago, he would have taken some for his son. But not today. His son had gone to Delhi to do some ‘course’ he didn’t fully understand. So he walked straight to the bus yard and sat in one leaving for his home. The boys sheepishly tucked their ICards back into their wallets and climbed into the bus.

Srinagar was not a very welcome place, not beyond the Tourism Department posters. His son had never wanted to leave Kashmir one time, and now he wasn’t so sure. There was a sense of resentment and anger he couldn’t explain. He was annoyed with him, and in a way pleased. He couldn’t decide what to do. A young man from the University of Kashmir was munching on fritters. He found that distracting. At one time he had wanted his son to take a government job. But none were available. He was afraid that his son was destined to a very mediocre life, despite his education. He took out his hand and pressed it on his chest – a mediocre life, unless he chose never to return home. To this place. To his city. To him. Be a tourist in his own place. The Tourism Department posters made sense now – Srinagar was a tourist destination for her own people too. And then it dawned on him. In the grey light of afternoon, as the sun was peeking through the mist and a mush of clouds and the bus stopped at odd places, his face fell with the sudden realisation of failure. That he had lost his son, forever, and it was all because of him. He looked at the man who had been eating, he was looking away. May be he should call his son and ask about the future. Or maybe he should give it some time. Birds do come to roost. He slipped a little backward on the uncomfortable bus seat and put his hands in the pockets of his tweed coat. And waited.

 

 
~II~
 
At Rajiv Gandhi Chowk Metro Station the train regurgitated its load of people. There was a scramble at the escalators as the crowd slowly moved away. Rajiv Gandhi Chowk Metro Station was crowded. Too crowded for his comfort, and he noticed with some satisfaction that it was too crowded for everyone’s comfort except the hippie who sat comfortably near the steps lost in thought. Perhaps asleep. Perhaps drugged. The last thought scared him and he walked on.

In the post lunch session of the tech seminar the speaker spoke with a drone like voice, so sleep inducing that he found himself dosing off despite all the mint and the bottles of water. His friend had sent him a message to bunk the session and go out for a movie. Quietly he replied yes, and packed his bags and left.

New Delhi shone in the cool afternoon light of winter. People around him were decked in mufflers and sweaters, while Abid had folded the sleeves of his shirt. His neatly trimmed beard framing his high cheek bones, and his hair piled softly like ice cream on his head, he was very conscious of the stares he invited in the bazaars. He slung his bag with a careless ease, as the elevators emerged him out of the din of the train station.

The metro, on his first ride, had appeared like a charm. Abid had never seen anything quite like it. There was an artist sitting right next to him, and impolite as it had appeared, he had stared at his notebook throughout the journey. His feverishly moving fingers sketching wildly, to create a face so demure and coy that Abid silently gawked at the contrast. In the crowded train he saw a few who he guessed to be Kashmiris by their looks. He smiled at the thought that all of us have the same nose, but he had kept to himself. It was like a secret code.

The cinema was crowded in the second week of the film’s release. He got bored and distracted in the first thirty minutes but could not tell that to his friends. He liked the luxury of seeing movies on a giant screen, every colour brought alive by the darkness in the hall. The first time he had come to cinema had been two months ago. He thought he could get used to this. This was nice. The city was like a charm, there was so much to do that if he could just keep himself afloat, he was sure he could swim on forever. The lure was enormous. His friend, the one sitting next to him who had bought the expensive tickets as a treat, had just got a new job. Srinagar was but a heavy price to pay for it. He looked at his newly moneyed friend in the dark. The screen shone in his eyes.

He must evaluate the city for its many appeals and answers. There was a way with things here. The amount of energy he felt in his bones here had dispelled the despair at home. His friends from home had sent him a picture on Whatsapp of them having tea. He recognised the familiar restaurant at Khayam, the sweet milky tea, the unclean cups. Their long chats about girls, life and when someone got philosophical about politics, their hopes for the future, their desires and eventual death. In Srinagar, hope was a rare commodity. They had done so for six months after college. Two had appeared unsuccessfully for a job advertised by the J&K Bank. The others were still waiting for a government job. It had seemed possible at first, difficult next and as the exam approached, impossible. His father had tried to persuade him to try for government service. But he had refused.

He hadn’t really thought of his father since landing in Delhi. May be he should call him after this awful movie. Ask him about the future. Or maybe he should wait. Let it pass, let the dust settle. That was the thing about future, it would always show itself. He felt his phone in his pocket, and stared at the screen.

And waited.