Kashmir: a curfew within

I plugged my ears with cotton and went to sleep after hearing the last newscast. It didn’t report I was dead. That means I am still alive.
__(Mahmoud Darwish, Memory For Forgetfulness)

Almost August, Srinagar, 2016

__Incommunicado, how long? I have lost count of days since I last heard from you.

__Yes we are losing count, of falling bodies.

__Aren’’t we again in July? Tell me why do they always have to be J months?

__J precedes K, these months are cursed.

__Please stay safe. Don’t move out of house.

__ Houses are streets, streets houses. Safety, like a frightened cat, keeps at bay.

__Death is rampant, cant you see?

__There are pellets and needles in my eyes. I am blind to death.

__Calm down, take a breath!

__It smells of pepper gas, revolting at the back of my throat.

__Aren’’t you afraid?

__Yes, of shadows.

__Shadows are nothing compared to death!

__Death is conferring immortality. Living seems criminal.

__They have bullets and pellets!

__We have life and stones.

It was well past midnight. Restless, she came out on the balcony to look at the stars for solace. The silence of colossal sky left her incapable of any hysteric emotion except for a subtle strain of quiet melancholia that seeped in and settled over the tumulus surface of her heart like a winter mist over turbulent waters of Jhelum.

She tried to scale the depths of night sky in search of those twinkling companions of dark hours but couldn’’t find them. Sky was too gloomy to reveal anything. Tired, she looked down into the narrow alleyway that would seldom depopulate. A few shadows moved about like ghosts. Carefully, she observed the play of shadows under yellow street light as tired people dragged themselves towards unknown destinations, hauling the burden of dreams and failures, hopes and fears, expectations and disappointments like a heavy metal yolk; sometimes following their shadows, sometimes lagging behind them. These shadows condensed, contorted and stretched with each shifting second in her mind. She saw a rebellion of shadows rising in the dark.

Sky is pouring relentlessly since mid night. It’s a morning quite unlike a morning. Even at 11, night has not completely dissolved away. Curfew is re imposed on the 18th day of siege, after being lifted temporarily on trial basis yesterday. Burhan’’s passing away has reframed our sense of time. We are losing count of days as calendars gather dust on walls. Days of this month began from the day he achieved ‘martyrdom’ and today is 19th. Milkman just left hurriedly, sopping wet in his checkered Pheran and muttering,“”sani gaam kin ti gov raath jung”” (even our village fought yesterday), an unmistakable tone of pride in his squeaky voice. I hear distant sounds of gunshots and tear gas shelling muffled under merciless beating of rain on window panes. But upon whom are they firing even in this downpour? Are we finally ready for the apotheosis? More than physical distance, I guess I am hearing it from a close distance in memory. Memory too seems to be playing tricks now, though not quite unexpected given the continuous siege of 18 days and subsequent communication blockade. From somewhere nearby, the song emerges..

“‘ye lahoo karwaan karwaan jaye ga, khoon shaheedun ka kab raigaan jaye ga..”

But why am I choosing to write today? Throughout the turmoil, pages of this diary stared blankly at me. I couldn’’t quench their thirst, couldn’’t pour a few drops of ink or tears onto its dry leaves though blood and tears flowed aplenty in streets like never before.

(File Pic)
(File Pic)

Perhaps I should have started writing when disbelief and numbness took over the better sense of judgment as news of Burhan’’s parting struck as a personal loss 19 days ago. I should have let my ink protest, in prose or verse, when armed forces went on a killing spree, killing 4-5 unarmed protesting Kashmir people per day on an average. (How could it rest?) I should have registered my rage and anguish when children as small as 3 years were blinded and crippled by pellets. (Was I blinded too?) I should have written about the psychological trauma of being holed up inside four walls, while remaining cut off from rest of the world by all means. I should have written about the desperation of that longing to cling onto life, swimming in helpless eyes of injured in the hospitals. At least I should have written about pain of being a helpless witness, if not anything else. Leave alone writing and protesting, I should have essentially wept and mourned the loss, as blood of more than 50 people crimsoned the already blood soaked soil of Kashmir in less than 20 days. I should have done all that, perhaps even more, but I couldn’’t. Nothing stirred within; neither intellect nor emotion. Slowly, there developed a vacuum in the region where heart is supposed to be. A solid vacuum.

Some days back a friend from Delhi, aghast at the antipathy of her own people, told me how some Indians were mocking the killings in Kashmir on social networking sites by hailing the‘’bravery’ of ‘’security forces’’ and comparing Kashmir deaths with cricket scores. It was inhumane, to say the least. But now when I think about it again, my daily morning routine as I fetch a couple of newspapers and look for the updated ‘score’ everyday, appears no different. Have I not been doing the same since last so many years, 2008-60+, 2010-130+, 2016-50+.. ? Deaths are rapidly turning into numbers which now hardly pluck a tear from my eye; people with bullet and pellet wounds are expected and soon forgotten and ‘Taraney’ have become an essential background composition.

“yeh lahoo gulsitaan gulsitaan jaye ga..”’

Nothing moves, not a ripple in heart, yet the encumbrance refuses to abate. Over the years the only constant change has been an increasing burden in the region of heart with a proportionate decrease in the sense of feeling. Listlessness- as an unsought alternative to mourning has penetrated deep. With such a rapid and excessive use of blind force, are they choking my mourning space as well? Is there an alternate undeclared curfew on sensitivities as well? Khalil Gibran once said “Extreme torture is mute””, is this the cause of this emotional drought or am I using it as a pretext to defend my deliberate state of denial or are we entering the decisive phase of our struggle where this is an expected consequence? Like many complexities of this struggle, I don’t know. I don’t feel, and I don’t know what to feel. Am I turning apathetic? But I am a Kaeshur, how can I afford apathy?

Its 10 pm already. Shouts of protestors appear to be drawing close. My sister and I rush towards the main gate and fix our eyes on the peephole. As the protestors march towards the main road while shouting “Hind ke ‘haiwanu’ ’ko, aag laga do, aag laga do” (Set aflame the [haiwanu] ‘beasts’ [originally ‘Aiwanu’-Assembly])”, I hear a crazy laugh nearby. But ‘’haiwanu’’ is not the cause of humor for her out of place giggle; rather it is a humourless, cold laugh reverberating through the darkness.

“Yeli kasheer aazad gassi bi nacchi hoth towras khaesith. Yi seekh gassem yed kin acchun ti kamri kin naerun. Bi dimha zuv. Kasheer kar gassi aazad.?”“ ( I will dance atop that mobile tower when Kashmir gets independence. I will sacrifice my life in celebration. When will Kashmir become free? ), her mad shrieks linger on longer than the slogans of protestors in the cold of night. Perhaps this night is yet holding the blood of her two martyred brothers close to its heart.

Wearier than ever, I crawl back into my dungeon. I just remember that I have not wept since Burhan’s left. Something is terribly frozen inside. What does it take for young men, women and children to brave the bullets and pellets unarmed, jeopardizing their lives and future? What does it take for dignified men and women to put aside their decorum and come out to shout in the streets? Perhaps something that the oppressor is unworthy of appreciating leave alone possessing. Surely something beyond all material possessions; something nourished by‘’the smoke of burned hearts’’and ‘silence out of which poems rise’’. A prize worthy of martyrs’ blood, a burning quest for freedom.

‘”Ye lahoo daastaan dastan jaye ga, khoon shaheedun ka kab raigan jaye ga..”’

(Syed Rabe’a Bukhari is a student of English Literature. If you wish to write for Kashmir Dispatch, you can send your writings to editor@kashmirdispatch.com)