Thursday, December 30, 2010

Snow memories

Snow beneath whose chilly softness
Some that never lay
Make their first Repose this Winter
I admonish Thee
~Emily Dickinson

A little bird whispered that snow is falling in Srinagar. The idea of snow flurries swirling around your legs is an incredibly delightful thought. Nothing warms cockles of the heart like the magical, almost surreal spectacle of a million unassembled snowmen falling from heaven! God’s way of asking us to reclaim some of our lost childhood -- and the innocence thereof.

As it continues to snow outside, the world appears subdued and fragile. Kangri is a cherry on the top. It is a very cozy, snuggled down, unwinding feeling. Nothing -- at all – beats it! There shall be places in Kashmir tonight with no electricity, I can imagine. And the candles burning in familiar kitchens elegantly put to shame all the candle-light dinners in swanky lounges, we expats frequent.

When I used to be in school the only fight people knew of was the snow-ball fight. One of the greatest joys in the world is to throw small orbs of snow at one other. The idea is to be quick on your feet and kneel down to make snow balls and aim them at your friends. Ofcourse your pals are equally determined to shoot their snow-balls at you. There is a sudden, sharp boyish rush to it. The pink of cheeks and salmon-like palms notwithstanding.

Peering from inside the windowsills to watch the snow pile up in the backyard is the stuff fairy-tales are made up of. When no potholes are visible. Just running miles of endless, clean snow. Snow that came overnight. It falls on old fences. Upon little eggs in the eagle’s high eyrie, while the bird-lings cheep happily. Wildbirds strut their stuff, exposing their iridescent plumage to God’s cottonwool.

Snow makes an almost medieval swirling descent. It is often humbling to see the flakes fall headlong on still waters of the distant pond, kissing the stillness. It snows on locked temples with cold deities looking a shade surprised. And on the countless sand bunkers that despoil our beauteous landscape. In every orchard and onto each lee. Snow falls on fresh moist graves with small kids in them. On abandoned army helmets upon the lonely hillside. In wetlands. Old chimneys. On our suffering. Our aspirations.

Snow falling soundlessly in the middle of the night will always fill my heart with sweet clarity, Takemoto used to say. In the nineteenth century Guy de Maupassant likened snowfall to a curtain of uninterrupted white flakes constantly sparkled down to earth -- this wrinkling wave, a sensation rather than noise, entanglement of light atoms which fill the space, covering the world. It appears no different in the last month of Circa 2011.

The snow-man has bits of charcoal for eyes and long after the children have forgotten about it, the figure stands outside, arms spread, like Jesus. It watches the tiny snow-globs come dancing down from the night sky, in hushed whispers. To fall on deer-backs. Upon naked trees. On defunct electric lines. In secluded terraces. Upon wet dog-snouts. Caressing the ladyfinger like icicles. On parched humans. Never failing them.

It snows on, in the eerie silence of the long wintry night.

© Sameer

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Mom’s anniversary. Fifteen years have passed since mom exited my life. The scriptures say that there is a paradise in the skies complete with gardens and fountains and yew trees where the good and the kind are send for some paradisiacal foot massage. The word Paradise comes from the Persian root word Pardis which means an exquisite garden that is enclosed between walls. It is not an open space, perhaps. I just hope they allow the tenderhearted in.

There is no Eden on God’s green earth. There are only memories, which are like these mini-drawings in our heads. No amount of wealth or intelligence can bring back those who accidently wander to the pastures beyond the known. There is an eerie discomfort about it which pokes at you in the most improbable places. You laugh without actually meaning it. Nothing ever comes back. All we can do is remember people. And miss them in our most private, personal thoughts.

We grow up and branch out in life. We traverse alien shores and pretend to be independent. The heart, though, stays captive to old thoughts, floating about in familiar pastures. No matter how refined one's dining experience becomes, you can't help reminisce about eating in your old kitchen, hurriedly, wanting to join your waiting friends for fun. No amount of perfumed candle light can ever knock one’s sock’s off like the popping of Izband [rue seeds] in a Kangri.

Graveyards have so many tales in them. We, the un-dead, may never traduce them. Mom lies interred in a beautiful, simple grave, in a green triangular meadow, by a quietly flowing river, in countryside Kashmir. In summers a lot of Viburnum flowers fall from the trees on her tombstone. It is bittersweet. I think it snows over in winters. I have no ways of knowing since I decided to find my peace elsewhere.

A million stars in the sky. Never ending snowflakes. Hundreds of dewdrops to greet the dawn. Hundreds of bees in the purple clover. Hundreds of butterflies on the lawn. But only one mother the wide world over.

Boy, I just hope the paradise story is true.

28 Sep 1955- 28 Dec 1995

© Sameer

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chilay-Kalan with a Karakul

It is cold as a well digger’s arse in Srinagar. The valley has just slipped into the nippiest part of winter, locally called ‘Chilay-Kalan’, which lasts all of 40 days. There is something about the 40-day Chila [epoch]. If the Tabligi jamaat [band for spreading faith to the faithful] somehow gets hold of you around this time in Kashmir they are likely to whisk you away for a period of 40 days. And you will never ever be the same, I swear. Apart from mosque Hamams, Harisa pinds [joints] are just about the best places to recline and indulge in a free-flow of the juiciest gossip in town.

So in every sand and brick home, little kids – each cheek a shade cherry -- are wrapped up in layer upon layer of woolens and kan-topas [monkey caps]. They move around like miniature astronauts, muttering away in Kashmiri-accented Urdu [but mind you, no Kashmiri, else you sound like a Groos]. Grown-ups hug the ubiquitous Kangri, to not let it go even for a heart-beat’s span, periodically handling the fire with a stoker, tied to all wicker-and-clay Kangris. There is no fighting the CRPF when you wake up in the morning to fight the frozen-oven tap. The wintry lull is not without a reason.

With little news happening, except for the cut-and-dried-and-shrill news-bytes offered by the old man of Hyderpora (still intense) the mike-wielding gang is a worried lot. In absence of political news they occasionally dash off to the shores of Dal to report the ice floes [called Tula-katur] to their ignoramuses in New Delhi. The lake freezes over in parts every winter and long years back, someone drove a Jeep on it. That is folk-lore. There are ice-roads in northern Canada, Russia, Alaska, Scandinavia and elsewhere where truckers and motorists drive regularly on frozen waterways and ice roads but let us not digress too much from our fore-shore. Oh, Harzatbal rises like a florescent dome in glacial climes.

Despite the night temperatures dipping dangerously during the wintertide, the call for prayer [Azaan] always comes on time. In the countryside it is immediately followed up by an utterly pleasing cackle of coots, shovellers, pochards and wigeons. The songbirds tweedle upon treetops, singing in an almost melodic fashion, who knows, songs of winter and the joy of warmth. Deep in the pine jungles of Kashmir, which hide European Hoopoes and dark secrets in them, little indigo columns of smoke can be seen coming up from the Kothas [pit-houses]. It smells of simple wood-smoke at day-break.

When my generation was growing up in Kashmir, during the era of tea-colored bullets and power-less wintry nights, we thought in our juvenile abandon that Chillay Kalan must be an old, fat, Karakuli-wearing spook who exits his mountain cave at the onset of winters to bring all the frost and icicles and snow. Just like Santa Claus minus his goody-goody image. It does not snow like it used to when we were growing up. For the contemporary and politically conscious breed of Kashmiris, Chillay Kalan must be someone like Farooq Abdullah. Theatrical. All bark and no bite.

© Sameer

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Confusion in the times of conflict

Sometimes in our confusion, we see not the world as it is, but the world though eyes blurred by the mind.

We are as confused as a hungry baby in a topless bar. We find it hard to differentiate between a yellow school bus and a white police wagon, especially on weekends. As a principle we don’t like to fight in the cold because we aim better in June. But dejection is quite commonplace in our neck of woods. Since that perfidious damsel – variously called Azadi – didn’t show up this last summer, we are a little glum. Naturally we react! On the brighter side we have hope that she might do a half-Monty next season. Hence at the onset of our winter hibernation the ritualistic bus burning.

It is not the plebs alone who are confused. Sheikh Abdullah’s descendants are equally confounded. Dad Farooq shaves two times a day, picks out a new shawl from his fashionable wardrobe and preens in the mirror for hours. Then he air-dashes to various Moffusil towns of India to declare that the dreaded AFSPA shall not be repealed in Kashmir. Sonny Omer sings a different jingle in Srinagar. He says AFSPA must go. As it were – on the most important issue at hand -- the first family of Kashmir is at a serious cross-purpose. Adding to the theatre of absurd is another of the Sheikh progeny who says that the appointment of interlocutors is plain meaningless. The CM nephew disagrees. Confusion prevails.

The thermometer of army’s tolerance is directly proportional to the dip in mercury. The army spokesperson in Kashmir said that the CM -- boss of Unified Command -- has basically given in to Hurriyet speak. In plain words Omer watches too many Geelani videos and has now begun to make some of the same demands, chiefly the removal of AFSPA. He said something about merger-accession also but that does not particularly bother the army. It mostly wants the harsh law to continue. Sensing that they may have over-stepped their brief, the army’s highest officer in Kashmir promptly said sorry to Omer but the confusion didn’t end here. The junior minister of defence in Delhi butted in with his wisdom: The army can speak. So why the apology!

As Sunday markets go, Srinagar’s BD market near Polo View is famous. Kashmiri hawkers are quite enterprising and they lay their hands on the best pre-used stuff from across the globe. You can buy clothes which they can’t even think of in Delhi’s second-hand markets. Gloves from South Africa often vie for attention with caps from Norway. The market is chock-a-block on Sundays and if the currently visiting Track-II diplomacy team drives by, they may well mistake the bazaar for normalcy and hence Kashmir’s acquiescence to status quo. In a park – nearby -- the parents of those missing in the strife quietly assemble on some Sundays, seeking the whereabouts of their beloved.

The conflict in our hearts. And the confusion, thereof.

© Sameer