Monday, May 31, 2010

Why?

Mother they promised me
honey from the bee hive
and I ran to savor some
mindless of the night

They gave me not a single drop,
instead put
honey-color bullets
in my mouth

I kept asking for some
food and they kept
spraying me with arrows
till I gave up

The longbow man roared
and turned to his men
wiping away blood, he said
my violence conquers yours

Mother I think they killed me
but I know not why
The thinnest crescent
of moon saw me bleed

© Sameer

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fig and the cartoon bird

A cartoon bird flaps its wings
in a doodle as old as dirt
Looking high and low for perch
across a glum-looking portrait

In a wood and canvas canoe
I drift along the bird
Looking for shiny moorage
by a phony familiar island

I forget what season it is
as I chase the cartoon bird
I wade on,
as it soars, abstracted by the trail

As it reaches a tiny garden
to halt upon a fig sprig
Kissing wasps on a fruit
gape at the bird’s beak

Figs deny to grow in winter
shy of sky-smelling snows
Adam and Eve robed in leaflets
once rambled about the sky

The bird pierced a lilac fig
to jab a wasp deep in it
Drupe is often confect
for the lover lives inside

© Sameer

Friday, May 21, 2010

Auschwitz in the old city

Yeh kiska lahu, kaun mara
ai rahabar mulko kaum bata

~Whose blood is this, who died?
Oh leader of my nation, speak up
[My translation of Sahir Ludyanvi’s verse lines]


Word was out, like a lion that hadn’t eaten for days. Early Monday morning three gunmen had barged into the Lake view home of Kashmir’s Mirwaiz – Chief preacher and spiritual leader to more than five and a half million Kashmiri Muslims – and went straight to Maulvi Muhammad Farooq’s alcove. The men had the mental maps worked out and knew exactly where to find the high priest.

A hugely influential but controversial leader, Maulvi Farooq was quite urbane and classy. He would appear in Srinagar’s historical Jamia Mosque at noon-time on Fridays clad in an intricately embroidered gown and a Karakul cap with trademark black glasses. A thousand eyes would look at him in awe as he slowly ambled towards the pulpit of the 600-year old perfumed prayer hall, ornate in exquisite Indo-Saracenic architecture. All 370 wooden pillars in the mosque stood upstanding. The chandeliers pendulated.

But when have gun-barrels respected superior lineages? The men, who entered the Mirwaiz house, on May 21, 1990, pushed their way into his study and even before the 11th Mirwaiz of Kashmir could understand what was happening, a volley of bullets hit him. Centuries old reverence was brutally violated. Always pro-Pakistan, Maulvi Farooq had recently fallen out of favor with the hardliners. A meeting with India’s Kashmir affairs minister and subsequently calling the kidnapping of Rubiya Sayed ‘un-Islamic’ acted as an immediate provocation.

By the time the reverend was wheeled to the Sher-i-Kashmir [Lion of Kashmir] institute of medical sciences, a hospital ironically named after his bete-noire Sheikh Abdullah, with fifteen gun-wounds to his head, chest, stomach and legs, Mirwaiz was dead. Kashmir’s grand abbot was no more, slaughtered by his erstwhile followers. Irate crowds began to gather outside the hospital as news got around. Governor Jagmohan – recently dispatched to tame Kashmiris – got into a huddle with his security advisors at Raj Bhawan, a few kilometers away. Indignation rained.

There was some scuffle over Mirwaiz’s dead body. The hospital authorities were hesitant to hand it over. People took forcible control of the slain leader’s body and carried it in a procession through downtown Srinagar. The crowd swelled as more and more people joined the cortege. Sloganeering hastened. Women wailed. Near the Islamia College of science and commerce, located at Hawal, the 69th battalion of CRPF intercepted the marchers. Suddenly, skittish like stupefied horses, troopers aimed their guns on the mourners. A curtain of fire followed. 57 innocent people were cut to an instant death.

The pallbearers were all dead. Mirwaiz’s body fell off the coffin, on the road. Two more bullets hit his mortal remains. The air was rent with terrifying screams and more bullets, which seemed to ricochet off the walls and hit even more people. In less than three minutes, the funeral procession was reduced to a pile of dead. The road outside the college resembled a concentration camp, with bodies scattered all over, a blood-soaked coffin, hundreds of slippers, bedaubed in blood. Hawal was Srinagar’s little Auschwitz in that hour.

There are conflicting reports about what happened afterwards: Eye-witnesses who spoke to foreign media said that as soon as the CRPF guns fell silent (having exhausted their ammunition), around six to seven men -- from the procession -- collected Mirwaiz’s body from the roadside and placed it in the coffin. By all accounts they ran with the casket to Mirwaiz’s office. The cleric was later laid to rest in Srinagar’s Martyr’s graveyard. Those who perished in the blood-bath were buried the same day. Sometimes in history mourners can swiftly become mourned.

Ironically the man alleged to have led the hit squad to assassinate the Mirwaiz, Abdullah Bangroo, was killed less than a month later by troopers. In an atmosphere as malefic and morbid as Kashmir it is hard to sift through the official and unofficial versions. Often both are contradictory. Call it a quirk of fate, Abdullah Bangroo lies buried very close to Mirwaiz's tomb in the Martyr’s cemetery in Srinagar.

No one was ever charged or punished for the May 21 killings. Governor Jagmohan, under whose watch the mass murder took place, never showed any remorse.

Blood, bought for a song.

© Sameer

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Our Catch-22

So what is making news in Kashmir, my editor habitually asked me. 'Hmm, Kashmir is calm', I ran on. And before my super-rich boss could even begin the thought process of asking his pretty personal assistant to book him the next business class – for a quick air-trip to the valley -- I chipped in: 'but the calm takes no time to turn into a storm'. The look on his face suggested that I grounded his flight before it took-off. That is, I think, our reality. We are a riddle. There is a lull, like when a bomb goes off. Who knows what comes next?

When we are not on a strike or obsessed with the latest encounter story, we like to watch cricket. Everyone is a Pakistan supporter.
I am startled sometimes. If it was only about religion then India has had its share of Pataudis, Azharduddins, Kaifs and Pathans. It is not about faith. There is some profound, archaic, incomprehensible obsession with Pakistan that while not many in Kashmir would like the idea of Zardari as their president, they would root for Team Pakistan.

Brings to my mind an occasion in my childhood in Kashmir. On August 15 – India’s Independence day – for many years in the 1990’s the Indian army mandated that every bus, car, horse-carriage, motor-bike and bicycle should have a little flag of India. This was to show-case our ‘Indian-ness’ as also massage the soldiers’ ego, who took some perverse pleasure at the sight of independence-seeking citizenry carrying the tri-color flag. There was a strange irony to it. For many it was forced love, like unwilling love-making.

Quite unbeknownst to my friend, a resident of Srinagar, who lived in the US and home for holidays, the show, was on. He decided to pay us a visit. Since his car had no flags slapped on it, he was flagged down by troopers near the Sopore Bridge and asked to step out. A handsome army officer in his 30’s asked for his identity papers. An explanation was sought for the act of disobedience. My pal produced his American passport which had the desired effect. And I don’t frankly know about the flag business, he said in his rather honest defence.

The officer smiled and spoke in polite English and explained that putting up an Indian flag in these parts on August 15 is as important as vermicelli [a sweet pasta like dish called seviyan in India and Pakistan] on Eid. So get a flag, the officer grinned as he handed his passport back. I’ll, my friend responded, as he hopped back into his car, ‘but officer’ he shouted just as the captain began to turn his back: ‘our hearts are green. And we don’t eat seviyan on Eid.
Kashmiris don’t have a sweet tooth’.

The paradox stays. A local boy topped India’s elite civil services recently. Everyone and their uncle congratulated one another. A Kashmiri had done them proud. The stereotype had been broken, the pigeon-hole dismantled, the myth shattered. So everyone danced in the rain. Same evening when Pakistan played their T-20 match against England, lots of prayers must have gone up for the men in green. Head says India, the heart whistles: Pakistan.

It is our Catch-22. We are complex.

Sameer

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Liberty

Past prairies full of dewy grass
on a hummock east of sunrise
Next to boughs laden with cherry
in the rouge of concealed groves
Far from a million churlish noises
where stillness strokes the soul
Beyond the bounds of barley fields
deep in woods of rose-ringed parakeet
In the land of shiny caterpillars
cocooned from the ogre-ish uproar
Across streamlets with slippery cobblestones
underneath cliffs of last year’s snow
There is a hint of hope
and it is stark

© Sameer

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Stone Age

A slapdash stone hit someone in Srinagar. The gent dropped dead. The mob dissipated. Newsmen rushed to the spot. There was hyper-activity on FaceBook. Boom was lowered. Syed Ali Shah Geelani was swiftly blamed, like an arrow that flies off a sharp archer’s bow. Omar Abdullah thought Geelani was solely responsible. His online devotees seemed to agree. Delhi-based television channels ran tickers that read: Geelani’s stone-throwers kill a man. Not the one to take it lying down Geelani came back with a quick explication: Job of Omar’s henchmen/India’s agents/elements bent to defame the freedom struggle. The verbal warfare was last continuing.

In reality Geelani – white as a druid – had called for a symbolic walk to the office of the meaningless United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan [UNMOG] in Gupkar. Bored military personnel from Chile, Croatia, Philippines, Korea and Uruguay are stationed at UNMOG. God knows, no one ever listens to these countries, leave alone, military observers on deputation from these countries. Kashmiris must have submitted a million memoranda in the last sixty years to the observers. The surprised blue-capped officers would step out of their sleepy office, over-hung by Chinar trees, and gingerly accept our pleas from inside the iron-grilled gate. No one knows what they did to our heart-felt epistles. That is still a multi-lateral mystery. Recycling can’t be ruled out.

The freshest march didn’t materialize. The separatists were arrested and released in the evening. These days no march is allowed. The million strong processions during the Amarnath land row were a chink in the armor, which exposed the state. Wary, the government does not permit more than four persons to assemble without reason, except for rented NC workers, who are ferried from Srinagar suburbs to wave little red plastic flags of the party – for example when Mrs Gandhi makes a sudden air-dash to Srinagar or when Omar wants to practice his Urdu-like Kashmiri. Democracy is very subjective. It does not ensure liberty to all. Or always.

Right now Madame Mufti sounds more separatist than the separatists themselves. Fearful that she may step on their sacred space, the pro-freedom blokes avoid her like bubonic plague. Over and over again they remind her that her dad as India’s home minister unleashed the hideous looking Jagmohan on Kashmir. With cold-calculated-cruelty governor Jagmohan went on to order the great purge that antagonized generations of Kashmiris. The year was 1989. Twenty one years later Kashmiris remember it like yesternight. The Muftis may be avowed adversaries of the Abdullahs, but for most plebeians, both are quislings.

Political divides aside the Kashmiri romance with stone throwing -- coming back to the latest frenzy – styled on the Palestinian Intifada has lost all its luster. True it used to be the weapon of the dispossessed – the oppressed – against the powerful, and hence lit upon huge symbolism in the conflict years. The defiance has now been sadly dented, notwithstanding what Geelani says. It is mobocracy. Random men, out on the streets on the drop of a hat, half-bricks, flints and cherts in hand, don’t seek instant-Azadi. They enjoy a field day. The adrenaline rush leads only to stone age.

© Sameer