Thursday, August 21, 2008

As Shireen Nada Rashid...

The morning wore a chill, cloaked in fog and damp air that drifted in light-circles against a grey backdrop; streetlamps flickered, some already dark in places where a sliver of autumn sun burned through. There were sounds, but they were not unfamiliar: the hum of a patrol car, the crunch of gravel under Green boots, the echo of commands barked in a harsh out-Kashmiri accent. Huddled together for warmth, our breath betraying our position, we stood with gripped hands and attained a steely resolve, resigned to take our first step. This was our walk through Greater Kashmir in Pandor, as not an outsider but as a Kashmiri. Deep undercover, this would be the first time I looked, spoke, dressed and felt Kashmiri.

There is a road that separates enemies from friends; it looks like any other road in any other city, lined with small shops and houses protected by lace curtains; there is a butcher, a masjid—a postal place on the corner. Look more closely, however, and you will notice the subtle hints of something off: an outcry in green Gaeilge marking a window or door, a man with a machine gun standing across the way. The man, most particularly, is the oddity—but only to you; for us, he is as permanent as the broken upper story window of the Anwar's Boardinghouse: cracked, a blemish, never to be fixed and yet familiar in its imperfection--comforting. There was a difference on this day, however: he wasn’t alone.

The night before last a policeman came to our door and armed men searched our house in the name of secularism. He did not find what he was looking for (save a new doll for his daughter), which was a relief; last night Saffadullah and the Rakim were beaten bloody and left in the gutter for the grave sin of being Anti-Amarnath. The state is burning, only this time the terrorist is communalism. Today, the Troubles had returned. Today, we were walking to school with an escort, frontrunners on the battle lines. The children were out of class.

There is a point on this road where Pandor becomes Khatir Ganj and, not two blocks more, an old Shiv Mandir stands as a vicious reminder of a time when this street belonged to another page in history. Crossing this line in fear, as we did every weekday, we clung to each other and our mothers—and this day we looked over our shoulders at the blurred vision of our fathers and brothers, kept behind a line of smartly-dressed policemen (for their own protection). Long before we’d learned that tears didn’t help when they fell, pooled as they were in our collective sorrows; today we were learning a lesson in glassy stoicism and thin-pressed lips.

Not three steps across that territorial line, I stumbled too much with looking back and my primer slipped, clapping the concrete and startling the silence. It was not a sign but it was taken that way, and we heard a man shout before the first stone was cast. In a panic we scattered, suddenly alone on a crowded street, deafened by the angry cries of deprived freedom. Two jeeps came—or maybe three—and the wagon; men were taken away against a gunfire soundtrack. And on the steps of that old school a second-year gripped tight the railing as blood trickled and stained her new white shirt.

There would be many more times when walking to school would erupt in violence—but every day we made the walk. We were prisoners of our situation in a conflict that no one truly understood, grasping at the straws of freedom with every tentative step.

Far removed now, back in my own reality and from war-torn memories, what the true value of an education is. All I can tell them is that it’s worth a scar, pink and time-faded, on an eight year old’s forehead.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Second to None

Self expression is on an all time high. And I fear some of it has already been lost on an undelivred message that will sit in my outbox for days. But courage, like I've said countelessly before, comes with a ticking bomb. And as on many such stupors, parting through a melee of insignficant and perhaps some too significant moments...the upward and tortous climb to my appartment has left an afterthought of random words. For the record, I have survived being termed an Anglo-Indian, hit on by a couple of band members who mistook me for a groupie, a bloated foot and knee thanks to prolonging childhood revisiting injury (this time she promises a longer visit) and of course life in the live world and fighting that incredibly urge to form connection with the one-at-the-moment . There is a moment in time, that psychologits term the lucid interval, when time stands still and one is expected to translate self's feelings and confirm other people's thoughts in a nod or a shrug. Mostly this is one of those disclaimers : Very drunk rambling ahead I talked about earlier. But heart in displaced territory is echoing a tune, even the bad knee (dislocated and all) promises support in jig and I'm feeling 15 again.

So much has happened. So many faces in distant lands have provided a sense of comfort, reality and Kahwa. And too many near and dear ones have had a dimming. Having a first of many more to come. Hic...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Emergency room at Uri

The sanatorium looms over the metropolis,

Stinking of bleach,

To conceal the scent of vomit and blood.

Yet I can taste them in the air,

From the children's ward,

Were we receive the needle’s flare.

To the emergency room;

Where the careless are stitched up.

I sit now in the waiting room,

Envious of the 7 year-old,

The one with the shaven head.

For she knows not of the enemy

Crawling in her blood.

Only of the smiling nurse

Who says she’ll get well;

And the child believes her,

Because that’s what children are for.

Perhaps she will recover,

The girl with the shaven head-

They caught it early it seems.

But I sit and become rancid,

I decompose in the padded chair.

The unknown case,

The basket case,

My head spins with every theory;

Every hypothesis;

Every possibility and,

For my whole body is ailing.

I pray for a medicine,

One that will do its work.

I pray and pray,

I smile at the girl with the shaven head,

And she smiles back.