Author: Saadut
•11:55 PM

Mahmud was our domestic help and the children would love him for his occasional gaffe. He would rarely smile wide open lest his irregular teeth lay exposed by his expressions. Once in a while his simple utterances would be the reason for the children gang laughs. His routine was comically regimental, a mix of timing adherence with flip-flop confidence. Those days a color TV was a rarity in our area often imported from Arab lands by Kashmiri pilgrims or expats. The imported VCR and  TV had attained a status symbol back then. DD was the evening magnet and full families would stick to around the color box for the evening broadcasts. Mahmud was one big TV enthusiast and would ensure to finish all his domestic jobs well before the evenings. The Sunday movie would especially make him glued to his seat, you could not expect him to connect to the real world then. He came from a village in Bandipora (north Kashmir) and back home he would weave stories out of the movies with a modified script and replay them to his domestic audience. 

 I was in very early school and just remember cricket broadcast from outside India giving DD programs a run for their timings and viewership. My life was still limited to the joys of evolving from the primary school level, unaware of what the sport meant for my elder cousins. I remember my elder cousins used to talk cricket in groups, many of them speaking seemingly alien words for me, they having mesmerized the detailed statistics of cricket stars. I understand then their discussions were country and team & country neutral, team shirt colour fanatism and the 'war cries’' associated now with cricket had not been not invented yet. 

On a sunny April day an eerie silence had taken over the house: in the drawing room Dad, my two cousins and Mahmud were sitting on their edges. All eyes were glued to the screen watching some India Pak sports encounter. My cousin would occasionally come out the figures (that later in life I understood was the jargon of the permutation combination analysis).  All this was Greek to me then, but nevertheless I too joined the cricket watching family. Till the last moments of the match I understand many of nails had been bitten off: and then the final ball turned the match head on. I watched in bewilderment not at the post Miandad six result of the match but the sobs of Mahmud that soon got everybody's attention away from the match. What the heck ! He started crying for the loss of a cricket match by India. I could not believe it. Meanwhile in the other of our room one of my cousins was offering prayers.  I stood astonished as I still had not been indoctrinated in the loyalties of the sport of any side. Mahmud never even understood the basics of cricket: I hardly believe he had ever held a bat in his hand all his life, but his India love was the reason for his heart break caused by Sharjah. Soon after the match Mahmud left for his village and did not return for next three days. Mom had to bear the brunt of the Sharjah sixer by losing the domestic help for good part of the week. In the following days the match became the center of discussion for everybody, Mahmuds heart break fleeing northwards with him.

After Mahmud had rejoined the family, he had gained more respect with me and Mom. He soon overcame Chetan Sharma’s folly and got back into the rhythm. Later on I learnt Mahmud for many years had made it a point to attend the 15th august parade at the Bakhsi Stadium in Srinagar. He would not miss the 26th January parade telecast from New Delhi, and if electricity played spoilsport he would frown for the whole day. His distant allegiance and amorousness for India nourished a desire in him to see the land for himself. Late 80’s one winter Uncle offered to take him along on a trip to Delhi. A casual offer was seized by Mahmud as a God send opportunity. Uncle used to have his business dealings in Delhi so spend some time of the year at his Delhi residence. Nobody wanted to play spoilsport so his travel was arranged for. Since by that time I had already moved to boarding, I could not see him leave on his journey but I hear that his excitement had elevated him to ebullience. Longing to be back home on holidays, the yearning for visiting Mum and Dad was coupled by my wanting to hear & see Mahmud after his short of month sojourn, to hear from him his Delhi tales which I expected him to narrate with a modified screenplay as he used to subject the stories of those Hindi movies watched back home. 

Back home on my holidays I encountered a sobered Mahmud so quite within himself.  Any mention of Delhi would evoke a fake smile, trying to portray more and hide less but succeeding in doing the invert. I gave him time to himself and did not force my questions on him: although I was missing the much anticipated tales of this traveler. It was after slow and subtle persuasion did he narrate the unmodified and factual travelogue. In Delhi uncle afforded him have plenty free time and often Uncles domestic help there would act as Mahmud’s Delhi guide. His Delhi visit had forced an identity dilemma on him, his fluctuating between an existing Kashmiri identity and wanting to identify with his Indian dream. The shopkeeper at Chandni Chowk had squealed “saala Kashmiri yeh Pakistan nahin’ , the policeman at the Fatehpuri gates had quizzed him endlessly and ended with a tenner, his  attire had been subject to stares, his dialect had been tagged as buffoonery there. I listened to these familiar concerns, not unusual encounters for most of the Kashmiri’s then and out there. But for him this was like a jolt: and more was to come. In Delhi he had expressed his longing for the Vale and Uncle was to arrange for his return. Mahmud was arranged for travel with a fellow Kashmir who worked for Uncle. In those days Punjab was still under the influence of insurgency and the blood gore there had not yet ended. During the Delhi Jammu train journey as the train entered Punjab, Mahmud was confronted in the train by the local Punjab Police men, two of whom were on a spirited night high. Mahmud was asked ‘Kashmiri ha kya?’, an affirmative got him quizzed in detailed and some reaction from Mahmud got him stripped of all his pockets. As a follow-up he was left with a swollen face and a bruised body. The gifts that he had bought for his family from Delhi lay scattered and vandalized; his dream of India lay shattered.  Nobody in the train compartment came to his rescue, and he could see the disconnect of being a Kashmiri here. The tag of a Kashmiri now seemed to be a burden for him in India, a burden which he never would want to do away with. I wanted to understand his emotions and his anger but could not do any justice to them. I left him to be with his self. Mahmud had left some of his ardency and sentiment for India beyond the Banihal tunnel, some of it he retained : the idea of India in him was not so easily to let go.

Nineties saw the rise of popular insurgency in Kashmir. The trance of death and agony had started to cast its spell in the valley, flames of pain touching every soul, everybody. And the fuel for this blaze had been steadily built by the political adventurism of New Delhi in Kashmir since long. Mahmud wanted to leave for his village; Dad gave a serious thought and allowed him. We were to drop him there and as soon as Mahmud felt he would come back. His village in Bandipora was postcard picturesque; overlooking lofty mountains covered all green, natures’ bounties all around. The fresh air and calm here incensed of life unlike the dust filled, noise dipped trail of our cities.

The years of turmoil and turbulence witnessed blood reddened waltz of relentless distress in Kashmir. The ‘dervish’s song’ was now full of wails and sob, singing mourn. I left for my travels in farther lands to learn and develop for life ahead. Many years later when I came back, the grief, the heartache and the torment of my motherland had only increased. With every life having become a saga of sufferings in Kashmir, everybody had lost track of everybody else, each trying to shield and save of whatever had remained of their own self and family. Although Dad had been trying to keeping track of Mahmud in the initial years of the turmoil, it had been now quite long time since we heard from Mahmud. During one of my vacation visits to Kashmir I volunteered to find out about his well being and drove up north to Mahmud’s village to look for him: call it inquisition or call it a heartfelt longing. 

His village approach seemed now to be winding through treacherous roads frequently barricaded by soldiers in fatigues, the length of the distances had now increased manifold: the same pathways that used to be once enchanting were now barbed or overlooked by fearful watch towers, death having paraded by these towering guns on these roads repeatedly. I found Mahmud alike person out of his house, sitting on the edge of his land gazing endlessly at the mountains. His appearance had changed to disheveled and deranged. He looked at me, stared for a while then embraced me tightly, and then the moisture crept steadily into his eyes. His emotions stung a needle right through me. My eyes gave away, I could not hold them. His frame had grown frail and skeletal: it is painful to see the person who you grew up watching strong, determined and enduring: weakened beyond thought and cognition. That part of the day with him seemed to last till eternity, his silence speaking louder than any conversation. As the day edged to a close I bid my adieu to him, dragging my feet away, and driving out incurious to the treachery of the barricades that would encounter me again back home on this road. I could again see Mahmud endlessly gazing at the now green less mountains vanadalised by the aliens in uniform with generous help of their few local accomplishes who had reportedly been created as a faceless state army in non fatigues.  Gazing at the empty and numb mountains Mahmud was still searching for his son who had been taken in a nocturnal flight by the same fatigued aliens, perhaps now incognito buried in a nameless obscure grave somewhere in the bosom of Kashmir, he was searching for his wife who died of heart break afflicted by the pain of losing her only. Mahmud always wanted to bring up his son well, taught him and early on dreamt big for him, he wished to one day watch his son walk past the 15th August parade that Mahmud would never miss to watch while at our place. The son would not disappoint his father and never did, would have carried on the faith of Mahmud towards a country so alien and so distant now. A country that had the blood of Mahmud’s certitude and belief on its sleeve, which all these years could not wash off the blood stains of countless innocents from its hands: a country that refused to hear the wails of this nation. 

Mahmud's immense pain had remolded his soul and his answer seeking efforts  for the 'why and where of his son's fate' had debilitated and exhausted his body. He had seen the real face of a country that he had once adored: not in Delhi but in Kashmir. The disguise of his once ardor-ed and adored country had since been unmasked and bared, the harsh light of actuality bringing out their real face here. Mahmud had dropped part of his conviction years ago near Banihal, now the empty mountains and the burden of an obscure, nameless grave somewhere in our trigger decimated & forsaken land had transformed his faith in totality.

He had been converted; by the reality of Kashmir.

27th March 2011
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On May 6, 2011 at 1:13 AM , Aaquib Naved said...

Heart wrenching, what a piece! I never knew this was the state of the people of kashmir. Is Mahmud bhai still there, convey my special salaam to him.

On February 12, 2012 at 3:40 PM , Rebel Inam said...

well versed, i am left "numb"