Author: Saadut
•7:12 PM

Some days back I visited the main hospital in Srinagar, the SMHS hospital that sits in the jumbled center of this mangled city. Inside the hospital the scenes resembled an aftermath of a war, where sufferings and ordeals formed a seemingly endless queue. I, along with my friend (a senior doctor) was coordinating the visit of specialists from mainland India for critical Ophthalmological surgical intervention for victims hit by pellets. For all the guts, I may have or may not have gathered from living decades of conflict in Kashmir, I could not stay for long in the inpatient area. You looked at the closed bandaged eyes, or the pierced the blood shot attempting to open yet closed eyes, or the shut and dark eyelids those were dotted with countless holes, and you would want to breakdown in a lonely corner, somewhere in a dark seclusion where none could see my helplessness. Withdrew hurriedly from what I could not bear to witness, did not want to believe and wished had never happened in the first place. I retreated to a runaway that knew a denial was not to be.

Back home the images of the hospital came flashing in front of my eyes, before a ‘black out evening’ (when we are supposed to shut out all lights in Kashmir as a mark of protest) and frighteningly sleepless nights. A horrendous disquietude prevailed all along. The feeling of infirmity pushed me to try how it would feel for these kids to be in a permanent dark, and the next day morning I tied a cloth on my eyes, pretending to be blind. The pretending could not last for more than two hours, during which I banged on two doors hitting my head once, shattered a glass of water, slipped on the lobby steps, while my books, my papers and my laptop pretended to not know me anymore. Behind the tied cloth on my eyes, was a fearsome darkness with no end, an eclipse where no planets moved, where the night knew no borders. Then I thought about the kids in the hospital, with pierced and shuteyes, shuddered at the unspeakably horrendous and petrifyingly looming darkness. And I sunk again in a saddening recluse !

Main kis ke hath pe apna lahu talash karun,
Tamam sheher (Mulk) ne pehnay hue hain dastaanay.

While there seem no respite in the ‘dark hours’ in Kashmir, our enforced darkness remains willfully invisible to mainland India, where a major part of its ‘blaringly noise emitting’ media and political enterprises are busy pushing Kashmir further to the margins, measuring Kashmiris by their scale of  ‘collective conscience’. In such manufactured debates and rhetoric, that is only aimed to harden the common mindset in India and take it further away from facts, the truth is concealed and layers of deceptive falsity are added under the premise of ‘national interest’.

In this manufactured rhetoric, where anchors and politicians in India have taken the task of ‘Posturing and Pontification’, too seriously, the larger question remains unanswered. Has this vile rhetoric actually helped the nation or harmed it? And does this rhetoric have any power to actually change the truth on Kashmir or to even alter it? Has vilifying Kashmiris day in and day out not actually pushed them further to the margins, to a point of no return?

That the Kashmir issue exists as a political conflict for decades, that consumed thousands of innocent lives is undeniable. And the refusal to accept this fact as willful blindness on Kashmir is lamentable.

Ironically silence of mainland India comes from political calculations in other states of India, where any talk on Kashmir is treated as anti-national. But such silence can’t ensure closure of factuality for long. The ‘pressure cooker’ in Kashmir will only keep simmering, till the need for a resolution dawns on them. The Indian political state, and the media that sides with these political powerhouses, are only doing the greatest disservice to the idea of India, as a nation, by confiscating the truth and pretending that all is well, facts being contrary to that. While the Kashmir issue is not any easy puzzle to solve, with so may claimants and stakeholders, an initiative has to be made somewhere.  We have already lost two generations in Kashmir to a bloody conflict, while the third generation that grew amidst the violent upheaval under the shadow of guns, crackdowns, humiliations, deaths and denial has been hardened by the contretemps of this mayhem.  Taking them on board may not be easy but there is no other option, for their unaddressed anger will only cascade into a harder stance for coming generations, making peace more elusive for Kashmir.

Given the complexity of the Kashmir issue, no abstract papers can work. But an honest initiative at resolution has to be made. And that initiative will not and cannot flow from the barrel of the gun, for we have seen too many wars and tragedies in Kashmir for decades. That initiative will have to start from realization of the issue and acceptance of the need of a resolution. New Delhi, Islamabad and Srinagar will someday, one day have to talk, but how much innocent blood that realization seeks, only providence knows.
Till that realization dawns on these powers, may Allah save the kids of Kashmir and may Allah restore the sight of the willful blind outside Kashmir.

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where words come out from the depth of truth

Into the heaven of Freedom, my Father, let my country awake”  (Tagore)

31st July, 2016

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Author: Saadut
•11:57 AM

It was called ‘The Dewakhaane’, a large room, second story, front of the house, all made of wood; tall windows carved on arches supported by wooden pillars in uniform periodicity and a huge folding partition towards the extreme right corner, that led into another big room. Folding the wooden partition in a cascade could merge the two large rooms.  The ‘Dewakhaane’ had its tall windows opening on to the waterway that originated from the nearby sulphur spring. And parallel to the narrow waterway ran a cobblestone pathway, running across an older stone and wood mosque, which stood taller than any building in the Mohalla. The huge mosque with its seemingly dark and large staircase, which I would never dare to explore even though being just across the narrow waterway and the cobblestone paved street, often seemed eerie to me. I would often imagine some secrets hiding in the corners of this tall structure, not only for the enormity of its size but also for the restrained placidity it maintained, like a very old monk in some stoic deep meditation. And the kid in me would not dare disturb the monk in its silent prayer.

Every evening, by the steps of the narrow waterway, womenfolk would assemble to wash clothes by its stone steps, or at other times to just chatter their small town gossip.

Many evenings, especially Thursdays and Fridays, my Granny, a tall women of a frail skeleton, clad in her Afghan Burka, the front side of which would be neatly folded on her head, to expose her bonny face but cover her body, would walk the cobblestone path, further ahead joined the main road leading to ‘Reshmoul Saebun Astaan’ (Shrine of the local patron saint Baba Hyder Reshi also known as Resh Moul Saeb or Resh Mir Saeb). I would sometimes accompany her to the Shrine, over this stone path converging to the metaled bisecting road, that crossed a few mosques on the left, a graveyard on the foothills on the right and then turned across the old telephone exchange, opening up to a wide market near the clear spring, turning up ahead on the left to the Shrine. The Shrine courtyard, all of old stone and some of modern mortar, was accessible from two opposite sides, leading to sanctum of a wide square verandah, latticed windows inside with green interiors, where the saint had his final resting place.

Within the wooden partitions of the shrine were held prayers, some in murmurs, while others in loud callings. Countless threads hanging by the shine grill, spoke of the prayer requests of earlier visitors to the shrine, of fervent appeals to the saint, many of the older threads having been replaced by new requests. My Granny would often stand in one of the corners of the shrine, her skeletal hands risen in prayer and lips murmuring at her own pace. Many a time tears would tickle down bonny cheeks, running down all along the chin and then dropping off to infinite spaces beyond that. I imagined these ‘infinite spaces’ to run along the endless creases of her ‘Burka’, then getting lost in the intricate thread work that lay on its hem. Somewhere within these running threads and flowing creases lay a lifetime of struggle and prayers of my Granny. My Grandfather had passed away when I was still a toddler, and the responsibility of the family immediately had shifted to my Granny. Even during hard days, she never forgot to carry in her hands a few two rupees and five rupee notes as a token presentment to the shrine caretakers.  The shrine, a four-sided structure, constructed on a high quadrilateral plain, lorded over the area with a towering spire in the center of a pyramidal sloping roof.

On Fridays the air would reverberate with ‘Daroud-o-Azkaar’, in loud unison, which has now got imprinted in my mind. Whenever I hear these ‘Daoud-o-Azkar’, am transported back to the old cobblestone path, the narrow water channel born out of the warm sulphur spring, memories often pulling me towards the safe recluse of that shrine.

On one such lazing Autumn Friday of October in the late 80’s, the peace of a post Friday prayers, was shattered by some commotion. As we stood by the edge of the roofed verandah of the shrine, Granny as usual praying teary eyed and the kid holding by the hem of her burka lost aimlessly in this routine, we heard slogans, then in the distance and now closing in. A seemingly large protest was marching down the Reshi Bazaar, gathering a din that rose over the murmuring prayers of the shrine. The pitch of slogans was rising further, like the dust that precedes a storm; slogans incomprehensible to the kid in me. And then we heard shots being fired followed by a strange pungent smell. Suddenly Granny drew me closer to her, trying to protect me in her strong bonny arms, part of her Burqa covering my body, while repeating loudly ‘Parvardigaara now’jaawan karr rae’ch, assi’ karr raham’ (Allah please save these youngsters, have mercy on us). From slogans, the protests turned to a pandemonium and then a stampede of sorts. From one side of the shrine people were fleeing, trying to find a way out from the other side. The other gate of the shrine suddenly became a bottleneck, some people falling in the stampede and few left in torn clothes or barefooted. Terrified, Granny, like other womenfolk within the Shrine, in the hope of safety, rushed closer to inner sanctorum of the shrine, close to where the patron and his twenty-one khulafa have been interred. Then there were loud wails and prayers, each aiming to outdo each other in decibels and reach, trying to awaken the saint.

We reached home close to evening, coughing, drained, terrified and teary. It was not deemed safe to leave the shrine even after an hour had passed since the last remains of any protestor resistance was silenced by the uniformed. The night passed partly awake to pockets of sloganeering or cries in the distant neighborhood. A few days later heard many young boys of the neighborhood, most of them school going lads, had been picked up by men in uniform, for apparently no reason. Four of them, one of who was a school topper and aiming to become a lecturer, were held for months together, facing torture and impalement. He was released late next spring with a fractured hand (local talk was that his hands had been rolled on with something heavy during torture), to be arrested again on seemingly trumped up charges, then his family ‘securing a release’ somewhere by the beginning of next winter. 

Two autumns later, when I was in middle school and Granny went bed ridden due to ailment, militancy sprung up in Kashmir and three of these boys became early converts to the gun. 
My Granny passed away on a cold winter day in Srinagar, when a major part of the city was under its umpteenth curfew and its youth were fleeing a death cavalry march.  
Last month when I visited the Shrine with my boss, I wanted to escape to the same corner, by the edge of the roofed verandah, where I used to hold the hem of Granny’s burka, and shed a tear in prayer for the young lad who never became a lecturer and was shot dead in the alleys of his old town, or the young boys who never came back home.

July, 2016
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Author: Saadut
•9:43 PM

__ would stare at the window endlessly, circling fingers over the ridges of the coffee cup, lost in some oblivion and then in measured movements sip the cold coffee over long intervals. I would be company, some odd times, sitting in forced silences, looking out at the spaces of natural green far beyond the window, those ended somewhere by the horizons of the hills in the faraway distance. Most evenings these distances turned from hazy green to light golden, then burning ember red and subsequently fading into an escaping dark. Such mosaic filled evenings our conversations were limited and our silences extending with the expanse ahead of us.
One of such evenings, while we watched nature changing glasses to beam different colors over a receding day,  __ broke the rule of silence and quipped, “do you realize why the day is in such a hurry to change form?” I shrugged my shoulders, not knowing what to reply. We sunk into silences for many more minutes, __’s fingers circling slowly over the borders of the coffee mug, and then suddenly stopped.

“The day is actually a laborious human,
Burdened by the toil of fields.
And just when toil has turned to harvest,
It’s time for farewell and time to leave”

By that time the lights were already burning ember red, arch shaped flames glowing from behind the distant hills, where not a speck of green or any other hue was visible now. I often thought our placement decides our opinion and our light, like the diminishing of sun in one part of world would be the closure of a day while in the other part of the world the same would be day break.
Soon it was dark and in the arcs of evening, taillights were fleeing over lines of road, roads without addresses those ran like veins without blood. There was still some coffee left in __’s cup, turned cold by the fading evening light. Sipping one last potion of that evening cold coffee __ broke the silence “And the night?”
I waited for the answer from the seeker, again.

“Darkness is the cloak of night,
Giving refuge to those escaping light,
And when our toil has burned away,
The darkest hour will lead to twilight.”

For many of the following years I sat alone at that window, watching the day end in flames, but none to break the silence and tell me the meaning of these changing colors. _ never came back for that unending night, searching for a twilight in some other world.

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Author: Saadut
•9:54 PM

Many weeks after I had joined my new job, was called by Late Mufti Sb to meet him at residence for the first time. He had been back home after a hectic day schedule, such extracting schedules having been a norm with him, and was sitting alone in his favorite drawing room chair with a book in his hand. From a distance I could not make out the title of the book. Later I found out he was reading about renowned Kashmiri poet Ghani Kashmiri. As I entered the room, trying to make the least of noise, he looked up to me, paused and inquired “Saadut?” “Yes Sir”. Pointing to the sofa near him, directed me to sit "I have heard a lot about your work. Now let me also hear your ideas." Having said that he folded the book, put it near the telephone on his left side, paying attention to what I was about to say. Very few politicians, if ever, have I seen allowing audiences or people to have their space and speak, while listening patiently. Nervous me, gave him a brief of what I had done since I joined my new workplace and what further envisaged to do. He waited me to complete, without interrupting and then came back "now tell me how technological intervention can curb corruption in these areas & civic services, as a first priority". He then went ahead with naming the services he thought needed urgent automation and process management so that corruption there could be curbed and service delivery made better. Luckily for me, just a day earlier my boss had updated about one of the service sectors that the Chief Minister was particular about. All night I had scrambled notes from my work assignments of previous years, dug information from friends who were currently working on similar projects elsewhere, and then prepared a draft for what the Chief Minister was looking at. I handed out the draft to him, explaining what it contained as he put it by the book on that table, closing his eyes for some seconds. As I paused, he continued on describing the draft automation from where I had paused. I was left speechless, for Mufti Sb knew and understood more about that particular service automation, that I had prepared for in the draft.

Half way into the meeting, my boss joined us and the talk shifted to a new professional assignment that they were proposing to entrust me. “Was I ready for that job?” “I am ready Sir” “but sometimes feel threatened by those who are feeling unsettled by our intention of creating accountability and fair work practices”. Late Mufti Sahab again paused, looked straight at me and said in chaste Kashmiri “zyon, marun, rizk te yezzath chu badast-e Allah”, then mentioning (Surah Al-Imran, 160) “If Allah helps you, none can overcome you: If He forsakes you, who is there, after that, that can help you? In Allah, then, Let believers put their trust.”
 “If you feel you are on a right path, doing your duty, then even God will be on your side”. I got the message and nodded in agreement. Mufti Sb had been a student of Arabic & Law, alumnus of Aligarh, apart from being a politician of deep insight. And even from the limited maneuverability that mainstream politicians in Kashmir have had for decades, his political ideas were often unconventional and out of box, be it pushing for cross LoC trade and easing travel for divided families across the Kashmir divide or seeking engagement between India and Pakistan for peace and resolution in Kashmir. 

I have been a student of politics, especially of Kashmir, for decades now, but have seen no parallel of Mufti Syeed among politicians who stood their belief and carried on with their political convictions, whatever these beliefs were. He believed in a democratic and secular India with no shifting to allegiances mid way, ever. Have seen many other politicians ‘shift’ from one stance to another, from being part of status quo then moving to anti status quo; some fluctuating between New Delhi & Islamabad in decades while others changing stance every six years. Yet some politicians would demand bombing Pakistan one day, talking peace the very next day. But Mufti Sayeed was none of them, his political consistency carried like a belief all along. He was an Indian by conviction, not by convenience unlike many others. The India my generation and the following generation in Kashmir has been debating on, or raising questions against, lies beyond the real idea of India, that was envisaged and enshrined after 1947, an India that came together from hundreds of small kingdoms and many ethnicities and beliefs. It is that envisaged idea of inclusive India that Mufti Syeed believed in.

You could, and we did, differ with him politically, but he would respect your views and allow your differing opinions to have their space. He was aware of my opinion against how India has been treating Kashmir, about how people had been denied their rights here since decades, but I was never confronted or shunned by him for having a different view, my own view. When a friend of mine, a prominent pro separatist voice, became critical of my appreciation for Mufti Sb’s political acumen, I had this to say “Politics is not a religion that you cannot have a different belief. Political maturity says we respect the other view especially when the other view respects our ideas, in spite of all his political limitations”

In my last one to one meeting with Mufti Sb, he asked me about renowned Kashmiri poet Ghani Kashmiri (Muhammad Tahir Ghani, late 16th century). “Why are most Kashmiris unaware of that great poet?”
“Sir that comes from a lack of connect to our literary past, lack of recognition of our sons of soil and also to the cessation of our once strong connect with Persian, which was an important language in Kashmir (especially during the Afghan & Mughal rule).” “Are we not poorer due to a disconnect with our heritage, history, sons of soil and literary past?” “Absolutely, as Goethe once wrote ‘He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth’. Meaning, a nation (person) disconnected from its (his) heritage is a poor nation (person).” He nodded and smiled, asking me to visit Late Ghani Kashmiris mausoleum the very next day. Next day I visited the mausoleum, met people there and by evening had compiled my draft. Many days later Mufti Sb kept his date with the mausoleum, as a part of his extensive city tour, issuing on spot directives for developmental works in many areas. That extensive and extracting tour of Srinagar was going to be his last. The worker died with his boots on.    

Allah Magfirat Kare.

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