GAW KADAL, SRINAGAR: Elegy for a Bridge


You are eleven cement pillars

and thirty nine rusted banisters.


You are a small kid who dropped

his freshly painted kangri

and ran away once the first of the one thousand

fifty six bullets were fired.

And he didn’t look back to see what happened.

Otherwise he would have celebrated

his twenty first death anniversary this winter.


You are a young man who stood

like a cross inside a pheran,

five feet nine, 16 years old, hands stretched

horizontally as a matter of reflex,

to shield ten thousand nine hundred

live targets from the barrel

of a light machine gun.

Eleven meters away from the finger

on the trigger, he stood like the Chinar,

straight, uncomplicated, on his own.

He took the holes on his legs, abdomen,

chest, neck and face.

Sunlight passed through his ears

as he dropped dead on the road.


You are a face lying close to a broken kangri

and flinching from the burning coal

and getting a bullet from point blank range.


You are an afternoon, a memory

that hangs together,

a half-eaten pear, a winter,

a chopped off arm

and a healthy stray dog

chomping off that arm.

Nobody can eat winter like a pear.

Nobody can live inside a pear like winter.


You are a dying voice drowned by a shout

“Don’t waste your bullet.

I’ve pumped enough rounds

into his body. He’ll die on his own”.


You are seven shocked policemen

who came to collect fifty eight dead bodies.

Angry but helpless, helpful but unlucky,

they loaded the truck and drove

to the police control room.


You are a name not known to anyone.

You say a name not known to anyone.

Maybe because the newsreaders live on the banks

of a river that doesn’t sound like the Jhelum.

Maybe because the history professor teaching

his class the nuances of state building

has kept on wearing his old glasses.

Maybe because the law of the land

orders the well-fed government employees

to destroy the old records once in every twenty years

in presence of their immediate senior.

I knocked at your door.

Please let me come in, I said.

Let me see you from inside.

A foot print here. A stride there.

Three stumps and a cricket match.

A sentry post and a face behind a mask.

A torn school bag and a broken ink bottle.

I am not a house, you told me,

I am a bridge, I have no door.

People walk on me. They don’t stay here.

You are a bridge for cows to cross

the river before it gets dark.

You are a worried mother who tells her son

studying in the university hostel library:

‘Come back home early or don’t come today’.

(Basant K Rath)


In Kashmiri Gaw means cow and Kadal means bridge.

Kangri is an inexpensive source of keeping an individual warm during the winter months in Kashmir. It is made up of two parts. The outer part is an encasement of wicker. Inside, there is an earthen bowl-shaped pot filled with charcoal and embers.

Pheran is a loose gown worn by people in Kashmir during winters to provide warmth and comfort. (C) Sameer Bhat

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