AS the lore goes, narrated by every Kashmiri, “On August 5, I woke up and realized that not only had internet been suspended but phone networks too” — and so began a long siege.
As a Kashmiri, lockdowns are a way of life. However, the 2019 August lockdown will always stand out from the rest for its sheer scale of misery, helplessness and anger that it caused. It was a hot august day, and the doom and gloom of the day seemed too much to bear. The radio announced nothing, and since my television network subscription had expired, there was no way to know what was in the offing.
In the afternoon, came the news of scrapping of Article 370. For the first few weeks, the silence was maddening. The radio just kept relaying congratulatory news about people celebrating the abrogation of Article 370. But there was no news about Kashmir and a screen of silence prevailed.
All day I would sit holed up in my room trying to distract myself with books. The first book I picked up was Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”. The eerie transformations and sense of dislocation were weirdly familiar. In between reading, I kept wondering about my partner in Pune, and how she must be coping with this routine of silence.
I was determined, however, to not let the period stay undocumented. During the initial days I started writing letters to my partner that I hoped to deliver someday. In the first of them I described my condition thus:
“Each minute hangs like a bulbous daze in the summer air that hangs around my neck in sweat beads. I pass the day flapping hopelessly reading novels that only remind me of my ache. I ache in my eyes, my arms, my throat, my chest – your voice teases me, and I seek to brush it off to distract myself, to forget you are half a world away from me
As I read, I fall into a stupor, where you fade in and out of my dreams. I pray and am indeed convinced I will live to see you read this letter, as my eyes tear up in gratitude at having you restored again.”
However, I soon gave up the letter project and instead resorted to what I know better – writing poems. Here is the first poem I wrote five days into the siege:
Like a curfewed road
Hungama hai kyun barpa
Like a curfewed road, I stare at my lack. I stare at the olive green men twiddling their broken thumbs around their ash-white cudgels, as if these were the staff of an exotic prophet – no sooner would they graze the road, fed on broken bricks, then a giant screeching snake will rise, spitting peppered venom, its gaping mouth the exact circumference of a pellet gun, lashing out at everyone with the shrapnel of warnings, broadcast in lieu of afternoon news. Who should we trust to pull out a sword from an old karakul in our chambers of fear?
Like a curfewed dusk, I stare at the gradual red in the sky. The novels swear by all our old gods that it is the convenient shame of the condemned. I stare at the condemned, content with reading scriptures of false hope on the screens of wooly smoke, which billows out of the bereaved sky. Have I been disgraced too? They are too far to tell. When I was not dead, I paid no heed to sifting friends from the enemy. Who can I trust then to tear my shame apart?
Like a curfewed disease, I stare at the emergency crucifix painted on the hospital roof – an amulet painted to stave off the evil eye of a bombing forecast in cremated newspapers. My cousin delights in retelling the story of a future bombing he whispered to scare a Bihari out of his wits. Did the scared usurper not know of talismans? Who can I trust to telegram or phone our toothless talismans to pincodes of obsolete isles salvaged from oceans of barbed wire?
On announcement of curfew I wrench the hems of my poem apart cooped inside my writer’s block. When restrictions are eased, I darn the poem with banned rhymes.
Chori tau nahee ki hai, daaka tau nahee daala
Huzaifa Pandit is the author of the recently published Green is the Colour of Memory, which won the first edition of Rhythm Divine Poets Chapbook Contest 2017. He holds a PhD on poetry of resistance from University of Kashmir.
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.