Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Losing

Like a tree,
I kept losing
my leaves one by one
In the autumn chill,
lay faltering people, things,
on that concrete pavement
What if there was mud?
Would they grown again?
I wish I was cactus!
Delicacy of apples won’t survive this chill!

Itched in my memory,
are some words,
and that vast polo ground,
Words: My eternal lover,
you never go
Like the dark shadows
of my nightmares,
like the bullets,
which dotted that youthful rebel body
Let me bleed!
There is nothing more tender,
Then watching your own death,
Drop by drop,
Let me paint the street, Red!

Between that Shrine and the temple,
everyone has come,
for my funeral,
I can see few young birds,
chirping on that willow tree,
‘He died a hard death’
‘He bled whole night’
A lamb intervened,
‘But he finished that long poem’
Leaves fluttered in acknowledgement,

The Marsiyas of young and old,
(I come from a land of mourners)
Birds, willows, and lambs,
Were the light,
For which we fight the dark shadows,
For which we never choke,
We bleed,
We scream,
We mourn,
Behind the darkness,
Was home,
Which I knew was always calling…

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Adieu Comrade Sir Prof. M.S.S. Pandian

 "One writes history as a historian and engages in political polemic as a citizen, and the one does not exclude the other. Yes, the two roles may sometimes overlap or become confused, but this need not be made into a big deal. It is less a theoretical problem than a practical one, which practical measures can sort out." E.P Thompson.

Who else fits in this description of being an Historian as well as a citizen if not Prof M.S.S Pandian? He often juggled between being a historian and a political activist/commentator, and the two roles never seemed to be in contradiction. Rather there seemed to be a seamless flow of ideas from politics to academics and vice versa. ‘Radical politics’ for him was not always played on the streets, factories or in the fields; rather he had made his classrooms as an extension of real politics that took place outside. I remember, in the last semester of my Master’s degree (2009) we were supposed to write a seminar paper. I chose to write on the Insurgency in Kashmir. I approached three different professors from the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU and all of them gave one or the other reason as to why I should change my topic. Pandian was completely new to the campus, and I personally did not know him at that time. Somebody suggested that he is a ‘radical thinker’, who will be interested in guiding me. In fact Pandian was a ‘radical thinker’ and without asking too many questions, he calmed me down and suggested me to locate my sources required to write my seminar paper. One relationship which started that ended yesterday when I finally picked up his dead body and placed it in the ambulance. But relations beyond this physical body – relations of ideas, relations of respect, admiration and love – will be there always.

It’s hard to write about Pandian (that’s what he liked me to call him) without bringing the personal angle into it. For many people, Pandian meant many things from being an original thinker to a great teacher; for me and for one of his favorite student Fayaz A. Dar, he was everything. Both of us called ourselves orphans yesterday and in fact, in this elite Brahmanical world of academia we have become orphans without Pandian. From writing recommendations, to editing my write-ups/MPhil chapters to discuss my personal and political engagements, Pandian was always there. He was always a call way, a visit away. Yes! People will read our chapters, send their comments, friends will discuss our personal problems and give suggestions and our comrades will always be there to clear our political confusions, but I doubt there will be people who will have the time and patience to sincerely engage with our nonsense like Pandian did, all the time – over and over again. In this world of empty rhetoric of equality and justice, nobody would dare to say in a class of 30-40 students that he will always have more time and love for those coming from the marginal sections of the society. This is what justice and equality meant for me. It was not abstract for him, but something very real which he always felt and cared about. Sir, margins and marginals will miss your interventions – both personal and political.

It was this sense of justice and equality that made him to be critical of even his closest comrades and organizations. His remarks on the issue of Ambedkar cartoons in the NCERT textbooks were not liked by many, but as he said, “after all, what is often being perceived as ‘politically incorrect’ need not be ‘educationally inappropriate’.” This was one of the aspects of his politics, to provoke people – both in his classrooms and in their political lives. But he never criticized – like many contemporary academicians – for the sake of criticism or to demoralize you. Criticism was something meaningful for him, which always led the movements and individuals to grow from strength to strength. I remember one of our conversations at his flat where he took issue with my use of word ‘Kashmiri Nationalism’. Despite being an ardent supporter of Kashmiri Azaadi, he reminded me, ‘Amit, beware of this word Nationalism, it is like a double edged sword. It includes some and excludes others. Think beyond Nation and its boundaries – imagined and geographical’. Sir! I am trying to do that and earning a few more critics every day, like you did throughout your life.

In the last two three years, Pandian had developed a keen interest in the history and politics of Kashmir. And this was one of the reasons why I and many other friends working on Kashmir History felt so close to Pandian. He gave us a platform to talk, discuss and debate Kashmir. When there is an upsurge of fascist powers in India and when bourgeois academicians are even worried to use the ‘K’ word, here was an academician who discussed Kashmir conflict threadbare in his classes. Not only that, for some time now he had been designing a course primarily on Kashmir and the Northeast. Despite the heated debates and discussions which all of us have had on Kashmir and Northeast, there is not a single academic institution (at least in India) where History of Kashmir and Northeast are taught as a separate course. This was something many of us were looking forward to. Sir! With you gone, not only have many of us lost a mentor, but Kashmiri movement has lost one of its ardent supporters who wanted to contribute his bit in his own way.

Yesterday at AIIMS mortuary, where Prof Pandian’s body was kept, there was a huge gathering of his students, friends and colleagues. The students gathered were not only from the department where he taught, but students from JNU, DU, Jamia, Ambedkar University all were there. Teaching was not a ritual for him; it was a deeply political act, where the point was to make students question everything – even his own positions and ideas. I must confess I learned more from him over a cup of tea or while sharing a cigarette than the structured classes. For his students, he had dissolved the bridges between private and public life. He knew about our personal lives much more than our own friends and this gave him the clue how to teach and what to teach. Recently, when Fayaz A. Dar joined Maulana Azad Urdu University as Assistant Professor, Prof Pandian wrote on his Facebook picture, “Brother, take teaching seriously. It is like Biblical wheat. The wheat has to die to sprout. One would have gone; then your students carry little traces of you -- if you are a good teacher. Being a good teacher is hard work.”  Sir! Wheat you had sown has started sprouting and all of us carry some traces of you – in teaching, in research, in politics and in life.

With moist eyes I say goodbye to you Mentor, Comrade, Friend, Sir!!!



Thursday, 18 September 2014

When night calls

When night calls

When hours of darkness calls,
shatters gates and
enters through windows,
Chokes your being and
leaves you strangled,
When sleep evades and
Nightmares scream as uninvited guests,
Be like that sharp, shining shisher ganth[1],
Tough, frozen when its night,
And melts down with first light…

When mothers wail echo in the vale,
When young die dreaming,
Of life, beauty and its meaning,
Cry not my dear gulafshaan,
What if your buds have become your graveyard,
Awake O dead!
Rise all you living,
Think of that termite eaten old chinar,
Which still stands tall, and shouts, Fight!























[1] Icicles 

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Lassa Joo’s small village

Sonu entered the room with a thud. Breathless he shouted to my father, ‘they are coming’. Those days, ‘they are coming’ always meant either there is going to be a crackdown followed a search operation by Army or militants were staying in some neighboring building for the night. But todays ‘they are coming’ seemed a bit different. My father got up quickly and while rushing towards the main gate told Sonu, ‘why are they coming here, don’t they know it’s not safe here’. Our house used to be at the corner of the village, so every time it was a cross firing, our walls were the first to taste the bullets. Some marks are still there on the back wall which is now almost concealed by the giant walnut tree. Life and death seem to be growing from the same point.

My mother and I sitting near the bukhari (fire place) looked at each with half-hearted assurances. Soon the old patriarchs of the thirteen families entered our main hall with a few young ones with them. A couple of them were carrying the old, rustic Shikar rifles; the Baran-Bore ones. ‘I told you, it’s not safe here, we should have met somewhere in the middle of the village’ I heard my father repeatedly arguing about the location. ‘Yes, so that they place an ear to the wall and hear all we discuss. Are you crazy?’ Unable to question the possibility of informers my father finally accepted the decision. The door was half closed so I could hear everything they spoke, but couldn’t see all the faces. Here is what happened that night. Exaggeration is writer’s prerogative and doubt reader’s privilege. I have used mine cautiously, decide yours. So here it goes…

‘So, what do you all think? Should we finally pack whatever is left and leave?’ asked one of the elders. Young Raj Singh with the Baran-Bore slung over his shoulder was the first to respond. But as soon as he had opened his mouth, the grand patriarch my grand-uncle asked him to wait for his turn after the elders are done. Som Nath the grocer who was known for his wit and wise humor started, ‘I have nothing left except my shop, and they have taken everything. But if I leave, I will be left with nothing, not even this small shop. So i think we should talk to them.’ I had never seen such a melancholy on his face. Kehwa fragrance was coming from the kitchen and for a minute I forgot the important discussion and eagerly waited for Kaka to get me some warm tea.

Sipping from the small cup Jagat Ram brushing his long moustache said, ‘We have had enough of them. Now we need to get away from this place as soon as possible. Didn’t you see the Ishtihaar – the pamphlet? They are very clear – Leave or Die! I don’t think we are left with an option.’ Discussion went on and on. Some suggested of staying back and talking to our neighbours and some were adamant that we should leave. Finally it came to Raj Singh. His reply was most unexpected among all. He told the gathering, to everyone’s shock that he was in regular touch with the army and they have promised him to give arms to some youth so that they can protect themselves. Lassa Joo the oldest of all who was quiet till then, was brimming with anger, his face turned red and his old eyes were bulging out. Holding his walking stick in one hand he got up and shouted, ‘Have we forgotten who we are? Do we remember that ours is the only place in this wattan which was untouched when the whole wattan burned during shoras (Shoras is the local word for violence that ensued the partition of subcontinent). Even then people tried to instigate us, but we all stood together and the shorus couldn't bring its unholy feet on our land. We are not cowards, we have fought many times – we made graveyards of the great Mughals, Sikh army was routed twice, wicked Gulab Singh could never win us militarily. We have even fought our neighbours, but not because they follow a different Prophet, but because they are our neighbours and neighbours do fight at times. Let’s accept one thing; we are here because of them. They are 1000 families, and we are only 13, if they want, they can kill all of us tonight without our trace. I even believe that in these bad times, they are the ones who have protected us, without us knowing it. Let’s not doubt them. This bad time will be soon over’.

This small and emotional speech from the man, who had seen many seasons - good and bad pacified some fears. But still no one was ready to take the risk of staying back. The meeting ended and a middle position was accepted – that they will neither accept arms from army nor will they stay back. They will migrate like some others from other valleys. Only person who didn't accept this position was Lassa Joo who decided to stay back and die in his own land. My father also joined the bandwagon and accepted the decision.

Everyone was allowed to have a week time to pack our bags and memories and leave. Next day it was Urs of our local mystic. Every year all of our elders used to go for the shab (night prayers), but this time it was Lassa Joo alone who was whole night in the Dargah. We kids were not bared from going to the Urs (that would have meant disrespect to the Sufi), but were brought back soon by our parents due to Kharaab Haalat. While on my way back to home I enjoyed a good ride on my father shoulders. Raj Singh also joined us back home and in a warning tone told my father, ‘I think Lassa Joo will tell them everything we discussed last night. I am more worried now and I fear for our lives. We should not have asked him to come for the meeting’. My father nodded his head in approval.  

Raj Singh was right. Lassa Joo had told everything discussed last night to their elders. Next morning all thirteen families were cursing the old man for not keep the community’s secret, while, he was happily sowing the young walnut saplings in his small field. ‘See that devil laughter on his disgusting face. I think he wants to have a share of loot from them after we all leave’ whispered Babli aunty to my mother. Sonu came running again and was as usual breathlessly looking for my father. ‘They are having a meeting in Nabir Kak’s home’. ‘Why have you to always come with bad news?’ my father asked irritatingly. ‘Go and call everyone, we might need to change our plans’.

By 7 pm, twelve elders were again seated in our hall. This time Lassa Joo was not invited. Everyone was terrified and nobody seemed to be ready to start the discussion. Finally Raj Singh got up ‘I told you, we need arms, we need Army to protect us and maybe the time has come when we need to fight them. But nobody listens to me. That old betrayer lives in a fool’s paradise. He talks of such ideals, of that glorious past, but we have to accept that things have changed. God knows what they have decided in the meeting. And it should not be a surprise if they attack us tonight. Before we start our discussions let’s bring all our women folk, children here. Let’s all die together.’ I could see tears rolling down the cheeks of some of the elders. I was not able to understand whether the tears were because of fear or because of the sense of betrayal by their neighbours. In a broken voice my father denied what Raj Singh was saying. He told the elders that despite everything that has gone wrong in last few months, our neighbours won’t kill us. But again nobody listened and Sonu ran again and brought all the twelve families in our small house. No body called Lassa Joo! His home, Sonu told everyone was locked.

Some women and children were terrified and crying continuously. Jagat Ram who was the second in age after Lassa Joo tried to console everyone, but in vain. Suddenly Sonu came running and shouted, ‘they are all coming this side with mashaals’ (mashaal is the local torch made from deodar wood). ‘Raj Singh take everyone in and close all the doors and windows’ shouted Jagat Ram. We all lied below the windows as it was thought to be safe. We had learned this much from the cross-firing days.

‘They will burn the whole house’ shouted someone. ‘No they blast us all with some grenade’ whispered someone else. ‘Be quiet. They won’t do anything like that’ shouted my father. Raj Singh and Nikka had already taken position behind the main gate with their Baran bore rifles. ‘Lassa Joo is leading them and he is also holding a mashal’ shocked Nikka told everyone while peeping through the small hole in the wooden gate. Loading his gun, Raj Singh said, ‘I will kill this betrayer first. Let him come’. The crowd came shouting some slogans. But we were all so terrified, that we could only hear our heartbeats and didn't listen to what they were shouting. The sounds were getting closer and closer. Raj Singh winked Nikka to be ready. Suddenly there was a gun shot. Raj Singh had fired through the door hole. Shouting stopped and our heartbeats increased.

A shrill went through our ears and hearts, ‘Lassa Joo chheh kya sa govuy?’ (Lassa Joo what happened to you?) shouted someone. ‘Hey yemis hasa aay gooly. Hatav Gulla, Nabir Kakas wan dawa hyath iyi jaldi’ (He has been shot. Gulla, call Nabir Kak to come quickly with the medicine). And then started the wails of our neighbor women, ‘Hay Maaji, hay khwadaya, Lassa Joo morukh’ (Oh Mother! Oh God! Lassa Joo has been killed). Till now everyone was silent within the house. Jagat Ram couldn't control himself and took the rifle from Raj Singh and Nikka and forced the door open. When Raj Singh tried to resist he was over overpowered by Sonu and others. As soon as the door opened everyone men, women, old and children rushed outside. Lassa Joo was growling in pain and our courtyard was splashed with red blood. He had been hit in his abdomen.

To everyone’s surprise Lassa Joo had his head held by the local militant of our village Kadir Chhot (Chhot means short, a name given to Kadir because of his short height). To our surprise nobody was having arms or any ammunition. Some of our neighbours were trying by their hands to stop Lassa Joo’s blood flow, some were rubbing his feet’s and some were simply crying. ‘Lassa Joo came to me and told me about your meeting. I told him that we have nothing against you. We don’t want you to leave us. I even told him that had I and my comrades been here that night, we wouldn't have allowed those thugs to loot you. But he didn't believe in words. He wanted an assurance. So all of us gathered and discussed these things. It was Lassa Joo who told us that our entire village must meet and clear things in front of everyone and that is why we were here. To tell you, that we are one and will remain together. But see what we have done to this Qalandar’. Kadir Chhot told everyone.

Before Nabir Kak could come with his medicine, Lassa Joo was no more. Whole night people hugged each other and cried.

Next day Lassa Joo was cremated and again people hugged and cried. Nobody that night asked any question and nobody gave any answer. No words were spoken. Nobody thought of Raj Singh as a criminal. Probably all of them saw a parts of Lassa Joo and Raj Singh within them, but in the end they decided to live in Lassa Joo’s small village. 


Amit, 30/06/2013

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Betrayal

It was month of February and temperatures throughout the area had dipped to minus. Schools and colleges were closed and even the government offices which till now had been warm enough by the recently purchased LPG stoves were having unofficial holidays. To be indoors with the loved ones was the call of Imam Sahib of the Jamia Mashjid. Snow kept on pilling on the streets and every day the young boys from the locality had work cut out for them – to make the first walkable path.

On, one such Sunday Iram, was sitting all alone in her arm chair near the fire place. The light in the room was dim yellowish with the small kerosene lantern in the corner of the room. Half in sleep, Iram suddenly heard some noise and some gunshots and then it appeared as if someone had fallen. Alarmed she rushed to her window, raised one side of the curtain and tried to clear the mist from the window pan. Before she could see outside, there was a loud knock at the door. Terrified Iram didn’t know what to do. Still she went towards the door and when knocking persisted she opened the door.

As soon as she had opened the door she was overpowered by someone. The large, dirty hands of someone closed her mouth so tightly that she gasped for air. While closing the door with the other hand, the stranger whispered in her ear, “Don’t shout, or I will kill you”. After sometime he slightly released her from his grip. What she smelled was something like a mix of sweat, dirt and blood. After closing the door, he threw her on the arm chair and repeated again, “Don’t shout, or I will kill you”. Iram wanted to see his face, but as he was facing the wall, she could not. What she saw were his broad shoulders, his long rough hair falling on them, a long overcoat and muddy, long leather shoes. Iram suddenly felt as if she knew this frame, she knew these long legs, she knew the red ear pinna and she knew the broad shoulder very well.

After closing the windows the stranger while holding his gun turned towards Iram. Iram couldn’t believe her eyes. It was, as if she was missing something, as if she was in some kind of dream, a limbo.   In front of Iram with his gun aimed at her was Ishfaq, once popularly known Majnu-e-Iram in their college days. But nobody actually knew whether they loved each other or not. It was something which started every day with an eye contact near the Shaban’s tea stall and ended with a Walai-kum-Assalam after the last botany class. Nobody knew what happened after the college. But today after 10 long years, here was Ishfaq standing in front of Iram with a gun aimed at her.

As soon as Ishfaq recognized Iram, he immediately lowered his gun and felt so distressed and miserable. He wished he had not lived to see this day, when he had to aim his gun at his own beloved. Yes he loved her and she loved him too and those eye glances were enough to express it. But that was past, a dead history. He cursed the illegal occupation which had changed everything and forever. While looking at her, a thought flickered in his mind. Can things be same again? Can I still love her as I did? Can I keep my window open and see her moving up and down the street? As soon as this thought of open window came to his mind, he also remembered the bullets that flew through many such open windows and mothers wailing from those half open windows. A single window had opened multiple windows and pasts for him and he thought it sensible to close them and get back to reality.

After closing the curtains he limped towards Iram. Iram who was also staring at Ishfaq, suddenly noticed him limping. ‘What’s wrong with your leg’ Iram asked. ‘A bullet’ Ishfaq replied. Iram saw a long stream of blood oozing out of the left leg of Ishfaq. Terrified and angry she went over to Ishfaq and saw the tip of the bullet in Ishfaq’s flesh. Ishfaq thought that Iram will never dare to look at the wound, will think of it as something ghastly and the sight of torn flesh and blood oozing out from the wound will make her throw up. Something like this had happened before also. Ishfaq in his college days was a known ‘rogue’ who took deliberate fights with SOG’s, threw kerosene made bombs on bunkers of paramilitary forces calling them ‘illegal’. One day on his way to his college he was stopped by some ‘Peace Keeping Force’ personnel and was hit on his head with a rod. Iram that day after looking at his wound threw up many times, and he promised her not to repeat any such acts. But, that was of course a lie!

But, to his surprise today, Iram was calm and it seemed that she had given up the fear of blood and torn flesh. May be she was a witness to many horrible things! Iram placed his bleeding leg on the table and looked at it carefully. But before she could do anything, there was another knock. At the door were the Peace Keeping Forces, the local informer shouted, “Mrs. Khan, we are looking for a criminal. He has fled from the central jail and has a bullet in one of his leg. Have you seen him?” Ishfaq was sweating from head to toe and he knew for sure that Iram won’t lie. But to his surprise, Iram replied, “Sir, nobody came here. I am alone, so can’t open the door. I hope you understand that”. Being addressed as sir the local informer was overwhelmed, and asked the Peace Keeping Troops, to leave. Soon the Peace keeping forces left and the noise of their heavy Army boots vanished in the courtyard snow.

Dim yellow light from the lantern was falling on Iram’s face and Ishfaq could see a flicker of smile on her face. A mischievous smile which comes only when you know you have surprised and baffled someone and you feel proud of it. For a while both Ishfaq and Iram forgot the bullet that was still in Ishfaq’s leg.

But when the blood started dripping on the Namdah below, Iram asked, ‘what to do of this bullet? I can’t take it out. Should I call a doctor, she is a good friend?’ ‘But won’t she inform the Army?’ Ishfaq inquired. ‘She is real friend, and won’t betray my trust like someone else’. Iram had said something which Ishfaq had not expected.

The pain of these words was more than the bullet stuck in his leg. The word betrayal kept ringing in his ears for some time. He had betrayed many, his mother who was still waiting for the lawasa, his father who waited for him in his paper machie karkhana, his younger brother who waited in an engineering college in the plains to receive some money and may be a letter from his brother, his village cricket team which was waiting for its best all-rounder to return.

But what he didn’t betray was his resolve to fight the Peace Keeping Forces. I don’t know why he called their ‘peace mission’ as ‘illegal occupation’. Probably because he was a born ‘Lumpen’!

He eventually nodded and Iram took the backdoor to get the doctor who lived across the street. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

How do we know we are in love?

So, how do we know we are in love? I asked.

Wait for the summer, he replied.
Peel a few oranges,
Crush a few saffron flowers between your fingers,
Find words in the void,
Let them echo,

But, how do you make love to a woman? I asked.
Watch the dove fly, he replied.
Bring down your sails,
Let the winds take your boat
Crushed and humiliated of ecstasy
find yourself sitting in a dark room.

And where does it all end? I persisted
tears, ecstasy,
mothers wail, beloveds moan,
winter chills,  summer heat,
apricot blossoms, golden chinar,
in the mist or in the sunlight,
in her arms or on that fateful bridge?

Ask lala[1] about it.
May be the baker knows, he replied.
Don’t ask the taste of a peach. Eat it.
Don’t die for women. Love them.

Bridge lies between words and memory,
Don’t listen to words.
They flatter you.
Be in Zikr
Hear the echoes of love and death
They will remain with you…



[1] Lal Ded

Friday, 15 August 2014

Rhyme

Allow my poetry rhyme with stars,
Oh moon!
The giant moon, be the full stop,
Cherry blossoms should suit as alankars,
Zair, Zabr !
 Be the violet flowers of spring,
Let the lines flow,
Like the chaotic Chenab in spring,
Words descend on me,
Like snowflakes - light and otherworldly,
Winter,
I will write about the countless lonely shivering nights
Spent imagining you,
Spring, 
about the hope of reunion,
the nomadic birds,
going back to their homes,
 somewhere in Siberia,
Summer,
The ripe apples of your eyes,
The walnut crushed by your tiny fingers,
Autumn,
swimming in golden colors
Of your backyard willows and poplars
Be a sky
Let me count your stars,
Be an orchard
Let me pluck your fruit,
Be a paper
Let me write on you,
about you…



Amit, 02/11/14