Parallel Parking In Downtown Srinagar

“Kashmir was constitutionally up for grabs. ‘Buy the exotic Kashmiri land’ and ‘marry the apple-cheeked Kashmiri women’ was the refurbished two-point policy of settling in Kashmir”

Redacted: A Kashmiri man helps another to speak on a landline phone as cell phones and internet services were suspended

Six months after that fateful day—August 5, 2019—succumbing to inactivity, Kashmiri user accounts would drop from WhatsApp groups like flies. It had the world worried. It had my world worried. Kashmir had been blacked out by the Indian state for a record period; long enough for WhatsApp to deem them/deem us, non-users/non-entities. WhatsApp groups with Kashmiri presence were being emptied. A communication blockade unlike anything ever seen. Truly unprecedented. Mobile internet, phone calling, Wifi, landlines, postal services—decimated/redacted in one fell swoop. Redacted—that wonder of modern war machinery; digital, intangible, ambiguously and infinitely negotiable in nature. Unprecedented.

Mothers waited in queues outside dreaded police stations of the most dreaded, purely homegrown Jammu and Kashmir state police; hour-long queues at the tail-end of 30-second surveilled calls. Not unprecedented. “We are okay here. How are you? Okay, you take care; people are waiting in the queue behind me. Don’t get into trouble” Beep. Slam. Next call. The queue, also surveilled, moves another miserly step toward the much sought-after landline in the local police station.

‘And yes, don’t grieve to anyone. Be careful’.

Away from their homes, Kashmiris in parts of India and other parts of the world started exhibiting symptoms of the siege: nightmares of genocide—the true makings of a well-planned fear psychosis; a successfully executed siege. Characteristic reminders of the trauma that the memory and psyche of those times had left us with were the dreams that we had, and still have—vivid, horrid nightmares of murder and genocide. Both consciously and subconsciously, a lot of us resorted to self-harm to keep these dreams at bay; sometimes gagging and waking up to find a bleeding mouth from having bitten down too hard on the tongue in agony; shoving an entire hand into the mouth like a wooden spool bitten down on in times of war; twisting a bone; spraining our necks from having tossed and contorted around too much; hitting and injuring our heads on the bed-boards; perpetually trying to run from whatever it was that we were seeing in our nightmares, and then finding ourselves sweating on the cold morning floor with deafening and piercing radio static running through our bodies—a whole body raging with a numb tinnitus. We had lost any semblance of space, and any semblance of time.

Kashmir was constitutionally up for grabs. ‘Buy the exotic Kashmiri land’ (with what money?) and ‘marry the exquisite apple-cheeked Kashmiri women’ was the refurbished two-point policy of settling in Kashmir for the now enabled Indian upper-middle and bureaucratic class. A new game had been found to get lost in as the conflict raged and the conflict-ed plunged to their deaths. The most accurate history lessons were left out—that Kashmir, the land, is cursed. That if you own land here, you own the curse too. That if you peek into the heart of Kasamira, it turns you to stone.

The middle class, as always, unknowingly recruited by the state, subscribed to a dream, paying for it, as is often the case, with the scavenged scraps of their conscience.

Whatsapp groups and rallies spoke of a collective heave of relief and celebration in the Indian subcontinent. ‘Finally’, they exclaimed in erogenous harmony—forever unified once again, and to the tunes of the cries of Kashmiris languishing in prisons. People dreamt and salivated over a world they would most certainly never be a part of. Cheerleaders of bureaucracy, customers of democracy.

The middle class, as always, unknowingly recruited by the state, subscribed to a dream, paying for it, as is often the case, with the scavenged scraps of their conscience. The middle class, now going home with compact SUVs—those cars which are SUVs, yes, but not quite, were up in diligent arms to serve what they thought was the motherland. The faux SUVs, like the faux autonomy, the faux luxury, and the faux power of the middle class—of the Indian subcontinent, harvested and contained masterfully by a sly wedlock between the political elite and the capitalist brass.

In the midst of this celebration for bringing home a desolation, only an ailing Kashmiri would fly back into a blacked-out prison, airdrop into an active war-zone, just to be home. ‘If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here…’. What is it about this land, people wondered, that made Kashmiris return to such tragedy, such madness, such mad masochism. This is why Kashmiris don’t get ahead in life, well-meaning Indians said. ‘They revel in their own tragedy. They return to their death.’


Back in Kashmir, back home, surrounded by the impounded, embargoed silence of those imprisoned at home, an Indian ‘tourist’ flew into the freshly liberated vale, and unfurled the Indian flag along the banks of the world famous Dal lake on a hot and desolate August afternoon. A myena—the bold and boisterous myena—chirped away awkwardly in the distance. The dusky ravens in the poplars croaked; gawking and gasping at the strange colours of the Indian tri-colour. Watching from their homes in parts of India, viewers and subscribers of democracy cheered. A military sigh, a military heave of victory.

Hoo-ha, cheered the Indian citizenry.
Hoo-Ha, cheered the military.
Hoo-ha, screeched the compact SUVs.

A much deserved celebration of a nation which had made it through the annals of development and civilization, overcome poverty, prejudice, polio, classism, casteism, disease, and now the ever evading, only remaining eyesore of the civilized, unified Indian Society—Kashmir. The Indian State claimed once again that the hearts and minds of Kashmiris had been conquered. Kashmiris, the elusive specie, had been won over.

I must now compel you, the reader, to revisit with me yet again, what followed the midnight on the cusp of August 4 and August 5. A zodiac of occupation. Signs of human-life and gadget-life were amiss. Data was officially contraband. In the best of times—the subsequent months following the blackout when things seemed ‘normal’, people came out onto the streets, rather shyly, rather slyly, like an orangutan freed after a life behind bars, and exchanged news and pirated movies which were flown in from New Delhi—the capital city of the aspiring superpower. Ingenious ways of proxies were found, and unprecedented speeds of data transfer were unlocked.

Meanwhile, at the International Defence airport in Srinagar, waiting in queues by the now-half-tilted railing outside the departures gate, under the gigantic Indian flag blowing and dropping hoarsely in the bewildered wind, strange people with weary faces were handing out notes to stranger people—landlocked castaway Kashmiris handing out notes to commuters flying out of the now erstwhile Kashmir: messages to be sent to their kin outside Kashmir. ‘We are okay’, these notes said. ‘Grandma passed away last month. I am sorry you couldn’t get the money for college admission in time. Let us hope for next year, or the year after that, or the year after…


Don’t come home.’

(The author is finalising this book. Views expressed are personal)

Tabish Rafiq Mir is a Srinagar-based writer, photographer and illustrator