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Old Sorrows, Old Terrors

Perhaps someday the clouds will lift, the moon poured from the flagon, ripened by the sun clenched firmly in the wine bearer’s hand

Artwork: Turbulent Echoes by Naushad Gayoor
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Silence cracks its brittle fingers,

Your voice echoes yet.

In the revels of your happy city,

My heart sinks faster.

—Nasir Kazmi

Besides the apple tree in the new scriptures which dictate the

flooded valleys of our extinct words,

droops a brittle sky which prepares the twilight for a song

that concerns the strangers anointed in warm May. May is the

spoiled child of all seasons. May spills ochre dusks on the apple trees

and makes mellow another season in the bloody arms of yet another spring.

May is a land where the rains come down ablaze—rum dark

and the cry of the sparrow reaches out to the withered tulips

besides the twisted lake of cordoned sirens.

We parted at the door of the rumoured mosque after

the night had almost passed in dirges on the stillborn sun.

Cross out the address on your palms, they cautioned:

In your cry is a song that bodes ill, for your fingerprints lie

dense on the trees in aubade labour. In your cry is bloom, did we wrong winter

when it dreamt of the children playing with the wolf

under the pomegranate tree in the courtyard of our old house

sharpened against the curfewed night? I barely remember the address

to that house now. And also, I have half-forgotten their supple laughter.

and their rites of cruel iron: they draft the iron in the unshed bullets into spades. The spade will mend what the sudden May storms have ruined, they prophesised.

These are old sorrows, old terrors so pearled

in grief’s lonely lottery wrapped in perfumed yemberzal.

New-fangled sorrows have set out to haggle with old sorrows

in the familiar mirrors of time’s contents. Bloated lips sport a new blue and new seeds have begun

to be sown in the parched heart. Enemy skies crackle now

with whispers of eavesdropping planes

as sheaves of mauve stars lie torched. New seasons of crimson mirages

will sprout like spring buds, and glide like summer fragrances.

That which passes is transience, that which will happen is transience.

Only the ebony silhouettes of our yesterdays

appear on the radars driven mad by the scent of barbed wire in the dancer’s feet.

Clouds might yet rise forever solitaire above the gul toor

on the hurried mountains where fell the long dead.

Gul toor: Kashmiri name for the Yellow Amaryllis.

Commentary

We found the country of language

How great was the desolation before!

We lent stillborn silence a tongue

Grief had to beg of lament before.

In the long chain of oxymorons that one is accustomed to live with, especially in Kashmir, writing ‘silence’ may not appear daunting at first glance. After all, it is not much disputed that a silence pervades the valley, only the timeline of its commencement is disputed: post-2019, post-1990, post-1947… the list of dates can be debated till the chickens come home to roost. However, amidst this saga of dates, it goes unnoticed that speaking and defining this silence is a task fraught with contradictions, contestations and corrections. Not only is memory fallible, which complicates the task of fixing the commencement of silence difficult, but it is the dominant mode of existence, especially in times as onerous as the present times are rumoured to be. Besides, I and those who birthed me and those who birthed them, all speak of a legacy of silence and silencing manifest in the term ‘halaat’—a perpetual undercurrent of churning, discontentment and disillusionment that defies any coherent and rational expression. Hence, the recourse to poetry: for poetry is the last resort of inexpressibility, a haunting that chronicles the past and present lived, imagined, recorded and the future yearned and aspired for. If any explanation were to be offered for this poem ‘Silences in May’, it is this, it is this indeed.

How else must silence be rendered? How else but through the apple trees which have come to epitomise the valley: the instruments of pride, prosperity, envy, injury and contest. In the words of the character “Definite” in the movie ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ in the scene where he blows up his enemy, Shamshad, the ‘Kasamiri seb’ is a grenade, and a staple of aatankwadis. When I was a child overwhelmed by the stillness of warm afternoons in summer, the apple trees, in what remained of my grandfather’s orchard, were my favourite haunts. Between those memories and apples that are battled over prohibited highways and death lies a silence imposed by the ruinous march of Time. It is this silence that spills into poems, as it mourns the demise of naïve optimism in a May when the sun scorches ahead in a record heatwave and the rains come down in cloudbursts—sure reminders of global climate change, that will and does affect Kashmir—a Himalayan region, more disproportionately; the risk of extinction, withering and silence of routines, lives and futures grow more ominous and darker. Silence, greater silence, like the silence of an empty Jamia Masjid.

The other day, I relived an old childhood memory—visiting and praying at Jamia Masjid, Srinagar. Amidst the bustling market teeming with tourists and locals alike, I sought Maam Jaan—a diehard Bakr’e*, and the uncle of my late father who would walk me to the masjid on Eids and Fridays. On one instance, I remember a beggar who claimed to have suffered at the hands of a pickpocket, making the rounds during a sermon. When the beggar appeared before us brandishing his torn coat pocket, Maam Jan sternly advised him to cease the ruse. The beggar paused for a moment, and moved on, brandishing the torn pocket more loudly. In that pocket hung the currency of unshakeable beliefs in a promised dawn, before they were siphoned by the sly fingers of Time. That dawn never arrived, and like the beggar we brandish the torn pocket of belied oaths and rend hearts before the gathering of disbelieved spectators. They little believe our stories of the masjid being bolted for twenty moons and that the sun circumscribed the graves of the original martyrs nearby for two score and one years. They watch us in silence, shaking their heads sadly, refusing to bestow any alms of acceptance. Like the cremated poet, we keep asking of them:

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Where will the envoy bearing good tidings arrive from now?

From which purple-stained beaker will wine with beaded bubbles pour into the clay bowl of old age?

These are old laments, however. May is the season when summer has finally shed the shadow of winter, and the cold rains that ruined the bulging buds are scarce. Everywhere the sun beams down, it eavesdrops on the news: the much-promised festival of lights will soon erupt on the ink-stained sky. We ask the guardians of the city of dead lights lost in merry dance: What if the army of desire resigned to defeat abstains from night’s siege? Neither they nor our friends of the cage reply. Silence, absolute silence. We ask: what will you celebrate of this city, when words get hunted into extinction, when the lyre is slain as an abomination, when poems migrate from persecution, when melody is executed by poison, when a famine devours all conversation, when the mirror serves you your own reflection? I too ask myself, Faraz, why should one strike a conversation with such a taciturn one whose perpetual silence makes the heart bleed? Perhaps someday the clouds will lift, the moon poured from the flagon, ripened by the sun clenched firmly in the wine bearer’s hand. Till then: silence.

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*Literally: goat. A derogatory term later appropriated by the supporters of Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah in 1930s as against sher (literally tiger) supporters of Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah known also by his moniker (Sher-e-Kashmir). The term came to be expanded to imply supporters of the Mirwaiz clan, especially the late Maulvi Mohamad Farooq and his successor Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The rivalry is a broad indication of the political chasms in Kashmir—the chasm between electoral politics and politics of dissent.

(Views expressed are personal)

Huzaifa Pandit is an aspiring academic from Kashmir

(This appeared in the print as 'Old Sorrows, Old Terrors')

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