We, the Water-born – a political history in thirty scenes

We, the water-born

The dominant story told about Kashmir's origin has often remained uncontested and almost authoritative. In this essay, Mohamad Junaid retells - in a fascinating fashion - the origin story of Kashmir; and offers a fresh and unique perspective of those who had been made invisible. 

The essay is part of the larger edited volume Becoming Kashmir that will come out in 2020.

I grew up in Kashmir listening to the fabulous stories that were both part of the country’s tradition as well as entwined with the moral fiber of the people’s everyday life. The stories were the stuff from which people built their senses of the self. After all, people are nothing but the stories they tell themselves. Yet, the key story, the so-called “origin story of Kashmir,” never felt like one Kashmiris would have consciously wanted to tell themselves. Kashmiris seemed to be a somewhat unwitting, largely absent component in that story—and that would be a generous thing to say about the matter. Later, I learnt that the story was one or the other minor variation upon the account Orientalists had inscribed down in the early 20th century. That account was straightjacketed, stifling, meant to be the authoritative account. Whichever way you read it, the orientalists seemed to be saying: ‘Don’t tinker with its authentic purity.’ Attempts to retell or reinterpret the story differently were resisted with a passion only the Orientalists could summon to protect their version of other people’s historical traditions.

Like all such stories, origin stories tend to be a combination of the real and the fantastical. They retain their power not by denying the mythical, but by continuously and playfully reworking it to make sense of the present. Where was the playfulness in the key story that was being told in Kashmir? Why were its puritan defenders so stiff? Could the people be narrated back into the story? Could the story, for a change, be told from a different perspective—the perspective of those who had been made invisible? The account below is an experiment in that vein.


1.

The springs existed. The lakes did too. So did the river. There was water, the source of all life. The water of the southern springs was carried in streams to collect in the lakes in the center. From there it flowed in the gentle belly of the river crossing the mountains to the north, to be carried through the hot plains on which Indus Valley’s residents had built their elaborate urban culture. The mountains were daunting, like a formidable icy wall. Contact with the outside was hard. Yet, occasionally, precious stones, beads, and ceramics passed hands as symbols of unconditional hospitality and the pledge to keep the water flowing. Like the Indus peoples, they too believed that unicorns existed.

2.

They—let’s call them ‘Kaeshr’ [pronounced: Ker as in earth (‘r’ silent) - shr (‘r’ prominent)]—had brought their Dravidian-sounding language with them from the lands downstream with three-seasons, but as centuries passed it was greatly altered in its new home that had four. We can’t tell by how much as they seem to have left no written record. Or, perhaps, it was lost or erased. Languages, however, don’t die easily. They find surrogate ones to carry their own traces. And if one listens with care to what their descendants would speak in the times to come, the language of the Kaeshr was to become like a museum, one displaying the cinders of all the languages the Kaeshr would ever speak.

Water
INDIA. Kashmir. 1948. Moslem refugees.

Unlike the peoples of the Indus Valley, the Kaeshr didn’t build cities. Instead, they found warmth during harsh winters in the pit-homes they had built around the lakes, near the springs, and along the river. They built vegetable gardens, grew barley, collected wild fruit, and, when regular food was running low, hunted for meat. They sun-dried half of everything they grew or collected in the summer and stored it in clay pots for the winter.

Life’s pace changed according to the seasons. They were busy in summer and indolent in winter. In spring, their romantics came alive singing and dancing to every new sign of life and to forget the winter, and in autumn, their philosophers arose to reckon with life’s fragility and to address the looming reality of the coming winter. Children, conceived in the impatient days of late winter, were introduced to the world in the fading, last days of autumn: a hard start with an unhurried but emergent ease, as winter plodded from the harsh to the mild, inculcated a sense of tough-minded optimism. The long winters were dreary, so the Kaeshr made clay toys for their children to play with, wove patij-rugs out of boredom, and told long love-tales interspersed with songs to pass time.

They worshipped the Snake. It was from the Snake that Kaeshr kings and queens derived their symbolic power, just as the Kaeshr society derived its cosmic life-force from the water of the springs. There is no reason to believe that there was a rigid social or gender hierarchy in their society. Everyone could pursue happiness, except the kings and queens. Hardly ever under threat from the Outside, the kingship of the water-land was tedious and was forced upon any unfortunate soul unwilling to resist. The kings and queens had no real power as no taxes were to be collected nor any armies to be raised. The one who told the lengthiest tales with the most melodious songs always had more power over the Kaeshr than any king or queen.       

3.

The Kaeshr outlasted the floods, droughts, and conquests that wiped the Indus Valley’s cities downriver. Secluded behind tall mountains, they didn’t hear the news about the pastoral hordes arriving from the west into the Indus plains. Riding fast on their horses, the hordes conquered eastward across the Indus and then the plains of the Ganges until the Himalayas to the east halted them. The hordes had sidestepped the water-land hidden behind the mountains. Once the major conquests were done and the defeated were enslaved, and once their women, children, and cows following in their trails had arrived, the pastoralists settled down to build little huts in little villages. They spent their free time chariot-racing, gambling, drinking, chanting sacred chants around fires, and, occasionally, sacrificing some of their cows to appease their gods. But during business hours, they went to work assigning different slave groups perpetual positions within a hierarchy based on occupation and sacred purity.

water

Hierarchy was a transcendental impulse, the desire of the eye gazing down from above, an urge to impose a singular order on the multitude. It was based in an astrological conceit that the human was the master of the world rather than being its mere fabrication, that man could remake the world according to his desire rather than the world being the template of all forms of life, including man. Of course, not all men, some men, or those considered men. The origins of hierarchy as a social principle are unclear: Was it some Machiavellian counsel of the newly-settled pastoral chief who laid out the charter for a perpetual hierarchy and power structure; or was it some detached positivist counsel, believing that only that which can be observed is natural, who claimed the post-conquest order as the only True order worthy of eternal preservation? Or was it a combination of both, realpolitik and pseudo-science? It is hard to tell. Its architectural metaphor was the pyramid, and its financial bottom-line resembled a Ponzi scheme. Nevertheless, from here on, the logic was simple: only a few could pursue happiness, the rest must contend with endless suffering. The algorithm was simpler: harder the labor, more profane its nature, and lower and sadder the status of the group assigned to do it.

Conquests and plunder were the only manual labor the pastoral-settlers left for themselves to do. Believing themselves to be born of fire and hence of the highest purity, they were afraid of the impure like the fire is afraid of the water.    

4.

With new arrivals from across the Indus, some of the pastoral-settlers found the plains getting crowded. They wondered what lay beyond the mountains to the north. As they started preparations to journey and find out, their cows refused to cross, so they left them behind. Then their horses refused to cross, so they crossed on foot with nothing but a trident in one hand and the sacred text in the other.

 

Following the river’s path, they came upon the lakes and then the springs. Their eyes became wide with wonder and desire as they gazed at the mountains all around them. But when they finally looked down and saw the Kaeshr milling around near the water, going about their day and worshipping the Snake, they froze in their tracks, as if they had seen demons. So they told their children tales of how the water-land was full of demons born of water. When they saw the Kaeshr hunting and eating meat, the newcomers imagined their cows—if their cows did ever decide to cross—could be under a threat, so they told their children tales of how the demons ate humans. When they saw the pit-homes in which the Kaeshr lived, they told their children tales of how the lowly snake-worshipping, human-eating demons lived in talpatal—the depths of the earth. When the water-land’s king Naeg-r’ai was told to go greet the guests, he was so lethargic he refused at first. Finally, the fella—whose name Naeg-r’ai was actually a generic title meaning Servant of the Snake, Caretaker of the Springs—went and said ‘hello.’ The newcomers heard the sound but didn’t recognize the word. So they told their children tales that the lowly human-eating, snake-worshipping, subterranean demons spoke gobbledygook.

5.

The visitors were so upset at this state of affairs they decided to do the Kaeshr a favor by settling down and making an entirely new story of the land. In the new story that the fire-born settlers would tell, the water-loving demon-people were not people at all and their water-land was not even land before the settlers created it. As is typical, the story would start with the settlers as the chosen “people with no land” arriving in a “land with no people.”

Now sometime previously, a brash strapping settler fella named Kash—known among his settler friends as Yappie (for he yapped a lot)—had gone around rousing settlers’ hatred toward the Kaeshr by telling them that the demon-boys were a threat to the fair settler ladies. As tensions grew, the settlers chased the armyless king Naeg-r’ai into the lake where he hid behind lotus fronds. The settlers, afraid of stepping into the water, yelled abuses at the king from the banks of the lake. They called him names like Jalodbhav, or the Big Water-born Demon, and made plans to kill him for good. Meanwhile, Yappin’ Kash’s minions lynched a handful of curious onlooking Kaeshr boys to teach the rest of the demons a lesson about how never to raise their eyes at fair settler ladies. Trapped, Naeg-r’ai survived on lotus shoots and fish for months. Then the winter came, and he froze to death. It is possible that Yappin’ Kash murdered Naeg-r’ai. The settler story states it kinda quite baldly, and we have no reason to doubt. Although Kash generally yapped about everything, he told no one that as Naeg-r’ai was dying he was mumbling an incoherent sound repeatedly: ‘Aaaa-zaaa-diii. Aaa-zaa-dii. Aa-za-di…’

6.

Whichever the case, whether Naeg-r’ai froze to death or was stabbed with a trident, the new story had found its hero and its villain. The story was racy, easy to remember. In it, Yappin’ Kash was no longer the young and brash settler fella, but Kash-Yap, an old and sagely man with divine powers. The sage Kash-Yap, the story went, rent asunder the northern mountain wall to drain out all the impure water, thusly exposing the giant lustful demon Jalodbhav and slaying him with his divine trident. The settlers renamed the water-land as Kash-Yap-Mira, “mira” meaning sea. Catch the drift? Meaning the land that Kash-Yap had created out of the sea by getting rid of the water.

All this was not really a conquest, but a coup. Okay, it was a little bit of both. It was, let’s say, a conquest without horses. Nevertheless, the end result was the same as elsewhere. As was their wont, the settlers pulled out their sacred text, and, like colonial clerks, sat down to classify the Kaeshr according to occupation and purity. The more intransigent ones were assigned the hardest, saddest, and lowliest occupations. The less intransigent ones could be granted the status of “semi-human” after a specified number of life-cycles, if they accepted their new positions without a fuss. The Kaeshr, however, were not used to being ordered by people what to do. Only the seasons had that kind of power over them. So the business of hierarchy didn’t catch on so well in the water-land.

But hierarchy and privilege are seductive ideas, unlike such unwieldy notions as equality and rights. One enjoys privileges better than one enjoys rights. After all, what is so special in being able to do things that everyone else is allowed to do? You see, one has rights against the reach of the powerful few, but one has privileges over the interests of the powerless many. Some Kaeshr did eventually accept lower positions with the hope that when the settler-guests leave, they would be at the top of the hierarchy that remains. This is what happens typically. In between the powerful few and the powerless many, middling groups arise. They have big dreams but largely no means. They want to look like those above them and run away from those below them. Eventually, some of them disabuse themselves of the illusions of grandeur and join the ranks of the rebels below them. Others among them use this as an opportunity to further ingratiate themselves with the powerful by becoming their bloodhounds. That story, however, will unfold much later still. Suffice it to say that this middling group of Kaeshr was small, and their historical contribution to the society was repression.

7.

Eventually, the relations between the settlers and the Kaeshr eased somewhat. Beneath the pretenses, some folk had been carrying on clandestine, if awkward interchanges.

“Why are your people so afraid of water?” a little Kaeshr boy asked Heemal, a settler girl who would sneak out of her parents’ house and play with the Kaeshr children near the springs.

“It is not like that,” replied Heemal, “My parents use water to clean, worship, and drink. It is just that it is runny.”

“What do you mean?” said the boy, puzzled.

Heemal turned toward him to explain:

“Look, we don’t like things runny or liquidy. We like things solid, things that can stay in their place and not pour into places where they have no business. If water was solid, we would probably worship it. Runny stuff mixes things, impure with pure, high with low. Liquids know no hierarchy. If my parents could, they would just dam up the whole damn thing.”

The boy listened intently.

“Is that why they seem to prefer men over women?” he asked.

“Yeah, if they could they would dam us up too,” nodded Heemal, sighing.

8.

Time went by. The settlers built their settlements high above the water. They preferred mounds and hillocks overlooking water and kept away from low-lying regions where water could extinguish their fire. They spent most of their time chanting their sacred chants and star-gazing. They imagined twinkling stars to be bright little villages across the lake. So they chopped down the woods to build rafts but were terrified of stepping onto them. In the future, their descendants would see these raft ideas as design prototypes for space-ships.

As they told and retold their origin story, the settlers forgot their origins. The semi-human demon Kaeshr, who hadn’t forgotten their love for tales, grudgingly accepted the settlers’ new origin story as well as their own lower status. To pay for their semi-human status, they used their sweat and blood to produce the grains, clean after, and generally work as beasts-of-burden for the settlers. Mind you, only a few among them, the well-built ones with the correct attitude, served as blood hounds.

The semi-human demon Kaeshr were only allowed to build their dwellings close to where floods could wash them away, so they would lose their respect for water. But little did the settlers know that the Kaeshr knew the floods well. Even when close to water, the Kaeshr built their dwellings in a way that when the flood came, it would just skirt the habitations, escaping into the sweep of the water-land, bringing to its body renewed sources of life.

Meanwhile, the intransigent, fully-demon Kaeshr pooh-pooed the settler story. They continued to secretly worship the Snake and tell their own stories. Since the settlers thought the demon language was gobbledygook, they noticed neither the old stories that were still alive nor the rebellion that was brewing. The intransigents spread into the surrounding hills and mountains, building nests high above the springs and hideouts along furious mountain rivers. Their motto was: ‘Hide your capabilities, bide your time!’

9.

In the plains south of the Southern Mountains—a geographical conception no one among the Kaeshr liked to even imagine—a young princeling-turned-ascetic godman was preaching anti-hierarchical heresies. Word had secretly reached the mountains that he was saying anyone could achieve ‘nirvana,’ or enlightenment, that suffering could end if people followed his ‘eight-fold path,’ and that social groups assigned low status were no different in worth from those who had assigned them these statuses. This was the first idea from the Outside that seemed to be spreading laterally instead of being imposed from the above. For all they had been going through, the Kaeshir had developed a strong preference for the lateral. Lateral, after all, is like the songs of liberation to be joyously sung while walking together hand in hand, in contrast to the laws of hierarchy that demand meek following as the soldiers point their guns at your head. What would you have chosen to do?

The high-status settlers-who-had-forgotten-they-were-settlers were, to say the least…pissed. They slung mud—the first trick in their crafty little bag of tricks.

“Charlatan! Fraud! Bechhi bror (beggar cat)!” they called him.

But, watching with glee, the intransigent Kaeshr were like ‘Yo, this is ma man!’ and converted to his creed. Though they called him ‘ma man,’ his ideas were a bit too esoteric to understand. So they imagined him to be two wise cats, Sidha and Bodha, who gave practical advice. The wise cats lived under a big tree and were always ready to guide when making tough decisions of life. To those who sought their advice, Sidha and Bodha would help illuminate the paths, one as an ethical one and another as an easy one. The wise cats told moral fables and recommended minimalism, including even begging as a way to get rid of material greed. (The high-status folk had chosen their slurs tactically). Nevertheless, the hierarchical social order was shaken to the core. The chaos lasted for many years. The settlers grudgingly agreed to the new disorder, but only after they were exempted from physical labor and were promised maintenance in human form through subsidized feeding.

10.

More time passed. As it does. The settler power in the plains south of the Southern Mountains grew again as conquerors from farther north ravaged the north. The princeling-turned-ascetic godman’s equality-oriented creed was chased out across the Himalayas to the east and across the seas to the south. Hierarchy was reestablished. Lavish pyramid-shaped temples were built. For the high-status folk, a new Golden Age had begun. In the land now simply called Kash-Mir, the influence of the equality-oriented creed lasted a few centuries longer. Some of the settler groups had over time also converted to this creed and it was not advisable to switch creeds back and forth too quickly. Eventually, settler missionaries from the south of the Southern Mountains arrived to advise the new kings and queens of Kash-Mir. The former hierarchical social order returned with a vengeance. The semi-human Kaeshr went back to work grudgingly, while the intransigent Kaeshr were hunted down or chased into the far corners of Kash-Mir. Back in their mountain nests and furious mountain-river hideouts, they licked their wounds and bided their time.

11.

Down below in the water-land, the settler kings and queens built palaces, grand stone temples, and armies. They went about conquering and plundering the neighboring peoples. The semi-human Kaeshr worked extra hard to support this profligacy.

Now secure in their power, power games began among the settlers-who-had-forgotten-they-were-settlers. The sacred counsels of the high-status folk instigated palace intrigues. Palace intrigues turned into murderous dramas. New generals were installed to stanch the bloodletting. Occasionally, from the north and the west, detachments of new hordes called the Mongols would arrive, and the kings of Kash-Mir would vamoose with their plundered jewels, leaving the queens and the subjects undefended. A couple of fair settler queens went ahead to take the mantle from their lily-livered husbands, but they too fell for petty power games, not realizing how the age-old Game of equality and hierarchy was again coming to a boil.

Out of boredom, Rin-Chin, a chief from the Eastern Mountains came down to try his luck and claim kingship. He had held on to the anti-hierarchical creed of the princeling-turned-ascetic godman even in the face of tectonic changes in the neighborhood. The creed, however, had now become so discredited in the low-lands that the sacred counsels of the high-status told him to find a new one if he wanted to enter the game; otherwise, he could, he was told, bugger off. Yet, they wouldn’t let Rin-Chin enter their hierarchy from the top, and he wasn’t going to enter it from the bottom. Waiting despondently, Rin-Chin met a group of refugee-preachers seeking asylum from domains across the mountains to the northwest. One of them told him of a faith similar to the creed he had been told to forego, but one not discredited.

“You got hierarchy in it?” Rin-Chin asked the refugee-preacher.

“Not really, why?” the refugee-preacher replied, “Well, just a few tiny ones we are trying to get rid of.”

The faith had been borne of a rebellion against hierarchy and had spread laterally. Then it had gathered enormous power along the paths of its spread and little hierarchies had emerged along its wake. But by the time the refugee-preachers arrived in Kash-Mir, the faith had lost its links to power in an unforeseen inferno. In the refugee-preacher’s own homeland, from whence he had come, Mongols had burnt down all faiths and creeds to the ground. Desperate to enter the game, Rin-Chin said ‘whatever!’ and accepted the new faith. He became the king but lasted only a short while before dying of whatever. 

12.

The high-status former-settler groups, who had gradually begun to call themselves Kaeshr, even as the low-status Kaeshr had become invisible to them, cursed the Mongols. They didn’t see the Mongol arson and plunder dramas as a reenactment of their own settler ancestors’ bloody dramas from which the hierarchy had been born. Forgetting had become pandemic. It was the bubonic plague of the East, wiping clean millions of high-status brain-diskettes.

One general grew impatient and greedy. He married the queen and took power. He was from the same faith as the one Rin-Chin had adopted. Just about then the water-land began to stabilize. Kash-Mir, now just called Kashmir, became a refuge for other exiled preachers from the unremitting Mongol slash-and-burn. These new refugee-preachers wandered across the water-land telling people of a man who spoke of the One-God and preached that ‘all humans are born equal.’

“What about demons?” asked the curious, low-status Kaeshr.

“There are no demons,” the refugee-preachers replied, before quickly adding: “Except in theory—you know, you got to have a binary opposite term to make sense of the one whose meaning you are looking for…”

“But, then, who are we?” the Kaeshr asked, growing impatient with the theory.

“Aren’t you humans???” the refugee-preachers asked, unsure what the politically-correct answer was.

“But we were told that we are demons!” replied the Kaeshr, positively scandalized by the possibility of this thought.

The refugee-preachers paused, gathering a measure of the mood.

“Maybe theoretically, but besides the dark-skins and the spindly limbs, you just look like humans to us.”

 “Don’t mind the famished looks,” the Kaeshir replied smiling, “It is from all the hard wage-less labor we do under the burning sun for the high-status folk.”

The meeting lasted a long time. When they were finally convinced, the Kaeshir warmed up to this new equality-faith. ‘Yo, this is ma man’ they thought and adopted the new faith in droves. A few of these Kaeshr thought that their hard labor had finally paid off and that the settler promise had come true: the promise that work and obedience would eventually set them free, liberate them from the cycles of demon life into a human one. They sang songs of joy, until the refugee-preachers told them to keep it down. The One-God, they said, preferred recitation over singing.   

13.

But it was already too late. The high-status Kaeshr, exhausted from their regicidal games, paused and heard the singing.

“How dare the semi-demons sound so happy!” thundered the sacred counsel of the high-status folk. The high-status folk had been thwarted from directly acquiring kingly power by the new faith rulers, some of whom were a bit overzealous and others a bit too luxuriant. Though the notion that only high-status folk could be kings had been broken, they had grown too used to the privileges to give them up easily. So they called a meeting of their own with the refugee-preachers.

“We would like to join in, but we can’t give up privileges and hierarchy,” they said, “We don’t know any real work that can feed us.”  

Upon hearing the words “hierarchy” and “privilege,” the refugee-preachers looked at each other.

“Wait, why is everyone asking us about hierarchy? Can ya tell us more?”

So the high-status folk sat down over a feast of spiced potatoes, nenni soup, and Khanyari collard greens, and told the refugee-preachers the origin story and about the Golden-Age of hierarchy their ancestors had established.

As previously stated, hierarchy and privilege are seductive ideas. Upon hearing the story, the refugee-preachers kind of grew silent, but their descendent relatives, who were sitting within an earshot and not invested in the equality and social justice part of the faith that much, turned their heads and said:

“Aha! If this is what privilege is, count us in!”

Though the descendant relatives of the refugee-preachers converted to the cause of hierarchy, they didn’t change their faith outwardly—lest they look ridiculous making the switch so fast. But as time would show, they were straddling two different systems, almost impossibly, balancing ethics and ease, running with the hare and hunting with the hound, and turning into some kind of half-equal-half-hierarchical minotaurs.

14.

The relatives of refugee-preachers then wandered across the region, telling those who their elders had converted:

“Listen, there has been a little change of plan.”

The converted Kaeshr squinted in suspicion but listened on.

“Remember our elders told you that you are all human?”

“So, are we not?” asked the Kaeshr, as a collective howl of anxiety swept among them.

“No, no, that you most definitely are,” the relatives of refugee-preachers replied quickly, “But it is just that not all humans are equal humans.”

The low-status Kaeshr who had converted to the One God’s creed looked confused.

“Huh, but what about …?”

But before they could say anything more, the relatives of refugee-preachers cut them off.

“Look, we are superior to you in hierarchy and therefore we must have privileges.”

“Dang, so are you also fire-born?” the Kaeshr asked.

“No, we are foreign-born,” said the relatives of refugee-preachers with a priggish grin, “meaning we are born of people born elsewhere.”

“And that matters, why???” asked the Kaeshr still squinting and now scratching their heads.

Confident and stolid, the relatives of refugee-preachers sat everyone down to explain.

“Yeah it totally matters! The math is simple. Look, we came from a foreign land which is closer to the land where the man who spoke of One God lived, which therefore means that the quantitative probability of us sharing blood-ties to that man is higher than you. Hence proved. QED.”

The math was seemingly flawless, just like the one pastoral-settlers had long ago preached. It would produce the same old algorithm.

15.

“It proves nothing! Nada!” a voice rose from the crowd of gathered Kaeshr.

It was Nund, a Kaeshr boy who had committed to the One God’s equality-cause. He stood up and said: “The man who spoke of One-God never said his blood or bloodline had superiority over others, nor did the One-God say it in the Book that you could be superior to others based on your birth.”

The relatives of refugee-preachers were, to say the least…pissed. How could a local Kaeshr boy be reading the book they thought was their family heirloom? They were even more pissed when they found out that he was explaining the book to his fellow Kaeshr in his own impure language.

“Let’s cut him to size!” they said.

But Nund had become too popular already. He had the support of one elderly Lall, a lady born in a high-status Kaeshr family but who had long ago rebelled against the pastoral-settler sacred laws that made people high or low. Much mud had been slung at her, but she had survived. Clearly, mud-slinging wouldn’t work against Nund either. So the relatives of refugee-preachers and the fast-shrinking ranks of the high-status folk sat grumpily in the corner, marinating in hate and simmering in resentment, unable to stem the tide. They spent most of their time chanting and reciting and waiting for the subsidized food to be delivered to their doorsteps. 

16.

Together Nund and Lall, the insurgent son and the rebellious mother, composed poetry in Koshur, the language of ordinary Kaeshr folk which had retained some of its Dravidian roots. The high-status folk and the relatives of refugee-preachers, who only cared for their “godly” Sanskrit or their “cosmopolitan” Farsi, had thought Koshur to be gobbledegook and too crude for literature and poetry. They didn’t really appreciate what they described as a “linguistic assault.” So they marinated and simmered some more and slung mud at Koshur poetry. Some even called it “intellectual terrorism.” Nund and Lall’s poems were about the ancestors and the water.

Dreaming the ancient dream, Lall uttered a vakh:

            I am pulling my boat across this water with a flimsy thread,  

            Will he hear my plea and help me across?

            I feel like water soaking through a clay cup

            Should my soul just wander here, clearly, I am not going home any soon?

When the Kaeshr heard Lall’s words, tears rolled down their cheeks. They remembered Naeg-r’ai, who had asked the Snake to help him cross the lake. They also remembered how the gentle Snake had replied to Naeg-r’ai’s plea:

“Do not despair, my son. You are now one with water. The body is merely a clay cup that holds the life but briefly. The water is your true home, son.”

Upon hearing this, Nund let out a shrok:

Fear and attachment, I have shunned 
My whole life I followed one single path, and now, 
Bathing in these waters of contemplation, I walk

To be in blissful solitude.

17.

To the high-status folk and the relatives of refugee-preachers, Nund reminded them that hierarchy was unnatural:

            So you read knowledge for the sake of privilege,

            And use it to lay traps for people.

            You may think you are superior,

            But there (THERE) only one in a thousand of you will find redemption.

To his fellow Kaeshr, for whom he was now Alamdar, the flag-bearer, he foretold:

            You will bear lightning and thunder, 

Hurricanes and storms by the day; 
You will bear the weight of the mountains, 
You will bear the flame burning in your palm, 
You will pass through the rolling mill, 
You will bear the poison and the fire!

18.

Time passed. What was foretold came true. What had been outside, beyond the mountains, would come inside. Not to live with and thrive together, but to rule. With kings and queens of the water-land now professing the equality-cause of the One-God, the lines had become blurred, and many Kaeshr had forgotten the struggle between hierarchy and equality.

Not all, of course. The intransigent Kaeshr never truly believed the struggle could be over. They had converted to the equality-cause of the One-God, but then receded to their mountain nests and furious mountain-river hideouts. They had watched with great affection the blossoming love of Lall of Padmanpur and Nund of Qoimuh down in the water-land, knowing that Lall and Nund were in-fact fellow intransigents who were trying to forge a unity for the Long Winter of the Outside Rule that was coming.

The water-land was now simply known as Kasheer. Actually, it wasn’t so simple. The name was a compromise between Sanskrit, Farsi, and Koshur, the daughter-language of the old Dravidian, as well as many other languages that the intransigents in the mountains had created in exile—the languages that the high-status folk considered too crude to be languages, but which the Kaeshir recognized instantly as sister languages. The Inside had to prepare for the lightning and thunder, the hurricanes and storms, the weight of the mountains and the flames on the palm, the rolling mills, the poison and the fire. Proper names could wait.

19.

The Outside was beaten back several times, but eventually came in by deception. The Inside hadn’t prepared for Deception. The deception hadn’t been foretold. A descendant relative of the refugee-preachers, who didn’t like the king of Kashmir, had secretly journeyed to the capital of the Outside and told their emperor about the water-land, of its verdant beauty and its abundant water. The eyes of the emperor of the Outside, who was really a man-child, had widened in desire, which intensified every time the Kaeshr thwarted his imperial forces from capturing the water-land. (His dynasty liked to possess what resisted them the most, or at least that is how their court historians told the stories of their conquests).

Finally, the man-child emperor made a grumpy-sounding announcement:

“Don’t want it, don’t need it.”

He invited the king of Kasheer named Yusuf to come over for a reconciliation dinner. It smelled like a suspicious affair. It was rotten, in fact. But the king Yusuf went anyway. The dinner was served. But before Yusuf could even finish his meal, he was rudely put in jail. The emperor had broken the code of hospitality.

“I can, therefore I do!” the man-child emperor yelled, “For I am the shadow of the One-God on earth!”

Soon afterwards, he mounted a pony and bludgeoned a sheep to death.

“I can, therefore I do… I can, therefore…” off he rode north, yelling.

Back in the water-land, the queen of Kasheer, Yusuf’s wife, who had once been a poor man’s daughter, sang lonesome dirges:

Which rival of mine has lured you away from me? Why have you forsaken me? 
Forget the anger and the sulkiness, you are my only love. Why are you cross with me? 
My garden has blossomed into colorful flowers. Why are you away from me? 
I keep my doors ajar half the night, you should come in my love. Why have you forsaken the way to my home? 
I swear, my love, I am waiting for you, dressed in colorful robes, 
My youth is in full bloom now. Why don’t you come and see? 
Marksman, my bosom is exposed.

The arrows of memory pierce me, but you don’t see?
I am wasting away like snow in summer heat,

But my youth is still in its bloom, come and enjoy.
I have searched for you over hills and glens, 
I have searched for you from dawn till dusk, 
I have cooked exquisite dishes for you. Is this all in vain! 
I shed ceaseless tears for you, and I ache for you. What is my fault, my love? 
How about you also search for me now? 
Your desertion is a blow to me, O cruel one. I still nurse the pain. 
Yet, I have not complained even to the spring breeze. This is agonizing. 
I swear by you, I do not go out at all. 

I don't even show up at the spring or the autumn. 
My body is aflame. Why don't you soothe it? The pain is bone-deep.
I am not complaining. Just letting you know that I am wasting away for you. 
Shall a life pass only in suppressing its boundless longing? 
I, Habba Khatun, am grieving: Why didn't I stop you from going away, my Yusufo? 
The days are fading, but memories don’t. And you are still cross…

Water
Habba Khatoon

It is said the king grew old and died of the longings that Habba’s mellifluous dirges, reaching his jail-cell over the mountain-tops, caused in his heart. The Outside’s sizzling weather and thirst made the pain only worse. Others believe the man-child emperor had Yusuf put to death. 

20.

As the Outside, a disorienting chess-board of tyrants arrived in Kasheer, the Long Winter began. Time began to pass slower than previously. The first tyrants built themselves summer gardens on the lakes, along the river, and around the springs, trapping the water in symmetrical designs. The Outside, however, was never so stable. Tyrants arose and fell rapidly. The second set of tyrants who arrived found a novel use for the water. They caught intransigent Kaeshr, tied them up inside gunny bags full of biting nettle grass and heavy stones, and sunk them into the depths of the lakes.

No longer a secret hidden behind the mountains, the water-land had become a favored ground for conquests and plunder. The mountains still stood tall, but it was those Kaeshr still pining for hierarchy who stooped low. Some remnants of the erstwhile sacred counsel of the high-status folks journeyed south of the Southern Mountains and invited a rising tyrant, who called himself the Tiger, to capture the Inside. They would help if the Tiger promised them hierarchy and privilege in return. He agreed easily and sent his generals to evict the generals of the previous tyrants. The Tiger’s generals were overzealous and re-established the power of the sacred counsel of the high-status folks.

For the next twenty years, the Tiger’s generals squeezed every little piece of wealth they could from the Kaeshr and sent it to the Tiger’s revenue chest. Back in his Outside realm, however, the Tiger had a few covetous and uncouth hyena-like cousins who were waiting for him to die. He died and the Outside grew wobbly again. Sometime previously, a set of very pale tyrants from the shores of a distant wet island had arrived on boats. They had come as merchants but soon started dethroning one Outside tyrant after another.

“We can’t watch little tyrannies come in the way of our business,” the Pale tyrants had declared. They wanted to control all of the Outside, which they saw primarily as a “market.” The chessboard was becoming bigger, complicated, and more treacherous than ever before.

When the Pale tyrants met the Tiger’s descendants in battle, the Uncouth Cousins double-crossed the descendants and ran away with the chest full of water-land’s wealth. The Tiger’s descendants were subsequently dethroned and properly humiliated. As a reward for their pre-arranged treachery, the Pale tyrants gifted the Uncouth Cousins possession of the water-land and of all its residents.

“Do with them as you please, dear hyenas. They are a personal property of yours and of those who will come from you!” the Pale tyrants declared at the post-war drunken celebration of their victory.

Next morning at the breakfast table, the Uncouth Cousins presented before the Pale tyrants the chest full of wealth extracted from the Kaeshr.

“Could you, my lords, write on paper what you drunkenly declared last night?” the Cousins asked.

“Umm, sure thing, our little hyenas” the Pale tyrants replied, still reeling from the hangover. “By the way, hyena Cousins,” they added, “How cunning of you! You are purchasing the Kaeshr with their own wealth!”

The Cousins sat coyly, pulled out a few Kashmiri shawls, and said: “Here, please accept this another gift. Wink, wink, these are woven by the Kaeshr as well.”

Everyone at the table broke into a laughter. So the Pale representative wrote it down on a piece of paper:

“Treaty of Amritsar, March 16, 1846. … The British Government transfers and makes over, for ever, in independent possession, to Maharaja Gulab Singh and heirs male of his body, all the hilly or mountainous country, with its dependencies situated to the Eastward of the river Indus and Westward of the river Ravi, including Chamba and excluding Lahol, being part of the territories ceded to the British Government by the Lahore State…”

21.

The Uncouth Cousins arrived in the water-land on their galloping horses with a dagger in one hand and the Treaty of Amritsar in the other. The Kaeshr ignored them, believing them to be no different from the other tyrants. After all, all their recent tyrant rulers wore one style of turban or the other. There was no way to distinguish between them. But the intransigent Kaeshr had heard rumors that the Cousins were platinum evil. So they assembled a force to prevent the Cousins from taking over the water-land. Seeing this, the Cousins ran back to the Pale tyrants:

“Dear lords, the intransigent Kaeshr will become a threat to the glorious Pale empire if they aren’t shown their place now.”

The Pale tyrants assembled an army to defeat the Kaeshr. The intransigents, fearing bloodbath, took a step back. It turned out not to be their best step.

The Uncouth Cousins were every ounce as wicked as the rumors had them made out to be. The Cousins, unlike other tyrants, didn’t have a leg Outside. They had come to rule and plunder for no other reason than pure personal gratification. They had no ideology, cause, or creed worth the name. They would eventually pick one, but only as a veneer for their rapine. What does that mean? It means, hierarchy for them wasn’t a transcendental impulse, but a baser instinct; it was not an end, but the means; it was just a way for them to indulge in violence and plunder. Born in the blaze of treachery, they had known no other way to be.

The high-status folk and some relatives of the refugee-preachers quickly ingratiated themselves to the Cousins, promising assistance in the plunder in lieu of privileges. The Cousins granted them privileges and further empowered the sacred council. Not only was hierarchy fully rehabilitated, it was turned into the “sacred principle” of the hyena-rule. Equality was cruelly suppressed. This was not the era of debate or even mud-slinging. It was pure terror. The intransigents were hunted down one by one. They were often hung from trees and then skinned alive. Even the Kaeshr who had long ago accepted hierarchy and labor for a semi-human status were pushed back into a demon status. Treated as beasts of burden, many were sent on long, arduous journeys barefooted over icy mountains loaded with food they weren’t allowed to eat. The food was meant for hyena soldiers guarding the Cousins’ domain in the north from floating notions of radical-equality and from peoples sympathetic to the Kaeshr. Frost melted away the feet of these Kaeshr as they would fall one by one, dying of cold and hunger, and getting buried under their loads of barley and rice.

Down in the water-land, the Cousins punished meat-eaters severely, especially those caught eating cow-meat.

“We don’t eat them out of desire or taste, but only when we have no other option,” some Kaeshr had tried to argue, “What shall we live on when your hyena-soldiers and the high-status folk come and steal all our food?”

 “Who said you need to live live?” The Cousins smirked, “Listen, demons, you will be left with only that portion of the overall food you produce that keeps you laboring without dying. Not live!”

22.

Time went by even slower than before. The Cousins grew so rich they wiped their dirty bottoms with imported silk. The high-status folk couldn’t believe their good luck. They spent most of their time no longer chanting sacred chants but plotting how to keep the gravy train moving perpetually. The ordinary Kaeshr, meanwhile, labored hard either in paddy farms they no longer owned to produce the gravy for the train or on looms they no longer owned to produce woolen shawls the Cousins could sell to buy silk for their bottoms.

Kashmir had become a giant factory. Protected from the Inside and the Outside by the Pale tyrants, the Cousins focused singularly on how to run the factory smoothly. They did well. Everyone was doing what they were supposed to do, being what they were supposed to be. There was a price to be paid for everything. You breath you pay tax; you shit you pay tax. Maharaja has a royal guest, you pay tax. Maharani is building a temple, you pay tax. Harder you work, more tax you pay. Less useful and productive you are in society, less tax you pay. Less you are left with to consume and survive on, more tax you pay. More subsidized food you receive and hoard, less tax you pay. Essentially, tax the poor hard-working classes and subsidize the lethargic privileged-classes. If the Uncouth Cousins hadn’t conveniently adopted the sacred principle of hierarchy as the state religion, their domain could easily be called “Cash-Mir.” Mir meaning sea. Catch the drift? Meaning, a sea of tax cash.

Except for occasional rebellions, the intransigents were disoriented. They fought the Cousins in the factories, on the streets, and in the mountains, but all in all the time remained frozen. The century during which the Cousins ruled felt like a millennium

23.

Then time started moving fast. The Kaeshr had had it.

“No longer!” said one strapping, tall Kaeshr fella. Other strapping fellas arose with him. Together they met hyena-soldiers on the streets and fought cruelty with anger. The Outside was churning too. The Pale tyrants had begun to gradually shrivel. Let’s say they had stretched themselves too thin around the world, like a rumali roti on an inverted griddle. Now, they just wanted to return to the wet northern island from whence they had come.

Smelling the opportunity, some high status folk of the Outside world began to pretend they had the interests of all high and low in mind.

“Once the Pales go back,” they declared, “we promise to let equality rule.”

But they were crafty. Old habits. Some detected the craftiness of these Crafty folk; others, like the strapping tall Kaeshr fella who had said “No longer,” didn’t. Not his fault. The Crafties called him “the Lion of Kashmir” and he felt a sense of obligation to accept the humble title. But lions are useless in the water-land. You have to be a fish or a stork or a stag or a bear or snow-leopard or a falcon to live and lead in Kasheer. Best if you were a snake, then you could at least slither out of crafty strangleholds and navigate the water and the land equally.

The Lion fella thought Crafties were his friends with the same cause—ending the menace of the Uncouth Cousins. But Crafties were getting ready to fill the shoes of the Pales and gobble up the water-land.

24.

Now time really began to run like it was on acid. The Pales boarded the last pieces of gold and silver onto their steam-boats and left for their wet island. On their last day, they took a knife and cut the Outside realm clean like it was a cheese pie. They picked the pieces, one big one small, and thrust them into the mouths of the Crafties.

“There, you have it! Do whatever you want with your pieces! They are yours and of those who come from you. Forever!” the Pales yelled from their boats as they disappeared over the horizon.

Well, there were two sets of crafties. The larger ones were the descendants of the fire-born pastoral-settlers who had vigorously held onto privileges even though their age of conquests had long been over. The smaller ones were those who outwardly professed the One-God’s equality-faith but who had tightly held onto little chunks of privilege that different rulers had granted them as gifts over the previous few centuries. Both had held positions in the hierarchy one beneath the rulers. So when the pieces of the pie were thrust into their mouths, both felt it was only a natural tryst with destiny that this should happen. Leaders of both gave eloquent speeches:

“Promises? What promises? Promises can wait? Get to work!”

Both ended their speeches asking the same question:

“Hey, what about the pie hiding beyond the mountains!”

“It is mine!”

“No, it is mine.”

So they fought, chunks of the pie falling from one mouth into another.

25.

Time was flying faster than thought. The last of the Uncouth Cousins knew that the Kaeshr absolutely despised him and his ancestors. They no longer wanted the Cousins to lord over them nor did they want to labor for their profligacy. Now, he could have gracefully packed his bags with all the gold and silver he and his ancestors had made from the blood and sweat of the Kaeshr and driven south over the Southern Mountains never to return. Well, he did exactly that, but not gracefully. He sent word to the big Crafties asking for help against Kaeshr intransigents who had come down from their nests and hideouts to finally take back the water-land.

It was a replay of his ancestors asking the Pale tyrants for help in taking over the gift the Pales had granted them a century before. The big Crafties couldn’t have asked for a more opportune moment. They sent their army. And so the small Crafty army couldn’t be far behind. As the intransigents watched in a daze, the two crafty armies sliced the water-land into two pieces like it was a pie and helped themselves to each piece. The big Crafties gobbled the bigger piece and the smaller ones took the smaller one. The math was flawless, even though it became a frenzy on the battlefield. In the end, only half a million Kaeshr were butchered in the forests, thrown off the mountains, sunk in the rivers, or chased out.  

26.

The Lion could have gracefully fought this frenzy or just stood aside tall. Instead, he stood low behind the table on the side of the big Crafties, feeding them morsels of the pie from his own paws.

“My dear friend, you and I are one soul now,” he told the leader of Big Crafties, who fancied himself as the new Emperor of the Outside.

“No, dear little Lion, your soul is mine now,” the Big Crafty leader corrected him.

“What did I say? What did I say? I am sorry, I have no clue,” the Lion said, as if suddenly awoken from a reverie.

When the frenzy was over and the pie was gone, the Kaeshr were still rubbing their eyes in disbelief.

“You kinda turned out to be an arse there? What were you thinking? How could you do this…” they asked the Lion.

“Shut up, shut up, shut up! To all your so-called ‘questions,’” the Lion turned around and hissed angrily, “You don’t understand the national idea of secular federalism…” he trailed off.

“What the hell are you talking about, dude? Do YOU even understand the idea of secularism, federalism, or nationalism?” asked the Kaeshr, amazed at the general dim-wittedness that had descended on the argument.

“What is that? What is that? Never heard of it,” the Lion replied, annoyed.

The big Crafties watched and laughed.

“Don’t worry our little Lion, you will soon understand,” they told the Lion as they started putting manacles on him.

“See, they got me a nice little bracelet!” the Lion purred, looking at the Kaeshr.

Then the big Crafties tightened an iron shackle around his neck.

“Yipee, look at this pretty necklace they got me!” the Lion exploded in joy.

Then they dragged him away to put him in a cage.

“Nationa-lisme! Secula-risme! Federa-lisme,” sang the Lion, as he danced into the amber twilight.

27.

Time came to a grinding halt. Everything was in a suspended animation. It seemed the history, which had finally begun to move, was now again stopped in its tracks. The high-status folk, which now included in its ranks the one-time relatives of refugee-preachers, had, it seemed, the last laugh.

“Prrrr, so ya’ll want equality-shiquality, rights-shights,” they mocked the Kaeshr, “Get over with it, return to your positions within the hierarchy, and get back to work!”

But it is hard to unsee what has once been seen. When you see the levers of time moving, it is hard not to wonder whether history could be different. When shards of memory begin to coalesce, it is not inconceivable that all the past comes back to hit you like a fireball. Once you taste even a moment of equality, hierarchy becomes unbearable. The Kaeshr knew they were close to something truly profound. So, as the time stood still, they hid their capacities and bided their time.

28.

Then one day a young intransigent Kaeshr fella, whose mother had named him Popular in anticipation of his imminent popularity, stood up in his mountain nest, turned toward the water-land, and roared: “AAAAA-ZAAAA-DIIIII!”.

His roar traveled up from the river to the lake and onward to the springs. Then it bounced off the Southern Mountains with a heightened pitch and shortened syllables, reaching all the nooks and the crannies around the water-land.

A tide swelled over the water.

Snow leopards heard the roar first and they followed it across the peaks. Then black bears heard it and their lazy ears perked up. Stags turned their heavy heads to look. Fish and storks leapt out of the water. The morose falcons, in mourning since the 19th century when a Pale man named Walter Lawrence shot their daughter over the lake, took flight. All the intransigents began to swarm and assemble. The big crafty army felt the rumble. They sniffed blood. The intransigents burrowed deep. The big crafty army fanned out. The high-status folk caught hold of Popular and hung him by a rope.

But it was already too late. The roar could no longer be stopped. The roar was a hail, a call, a desire, a wish, a demand, a program. To most, the roar meant: “Let’s be free from all this nonsense.” But if one were to hear clearly, it was the ancient call of the ancestors which meant: “Down with your hierarchy!”  

29.

Ignoring the threats of the high-status folk, all of water-lands creatures gathered by the lake, along the river, and around the springs.

The snow leopards arrived first and spoke first.

“We must answer the roar and liberate the water-land.”

Then the black bears addressed the gathering.

“They have Big Crafties helping them, we need to seek help from Small Crafties.”

“In our entire story,” said the snow leopards shaking their heads, “it is those who have wanted to impose hierarchy who go and seek help from the Outside. Not us. Never. Don’t you see they are all the same?”

The falcons spoke next.

“Trust us, friends, we fly far and fast and observe things from above. There are many others among the One-God’s folks beyond the mountains who suffer. We have got to bring them together for the One-God’s unadorned equality-based faith.”

At this, the fish rolled their big eyes (or looked like they had) and opened their mouths to speak.

“Listen, under water, all the causes, creeds, and faiths get mixed up and finally settle down on mud. If you fly too far with your cause you risk forgetting why you were even fighting for it in the first place. And for the record, we didn’t roll our eyes, they just look like that.”

Then the storks lifted their necks to speak. They stood tall as they fidgeted with their feathers.

“No disrespect to anyone…ahem…but it helps sometimes to spend time in the water as well as fly far with your…ahem…perfectly functional wings. Trust us, we see both above and below the water. We can report to you all that the One God’s cause is just one part of water-land’s story. An important part it is, but there is a longer history of struggle against hierarchy.”

“Is this all going to be ….? To be…?” wondered the stags aloud, who had absent-mindedly stepped forth. The stags had a tendency to lose their train of thoughts, as if they were caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. It usually made others impatient.

“To be what? You heavy-headed, light-brained pretentious deer?” thundered the snow-leopards, the black bears, the fish, the storks, and the falcons in unison.

“Violent! Is this all going to be violent?” asked the miffed stags.

There was silence. No one spoke. Then from the hedge, the Snake appeared.

“No dummies, it is going to be violet,” he said softly.

The gathering broke into a laughter.

The kind old Snake always knew how to slither out of tough situations. He was a shape-shifter. For thousands of years, the Snake had persistently slithered out of his own skins to cheat death. As such, he was like a data bank of collective memory for the water-land and had heard these arguments before.

“My children,” the old Snake continued, growing somber, “Those who impose their transcendent hierarchy and power upon us, they are the ones being violent. They don’t see the potential of our immanent equality. They don’t see how we are all emanations of our water-land. We are born of it in all our plural forms and we return to it. The water-land neither imposes nor bears any hierarchy. Trust me, my friends, the Kaeshr have also risen. The plane of immanence will finally defeat the arc of transcendence. Remember, equality is justice. But never forget that it is justice without revenge. Revenge means erecting a new hierarchy in the place of the old. The equality that the water-land demands is for all.”

There was pin-drop silence.

“Old Snake,” the snow-leopards said finally, “you are wise as you have always been. We live in the mountain and the mountain lives in us. We must explain to the Kaeshr what the roar means. And for that, we have to tell them their real story.”

The black bears nodded.

“For a moment there,” they said, “we had forgotten the solitude we so love. The water-land has its own rhythms and rhymes, and even if others wanted to help us, it should be on our own terms.”

 “We are the guardians of the air,” said the falcons, “but we feel the pull of the water. We will connect with all those who have been crushed under hierarchy and share our stories.”

The stags stepped forth again, this time with more purpose.

“We may have more horns than brains, but we have borne the violence of the oppressor-hunters the most. They killed both the Kaeshr and us for sport. This has got to stop.”

The fish and the storks spoke in unison:

“We must save the water-land. First, they said Kash-Yap did us all a favor by letting the water out and creating Kash-Yap-Mira. Now their Big Crafty friends are building dams everywhere. Why they gotta mess with the water all the time!”

 Meanwhile, other creatures of the water-land had assembled too: bulbuls, crows, mallards, frogs, kingfishers, hoopoes, street dogs, kites, mynas, pigeons, sparrows, and a few Kaeshr boys and girls. They all turned toward the Snake again. The Old Snake smiled.

“Tomorrow is the day, then, comrades!” he said.

Night arrived. The gathering broke into songs.

30.

All this while, the Big Crafties had been hatching a new plan to maintain the hierarchy. They named their plan “Operation Sarp Vinash”—Operation Destroy the Snake, in other words.

“So long as that Old Snake is alive,” the CEO of the Big Crafties said, “these demons will not forget this equality-shquality and will not accept hierarchy as natural,” as he hammered his fist into the ivory-inlaid table left behind by the Pales.

The message was telegraphed to the mustachioed general of their big crafty army.

“Confidential: please do the needful.”

Next day, as the sun arose, the water-land resounded with the sounds and slogans:

Azadi! Azadi!

To hell with your nonsense!

Down with your hierarchy!

In the distance, the Mustachioed General of the Big Crafty Army mounted a horse with a rifle in one hand and the Constitution of his Big Crafty country in another.

“March forward!” he hollered to his men, “Cut these demons down! Turn their water red!”

As the big craft army stood in formation, a few intransigent Kaeshr children stepped forward. They held each other’s arms, and in one voice they spoke:

Rage smolders in our bellies

The fists clench

Our hands become stones

In which their copper poison bullets

turn to dust

On our iron heads,

their reason and batons shatter to pieces.

 

The dead are witness

All the dead from the millennia past

Those shamed in their degraded existence

Now proudly buried in their nameless graves

They watch

Their legacy carried on our corrugated backs.

 

As we, the sons and daughters of

The water-born

The meat-eating demons, snake-worshippers

The speakers of gobbledygook

The lowest of the low

Claim once again this land of our ancestors.♦



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