Friday Notes on Kashmir: 23 June 2017

Graffiti on Bund / Photo by Mahum Shabir

Friday Notes on Kashmir is a weekly reflective series of notes by Kashmiri writer and researcher Mahum Shabir. The notes will be published in a series form every Friday in this magazine. Fridays in Kashmir are unique as expressions ranging from political protests for self-determination to the call for shutdown are most visible and definitive on this day. This is the third part of the series. 

Eid: 23 June, 2017

It is strange how war finds its way into Eid in Kashmir. Not that there isn’t war in Kashmir on other days, but on Eid, apparent in the way children play is how we draw the violence closer. On a day when we could come far from how we are on other days, we draw that violence closer.

Children playing Militant versus Army point their plastic bandooks loaded with paper-strip ammunition at each other. Little boys imitate dying as they flop into the ground in a battle of sozzled clicks. Still others play Protest March, even when they are only two – one walking ahead sloganeers, other sings the chorus, which always ends in Azadi. I suppose children play this way on other days too but on Eid the imitation is amplified, assisted by small-shop capitalism that sells toy AK-47’s, pistols, a litany of rockets, what are known as bangole and other essentials with which to stage war. These are not fireworks; the point, in general, seems to be to make a louder noise.

The next two days will unfold to the familiar sound of unseen explosions but this time we are the one’s lighting the sulphur. Is this rage or celebration?  Perhaps there cannot be one without the other. Living here makes us this way.

You see occupation has a sound too. It is the obvious sound of gunfire, of houses boomed apart, the guttural drawl of army convoys and also of chaos in a shooting, the desolation afterwards, of summers lost in mourning, that of coffins shut. It is the silence of words left unspoken.

A collective recognition of this sensory environment exists in how Kashmiri children’s play, especially on Eid, draws from living in occupational violence, mirroring it, but to imagine a different subjectivity than the one we are accustomed to. Protest and prayer, these too are ways in which we preserve ourselves not only from being defined by our unfreedom but also from cultural dislocation, disillusionment and isolation­ – part and parcel of the silent, totalizing psychosocial project that occupation is.

Eid last year was followed by a spate of curfewed days. Crackers were still being lit when Burhan’s killing was announced. In the imprisonment that followed, plateaus of stillness were woven into pitched battles between protestors and state troopers. In moments of quiet, an ordinary sound – that of a door shut, remained in the air for a while longer, as if pushing against annihilation.

The stillness was wretched too, I felt myself losing momentum, looking on at lost time, waiting for the light to submit to dusk, watching myself turn as if to stone. I was thankful then to see boys pelting stones from my window and hear their shrieking protest. I was thankful for azaan. In those acts we asserted ourselves as, at least, bodies with parts, with speech­ ­– something which may have been assumed as being the case otherwise, could no longer be presupposed and needed to be made apparent.

Locked inside, I longed to see beyond the curb of home. Seeing brings relief.


Picnic: June 16, 2017

We are out on picnic, four friends.  Padshahi Bagh – King’s Garden – is a rocky recess in a mountain cut by flowing water. At first, we gently will dip our feet into the stream to estimate its effect on us, as if of words just spoken. Later, we assail into a full-blown water war­ – we are soaked, giggling in delight like children playing on a late summer afternoon. 

There are few women here for a picnic spot, there were even fewer at the Dagwan River, where hoards of boys in their underwear were gathered to bathe. Every once in a while, men emerge from behind the rocks and the sparse foliage, from where they watch our woman-bodies in wet clothes, while their own exist with abandon, in public, even naked. “They are probably taking pictures of us”, says Nadiya. “What if they put them up on Facebook?” asks Irfan, multiplying unease.

We sit to dry our clothes on raised rocks in the stream. Junaid sees an ant crawl on his forearm. He leads it into his palm and says to me, “Watch, I am going to murder this ant.”  I ask why, he doesn’t answer. I am more interested now in what he is going to do. He cups his palm and dips it into the water letting in, in two swift motions, just enough water so the ant first struggles to keep a grip on his skin and then can scarcely remain afloat. Just when he lowers his palm for the third time, he shakes his hand rather violently, losing the water he held as well as the ant to the stream. There is the tiniest hint of raised pink on his palm. “It bit me”, he says. 

Two young girls who live in the area are setting close-by. The girls are accompanied by their grandmother – a slight woman who watches her cattle graze from a distance. They speak of a meadow behind the mountain, a place called Dug-mug, of a forest past the meadow, of Rajouri where an aunt goes in autumn ­– places of which they have heard a lot about but where they never been. They ask what how the four of us are related to each other. I tell them we are friends. “Don’t you have brothers?” asks one. “No, I have one sister”, I say.  “I had a brother but he died after he had lived for a month”, says the older girl. “He was jaundiced”. The younger girl lost two of her siblings this way. We play rope. The girls give us sour berries that grow here.

We travel to Shalimar where we don’t enter the garden but have tea in one of the stalls outside. Nadiya leaves, rest of us move towards the city.


Flight: 9 June 2017

Statistically, over the course of your life, the more you fly, the higher the probability the plane goes down. Statistically, once on the flight, one who has flown the world is as likely to go down as the first-time flyer. Calculate those two, in a head that isn’t made to analyze likelihoods, doesn’t care for, those weighted words where b’s and p’s are interspersed over a rolling o.

In air, the landscape of Valley reveals itself to the muffled cadence of aircraft engine – the view of the bird, the bird’s eye view. Terraced fields. Sloping roofs. Ochre earth. Rivers and roads cross like birthday buntings. The nausea of taking flight is overcome by the lightness of being lifted into the air. We call this hope. We hope of arriving to the warm smile of a friend. But we cannot say for certain, this or anything else.

Photo by Mahum Shabir

On the plane I read about those journeying in desert borderland between Mexico and the United States. William Atkins writes, “Among these people – who succumbed to heat stroke or dehydration, or fell from cliffs or died of snake bite or heart attacks ­– some eight hundred are unidentified. To this number maybe added those whose remains that have not been found, either because of their remoteness or, more likely, because they have simply been erased.”

Erase |ɪˈreɪz|

verb [ with obj. ]

rub out or remove (writing or marks): graffiti had been erased from the wall.

The word expands. Fills my head. Maybe because Valley is a place where this word is weighted not because of its meaning in itself but because the meaning of it has been made apparent to us in the disposability of the bodies of those vanished, in small metal pellets lodged in our eyes and thighs, in scarred riversides and stolen Pines, in what we saw yesterday and will see tomorrow. When another dead is only a television dream, there is erasure.

How do you rub out or remove a person from the wall?

I cannot find name of the 18-year-old boy, killed on Wednesday evening, on the Greater Kashmir website. The military opened fire on stone-pelting youth during a search and cordon operation near the village of Ganowpora.

It is Friday today. Were it not for the day’s bandh, what marker would there be of Adil’s loss? Loss but also killing, something done to a young Kashmiri man, committed. Murder.

A day’s shutdown is called for a “civilian killing”, two days for two, more for three. In Islam, depending on what school of thought one follows, a death may be grieved for three or four days. But what when one is killed on day one, two on day two, three on day three, five on day four...what will be the math of this mourning? Will we be asked to commit to memory the Fibonacci Sequence of Grief?

Graffiti has been erased from the wall.

I come into the City of Billboards. Giant advertisements hang from above. They are mostly for cars, phones and the Government of India. I look up at them. A few read, “Thank you Prime Minister, 2 Crore women got their self-respect”, “Redmi Note 4, from Rs. 9999”, “24x7 emergency angioplasty at Apollo Hospital”, “Datsun Party: Goodbye Potholes, EMI starts at Rs.7999”.

The publicity images and the nylon mall air pervert reality, I boast to my friend. I lust for authenticity. I board a train into the belly of the city. I find: chicken in cages too small to lift their heads, men without arms and men without legs, boxes of tomatoes rotting in the white afternoon, steps to Jama Masjid, a Jama Masjid metro station (that wasn’t here the last time I was), and loudspeakers made rust by sandstone dust. A white man is photographing all this.

“What is in Kashmir except good weather?” says my friend. “The sky is blue in Kashmir”, I say. The young go on bright blue days..

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