Monday, September 8, 2014

The City is an Island

This is a hastened up post for I didn’t know what else to do.
***
The city tonight lies in shambles. It’s as if we hadn’t enough to cry for in the past years. Throughout the past night and much of the day we could only read about other people being caught up by the flood. An uncle was weeping on the phone. His house was flooded completely and like so many others he had moved to the attic, still in fear that the water would rise further. And no one would come for rescue.

At first, we could call each other and know their status. But then the phones stopped working. The networks died. And now we don’t know about each other at all. We are all locked up. The worst part is that family members so many miles away, in foreign countries, cannot know anything about their people back home. Kids away for their parents, worried for them – that sort of crises. The social media of Kashmir was one long SOS call.  

Whole day we heard the story grow in snippets – as the flood took over the city in parts. Like an invading army, entering from all sides. Rajbagh was the first to go. Jawaharnagar followed. Gogji bagh, Abi Guzar, Goni Khan, HS High all gone in a blink. And now Srinagar lies in a maze of submerged bridges among roads lost to the Jehlum. Small islands of housing clusters remain. People have climbed to the roof tops. The Dal Lake was the last to fall, but fell it did. I am sorry to say that.

And dear Lord, now this night is upon is. Its all dark and scary. And people are terrified. God, please stay this night with them. They need You especially tonight. Like every other night.

The helplessness coming from all the news from Kashmir is tangible. But we have braved the curfews and crack downs – when there was nothing to do except watch the sun rise and set. Empty days full of hours upon hours of uncertainty. There was no way to earn bread either. But we sallied forth. With some faith in God, of course. But this time it is a bit different. That was anger, this is desperation.

There is a slight glimmer of hope. Rescue teams are still working to get stranded people out. But the water is rising and falling in patterns hard to understand. Every now and then there is breach in the embankments and another neighbourhood is flooded.

This seems to be rather long night to pass. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Best for the Last

"Will you dance with me? was the last thing that had crossed my mind. Or rather, should have been the last thing.

But Srinagar is never in a mood for dance. That summer had been sad and long. Painful for both of us. And love wasn't love anymore. It had morphed into a memory where no one wanted to travel. The rain had disappeared and the Botanical gardens with it. There were no almond blossoms, nothing to separate the season from autumn.

In my mind, he was now staring at the Chinar. The red and brown leaves falling. The boughs a bit bent. Kashmir would soon lose this sheen. The world would turn a pallid grey. He would leave.

Isn't that Kashmir's tragedy? The best is always lost first.

There was a time when all we had wanted to was to look good. But that doesn't last long. Time works wonders with looks and desires. I remember how gently his hair had fallen on his forehead. I remember that he had secretly loved his looks. I remember I had done too. Though, neither of us confessed. And that is the only thing I remember.

And now all I see is this young guy, with a wide-on-the-butt-narrow-on-the-legs pants sashay into the coffee shop, one of the many things that Kashmir now has. Nobody seems to notice him, except me. And me, for a reason the kid knows nothing about. All of a sudden, the autumn in Botanical gardens has paused. The brown leaves are still hanging there, and there is promise yet.


Outside the summer sun is setting. A group of tourists are excitedly admiring a jamawar shawl in a display window. A bus conductor runs after a bus to climb into it. Three girls from college finally notice the boy and dismiss him immediately. The crest of his carefully puffed hair falls. I laugh out and check myself immediately.

He stares out of the window. I follow his gaze but there is nothing in the clouds today. His faraway looks melts the autumn away from Botanical Gardens. From the gazebo it is still in Spring.

In my memory the question hangs unasked,"will you dance with me?"


The Samovar Tweet-story












Friday, July 25, 2014

It Makes Perfect Sense

I greatly admire people who can properly word their prayers. People who beseech God with proper words of prayers asking Him not just forgiveness but for other material and immaterial things as well.

In the grand mosque located where the mohalla ends, the Imam who used to be was very good with words. I think most imams in Kashmir are. They have a set of items which they all ask in congregational prayers. Forgiveness. Honour. Livelihood. Health. Cure. Suitors. Children. There are prayers for Kashmir, especially in times of turmoil and curfew. There are prayers for Palestine and Muslims around the world. The imam would close his eyes and sit partially facing the gathering as he repeated the same prayer everyday.

It made perfect sense. These things are universal. Everybody could do with living a healthy life with honour and dignity.

Then there is a little pause as the people in the congregation consider a small prayer, just for themselves. But some prayers are not easy to speak out. On nights like the last, Shab Qadr, one feels especially tongue tied of what to ask God for. Is there a picking order? How does one vent out the contradictions and conflict of the heart?

Or we dont. For God already knows. He knows the hope of the heart and its answer. We only need to say Amen. An Amen content in the knowledge that God knows and understands our condition, and that we have no gift for words. He, being the Provider and the Pathmaker, shall make a way for the unsaid prayer to reach Him.


Image Credit: Sajad Rafeeq

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Inside of a Cup

Precisely at the moment I lost it, it became precious. Like lost lyrics to the songs which you remembered by heart once.

There was no bread to be had, no czochwour and no company. Srinagar was a cool breezy house where afternoon echoed in through open doors. Empty. There was some nun chai, I was sure. But I didn't know how to make it. It was something that was already at home, waiting to be heated and had.

I let the nun chai brew. A bit hesitatingly, not sure if this is the right way. Something so famously complicated couldn't have such a simple beginning. Or could it? The dried crisp leaves danced in the boiling water. It needs to be boiled, for hours and hours, of that I was sure. In the old days, when electricity was really poor in Srinagar and the voltages fluctuated wildly, nun chai was prepared in a thick bottomed vessel, four hours together on a electric heater. That changed with times. When families used to be large and people had too much time and, often too many servants, the samavars were heated in the morning and would brew the nun chai perfectly for hours before serving. Of course, the pot bellied copper samavars are the most authentic way to have nun chai.

But not today. Not for me. The tea lacked colour. And even though the aroma was the same nostalgic fragrance which at once reminded me of my mother's blue winter shawl the colour was absent. I was missing the soda, phol, sodium bicarbonate. The magic ingredient which draws out all the flavour and colour from the tea leaves. Of course, it does that slowly too. The tea bubbled a little as the powder dissolved into it and then died. The electric induction cooker did its usual hum and the tea went back to boiling just as it was.Nun chai draws from the slow humdrum life of Kashmir, taking patience and labour to get the work done. Though, in case of nun chai as I found out, there isn't much work involved at all.

Fifteen minutes.

"Friends" was playing on the television and that was perhaps why I lost track of time. And perhaps because I was keeping myself company, I also noticed how throughout the seasons of Friends it is Monica with her giving nature who binds the friends together. How her fridge was always stocked up for friends to arrive at all hours and feel at home.

Half and hour, may be. I had lost count.

The afternoon dropped temperatures. Srinagar was now a million miles away. It was a memory written on the tea stains on the inside of a cup. It was the pleasant aroma of the inside of my mother's shawl on an autumn afternoon.