Sunday, December 14, 2014

To the Stranger who asked for Prayers

We had been silent for coffee shops were not quite our thing yet.
The coffee was gaping at us from large porcelain cups, uncomfortable and quiet.

The conversation drifted from one thing to another. Arundhati Roy said that when people meet only the small things are said, the big things remain unsaid. Lurking inside. I am pretty sure she said something like that in The God of Small Things. 

And so we taked about the weather. You can talk about the weather in Srinagar for ever. So did we. Then we talked about other random stuff, before falling quiet again. The silence made flitting appearences throughout the meeting. There and gone, in a moment. 

But it would soon turn all pallid. He would leave. 

"Pray for me", he said.

Did I believe in the power of prayer, he had asked. 

The stranger before me was an old friend, who rarely met. And even though I loved him, he wouldn't have known. We take things we dont care about for granted. In fact, right then sitting across him I felt as if I had never really met him. May be I never had. May be he was just a name from the long list of people I have come across on the internet who materialized.

So I said, yes, I will pray for you.

We paid for the coffee and left. In different directions. His to leave the place, mine towards the maze of Srinagar lanes to home. 

The air was heavy with the burden I carried. I must add his name to the prayer. But then, my prayers had carried no name. It had been more of a wish, a secretly expressed desire to which God was a witness. And of course, his Prophet (PBUH). And yet, it would have been unfair if I hadn't mentioned him specifically. Donated a whisper in his name too.

What is the price of prayer?

On the day of Jumat-ul-Vidah, a few years ago the Imam was fervently praying after the congregational prayers. There were loud gasps as people broke down, saying Amen. Afterwards they chimed in loudly for a highly effected Kashmiri na'at. Even in the women's section teary eyed women raised their shawls and the hems of veils in prayer. The prayers then too had no names. They were universal for every body. For joy and happiness. For peace and justice. For life.

However, at night I tried to remember the name of the stranger. The little warrior far away from home, fighting his own brand of despair. And wished his freedom. I tied the wish to the wings of prayer for the stranger. That he may find rest from all that was hard on him.

I prayed that someone would do so much for me too.

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