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.







Friday, May 30, 2014

Thank God For Little Pleasures - XXVII

There was a fire on the hills.

The stranger had appeared again amidst us. No one noticed the stranger, as people never do. He was waiting at the bus stand in a queue of people. It was hot, the heat drawing out like a centipede on his neck where perspiration trickled. He looked straight ahead. Behind him somebody was laughing wildly into a phone, with such abandon as if there was nothing wrong with the world. His world may be, how would the stranger know?

The bus stand was slowly filling  up. People came and went. Not a single familiar face. The stranger was glad for such things at times. It was an odd relationship with the city: there were no expectations, no pretences and so few disappointments. Both of them hated each other with the same intensity.

Tonight there is nobody. Just the stranger and a few waiters waiting for him to go away. The food is tasteless, like always. And the stranger is starving.



Up in the mountains, there is a fire. The ovens are burning bright and there is a feast laid out for no body in particular. The stranger is aware of it. Acutely, as he reminds his starving mind. He completes his food, puts down his fork, pays the cash to the waiter waiting with the bill and leaves.

The mountains are a pretty place to be in. The stranger considers his mind and the edges he has been drawn to. A draft brings the smoke of the fire to him. They must be burning roses up there. It smells pleasant, singed roses, their colour bleeding into fuel and their fragrance wafting in the fumes. Do they do that? To make the valleys fragrant. There are no breezes here, its all smoke and unpleasant.

The next bus is ten minutes delayed. The man on the phone is still talking.

Quietly he boards the bus and leaves. The city wails behind him.