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Sunday, 18 November 2012

"Akanandun" - A short-story by M. K. Santoshi

English translation by SUALEH KEEN of the Hindi short-story “Akanandun” written by MAHARAJ KRISHAN SANTOSHI, which featured in his short-story collection Hamare Ishwar Ko Tairna Nahin Aata.


In Kashmir there will be no mother who hasn’t shed tears after listening to the folktale Akanandun. In childhood, I would have heard this story several times from my mother. Each time my mother’s cheeks would get wet. One time I had asked my mother this:
        “Mother, what is it in this story that you cry?”
        “When you will have your children, you will understand on your own,” mother had straightforwardly answered. Today, I am a father of two children. Due to my affection towards my children I was now getting to understand the poignancy of this story.
        In the folktale, when after twelve years the Yogi [1] arrives, mother would start becoming sad. She would feel like it is her own son that the Yogi has come to snatch away from her. She would curse that moment when she had accepted the Yogi’s condition. Those times the mother was childless and was desperately yearning for a son. The Yogi had blessed her with son-bearing and with that he had set one condition too.
        “What condition?” mother had asked.
        “You son will remain with you for twelve years only...”
        “And after that?” There was apprehension in mother’s tone.
        “After that he will have to be returned to me.”
        Mother’s countenance had become lacklustre and father too had become off-colour. Both were vacillating between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.
        “We accept,” after a long pause, a synchronous note of their acceptance had wafted together in the air.
        Mother liked to listen to the Akanandun epic song a lot. Ghulam Mohammad Dar had sung this in his sweet voice. Every now and then, mother would ask me to write a request letter to Radio Kashmir. Whenever that epic was broadcast from the radio, she would leave aside all her work to listen to it with engrossed attention. Sometimes I would also be with her. During those times, she would truly become the mother of Akanandun and I also would become Akanandun in my imagination.
        “Mother, the Yogi has come,” I would say.
        “You hide somewhere, Akanandun! I will tell the Yogi that you have gone to visit your maternal grandparents’ home.” There would be turbulence in mother’s tone.
        “Why so, mother?” I would ask in surprise.
        “I cannot tell... (aside) No, no, I will not hand you over to the Yogi!”
        Here, the Yogi was making appeal upon appeal.
        “Where is Akanandun? Call him... quickly...”
        Mother would become helpless. She, along with her husband and Akanandun, would come out. The Yogi would pull Akanandun towards him.
        “Feeling hungry,” the Yogi would say.
        “Vegetable rice is ready, Yogi Maharaj.”
        “No, I want meat.”
        “Please forgive, Yogi Maharaj. From where will we get meat this time?”
        “Not of some animal; I want the meat of your son.”
        “Trahi! Trahi! [2] What is this you are saying, Maharaj!” The tone of the mother drowned in grief would be perturbed.
        It is written in the folktale that the mother-father under compulsion killed their son. Cooked his meat in a big pot. Then it was served in four plates. One plate for the Yogi. Two plates for the mother-father. The fourth plate for Akanandun.
        “Go, call Akanandun from the window,” the Yogi would with a commanding voice tell the mother.
        “Akanandun! Akanandun!” the mother would call with an uneasy throat.
        “Coming, mother...” Akanandun’s voice would resound back. The mother would get tangled in the Yogi’s magic. When she would turn around to look, neither would the Yogi be anywhere, nor could the plates served be seen.

After exodus, mother had forgotten even Akanandun. In the strange city with its step-sunshine, it was as if her tender spots had dried up. Wherever, in whichever direction she looked, only dust, smoke, sand and thorny bushes could be seen. The mother, habituated to looking out from the windows of a four-storey house, during these days had been made helpless by looking from the window. Whenever she would look out of the window, she would start trembling. Only upon seeing this condition of hers had I forbidden her to look outside from the window.
        One day I told mother:
        “Come, mother, today let me tell you Akanandun’s story.”
        “Want to make mother cry,” laughingly mother had said.
        “No, mother. It is not like that.”
        “I was joking. Okay, come tell. Let me see if you know the art of storytelling or not.”
        And I started the story. Mother laid down a bit on the takhtposh. [3]
        “Mother, this time it so happened that before the Yogi’s return only Akanandun was killed. He had gone to the market to buy few things for his twelfth birthday. Perhaps some envelopes from the post-office. To whom those letters were to be written, know not. It could be that these he had to write to those friends who had migrated away. Killed was Akanandun. On the road a hand-grenade had exploded, which took away his life. That hand-grenade had been thrown by an identical some other Akanandun at the security forces. Weep a lot did Akanandun’s mother. In just a few days the Yogi was coming. What will she then tell the Yogi. How will she return what was entrusted to her. No, no, she would not be able to show the Yogi her face. She will go somewhere... and hide, now who of hers was here. Husband had already gone his way. Now not even the son. No, no, now she will not live here. Tying a stone to herself, she will drown in the river. After that where Akanandun’s mother went, nobody knows.
        “Hand-grenades were customarily exploding in the city. Place to place, soldiers were deployed. On the roads, the hustle-bustle was not as it used to be. Twelve years ago when the Yogi had come to this city, how peaceful it had been then and how shining, how much purity, how much good will. Silver smiles used to be always shining on people’s faces. The rivers, the weather, the greenery: how beautiful they used to seem. Now, upon glancing at the rivers, one gets scared of one’s own reflection. From the amazing weather and greenery a stench of rotten meat emanates. The Yogi was wearing a khadao, [4] even then he was walking with a brisk pace. When he reached Akanandun’s home, he was surprised to see a padlock hanging from the door. Until today such a thing had never happened in the folktale. Some inauspicious thing had surely happened. The atmosphere of the city was looking suspicious right from the start. Passing through the city, it was appearing as if it had become the capital of mourning. Houses empty, desolate they were appearing. The number of half-burnt houses was no less. So, has some demon come to the city that has caused so much destruction? Has Akanandun’s family also been devastated in this destruction? But the padlock on the door was giving this suggestion that the people of the house had fled away out of fear somewhere.
        “The Yogi had come walking a long distance. The need for a little rest was felt by him. He started walking towards some place of rest. In the nearby chinar grove, he lay down on the little surviving green cover. As soon as he lay down, he fell asleep. He would have continued sleeping for a long while had he not felt some hard object jabbing into his body. He got up in an agitated state. He saw a few soldiers. One soldier among them was pressing the barrel of a gun and asking: ‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’
        “‘I am a Yogi.’
        “‘If Yogi you are, what is your work in this terror city?’
        “‘I have come here after twelve years, I don’t know anything more.’
        “‘Then you go back, Yogi Maharaj,’ one soldier said in a mock reverence.
        “‘Where shall I go? How shall I go? Until Akanandun does not return home.’ There was pity in the Yogi’s voice.
        “‘Then stay in a prison until that time. We will help you reach there.’ On these words, all soldiers guffawed together. Amid this sound of collective laughter, one soldier’s commanding voice rang out:
        “‘The morning is coming. You find your shelter, Yogi.’
        “‘Shelter! Shelter!’ He laughed a lot on this word of the soldier. So much power emerged from his laughter that the soldiers left without arguing further.
        “During the night the Yogi returned to Akanandun’s home. The padlock on the door was as it was. A weak light was straining out from the nearby houses. He came near the door and, shaking the padlock, he started calling: ‘Akanandun! My Akanandun! Where are you?’ He continued calling for a long time but not even a window opened. It was a moonlit night and in this moonlight he saw the face of a woman through a window. With her hands she beckoned the Yogi to come close to her house.
        “‘Shut up, Yogi. My Akanandun is sleeping. Today itself after two years he has been released from jail. Just now my Akanandun fell asleep. You don’t wake him up with your hue and cry. I request you, Yogi. You go away from here.’ There was water in that woman’s eyes and wetness in her voice.
        “‘But my Akanandun?’ said the Yogi in a pitiable tone.
        “‘Your Akanandun has been killed. Now he will never come back.’
        “‘And his family?’
        “‘Don’t know. Now, Yogi, you go away,’ there was irritation in that woman's tone. The Yogi respected the feelings of that mother and moved from there. In the morning on the lake-shore his dead body was found.
        “You are listening, aren’t you, mother?”
        “Poor Yogi...”

© Translation, Sualeh Keen

Translation notes:

[1] Yogi = an ascetic, a mendicant; also called ‘jogi’ (used in the Hindi original).

[2] Trahi! = An interjection (Hindu) meaning “Save me!” “Deliver me!” or “Mercy!”

[3] Takht-posh = a low, wooden, table-like platform on which people sit, often cross-legged; a divan; a piece of couch-like sitting furniture.

[4] Khadao = a wood sandal or slippers worn (mostly) by sages since ancient times; called khraav in Kashmiri.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

(Mis)understanding the Kashmir Conundrum - by Ashraf Bhat

On 11 April 1996, I boarded a bus from Srinagar bound for Anantnag (also called Islamabad ). Army personnel stopped the bus for a routine check and asked a middle-aged man: ‘where are you going?' ‘Anantnag', was the scared reply. A moment ago, however, the man had fearlessly asserted ‘Islamabad' to the bus conductor. Islamabad and Anantnag, therefore could not be merely contextually constructed alternatives, but, embedded assertion of identity statements. Paradoxically, security forces in Kashmir get angry for using the word Islamabad (probably because it is the name of the capital of the neighboring country! Or perhaps it is an assertion of the religious identity!).

The dynamics of such alternatives and the dilemma it entails plays out among the main stakeholders here: the Kashmiri people, India, and Pakistan. The Kashmiri people include the common masses, the separatist camp (popularly called the Hurriyat Conference), the mainstream political parties, and the migrant Kashmiri Pandits. Within the common masses—who actually experienced the destruction, sufferings and pain—there are varying narratives and opinions. A larger section would advocate azadi (freedom) and some, Nehru's proposed ‘plebiscite'. Even among the azadi fans, the understanding varies. For some, it entails the end of the entire Indian presence while for others, it implies Kashmir minus India's army. ‘Most of the young people in Kashmir want azadi, but no two persons have the uniform opinion when asked what azadi is' asserts Mr. Wajahat Habibullah, Chairman of National Minority Commission.

In summer 2008, hundreds were injured and killed; huge rallies supported the azadi slogan. The influence of these protests across the valley persuaded Vir Sanghvi, Subramanian Swamy and Arundhati Roy to suggest a referendum in Kashmir – ‘thinking the unthinkable'. However, shortly, the people of the valley proved such presumptions false by participating in the Assembly elections with almost a 70% turnout. Mr. Arun Jaitley, in a television debate, then called the volatile incidents of 2008 and 2010 in Kashmir as temporary aberrations. However, a common genuine concern, as Mr. Habibullah articulates is that ‘most of the people opine that Indian state treats all the people of Kashmir as potential threats [… and] that India will never treat them as equal citizens.' The only shared concern, one can notice within the common mass that conjoins their voice is that they all have suffered at every front.

Similarly, among the separatists, there are at least three diverse opinions: Pakistan, azadi and plebiscite. Among the two major factions of the separatists, one is willing to participate in a dialogue with the Indian government; the other faction utterly refuses dialogue, considering it futile and without tangible outputs. However, the only unity in their tones is the perception of a common challenge: the Indian State.

The mainstream parties are no exception and are equally divided. The National Conference advocates autonomy; the People's Democratic Party campaigns for self-rule; and the Congress Party affirms the status quo. However, they have some common characteristics, which presumably unite them and distinguish them from the separatist groups. They all consent to the accession of Kashmir with India as final, blame each other for the plight of the Kashmiri people and irrespective of which party rules, the state retains its very high levels of corruption.

Similarly, there are confused theories about the migration of Kashmiri Pandits. Kashmiri Muslims presume that the Pandit community migrated purposely. The Indian government holds the militants responsible for displacing the Pandits. Two common concerns, which unite the Pandits, include the threat of losing their linguistic and cultural identity and the strong opposition to any compromise on Kashmir including the demand for referendum or azadi .

The voices from New Delhi endorse dialogue as the only solution. Nevertheless, the tones vary: some suggest a dialogue with Pakistan and some with Kashmiris alone. Occasionally, the offer for a dialogue is unconditional with any group, whether within our outside the jurisdiction of the Indian constitution. Others (specifically the right wing) strongly warn that Kashmir is an internal problem, irresolvable by dialogue, considering the accession of Kashmir unquestionable and perceiving the conflict as a proxy war by Pakistan and ‘cross-border terrorism'. They seem over-obsessed with the semantics of separatism, thereby pressing the state to be hard on separatists and anybody who seeks or supports azadi in any form. Within the stakeholders of the Indian state, this wave of bewilderment travels across the range of narratives, be it the perceptions about the disappeared persons from Kashmir, or the recent discourses concerning the handling of stone-palters, protests, revocation of AFSPA and the most recent issue of the mass graves. However, the unifying oblige for New Delhi is that Kashmir is an integral part of India; the accession of Kashmir is unquestionable.

Another concerned party is the Indian public. The majority has little or no knowledge about the Kashmir issue. ‘People actually don't know about Kashmir' points out Rukmini Bhaya Nair (professor, poet and writer) at IIT Delhi. People conceptualize Kashmir through Bollywood movies like Mission Kashmir and Roja , and the sometimes-biased local print and electronic media. The other considerably smaller group with a better understanding of Kashmir constitutes persons from the Indian intelligentsia who often criticize the Indian state responsible for holding Kashmir forcefully with the help of 700,000 troops. The right-wing has ever so often threatened them for making ‘antinational' pro-Kashmir statements.

Pakistan, once an essential stakeholder, is currently struggling with its internal troubles and the reputation of a failed state. The current situation has disheartened a handful voices from Kashmir that once favored Pakistan. It would thus be prejudice to consider Pakistan still as a stakeholder, apart from the part of Kashmir they administer, which they call ‘azad Kashmir'.

Finally, the least anxious and non-stakeholders, comprising the international community and organizations (including UN, EU, the US, OIC and the Muslim states) are again in a quandary when it comes to Kashmir. They have an ambiguous Kashmir policy. Every so often, they recommend resolving the issue affirming the right of Kashmiris to self-determination and use the phrase ‘Indian occupied Kashmir'. Occasionally, they show concern for human rights violations in Kashmir by the Indian state, and equally randomly consider it India's internal matter. Seldom, they advocate a dialogue between India and Pakistan, perceiving the Kashmir-solution essential for South Asian peace.

There seems no visionary, pragmatic and sincere policy regarding Kashmir. When a problem is offered diverse perplexing solutions from several parties, it will certainly never be resolved.

Tail piece: One of my friends from IIT Mumbai recently visited Kashmir. On reaching at the Srinagar airport when his wife wondered why her mobile wasn't working and why the weather was different in Kashmir; he replied humorously “do you think you are still in India?”


Originally posted on http://www.countercurrents.org/bhat1909112.htm

About the author: M. Ashraf Bhat, Ph.D. (IIT Kanpur) is a Postdoctoral  Fellow at Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.

And The Boy Was Slapped - a true story by Shahid Bhat

It is hard to remember the exact dates, but as far my memory goes, the little boy was in 5th class those days. His school was a couple of kilometres away from his home, and every day, along with his little younger sister, he used to go to school on foot but also sometimes in a tonga. [1] Those days, minibuses were not visible on those roads as they are today and tongas were the only means of transport for that area. His school was a leading one in the entire tehsil. [2] Instead of Sundays, they used to have a holiday on Fridays and their medium of instruction was Urdu.

He was very fond of watching TV from early childhood. He loved it to the extent that if left undisturbed, he could have spent the whole day staring at its screen without even blinking his eyes. Unfortunately, those days Doordarshan signal was too weak to feed most of the rural areas. People used to say that broadcasting signals of DD Kashmir channel are unable to cross the intervening mountain range. So the only channel available on his black & white ‘Crown’ television was Pakistan TV or PTV —  thanks to his Papa, who was very expert in developing various mechanical and electronic gadgets. Papa had assembled several instruments for him like the ever-singing never-stopping Kan’na Radio. [3] He had also developed some sort of receiver  — like today’s dish antennae — due to which their family was privileged in the entire village to watch CNN, BBC World and some other unintelligible channel (perhaps, Russian), in addition to PTV. In fact, theirs was the only TV in the entire village.

The child used to watch every programme very keenly, particularly ‘Ainak-wala Jinn’ in which Zakuta was his favourite Jinn character who used to yell frequently “Mujhe kaam bataav mein kya karoon, mein kisko khaoon?” [4] He also used to love other programmes like the animal stories (similar to today’s Animal Planet programmes), cartoon shows like that of Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, quiz programmes like ‘Neelaam Ghar’, serials like ‘Mariya’, and WWF, etc. He had memorised the azaan, the duwa recited after azaan, many surahs and ahadees from the TV.[5] In fact, much of the Quran and GK [6] he used to know was memorised from the TV. The Eid special programmes were favourite to all and he too used love the Eid packages and of PTV. So, TV used to have a great importance in his life. In fact, TV was his best friend and teacher.

One evening, as usual, while he was watching Neelaam Ghar (famous quiz programme those days) on PTV with family members, the picture of Tariq Aziz, the anchor of the show, started blurring and vibrating. Suddenly, whole screen was covered with dancing horizontal black & white strips. Only beeping sounds were audible from Neelaam Ghar, as if the entire audience of the show were suddenly replaced by the ducklings saying “Piin Piin”. No one was aware what had happened, but after that evening, they could never watch TV properly.

Few days later, they came to know that military from the nearby camp had brought some censoring device to block PTV broadcast in the area. I remember, people used to say, “Dohaiy shaamas chhi censor laagaan! TV ti chhi na divaan vuchhna, taavan zad!” [7] Sometimes, the censor used to start a bit late and the boy’s granny, lost in watching her favourite serial ‘Mariya’, used to yell suddenly as censor used to start in the middle of the serial: “Tratth peyakh khaanas! Logahas censor! Yiman athan chhukh shaayad doad karaan.” [8] Thereafter, the magic box ‘Crown TV’ became a useless “mandachhaavan box” (‘humiliation box’) because whenever some neighbour used to visit with them to watch any programme or news, the TV screen used to become stripped like the zebra crossing, the black and white vertical contrasting strips dancing like Michael Jackson and the ducklings used to start doing ‘taandav’ (wild dancing) inside the idiot box, upsetting both the host as well as the guest.

Smelling a rat in the air those days, his Papa also stopped making new amazing gadgets; instead, he dumped the old ones, including the boy's favourite Kan’na Radio, fearing the wrath of the security agencies. Now, neither his teacher-friend, the magic box, was there, nor his ever-singing Kan’na Radio to spend time with. These strange and sudden happenings around them left the boy alone. His friends Donald Duck, Zakuta of Ainak-wala Jinn, and his favourite wrestlers Owen Hart & Bret Hart were no longer available to give him company.

The boy was very fluent in Urdu and also used to write some good essays. Thanks to his medium of instruction, PTV and the military-wallas on the road side he used to talk to while commuting between home and school. It was routine those days that the person who was unable to communicate properly with the security people, used to get nice scolding or thrashing or both, depending on the mood of these men of uniform. Usually, the poor illiterate people, in particular the old farmers, used to be beaten and insulted due to this communication gap. It was because of this fear that more and more people, even illiterate old men and women, learned broken Urdu very fast. The boy was very sensitive and these insults to old men were making deep imprints in his mind. Whenever some elderly person used to feel difficulty in communicating with security men in front of him, he used to step in quickly and play a role of an uninvited interpreter, without any fear, as most of these security men were familiar with him. They used to see him every day with his school bag and lunch box, and accompanied by his little sister. He used to chat with them without any fear unlike others boys, may be because he could communicate with them more clearly than others, or may be, he really was very bold and courageous.

One fine Friday morning, the boy got up early and had a quick bath, dressed properly and was searching his cap, the pik, without asking anything of his mother. His mother understood that today, he has plans to go his maatamaal [9] for playing with his friends. His maatamaal was in neighbouring village, half a kilometre away from his home. She hurriedly gave him noona chai pyaala with a thani lavaasa [10] and told him to finish his homework first. The boy played twenty-twenty cricket match [11] with half of his homework and told his Mummy that the rest he will finish in the evening. But his Mummy, watching his cricket match, feigned a little anger and replied, “In the evening! In the evenings, you usually get stuck to that TV screen like a mosquito to an oily electric bulb because of that pahalvaan dab!” [12] The boy was quick to remind her that there will be no more pahalvaan dabs because of the evening censors. Finally, she agreed and the little boy rushed towards the main gate of their compound to go to maatamaal, a walking distance from his home.

Outside the main gate on the left side, he saw a big muchhad [13] military-walla with a long bamboo stick in his hand. On the main road, towards the right, people were in queue, showing identity cards to the frisking uniformed lot. Many of them who had beards were trembling and whispering something, may be reciting some protective holy verses. On the left side of the main road, one young man was being thrashed; perhaps, he had no identity card with him. He was yelling, loudly “Sir… sir… sir, I forgot… forgot… forgot… it… I forgot it at my home!” but they were kicking him, slapping him and abusing him. One Sikh military-walla, himself with a long curly rough beard, was pulling the young man’s comparatively straight and smooth beard. The poor young man was crying and requesting them but to no avail. The boy was sad to see this scene and couldn’t dare to move out of the gates; he remained there but kept watching all this helplessly.

Suddenly, the muchhad military-walla came forward and asked him, “What is your name?”

But without listening to his name, he told the boy to bring a glass of water from his home. The boy ran inside the house and brought a glass of fresh water, directly from the tap. The outer surface of the glass was wet, covered with condensed water droplets as the water inside was ice-cold, as if taken from fridge.

The military-walla asked him, “Have you taken it from refrigerator?”

The boy answered “Nahin, nal se. (No, from the tap).

The military-walla further asked him, “Do you speak Hindi?”

The boy answered “Nahin, mein Hindi nahin jaanta.” (No, I don’t know Hindi.)

Hearing again ‘No’ and may be that too without the honorific ‘Sir’, the military-walla  got angry and slightly stiffened his tone: “Tu to abhi Hindi bol raha tha (You were just speaking in Hindi). Why are you lying that you don’t know Hindi?”

The boy replied “Nahin, mein jhootth nahin bolta.” (No, I do not lie.)

The military-walla, now in full temper, shouted and started abusing "@#$%, phir se jhootth bol raha hai!” (You are lying once again!)

The frightened boy somehow gathered courage and managed to tell him, “What I speak is Urdu, not Hindi.”

The military-walla was enraged further by the apparent cheekiness of the little boy or by his not using the honorific ‘Sir’ while answering. He caught hold of the boy and slapped him in the face.

The puzzled boy kept looking at him. He didn’t cry but thereafter, he never spoke to those familiar military-wallas with whom he used to chat on the road side on his way to school. That day, the boy didn’t go to his maatamaal but rushed to his house quietly, without even mentioning the incident to any of his family members. Perhaps he understood that if he discloses this matter to his Mummy or Papa, they will come out and ask that military-walla why he slapped their son and he may respond by thrashing them also. So the boy decided to keep mum, even though his left cheek was burning with red hot pain.

After this incident, the boy stopped to play with his friends completely and used to remain mostly indoors, as if his innocent playfulness too was censored like PTV by the nearby military camp.

“Why he was slapped and abused?”

The boy couldn’t answer this question until his Masters in Arts, where he came to know that Urdu and Hindi are basically same languages using different scripts and loan words. Whatever the boy spoke, intending Urdu expressions, the military-walla took them as Hindi expressions.

However, before arriving at this truth, the boy had developed bizarre theories about the military-wallas. He used to say that you have to be terribly abnormal and abnormally sick and sadistic to be a successful military-walla. He thought only bull-heads and sadists are welcomed in military and also he used to say, "Why should I use a honorific like ‘Sir’ for such sadistic lot when I use them for my beloved teachers?"

Further, he had developed a very strong negative stereotype for Hindi. The stereotypes were strong to the extent that he used to say that Hindi text would sometimes appear him like a queue of similar looking military-wallas, in different postures, carrying different types of weaponry, ready to crackdown on some village and beat people mercilessly.

But after Masters, he tried hard to overcome such stereotypes. In fact, he has been successful to a great extent in eradicating them and has even learned very heavy ‘klishtt’ (difficult) Hindi.

Although the boy, now a grown up, told me that he is convinced that the military-walla slapped him in ignorance, due to his misunderstanding of his innocence, language and his ice-cold glass of water, for me it is not so simple. I know because I too was beaten many times on petty reasons or sometimes for no reasons at all. They used to be more concerned with time-pass with whosoever used to pass by them, either by thrashing him or by humiliating him or by holding him there for hours, frisking, questioning, and wasting his time. Even if the person had to go for some urgent work, they hardly used to bother.

Author’s note: It is a true story of early 1990’s. This was the first shocking incident in the boy’s life that changed his attitude and created a different kind of mindset in him. He had, afterwards, seen many such incidents, even the worst ones, which one can't imagine in luxurious zones and, as far as I remember, what he said last time, he was further beaten fifteen times until he graduated. He promised that he will share details of all the fifteen incidents but he said that he is not sure about the exact dates of the incidents and it is quite possible that he might mix up things.


[1]  A horse driven carriage.

[2]  A taluka or District division.

[3] This makeshift radio consisted of a handset of an old broken telephone with its small microphone and speaker, connected with an electronic device, which, in turn, was connected with an erect segment of wire on the top of his house that acted as an antenna. To listen, the boy needed to press the telephone receiver against his ear. Hence, Kan’na (Ear) Radio.

[4]  “Tell me which work I have to do, whom I have to eat?”

[5] Azaan, duwa, surahs, ahadees: Islamic call for prayers, prayers, chapters of Quran and sayings of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), respectively.

[6] General Knowledge

[7] “Every day they leave the censor on! Don’t even allow us to watch TV, these cursed people!”

[8] “May lightning strike their homes! They started the censor! Perhaps they hand is paining.”

[9] Maternal grandparents’ home.

[10] A cup of salt tea, with buttered ‘tandoori roti’.

[11] Played 20-20 cricket match = make short or fast work of something; to finish something quickly. This is the boy’s original expression.

[12] Pahalwan dub = WWF wrestling match

[13] Moustached

Monday, 12 November 2012

Two Kashmiri Poems: History from the perspective of a people's poet

Both poems are penned by Ghulam Ahmad Mahjoor (1885-1952), a sensuous poet, who later enlarged his canvas to include subjects like unity, social equality, communal harmony, and freedom. With the birth of New Kashmir, he was the most honoured poet till his death in 1952. My English translations here could not capture the rhythm and internal rhymes that are the hallmark of his poems.

Post-partition, Mahjoor played a prominent part in opposing the tribal invaders. He supported the leaders who had cast their lot with India, and inspired the people to rise as one and defend their land. He wrote "Vwolo haa baagvaano", which is brimming with self-belief and optimism for the future of New Kashmir. He had high expectations of the new popular government, not for himself but for the downtrodden.

But within a few years he got disillusioned. Being a 'patwari' (a land steward), he was in close contact with the 'aam aadmi' living in the backwaters of the valley. He was unhappy the fruits of freedom and progress had gone to the chosen few and not percolated to the grassroots. The sardonic poem "Aazaȧdee" articulates that anguish.

Pre-independence poem: Vwolo haa baagvaano

English transliteration:

Vwolo haa baagvaano

Vwolo haa baagvaano navbahaaruk shaan paȧdaa kar
Phwolan gul gath karan bulbul tithee saamaan paȧdaa kar

Chaman vaȧraaṅ rivaaṅ shabnam tsȧṭtith jaamay pareshaaṅ gul
Gulan tay bulbulan andar dubaaray jaan paȧdaa kar

Ma thav gulzaaras andar swoy gulan kits swoy kharaȧbee chhay
Yivaan sumbal chhi pay dar pay gul-e-khandaan paȧdaa kar

Karee kus bulbulaa aazaad panjaras manz tsu̇ naalaan chhukh
Tsu̇ pananye dasta pananyan mushkilan aasaan paȧdaa kar

Hakoomat maal-o-dolat naaz-o-nemat bėyi shahanshaȧhi
Yi soruy chhuy tsė nish paanas tsu̇ amichee zaan paȧdaa kar

Agar vuzanaavahan bastee gulan hȧnz traav zeer-o-bam
Bunyul kar vaav kar gagraay kar toophaan paȧdaa kar

English translation:

Come, O gardener

Come, O gardener, of a new spring the glory you must create
That flowers bloom, bulbuls sing, such means you must create

Desolate garden, weeping dew, forlorn flowers with raiments torn
Inside the dead flowers and bulbuls, a second life you must create

From the garden weed out nettles, of flowers who stunt the growth
In crowds the hyacinths will come, a flower gate you must create

Who will free you, O bulbul, now that you are crying in your cage?
From your ordeal a way out, with your own hands you must create

Power pride, money wealth, comfort luxury, kingdom and authority
All are yours, within reach, about them awareness you must create

To awaken the valley of flowers, your soothing songs you must stop
Create an earthquake, a howling wind, a thunderstorm you must create.

Post-independence poem: Azaȧdee

English transliteration:


Sanaa saȧree pariv saanyan garan tsaayi aazaȧdee
Syaṭha yȧtskaȧly asi kun jalwa haavan aayi aazaȧdee

Yi aazaȧdee chhi traavaan magribas kun rahmatuk baaraan
Karaȧn saȧnis zameenas pyaṭh tsharyay gagraayi aazaȧdee

Gareebee muphlisee bebooj naapursaaṅ zabaaṅ bandee
Amee ru̇tsi traayi asi pyaṭh aayi traavaaṅ saayi aazaȧdee

Yi aazaȧdee chhi sworgu̇ch hoor pheryaa khaana path khaanay
Fakat keṅtsan garan aṅdar chhi maaraan graayi aazaȧdee

Yi aazaȧdee dapaaṅ sarmaayidaaree chham na kunyi thavu̇ny
Vwoṅ pananyan nish chhi sȯmbaraavun hyavaan sarmaayi aazaȧdee

Lukan maatam garan andar bihith maahraaza hiv haȧkim
Yimav rȧṭmu̇ts chhi paanas suu̇ty khalvat shaayi aazaȧdee

Nabir Shekh zaanyi kathi hȯnd maanyi tas tsȧly khaanadaarėny hyath
Sy gav fariyaad karne tas vwopar gari pyayi aazaȧdee

Katshan taamat dapaaṅ vuchhahas sate laṭi tȯmla mwochhi baapath
Phȯtis kyath gara ȧny pootse tshaayi aaram baayi aazaȧdee

Gamu̇ty damphȧṭy chhi saȧree bekaraȧree chhakh dilan andar
Dapaaṅ vanahȧv panun ahvaal asi maa laayi aazaȧdee

English translation:


Give thanks everyone, to our humble homes visits freedom
After ages towards us a rare glimpse shows us freedom

This freedom in a western place showers light and grace
But upon our thirsty soil, empty thunder offers freedom

Poverty, liability and destitution, anarchy, division and repression
Coming with these blessings, a long shadow casts freedom

A houri from high heaven, freedom door-to-door won’t run
Camping in select few homes only, belly-dances freedom

Freedom says hell no, anyone to amass wealth it won’t allow
So, wealth from everyone, its own people, wrings out freedom

While people are in mourning, lords like grooms are sitting
In some secluded bower, they all take turns with freedom

Nabir Shekh* knows what I say, his wife they took away
He filed a petition and at an alien house she gave birth to freedom

Even in armpits seven times, they skin searched her for a handful of rice**
In a basket under her rags, the market gardener’s wife snuck home freedom

They are all broken hopeless, inside their hearts is restlessness
They say if we dare speak, won’t we be punished by freedom?

* Nabir Shekh is used as a generic name for those who were punished for hiding rice.

** Officials at the octroi post had to see that rice is not smuggled into Srinagar. So they were duty-bound to frisk comely poor women more thoroughly.


I am not sure if the above poem was written by Mahjoor before or after the Land Reforms of 1950, before which the daughters of poor peasants were treated as part of the estate on which the landlords enjoyed absolute rights. It seems Mahjoor was rather hasty in condemning the new government. Then again, the local government hasn't done much after the Land Reforms, have they? So, here is a more 'realistically' disillusioned poem by Roshan, written years later.

Another post-independence poem: Shaheed su̇nz maȧj

A disillusioned poem, written by Noor Mohammad ‘Roshan’ Kaul (1919-?), who expresses his angst against selfish leaders who ignored the people, busy as they were in amassing "power, pride, money, wealth, comfort, luxury, kingdom and authority" for themselves, which was but a re-enactment of the feudal regime independence was supposed to have put an end to. Roshan was influenced by progressive writers at a young age. Was one of the first to join the Cultural Congress. Translated Munshi Prem Chand’s Godaan into Kashmiri. Stopped writing poetry altogether in 1960 and went on to set up a silk factory in Srinagar.

English transliteration:

Shaheed su̇nz maȧj

Magar chham khabar gėny ḍyakas kyaazi khaȧru̇th
Buman chaar dith zan kamaan kyaazi chaȧru̇th
Vu̇chhith haal myonuy dȯgu̇ny kaȧr maȧru̇th

Mė kath chham amich graav yi van baagvaanan
Timan yim na vaadas vwofaa poor zaanan
Tsyatas paȧvy paȧvy yim na zaaṅh myon maanan

Yȯhȯy daag laalas chhu naa laala myaane
Jigar paara myaane ta ȧchh gaash myaane
Chhasay maȧj aamu̇ts shaheedo salaame

Vanay kyaah vatan aḍvatis vaatanaȧvith
Votan pyaṭh shaheedan hȯnduy khoon traȧvith
Bihith praȧny konoon roody shaana thaȧvith

Na zonukh manzil maa chhu dooris mukaamas
Na zonukh vatan maa chhu manz girdiaabas
Phiru̇kh thar ta roody dola zan kaaravaanus

Rȯngukh buth ta az aay thazar haavane
Bajar haȧvy haȧvy posh chhȧkaraavane…

English translation:

The martyr’s mother (at his grave on every 13th July)

But I know why there is a frown upon your brow
Why your brow is drawn tight like a taut bow
Why, at the sight of my plight, your head is bent low

But go tell those gardeners that I no grudges hold
Those who don’t honour the promises that they sold
Those who listen never, though they are told and told

This grief, O my precious son, is my very own plight
O piece of my heart and of my eyes the light
O martyr, I am your mother, who has come to salute you

How to tell you the nation they brought but mid-way
Leaving the blood of martyrs on the road in their wake
Bolstered by old laws, they now sleep night and day

They forgot that the ultimate goal is a distant destination
That it is stuck in a whirlpool, they forgot their nation
Turned their backs, played it cool, blocked the procession

With painted faces they come today, to show their loftiness
To fling flowers at you in a grand display of their greatness
But, O martyr, I am your mother, who has come to salute you

Martyr: One of those killed in the first uprising on 13 July, 1931.


Now, read the first poem, and start all over again.

Translations © Sualeh Keen

Thursday, 8 November 2012

“Womb” – A short-story by M. K. Santoshi

English translation by SUALEH KEEN of the Hindi short-story “Kokh” written by MAHARAJ KRISHAN SANTOSHI, which featured in his Hindi short-story collection Hamare Ishwar Ko Tairna Nahin Aata.

"For the sake of saying, these three were quite different women, but the pain of their womb was one."

Those three women exited the Sufi shrine together. Looking at them it seemed that they had wept a lot in front of their peer. [1] They had worn an ordinary dress of Musalmaan women: pheran [2] and a kasaaba [3] on head. Their social status was being revealed by the pheran. Outside the shrine, there were several small shops. A lot of business used to happen in them. Not a day passed when some hundred hundred-fifty people did not come here. This shrine had a big name in the nearby villages. A lot of amulets used to be sold here in the name of the peer. From the birth of a son to the cow yielding more milk, all types of amulets were available here.
         These three women purchased amulets from three different shops and started returning home. Seeing them walking in the same direction, it could be easily guessed that they resided in adjacent villages.
         Today the sunlight was a bit harsh. Usually there is a lot of humidity in the sunlight of Kashmir, but today it seemed like someone had squeezed out this humidity. The earth also looked a bit hard... like the expressions of people. After walking a little distance, two women among them stopped together to rest quite near to each other. That third woman who was walking behind them sat a little distance away from the two to rest.
         “What is your name?” One among the two women sitting near each other said.
         “Saajida. And yours?”
         The two moved a little closer to each other.
         “Where do you live?” asked Saajida.
         “In the village across the river.”
         “I live this side of the river only. In the street of Pathans,” said Saajida on her own.
         “Are you a Pathan?” asked Taahira in a suppressed tone.
         “No, we are farmers,” she got on reply.
         There was a time when Pathans were not looked at with respect in Kashmir. They were mockingly even called ‘Khar-Pathan’. [4] But now dare anyone say this!
         “Want to eat an apple?” asked Saajida.
         “No, I don’t feel like it,” said Taahira in a sad tone.
         Saajida put the knife back into the pocket of her pheran. A little time passed away silently. But Saajida did not like this silence at all. She wanted to talk. She wanted to say something, hear something.
         “Who else is in your home?” she asked with the intention of hearing something.
         “Now nobody.” Saying this, Taahira took in a cold breath.
         “What do you mean?” It was as if Saajida’s heart sunk.
         “Husband, he had become the beloved of Allah a long time ago already. Had a son, he too...”
         “What happened to him?” Saajaida was really feeling panicky.
         Tears were flowing from Taahira’s eyes unabated. Wiping her tears with her tippet, she started saying:

“My son — may Allah grant him Paradise — used to work at the house of a khoja. [5] That khoja had apple orchards whose entire responsibility was on my son. My son was very hardworking and faithful towards salt. [6] When the winds of terror started blowing in Kashmir, the Mujahedeen started troubling the khoja a lot. A lot of wealth they used to extort away. They used to say that they want to buy guns for Azadi. The khoja was content that his and his family’s lives are saved.
         “One day the Mujahedeen came along with a Mullah and told the khoja that he must offer his daughter in nikaah to their commander. It was as if the earth was pulled away from below the khoja’s feet. A typhoon blew inside him that he was unable to stand anywhere. But he was quite experienced and wise.
         “‘Why not. You are the brave soldiers of our Azadi. Such great sacrifices you all are giving. I will be quite happy with this nikaah. But I have a request,’ he was saying with great mildness and patience.
         “‘What kind of request,’ one of them asked.
         “‘I wish to ask my daughter for her consent once. I am confident that she will not go against my word.’
         “‘Fair enough, but if you do some hanky-panky, you will be barbecued by bullets,’ a bearded Mujahid warned him, pressing him with the barrel of his gun. They all returned along with the Mullah.
         “There was no alternative left for the khoja other than to abandon his house. He entrusted all the keys to his house with my son and himself, with his family, he started living with his relatives in a city far away from the village.
         “Out here, the Mujahedeen took out all their rage regarding the khoja’s escape on my son. I do not know what tortures they devised for him. When I received the dead body of my son, his entire body was bloody all over. A note wet with blood was found stuck to his shirt on which was written with blood: ‘Mukhbir’.” [7]

         Taahira started crying. Seeing her thus, Saajida too started crying. Now who will wipe whose tears. Finally, Taahira wiped her tears with the sleeves of her pheran. But Saajida was still weeping. Her white hair seemed to tremble in the wind.
         “I too had a son...,” Saajida said in a breaking voice. “Was a soldier in the police department. Used to live in the city with his family. Used to visit me every week. Used to love me a lot. Used to say, ‘I will surely make you do Hajj.’ And one day the news of the death of my Hajj-making son came. The entire village was filled with grief. Such mourning had never shrouded our village before. Even the trees looked black. After three days his body reached the village in a police vehicle. How many holes had been made in his body by the merciless. Even the shroud was getting wet with the blood. Which leader was my son. Which big officer was that poor boy. The uniform was his employment; which other mistake was of my that son...”
         And she started crying in loud bursts. Like she was washing the red-red stains off her son’s shroud with her tears.
         In the middle of this, the third woman who was sitting a little distance away from them came near. Instead of sympathy, it seemed as if her eyes were radiating rage. As soon as she came near, she seemed to pounce upon the two.
         “Your sons only have taken the life of my son! Your son only became a mukhbir and got my Mujahid son arrested and the gun of your soldier son only killed my son! Oh, alas, my princely son! So many dreams I had regarding him! Everything has been finished!”
         Saying this, she passed out and fell on those two women. Both women carefully laid her down on fresh green grass. Made her drink water. Fanned her. Both rubbed the soles of her feet. When she regained consciousness, all the rage had vanished. Now these three women were standing in the same circle of sorrow.
         For the sake of saying, these three were quite different women, but the pain of their womb was one. Time was passing in impersonal empathy. The third woman, whose name was Khursheeda, suddenly stood up and started saying:
         “Come, let us go back to the shrine.”
         “But for what now?” asked the two women together.
         “In the shrine let us ask that big peer if some son of his has also died...”

© Translation, Sualeh Keen

Translation notes:

[1] peer = a saint (Muslim), a holy man.

[2] pheran = A kind of dress, the usual garment worn by Kashmiris, in shape like a night-gown with wide sleeves, and worn both by men and women (the only difference being that that worn by women has wider sleeves). From the Persian word pairahan (dress).

[3] kasaaba = A small turban type cap — often red — worn by Muslim women. The kasaaba, the height of which once used to reveal the social status of Kashmiri women, is now regarded as outdated.

[4] ‘Khar-Pathan’ = In Kashmiri, khar means a donkey, and therefore ‘Khar-Pathan’ means a ‘Donkey-Pathan’. The horse-riding Pathans earned this insult during the cruel Afghan rule in Kashmir. It is said that the Pathan horsemen used to pillage the poor Kashmiri peasants of the valley often, as a result of which the villagers made the entrances to their houses small lest some Pathan comes riding into the house and takes their valuables and women away. This worked to some extent as the horsemen considered it below their dignity to dismount from their steeds to enter the houses of their victims.

[5] khoja = A rich man; master or lord.

[6] namak halal = A very faithful person. It may be interesting to note that namak means salt, and in ancient times, services to a lord used to be paid with salt, hence the word ‘salary’ (from Latin salarium, money given to Roman soldiers to buy salt). The opposite is namak haram, i.e. unfaithful.

[7] mukhbir = police informer. During the early 1990’s, it was commonplace for Mujaheddeen to perfunctorily dub anyone they murdered for whatever reasons a mukhbir.

Monday, 5 November 2012

The Map, and the Territory! - by Shantiveer Kaul

Once upon a time, there was a man. A man in a state of intellectual ennui in turbulent times. His name was Henry Mortimer Durand. One morning he picked up the map of the parcel of terra firma that some imperial Surveyor General had surveyed and drawn some other time and he was now inhabiting. Lazily he drew a line on the map with the pencil he was using to solve the Times crossword puzzle of six months ago. End of story? No! Beginning of several stories, the least consequential being that the said Henry was later knighted. Once upon another time, there was another man. His name was Arthur Henry MacMahon. He also drew a line. He was also knighted. Once upon yet another time, there was yet another man. His name was Cyril John Radcliffe. He was not knighted, yet the stroke of his pen left a benighted legacy behind.

Alfred Korzybski, the Polish-American philosopher once famously said: ‘If words are not things, or maps are not the actual territory, then, obviously, the only possible link between the objective world and the linguistic world is found in structure, and structure alone!’ For this influential philosopher, seminal thinker and founder of the discipline of General Semantics, the distinction between a map and territory (word and thing) was pretty structural. The map is a cartographic construct, a word meant to signify the ‘thing’ territory which it signifies but is not actually a synonym of, since territory is an ‘idea-landscape’. When Radcliffe drew the ‘line’, it was more than a graphic formalization of a partition that had already occurred many years prior to that, in the minds of people who were holding aspirations of a subcontinent in trust. Radcliffe’s line put the official imprimatur of an Emperor ‘withdrawing to his ante-chamber’ or saying ‘takhliya’. The die was cast. The subcontinent was forever to be cleaved into two, never mind if it was a case of separating conjoined twins. It, the Indian subcontinent, was to be known henceforth as South Asia. But is the map South Asia the territory South Asia?

Today, many decades after Radcliffe drew his line, when I meet a friend from Pakistan, I do not feel the same as I do when I am meeting a person from say Iran, or Srilanka. I feel completely at ease with Pakistani friends, share similar world-views and feel that we have sprung from the same substrate. The feeling of easy camaraderie is quite palpable even when we have sharp ideological or political differences. Our yearnings are also similar in nature. We tend to gravitate towards territorial landmarks even while these are in ‘other’ maps. I have for long wanted to go to Lahore and visit Dabbi Bazaar (if extant), where my father lived for some of his formative years, to get a feel of what he would, several years later, recount with nostalgia and had captured in a poem (unfortunately not extant) with the refrain ‘Lahore mein kya kya jee lee hai’. My friend from Karachi, who visited India recently on family business, went to his ancestral house in UP at the first opportunity he had – like a homing pigeon. It does not matter that these are not ‘our’ maps, because these are our territories. I suspect that this easy co-existence has to do with that same old pet subject of mine, the thesis that one can respect another being different, without being the ‘other’. The moment this little niggle is out of the way, many things get automatically sorted out. The uncomfortable fact, however, is that this ‘othering’ is at the root of identity politics which is the overriding subcontinental paradigm. So even if I am in a natural comfort zone with someone, contemporary political positioning on national and subnational level will not allow even that individual comfort zone, that little oasis, to exist for too long since it threatens the dynamic balance of power that has been arrived at by vested stakeholders. To expect a multiplicity of such comfort zones to exist is pretty unrealistic in the current scenario. That said, there is an unmistakable people-to-people movement in the direction of creating such territories of accord, while respecting the territorial sovereignties of the map kind. The exception, and greatest danger, to this evolving modus vivendi is the ultra anarchists who do not believe in nation states as constructs at all and are all set on destabilizing such constructs in the name of creating new, unnamed ones 

One might ask here, within this complex South Asian architecture of the mind, where does J&K get situated? Irrespective of affinities that a nascent sub-nationalism may seek to find with Central Asia, the fact is that J&K can never be outside the geo-strategic ambit of South Asia, nor outside its overall cultural ethos – which though amorphous, is not inconsistent. The case of Jammu and Ladakh provinces is not difficult from the geo-cultural point of view but the new aspirational Kashmiri identity, even if it dissociates itself from mainland India by ‘othering’ the same, can’t leapfrog over Pakistan and seek direct existential contiguity with Afghanistan, Iran or Greater Arabia. The irony today is that there is little culturally that is Pakistani, which is not Indian as well. All continuities with South Asia that Kashmir has must encounter this unipolar reality in any equation. Correspondingly, all cultural discontinuities that Kashmir perceives having with India will be there in equal, if not greater measure in its vis-à-vis with Pakistan. In today’s highly interdependent world, the Kashmir identity, and even Kashmir’s identity politics, can’t remain insular for long – even though its choices are severely limited. It will be subsumed by larger political identities any-so-how, whatever its ideological protestations to the contrary. While one concedes the possibility of irreconciliable political differences in some given equations, these can’t have an underpinning of only cultural identity. There has to be more meat on the bone. There has to be more ‘thinking’, mere sentiment won’t last the distance!

Another memorable quote of Korzybski is: "There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking."

(This appeared earlier as an article in The Kashmir Monitor)