And Now I Cross to the Other Side…

Waqar Hussain Mir
Waqar Hussain Mir is a Kashmiri living in Mumbai, India. He obtained his masters in Development Studies from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and is currently engaged as a fellow studying the trajectory of resistance in Kashmir.

“Rizwan, it’s you, Rizwan, it’s you,” I cry out
As he steps closer, the sleeves of his phiren torn.
“Each night put Kashmir in your dreams,” he says,
Then touches me, his hands crusted with snow,
Whispers, “I have been cold a long, long time.”
Agha Shahid Ali

Cold sweat bursting on my forehead, I lie startled on my bed every time. I turn over my hands to search for the fingerprints of frost-bitten frail fingers. Random events of childhood recur in varied hues every night and each time they seem to gather an added weight of additional meaning that drop with such impetus into the middle of my gut that trembles my existence. Over a decade outside Kashmir, and I carry the place everywhere I meander to – each night I put Kashmir in my dreams. A rolling stone gathers no moss. Just a lot of momentum. A force that becomes palpable when it hits a glass world constructed on artificial meanings.

I am the rolling stone – having come a long way from wanting to enroll into the ranks of a machinery that derives the oil to run itself from the fat under the skin of its people. Away from folks back home who still aspire to the same. Having rolled from one place to other, I have experienced places that consider me their fellow “compatriot” owing to my demeanour, yet live a daily existence radically dissimilar to how I remember having spent my childhood. Things that I deemed natural, I now understand are aberrations – aberrations that play with people’s lives. But rather than carrying me away, these experiences drift me closer to wanting to redefine what I have seen and lived.

Each day that comes these deities of kindness and beauty
Drowned in blood come into my house of grief,
And daily before my eyes their
Martyr-bodies are lifted up, healed.
Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Beyond the hazy stream behind my maternal grandparents’ house located within “the village on the edge” lay young men in their early twenties on soft velvety grass that carpeted the lush apple orchids. Through the webs of my memory, I can still see the stick-like projections from their long pherans that perplexed me. Most of these familiar faces were encountered in years past, playing cricket in a noisy banter at the backyard of the neighbourhood mosque surrounded by tall, thick poplars. On every consecutive visit, my young confused mind would find some faces missing from the crowd. Gradually, the crowd became a complete stranger. Too young to make sense of the disappearances yet too inquisitive to keep quiet, I once enquired from my grandmother while she was busy plucking haakh from a square in our part of the orchid about where those boys were gone. The words she uttered in a rather hushed tone resonating with the spirit of those times. “Tome ter apour”. They went the other side.

And from the other side they came. Another time one of those childhood evenings, while playing in the only stadium in town, we got the news that bodies of Afghan militants were lying in the local police station. The gravity of the phrase ‘Afghan militants’ carried images of giant fearsome bodies and long matted hair in our restless minds that automatically drove the even more restless limbs to reach the mujahids, albeit dead. But what we were hit by, our naive minds were not prepared for. Far from all the fearlessness and bravery woven around them, the young uncovered bodies, dressed in bloodied kurta shalwar, lay covered with holes right from their ankles upto their skulls. The torrent of bullets seemed to have showered on them even after their death; their blood freezing midway, in the chilly Kashmir autumn.

The narrow line between a “terrorist” and a mujahid – that is widened beyond recognition outside of Kashmir, sometimes due to lack of interest, sometimes due to too much of it – can be stitched closer by the youthful chirping of those who went the other side or the empty gaze of those who came from there. These young men keep me company many a sleepless nights. Their lives, their deaths, don’t seem so remote anymore. They gather increasing relevance in my memories. Within me, their martyr-bodies are lifted up, healed.

Everywhere I go, I fit in but I don’t fit in. Emotions defined pretty unilaterally outside of Kashmir always have an altered understanding for me. I have felt them different. I feel no one here would comprehend if I were to express it either.

If I were to explain to anyone except you I would not be able to explain.

Although emotions cannot be weighed for intensity, they can be examined for tenor.

Take for instance, fear.

Death flies in, thin bureaucrat, from the plains –
a one-way passenger, again.
Agha Shahid Ali

In the emotionally heavy times surrounding the world-wide protests over the insult of Prophet Mohammad by a Danish cartoonist, Kashmir erupts and as most times – it culminates in anti-India demonstrations. I find myself pelting stones along with a hundred other charged teenagers – repressed anger and defiance packed into an inanimate ball sent as a projectile to shatter the enemy’s pride. Suddenly from the other side an army guy breaking the line comes charging, the barrel of his gun staring directly at us. We disperse for survival running for cover and no more do we retreat a few yards does he start firing. Time halts for a second – aiding me to see clearly a bullet piercing an electricity pole right next to me. Time aids, but time doesn’t heal. It doesn’t heal the dreadful feeling of picturing the next bullet piercing my insides instead of a pole.

No matter how much safety my physical circumstances can guarantee, the bullet that penetrated that lifeless pole perforated my shield against death – leaving it exposed – to look at life with eyes bowed.

Or for instance, humiliation.

Were someone to seize my neck, I would bow my head
Were someone to question me, I would be unable to answer
If any decision emerged in my mind, I would hide it
Naseem Shifaie

I recollect the day Abuzar, Mohsin and I were strolling along the road that overlooks Nishat Park after a lazy day of idling. In front of one of the camps that dot the path, we are stopped by a cantankerous major who seems to want some stimulation in his dreary days. He barked demanding us to show our identity cards. Surprisingly, none of us are carrying any, which automatically makes us ‘suspects’. Amidst requests and apologies, he kicks Mohsin in the balls, as we look on baffled. When I try to argue over the unjust treatment, I am gifted with a slap. Before Abuzar could utter a word, the major bellows ‘murga bano saalo’. We entertain him with our twisted position for around half an hour beside the passing vehicles until our legs hurt so bad that we cannot sustain it any longer. We beg for forgiveness and promise not to forget our IDs ever.

That sense of shame for being helpless enough to act at the whims of another individual – to feign an apologetic stance for not being able to prove one’s identity, that ridiculously rests in a piece of paper, on a causal day of leisure in one’s own land – is a humiliation that strikes the core of one’s very daily existence.

Or grief.

Once more indeed my visitor has come,
Of her own will, my old acquaintance Death,
She who is adversary and comforter both,
To such as us the murderess and the sweetheart.

Loud wails welcome me from a house located just a few yards before mine on my way back from school one sinister day. Although not an uncommon phenomenon, it is still very uneasy at the time for a young heart like mine. Never before was it so palpable, so close. As I step in, I encounter the body of a young man resting on a wooden sraan paet (the wooden bed on which corpses are given their final bath). Women from the neighbourhood were pulling out their hair, mourning over the gaping hole in the head of the young man; a hole created by a bullet. Pictures of him playing cricket with us on the street come fleeting in and memories of him sculpting snow-men skilfully during the first winter snowfall come oozing out. The awe that characterized my relation with him falls in little drops around his listless arms. But even the final mental farewell I bid him at the martyr’s graveyard doesn’t haunt me as much as his father’s grief. His father moaning stridently in a consistent rhythm kept decrying his son’s act of going across the border to become a militant fighter. Even the unsettling sight of women pulling on their hair seemed trifle compared in magnitude with his father’s laments.

No freedom was greater to him than the freedom to see his son breathe in peace, to prosper to his potential. The unending rhythm of extrovert weeping gave way to introvert bereavement – the expressionless stare of his grief-stricken gaze a thousand times more unsettling.

Or defiance.

There’s restlessness in every heart, But no one dares speak out—
Afraid that with their free expression, Freedom may be annoyed.

I recall the day my father and I were traveling to Srinagar. Having been two years since I had moved to Aligarh for studies, the air invigorated my soul yet the heart felt a bit strange. After being frisked for the third time within a span of 45 minutes on the highway, we were asked to validate our existence on this planet through the only means known to the state machinery. Being done checking everyone’s ID cards, when the guy looked at me in anticipation of a card, I asked him, owing maybe to the increasing insolence I had gained unconsciously due to my prolonged stay away from home, “Do I look like a militant?” People in the vehicle started scolding me with disbelief for my naive behavior but my persistent lividness motivated the army guy to drag me out of the cab by my collar. “Behnchod, teri itni himmat ki hum se sawaal kare? You sisterfucker! How dare you question us? He offered sit-ups as compensation, but I refused to take it. A slap was on my way when a senior officer intervened. With the mention of studying outside, there was a sudden change in his demeanour, but the change was not in my favour. Instead of sit-ups now, I was bawled at to apologize. After mass insistence, I had to relent.

The invigorating air now stormed my nostril the familiar way. My hollow apology did not change anything – neither to me nor to them. I had made my point. More than my spontaneous confrontation to the soldiers’ insistence on ostensible display of power what energized me was the silent glint in my father’s eyes. Although he never mentioned the event to anyone, that day his head tilt higher than usual – higher than the indifference of my co-travellers for whom this kind of sub-human treatment filled with suspicion had become a daily routine.

Remembering. Reliving. Redefining – are great acts of Resistance.

The meaning that they wish to attribute to our memories have to be revoked in favour of a personal revolution. Emotions have to be snatched from their cosy little contexts and re-felt within a renewed vista. The fact that I breathe, that I live to tell – is my weapon. And now I cross to the other side.

I will go on cherishing the tablet and the pen,
I will go on writing down what passes over the heart.

Leave a Comment