The Exodus of a City by Ifsha Zehra and Samia Mehraj

Please note that the words in italics belong to Samia Mehraj & and the non-italicised ones to Ifsha Zehra

It is 1990, I am not born.
Someone peeks through the window of my mother’s house.
In the vicinity, suitcases are being quietly packed with the essentials of olden days.
Secrets of slaughter are flying from paper to paper, from house to house.
In caravans, are leaving ancestral names with their progressive ambition for their motherland.

It’s 1990, I am not born and my mother is a recent bride.
Someone peeks through the window, finger on their mouth, mourning for a house that’ll fade like
an old photograph for decades to come.

Someone with a mask pours water over the oil lamps.
The temple bells, like the tinkle of her anklets are distant now.


My mother has lost a best friend.

It’s 1990, I’m not born yet and someone in my father’s house shuts a window to a neighbor who may never return.

It is 2008 and my fourteen-year-old self
Has a platter of dreams to devour
A whole list of skies to soar

But skies are brooding in 2008

Holidays are hartals
Firecrackers are cloaked as gunshots
A roll number slip is a curfew pass
Newspapers are like a morgue’s diary entries
Familiar faces, dead faces, disappeared faces
Kashmir in the lap of warring countries
I am somewhere in the heart of the rugged, dusty lanes of downtown,
The roads are deserted much like the hearts of its inhabitants.

Two months and I haven’t left my home
Bearing the gifts of agony
Memorizing the verses of mourning
Inna lillahi wa inna ilay hi rajioon
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon

I lose count of the deaths .. 1 to2,  2 to 10, 10 to..30
But I can never forget my own

In the stream in Shopian, where they found Asiya and Neelofar’s body
They found my cold hands too,
now dissolved Endlessly filtering pieces of truth from pebbles.
They plotted to cuff my curiosity
Handless, I wandered away.
In search of more truths in more bodies in more numbers
Number of hours I slept, strangers with guns I met
It is 2008, and I lose the count again.

It’s 2005,

Our school history roars of East Indian revolutions, we learn of swords that cut open the wombs of innocent mothers, of strong horses and strongest tribesmen, of lofty turbans and silken robes and their royal touch.

But where was my history?
I leaf through the dreams of my teachers, the teachers of their teachers, looking for the scent of my blood, I find indifference.
My history hides between the lines of your history.
My history weeps on empty pages, jumps out of the window, scatters blood on the streets. My book of history lives in the haunted library of memories that my forefathers were forbidden to put on paper.
It’s 2005,
Someone peeks through the window of my father’s house, watches a man with a gun shoot dead a boy of 5. Someone drags his body indoors. My history finds home for a night.

8 years later, I have changed cities and moved towns
It is 2016 and the newspaper promises peace on the streets

But, 18 km southeast of Anantnag
Fate was unveiling its six-month long prophecy
Confinement wrapped in security, becoming our legacy
They bound us to our homes,
They chained us to our open doors
No one came back.

I witnessed a city of resilience perish into rubble
The stench of death mixing with embers of rage
Put to sleep the dreams, the hopes, the cries of the city
I saw it snow in July and endless looming gloom
Young buds withered, before they could bloom.

It’s 2016 and the schools show no signs of life
Like Insha’s eyes
Who was showered with” non-lethal” pellets
You see the thing about pellets is they don’t kill you, they kill your will to live
In compensation, for the worst affected
Our “liberators” have jobs to give

It’s 2016
I leave the city again
For freedom or an illusion of it
I reach Delhi, waiting for a call from home
Nobody calls.

So we ran away from our bleeding city, It’s 2018,
We speak of it in distant lands.
But how does a city run away from itself? From its history? From its memory?

Your history is in the way of my history.
Your memory is again in the way of my memory.

It’s a still night and all the cities have lost a track of each other. ”


Bios: Samia and Ifsha are fellows at Ashoka University. They believe in the possibility and urgency of youth revolution and believe that women will be on the forefront on that revolution.

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