Poetry makes one a witness rather than just an archivist. One’s life-blood, all that is political, emotional and ethical; lived, remaining, and forgotten coagulates into a poem. Yet at many junctures the verses are only despair; mourning a beleaguered homeland. And sometimes the poems cannot help but disparage the act of writing itself, which under siege is like a testimony given under duress: useless, digressive, and exploitative. But then, maybe not.

A Haiku

A Kashmiri beholding the noose –
what would Shaheed Bhagat Singh tell me?
Inquilab Zindabad, echo the walls.

In Kashmir: Writing under Occupation

they want us to write. in blood.
and only write. of peace.
they capture our land. make us sow rice that is not seed. kill us. rape. They tell us we are ungrateful. like children – who do not see what is good for them. holding us with many kinds of guns; they grimace at the world calling our blood on their faces –

they sell pens.
we buy with blood.
many of them, from their mythical land come to us, with clean hands, softened in the Ganges. they meet our eyes. that gaze, which through you goes elsewhere. behind their orange irises you see wheels turning. like the innards of a Swiss-watch. precise. surgical.

they sell paper.
so much paper. we buy with blood.
they put the kettle on boil. it whistles. the seduction of tea.
there is no better heaven. our pens poised. the next word will liberate.
an orgasmic lull prevails.
that next sentence. always in arrival. like that justice thing.
meanwhile Ashfaq is no more. Maqbool has gone. Asiya and Neelofar, raped then killed. Afzal hanged. Tufail, buried in two graves. the Ittar seller in Lal chowk disappeared. they found his bones with empty bottles; the kettle whistles.
the tea never comes.
our bones are made tired. waiting.
before the door of law from that over-used Kafka tale. the only thing that grows after this wait, are their swords. looming mightier. and this too, we write.

they exhort us to write. and write. in blood.
of peace. of tulip gardens they grew on soils made fertile with our flesh, and bones.
and write. when they, are at war with us.

In Kashmir Friday is for Azadi (and every other day)

in Kashmir
every friday is for Azadi,
and every other day,
the Jehlum splashes as if aimless,
over the rusted fence, the stuff of stars.
there, stands an iron door leaning
with utmost care into an old whitish wall.
with plaster drips,
and many words so erased, that they remain.
the wall speaks. every friday. in dark ink.
and every day when fresh blood soaks women's nested wails
and men's scrawling silences.
whispers of the ancient kind, made illicit, take form.
Azadi, Azadi, Azadi

every Friday
woven in bunkers,
in the downtown and new city
any rifts vanish, yet again.
the ancient door pulls the old wall closer.
its multiple openings and closings
sounds like love does endure.
the wall re-etched. forever pregnant
fossil-text. prehistoric cave carvings.
a sickness of the must kind. love.
Azadi, Azadi, Azadi

next day, again, the grim painters return.
with buckets of black. sometimes white.
next day the wall again will lend
its newly virgin paan[1] to hurried scribbles.
the door stands by; a precarity of the loyal kind.
never jealous. opening and closing,
allowing all the mad-lovers to enter
and record their deed. their cheap cigarette stained fingers
flying like the finest Ostrich quills.
a must reenactment.
Azadi, Azadi, Azadi

every friday the witness of the river folds back smugly into its eddies.
knowing, even before it is friday on Friday
Azadi, Azadi, Azadi
will return

At Papa 2 in Kashmir[2]

all walls have been raised,
with metal eyes, zooming in and out,
mad cartographies
technologies of death,
this entire spectatorship
of a nation without eyes

your imperial sun on our
subject, made wretched and puny
our eyes blinded –
our ears, anyway are like a bat's
but, we have better things to do
than hear you talk of
your murder and map-making skills
things like dying yes,
after suffering the weight of
spoiled rice, stale Indian lentils
and soldiers
plucked from worse desperations

o how you envy us, we can tell
you can't reach the downtown of our dreams
those childhood alleys are full of freedom,
no guns will give you those maps
the mud that floods brought
piles high,
now no one tends to the vegetable gardens
those squash tendrils falling like grandmother's curls,
over soft bosoms, and crisp cabbage, firm eggplants
kindest eyes picking luscious tomatoes,
all gone; that you took –

our bat ears know,
the magnificent knocking on doors
to share bowls of soaked walnuts,
is now the soldier’s midnight knock
marigold smells, warm- salt tea,
old love no more,
no guts, only gore –

our crowds are vast,
dwellings short
those strong, indefatigable Kashirr paan[3]
always toiling, always ready -
their shawls, museum curios
the tips of their fingers, sieves
yet they rise,
like always they will part with their names
again –
and grow irises, tulips, daffodils,
and wild belladonna, yes that too
on beloved graves –
beatifying the dead,
on the day of the saints they will make a fire,
cook a feast, serve and fast
and send blessings to the living

we die now, yes –
yet we force our way through
the innermost slums of our hearts by a waiting Jehlum,
whispering –
were you to succeed at this, you would gain nothing
were you to succeed at this, you would gain nothing

nobody, no gun, reaches through here,
to capture maps from those who died,
or those who are dying, and those refusing to give in


[1] Body in Kashmiri
[2] Name of a notorious prison
[3] Kashmiri body

Ather Zia is a political anthropologist, poet and short fiction writer. She is the founder-editor of Kashmir Lit.