Jammu & Kashmir remains under lockdown with severe restrictions on communication and movement of citizens, ever since the government scrapped its special status on August 5. In such trying circumstances, Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali’s I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight becomes all the more relevant. A video of the recitation of the poem is added above.
I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight
One must wear jeweled ice in dry plains
to will the distant mountains to glass.
The city from where no news can come
Is now so visible in its curfewed nights
that the worst is precise:
From Zero Bridge
a shadow chased by searchlights is running
away to find its body. On the edge
of the Cantonment, where Gupkar Road ends,
it shrinks almost into nothing, is
nothing by Interrogation gates
so it can slip, unseen, into the cells:
Drippings from a suspended burning tire
Are falling on the back of a prisoner,
the naked boy screaming, “I know nothing.”
The shadow slips out, beckons Console Me,
and somehow there, across five hundred miles,
I’m sheened in moonlight, in emptied Srinagar,
but without any assurance for him.
On Residency Road, by Mir Pan House,
unheard we speak: “I know those words by heart
(you once said them by chance): In autumn
when the wind blows sheer ice, the chinar leaves
fall in clusters –
one by one, otherwise.”
“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.”
“Don’t tell my father I have died,” he says,
and I follow him through blood on the road
and hundreds of pairs of shoes the mourners
left behind, as they ran from the funeral,
victims of the firing. From windows we hear
grieving mothers, and snow begins to fall
on us, like ash. Black on edges of flames,
it cannot extinguish the neighborhoods,
the homes set ablaze by midnight soldiers.
Kashmir is burning:
By that dazzling light
we see men removing statues from temples.
We beg them, “Who will protect us if you leave?”
They don’t answer, they just disappear
on the roads to the plains, clutching the gods.
I won’t tell your father you have died, Rizwan,
but where has your shadow fallen, like cloth
on the tomb of which saint, or the body
of which unburied boy in the mountains,
bullet-torn, like you, his blood sheer rubies
on Himalayan snow?
I’ve tied a knot
with green thread at Shah Hamdan, to be
untied only when the atrocities
are stunned by your jeweled return, but no news
escapes the curfew, nothing of your shadow,
and I’m back, five hundred miles, taking off
my ice, the mountains granite again as I see
men coming from those Abodes of Snow
with gods asleep like children in their arms.
(for Molvi Abdul Hai)