How I wish

10:57 PM 18th June, Berkeley

In a few hours the mortal remains will be laid to rest and all that would be left is memory. And so, I grieve the death, in a city oceans apart, a city so far away from home that even if I were to make the journey across, I wouldn’t make it in time. I grieve the absence of compassion. I grieve the distance. I grieve my inability to make new memories of you.

Today morning, I came across a Faiz’s poem on Spotify, it’s refrain – “Aaj main bahut door nikal aaya”. It’s playing on a loop in background. I can’t explain why I liked it. I haven’t read the poem to understand it. I won’t try to read it, not tonight.

It is the memory that keeps us alive. I wrote this, in a poem, seven years. And tonight, I seek refuge in memory. There’s no chronology. Memory doesn’t have a beginning. It is jumbled heap of moments that have must happened. And so I ask myself, where do I even begin?

Our last conversation was on Eid, a few days ago, over whatsapp, and you looked better. I told you about cycling here and the bike lanes. I could tell you wanted me to be cautious on the road. I could tell you were doing better than the last time I met you, and said goodbyes, almost a year ago. It was a brief meeting. I didn’t know what to say more, and I didn’t know it would be the last time I saw you. Maybe a part of me knew, but, I didn’t accept it. There was hope. There always was hope. And now, nothing except memory.

But, memory, also, is treacherous. I want to capture it now, as it is, as I remember it. But, it is over-whelming. I flip between sweltering hear of Jammu during summer breaks to the fresh evening breeze in Dakhna. It, usually, were just the three of us. I see you in the winter, sometime in the late 90s, watching TV and recording the Eid special transmission on the VCR. I see you with the cattle, outside the old house, with a pair of binoculars. I see you at your retirement party at the government school Shindera. I imagine you, sometime in the early 90s, holding me, just as I remember you from a photograph. I re-imagine me, from a visual captured on video tape, walking with you in a baraat. And in this refuge, I see you, as you were, a constant presence through all these years.

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“Thus I swear, here and now, not to forgive the universe/ that would let me get used to a universe/ without you,” wrote Agha Shahid Ali. I now know, what he felt.

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doubleOn the bus
to my house
somewhere in California
I dream of Kashmir
and the blue skies
that now seem faint
lacklustre
slopping over the mountains,
so unlike Kashmir.

On my phone
besides photographs
I have forwarded songs
that speak of meadows
and sheeps and mothers.
I tinge,
home returns as a song
faint and nondescript
mobile and farthest.

Geographies of longing
bound memories.
I fly between them
a song at a time,
a sky at a time,
somewhere in California.

I would carry this song across the barricaded city

Lal Ded would tear, a city naked
as her. She isn’t us anymore.
No one can over-hear her songs
or see her verses. Long pauses
have pickets encircling them.
Guns arrest all her words,
in squares, where lovers would meet.
Checkpoints break her verses abruptly.
Her hands, smelled of dried ink and paper,
textured with drowning mist of tear gas shells.

In times like these
treading through poems is fatal.

But, poets would tell you, this city too
is a poem
naked more than ever.

The monsoon clouds never cross into Kashmir

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In the plains,
we board a flight
that rises above them.

It’s departure is home coming.
It’s arrival – a strange city.

But in a curfewed city
how would you find yourself

and your home,
the one you left behind
when it was still summer

and the birds hadn’t flocked
away from the half-inched Himalayas.

Now, mist covers what’s theirs;
We descent, breaking the city noise
silence follow us, like a scream,
into the valley.

We look for names
that were once ours.
No one carries a placard, anymore –
the city has run out of its alphabets.

We overhear
Aakashvani announcement –
“The curfew shall be extended”

“Hamiasto, Hamiasto, Hamiast!”
was that you, Shahjahan?

Save

When it’s autumn’s turn
to borrow a bloody summer’s color,
don’t go out looking for me

in meadows mined with memories
blooming with wild flowers
that never went away

like the million stars
under which we met
the first spring years ago.

II

When the sky seeks an abode,
spare the attic for it.
Don’t go out looking for me

leaving the house to grieve
the loss of sky
that couldn’t bear the agony

of autumn’s demise.
Seasons like colors
faint in memories now.
III

Let the ultramarine water
be our witness –
Kashyap, the tormentor

seeks you in our death
to undo the knots
of your belligerence.

Sabab

Dreams on window panes
with moonlit shadows
from yesterday ceased
to move.

I wish, the sun
would hang low
and pierce the darkness
that settled with the snow.

You find it meaningful –
to trace the stars
with bitten finger nails
and shift the sky

with a wish;
turn the day into
yesterday, and then
fly away

with all clocks, all watches
all the time bundled
into a knot, and
tied to memories

With a red thread;
the other end, my garment
unfurls like yesterday –
bearing the naked self,
beneath.

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