“We want to create a paradise in Jammu and Kashmir once again
and hug every Kashmiri.”
— Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India
Some nights die young,
their breath all over the window sill.
Invisible. Still. Cold.
I breathe in and I breathe out.
Let’s see how many adjectives I can count?
Long. Raspy. Labored.
But the glass window bears witness that I am still alive.
I have been counting
the drop of my eyelashes,
the turn of the wind,
the drop of every dew.
I have been counting the hours till
… I don’t know what …
maybe when I can be a human again?
Trying too hard to hold onto life,
sanity. A semblance of me.
My brother hasn’t come back home in the last 30 nights.
My mother’s tears have not fallen
but her face grows harder and harder.
I scrunch my eyes
pretending I can see
the semblance of a smile,
that I can hear the main door creak,
that my brother is home.
My mother doesn’t,
her days and nights are a prayer wheel
that churn silently, diligently,
but I still cry in my room.
I am 16.
I am still not used to the logic of these losses.
I have never seen my father
but my mother did.
For a few years
I think her tears dried then.
But my nights are restless. Loud.
My mind is a shiver down my back,
my hands tremble,
my lips are on fire,
I singe in my own heat.
I stare at the dead screen of my computer. The useless screen of my mobile phone.
And then I hate you.
You… with your perfect, free lives,
not losing sleep over lost family members.
I want to take my freedom for granted, too.
Just like you do. But—here’s the thing—
I have never known what freedom really looks like.
In my world there are no fairytales.
Here, Rapunzel’s hair is brittle.
The prince dies falling from her tower
and she stays incarcerated for life.
No one sees her tears.
The tower has swallowed her whole.
She is a collateral damage.
Just like me. Us.
I am writing new fairytales on my dead computer screen.
There’s no paradise on this earth.
No angels. No endings.
And no beginnings.
There’s no looking out to the future,
just an endless wait
from one bad to another.
When you say, “this is so bad,”
all we can think is, “can it be worse?”
“Please let it not be any worse.”
There are the stones that fly through the air.
I thought anger was an emotion
but the day I held that rock in my hand
I closed my eyes and cried.
I hid behind my brother. I threw a stone. My first.
And now I strain to reach my school bag
sitting cloaked in dust atop the rusty steel almirah,
a reminder of a time when I came up with
innovative excuses to skip school.
I want the freedom to make those excuses again.
I need to write a letter to the UNGA.
I have heard they can help,
but the red post boxes have been standing grave and silent
for 50 days and counting,
a mere mortuary where letters come to die.
“Dear UNGA, hope you enjoy your annual get together. Also hope that you value the unbridled freedom you enjoy. We, in Kashmir – yes, very much a part of this planet – have been under siege for 50 days and counting now. Thousands of people are behind bars. The courts are closed. Our brothers and fathers are missing. We have been cut off from the rest of the world. We cannot tell our stories. We do not know what the future holds for us. Do you still remember us? Kashmir. The paradise on earth? Where the snow peaks smile every morning and the houseboats sing? Kashmir was a paradise. Long before you said it, Mr. Prime Minister. You turned it into a concentration camp. Your comment?”
The letter is still uploading.
The internet tries hard to connect.
I keep refreshing.
The circle of wait keeps going round and round.
White hot fear paralyses me.
It’s been 50 days and counting…
The curtains are drawn in our houses.
Strollers gather dust by faded sofas.
A peep of sunlight. Often not.
Shaken lullabies. Curdled milk.
Little children crouch in living rooms,
cocooned in their mother’s laps.
An ill child runs after her father.
He has been picked up by the police.
She collapses in a heap.
There’s no childhood here.
There are instead the sound of military boots.
The playgrounds are soaked in blood.
The lakes have frozen.
Dante has left his debris behind.
In a trance, my hands tremble.
They look for things to grasp.
I scream in my nightmares.
I scream in my dreams.
Unblind the children.
But no one hears me.
And finally, my mind is a tabula rasa.
Dante was here again.
Can you smell fear? I can. I am scared.
My hands cry. Too tight, too secure.
Some nights are so lonely
the sound of boots ricochets off my heart.
Paradise calling to earth…
paradise calling to earth…
hello, is anybody there?
Can you hear us?
Nilanjana Bhowmick is a poet and journalist based in New Delhi, India. Her writings – both prose and poetry – center on gender justice, social change and politics.
Photo of Kashmir by Rajeev Rajagopalan.