Saturday, July 27, 2013

Two Weeks in Absurdistan


Spent last two weeks in Absurdistan
attending an ailing old man who has
now definitely lost his memories
or maybe not
He wouldn't admit
Grandfather hasn't spoken for a year

In the ER, next to his bed
A dying old woman fell off a rusty, naked iron bed
broke her skull
all this while
her son was trying to find a place to keep the medicines

In the ward, next to my Grandfather's bed
to the left was an old Sikh from Budgam

He had a failing body part
but yet lively he would wave his arms in air, time to time
Scream at his sons, still angry about scant quantity of chicken in his last meal at home

His daughter said I looked familiar
Thought I looked like Afzal

She is happy her family never left Kashmir
'Why did you leave? Sometime they throw stones at us...but we stay put...Didn't you read about conversions and the protests?'
Her brother says she is rich
'Property worth 75 Lakh'
but she wouldn't even gift him a Kashmiri shawl

Brother is in police. He think Kashmir will be over this time if 'it' starts all over again
Nothing of it will exist
He thinks I am familiar. A friend.

'Let me tell you what is really happening...'

He whispers in my ears, what he wouldn't say out loud in front of ladies.
'Even Muslims will have to move. And I don't even like them. Even ten year old girls not left...the Militants, the BSF, the Police, the Army...all of them. '
He makes a loud vulgar rapid hand movement as he speaks about not so virginal Kashmir.

I wish away his existence. Or my own. He disappears.

His sister isn't happy they didn't move.

'If we couldn't move out, at least we too should have tried for migration certificates. College admissions are tough...My daughter is in Convent. It still has some discipline. Biscoe. It is worst of the lot. Boys now carry knives to school. And have you seen the size of those boys...all muscles. My son is friends with some...they eat at our place all the time...sometime secretly even during Ramazan. My son never eats at their place. Strong traditions, you see. And no young people speak Kashmiri there...they are ashamed of their mother tongue. You don't have a Kashmiri accent...you speak hindi quite clearly. How long have you been out? Where do you live? How much money do you make?'

I don't tell her my tongue still sometimes rolls out Kakaz instead of Kagaz.

She fiddles with Fluid meter of Oxygen mask that covers the mouth of old Sikh.

'Never enough Nurses here. And all of them lazy. Munchers. In Bemina, it is worst lot. All running after money.'

I notice that the Humidifier is empty. I fill it up.

In the ward, next to my Grandfather's bed
to the right was an old Kashmiri Muslim living in Poonch
A sturdy looking old man, his legs had suddenly failed him.
My father kept saying, 'In five days they pumped in injections worth 3 Lakh into him'

The old man was happy all his sons were with him
including his adopted son - a house help named Ramzaan.
All of them kept massaging his legs from time to time.

Ramzaan, himself an old man, said I bestowed much respect on his old man
after I helped him carry his master to the bed once.

They were in awe that my Grandfather's daughter-in-law should be changing his dirty diapers.
'Sawab. Sawab.'

Much later Ramzaan asked, 'Are there no good hospitals in Srinagar too? Why is Pandit Ji admitted here in Jammu?'

I laughed at the puzzle. His brothers laughed too. We laughed out loud. Miraculously, this poor man was untouched by history. Nothing had happened in Kashmir. All this time he was massaging someone's leg.

I laughed at the Amar, Akbar, Arminder set-up created by the hospital.

A young surgeon came to check up on my Grandfather. It's a private call. A distant relative. Son of a man who was killed by militants in 1990. My mother remembers that the boy was around two at the time.

Two days later. Hospital has extra security set-up. Access to canteen is blocked.
Either some minister is visiting
or something bad has happened.

Victims from 'Gool firing incident' start filling the ER.
It started over some insult.
It can't say much about it
except that the hospital in which they were admitted
it has no clean, functional toilets.
The drains are clogged. Taps always running. There are no soaps.
There are no electric bulbs.
And no separate toilets for men and women.
The private 'NGO' toilet outside the hospital
costs rupees five and closes at 10 in night.

Some indignations, you just get used to.

Brought Grandfather home. It is Friday. The loud speakers of local mosque are angry. Jammu is peaceful. ER ward had one good facility besides good but overworked doctors, the ACs were on 24/7. However, at Home there never is enough voltage for an AC to work. The power scenario has been like that for almost fifteen years. Even if I can now afford to install an AC in each room, I can't actually afford it.

I hear Jammu is in grip of a mass hysteria. In outer reaches of the city there are stories about a gang of magical thieves that steal children. They enter the house in the form of an animal, a dog, a cat, or a goat, and then transform to human state and pick sleeping kids and leave. Kuttey Billi ka Khel, they say. At night locals are keeping vigil. There are stories that people are beating up stray animals screaming, 'Ban InsaanBan Insaan, Turn human,Turn human!' The local paper carries appeals from police that there is no such gang stealing any children. Our old house help, Makhni, Buttery, who lives outside the city, rolls her head and insists such things are indeed happening. Children are missing.

I try to teach my grandmother to operate a medical pump on my Grandfather's lungs. I tell her, 'It is simple.'

She laughs and sings me a simple song about marriage:

Syim'pul Khandar
Woth Kar Panas
Ye Chuuy Cha'nas 
Ganimath

Simple Marriage
Go for it
There is still chance
Be glad

I read two books. One by a white woman in 1989 about the early European visitors to Kashmir and about the crafts of Kashmir. Other by a white man in 1953 about his travels in all the areas of the divided Kingdom of Kashmir through roads and through air, and that too at a time when officially the common inhabitant of the subcontinent could never even imagine the possibility of it.

I prepared to leave again. My flight had a stop-over at Srinagar. My maiden flight. I was foolishly delighted. I was going to now capture Kashmir from skies. Flying over formidable Pir Panjal, I would perhaps capture its beauty.

At the airport when asked if I had any R6 battery on me, I told them my camera doesn't work on R6. They asked what I planned to do with my camera, I truthfully replied, 'I plan to photograph.'

'Have you gone mad? This is Kashmir. Take the battery out and leave them in the bag.'

It was too late by the time I realised my mistake. I may have captured Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, Chennai, Everest, Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada from the sky, in flight. But this is Kashmir. I should have lied. I should have replied, 'No. Nothing. Jenaab. Maibaap. Sarkar.'

I tried to reason. I screamed. I even told them, just imagine I never said that.

'We have no imagination. Do not stall.'

I told them I made a mistake.

'Ab toh ho gayi na. You did it. And you admit it too. Move on. This is Kashmir.'

I cursed that white man from 1953 who managed to move around with impunity even after divisions. I cursed Bernier, Forster, Moorcroft, Jacquemont and Vigne. I cursed all their houses. And I cursed this sad land and it's mad people. I unimagined that my ancestors lived in these lands for thousands of years. I calculated the years that the ancestors of the man who stopped me must have lived in Kashmir. A hundred, a two hundred, a three hundred. Where do they stand against my thousands?

I howled and howled. It didn't matter.

I realised I too melt into incoherence
when confronted by absurdity.

-0-

Geographical Model of Jammu&Kashmir kept at Hari Singh Palace in Jammu

2 comments:

  1. This is crazy, you capture the insanity/absurdity of being Kashmiri, of how it tears you up, beautifully.
    and painfully.

    ReplyDelete

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