Year 2025, dreaming state
The puddle of blood and rags that was a family of three, just moments ago, is now frothing white at the seams. I don’t have to lean in to feel the warmth of freshly dismembered human bits floating in the blood, which oozed out of them. Or was the blood already there? Does it matter? The splatter on my face is hot, not warm. It’s burning. Yet my body is frozen. It must be all the snow; the frost, the frostbites. There is barely a shirt on me. Why is there no shirt on me? My feet are warm. Why are they warm? It must be the blood... I must step away. What is this? Another puddle, and then another, and another. A volley of lifeless, bloody puddles – a bloody valley. Only some of it is warm; only some of it is just blood.
There are more bodies here than there is blood. The suicides started after the first string of drone attacks, the last of which happened a moment ago, evaporating a running pack of children to a splash of blood and muscle. It is over, I hope. There is nothing left. There is no one left, I hope. The screams have stopped – of babies in the arms of their mothers. Just silence and zooming of jets in the clouds, leaving trails of blood.
I must get away from here. But what is this, in my leg? A shard of bone. A bone shrapnel? I have to get away. The drones circle back. That’s what they do. I have to live. Who is this sprinting towards me? Looks like the local shopkeeper. He settled in the valley five years ago. Why is he sprinting? He is going to hurt himself... running like that, through puddles of blood and bones. Is that...? That is a sickle in his hand. Why is he sprinting toward me with a sickle in his hand? His eyes, they are bloodshot. His face, he is grinning. I start running away. There is a pang in my heart, and my head is throbbing. My head is warm again, from the warm sweat oozing and dribbling down my face. I wipe it away. It’s blood. I glance over my shoulder. He is not running anymore; just grinning. He has dug some of my brains out. I slow down and fall to the ground. There is a flash of light in the sky. A drone has spotted me. The sky cracks open. I am floating in my blood.
Year 2022, dreaming state
I am walking the streets of Pahalgam. No, I am being paraded through the streets of Pahalgam. We look up at the windows. Brown unfamiliar faces look down and sneer at us. Settlers. Tossing family heirlooms and clothes on to the street, like incendiary confetti. We are naked. Marching out in queues to a big lake of boiling oil. A confetti of memories at our feet.
September 2019, waking state
I wake up in a sweat in my bed in Bangalore, India. My jaws, they hurt. I must have been clenching them, again. I reach for the glass of water on the bed stand. My arms, I cannot feel them. I try to get out of bed, but I fall to the floor. My heart is racing out of my throat. My body is hot. I try to go back to sleep. There are ants in my bloodstream. I spend the next three days in bed unable to move. A similar nightmare repeats the next week, the week after that and the next.
Post-August-2019 was the year a lot (all) of us had our first full-blown anxiety attacks. Most of these were paralysing, leaving numb – our bodies and minds. The entire population was grieving, like a singular injured organism, heaving and sighing in unison, consciously aware that our hearts were not beating, and yet pulsating, mimicking an organism in limbo; alive in a way only dead things can be. You could see it, the five stages of grief in the organism that is a dozen million Kashmiris – some of us still reeling and only now recovering from the shock.
When it happened, there was a murderous silence, and we withdrew from every word and world that was not Kashmiri. We withdrew from each other, we drew to each other. We cried to each other; we ran to each other; we ran from each other. Characteristic reminders of the trauma that the memory and psyche of those times had left us with were the dreams that we had, and still have – vivid, horrid nightmares of murder and genocide. A lot of us resorted to self-harm, consciously and subconsciously, to keep these dreams at bay; sometimes gagging and waking up to find a bleeding mouth from having bitten down on the tongue in agony; shoving an entire hand into the mouth; twisting a bone; spraining our necks from having tossed around too much; hitting and injuring our heads on the bed boards; perpetually trying to run from whatever it was that we were seeing in our nightmares.
August, 2020 – the ‘anniversary’
It is 5 August, after all. It has been a year. What did we learn, after all? Yesterday morning, 4 August, my mother stopped mid-sentence and spoke of 4 August from last year. How she hurried and ran between shops, for groceries. Word was that they would kill and bury every protestor in big trenches. I wondered why she believed that, and realised that our cynicism is our reality. So I stopped wondering. As we finished the conversation, we contemplated hurrying, rushing, and stocking up again, on 4 August 2020.
Today, when they ask me, unwittingly, awkwardly, if I see any hope for Kashmir (perhaps because they don’t either), I wonder what they mean. I see very high walls all around Kashmir; as high as the sky, higher than Icarus could fly. When they ask if Kashmir really is a prison, do they think it is a metaphor? Do they know it is not? So, I try to think of hope. I try to give it shape. I imagine it as a living organism needing air, water and land to survive. I imagine that it needs to breathe, not much, but some. Then I think of the walls around Kashmir. And then I imagine hope – as a sphere of energy – and I try to hold and create it in my hands, but it fizzes out at the first spark. The walls starve it, the air chokes it and the land burns it.
Then you ask yourself what lengths you are willing to go, to survive yourself and this dead ball of hope. Just the other day, my friends and I were out wearing masks in a car and we were stopped and all but dragged out. They stopped others too, but us, they dragged out. For our long hair, we guessed. Lined up, each of us prepared to get beaten up and broken. I imagined bringing forth my thighs or hamstrings to avoid bone damage. I saw my friend swerving a bit in his spot, and I imagined he was trying to think of ways to avoid blows to his head. I regretted the red-tinted shades I was wearing because it’s those things they beat you up for: for wanting to bring a little luxury and a little life into your world. Then I imagined what lengths I would go, to save the bones in my body. Would I be willing to turn coats and be one of them? Would I be a successful one-of-them? Would I even be one of them? Is that how this works?
Kashmir is not just densely occupied. It is thoroughly occupied. It is intricately occupied. It is omnipresently occupied. It is repeatedly occupied. It is experimented on. It is prodded with sticks and state tricks. It is pried open by a billion hands, and then put back together in all the wrong orders, and there are people looking on, always. There are walls, and then there are barbed wires, and shards of glass on the walls, and the wires are electrified, and the flowers on them burn to a crisp every second of every day. Some days, the moss makes it.
Ten minutes after we were plucked out of the car, I heard the wind tunnelling in my ear and realised that we had gotten back into the car, with just a few abuses and shoves. So, what do I do? What do we do? Are we, too, holding on too dearly to the same land that the occupier is? Are we just as arrogant? Is this worth it? What are we to do? Are we to carry our states and plebiscites in our guts? To roam around as countries and democracies on two legs? Make a home out of our body? God knows we have never had one – a home or a body. What do we do? Pick the most potent Kashmiri male and the most fertile Kashmiri female and get on board another Noah’s ark? Kill the rest? Let the rest get killed? Will the men in khaki and saffron open the gates of the valley for our ark to float out into the world of exile? Will they shut it behind us? Or will they set the ark on fire? So, how do I feel on this anniversary? Unbelievably calm. Post hope, post hopelessness.
Figure skating on cobwebs.