Old man time,

kashmiriI am the old man by the river, if you think I am someone’s grandfather, or the village elder, I could be, but more important, I am the keeper of a memory of people and communities,

“stories have changed my dear boy,” I told the man in the grey suit, “there are no more battles between good and evil, no monster to slay, no maidens that need rescuing. Most of them perfectly capable of rescuing themselves. The tales are no longer simple quests with beasts and happy endings. The quest has no clarity the goals are unclear, beasts take a different form sometimes we don’t even recognize them as beasts. As for endings they are not really there happy or otherwise, things keep overlapping and blur, your story is part of your sister’s story, which in turn is part of many other stories. There is no telling where each of them lay. Good and evil are much more complex than a princess and a dragon, when you are the story teller you just tell the story, your story as you experience it, for the dragon would be the hero of his, while the wolf will be hero of his.

Sameer the man in grey was on a journey, something lead him through the journey of the dark side of human civilization the shadow we don’t acknowledge.

Sameer recollected a teacher saying history is the document of the winner.

Like Vallikanthan his friend from Srilanka said, the support group needed is massive it is for all states recovering from terror, be it srilanka, or be Kashmir, actually even be it Afghanistan. But Afghanistan was still being bullied. That story was not there to talk.

“Pictures of the Tamil country today” said Valli tossing the album towards Sameer.

Houses destroyed, or scattered, land uncultivated forests of decapitated Palmyra palms and the ultimate relics of war, the grave yard of LTTE.

“When I went there I could only sense military loss”

Sameer waited, he knew what was coming the sense of moral and psychological defeat. He had seen it in Kashmir. It was deeper than the defeat of the rebels.

“Prabhakaran, was the leader” mused the old man,

“Yes like a modern day Coriolanus, his kind of lacked imagination for peace.”

“It was flawed no doubt” observed Sameer “but the tigers were custodians of the Tamil people’s hope of self realization”

The old man returned to the monastery, people surrounding him, were scared warriors, some from Jaffna, some from Kashmir and others from over the world. The slayers of monsters who bore scars for their people who had to put up tyranny.

Valli spoke of woman who was his hostess during his reporting days, her son was a carpenter, he was an accidental hostage when LTTE took civilians as human shield, and they were slaughtered because LTTE had overestimated their relevance and the deceny of the west.

“What happened to the boy “asked Sameer,

“He died.”

“Now, the govt. Is trying to rehabilitate the Tamils, the infrastructure is being build, things”

“no,”said Valli,”nothing feels right; it is like rubbing our defeat on us.”

The people have lost something, like the Tamil artist T.Shanaathanan put it “we don’t what is lost. The war is over, but there is a kind of psychological warfare now. Before people looked at us with session, with a feeling that you’re Tamil, you might be a terrorist but now they look at us as if we’re nothing.”

“The boy”

“Well one does not know where he is buried.”

Sameer had been there too. The graveyard of the forgotten, unclaimed

The northern edge of Tchahl village, the old man, was sitting with three other men in their 60’s. Suddenly Mohmmad Khan, shouted at the men sitting to help him bury a dead mean.

“Naa! If I see that I won’t sleep” Ghulam Mohiuddin Darr one of the men sitting replied the policemen sniggered, the burial of “unidentified militants”took place.

“woh! Buddhe ko bulawo” the police was shouting out next day, he was already upset about the non family posting he was in far away from the comforts of Delhi.

Dar came into the police station he had come right from the fields, so his feet still muddied. The police showed him a photograph of a dead boy

“Pehchaanta kya”

The world round Dar collapsed, he could weep and nod his head, that’s when something even worse dawned on him. The body he had refused to help Atta Mohmmed Khan bury was his son’s his Bashkir’s. The cry of Atta Mohammed Khan haunts Dar to the day.

Atta Mohammed buried the bodies that the policed delivered to him. Without questioning  230 bodies in the  shadow of  dark, sometimes evenings brought back the memories of mutilated faces but  when he had shared it with Sameer, for that moment Sameer had felt the pain of the man,

But more shockingly it was a vibrant feeling of life calling out from the crypt. A voice asking to be heard, a voice asking to be rescued.  Khan had turned to Sameer pointing out to the graveyard, Sameer wondered how Khan must have felt burying people without knowing their families, and without knowing who they were.

“First time, we refused to bury the body; we didn’t know who it was”

“Then”

“While digging the grave, my entire body was trembling” continued Khan he had not heard Sameer, or maybe he wanted to drive the nightmare away “we could not recognize him. The face was disfigured burn marks on the shoulder, I cannot forget that day. I could not sleep for days.”

“Bodies are sometimes, decomposed, sometimes the torture scars are so visible, but I would sign the papers and bury them.”

By now Sameer and khan had walked away,

“One day the police told me to dig nine graves,” nine bodies were buried.

When the photographs were recognized one happened to be Saleem my nephew, I don’t know when or how he became a militant.”

“These bodies haunt me beta, I don’t get sound sleep anymore.”

Sameer and Valli continued to sip tea by the monastery, the market was close, the local boys were playing cricket in the middle of the graveyard, which overlooks the town.  The graveyard which lent itself as a cricket ground during curfews was full.

The tall young man, wearing blue jeans and grey shirt was batting the last over, when his younger brother called to say that the army had ransacked the houses and broke the window panes of vehicles parked in but their car was untouched. Something in him rang a bell; he went home and drove their car to park it elsewhere.

It was 3.30 pm “ammi, I am off to mosque” he said, that was the last his family saw of him.

About 400 meters from the young man’s on a link road, twenty children started protesting against the high handedness of the Army. The young man and his friends were bystanders watching the protesting children.

The vehicles zoomed by, and they were the army one,

Smash, crash and the sound of glass splatters, the army went havoc. The young man peeped from behind shop to take stock, more important he wanted to make sure the protesting kids were safe.

A bullet whistled by and blood oozed from his mouth within minutes he was dead.

I am tired, that is the reason I look so old and haggard, I have made accepted the fact that it is forbidden to kill, and therefore all murderers are killed, unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.

But Sameer, the warrior, of a people, who have no story, a traumatised population devastated by war and migration. He fights not because he hates what is in front. He fights because he loves what is behind.

That when Sameer asked me a question that men have asked time and again when they are fighting for the dignity and existence of their people, “what difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name or liberty or democracy?”

I have none what so ever, hence this drooping shoulder, the tired wrinkles the faded cloak, and I try to turn the way the memories flow. But in a futile attempt to erase our past we deprive the community of our healing gift. We conceal our wounds out of fear or shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.

 

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