Friday, October 30, 2009

Building blocks of sadness

Building blocks of sadness

By Majid Maqbool

Kashmir is a sad place. There is sadness in the stories of people. There’s sadness in their personal histories. There is sadness in the lives that people live. And in the regret for lives that they should have lived, but couldn’t. There is sadness, for a future that might not be different from the present. There is sadness, for being witness to a bloodied past replete with pain, injustices, death. There is sadness, for promises not kept. There’s sadness, for having lived, while all around the loved ones died. It is this collective sadness that lends a sorrowful aura to Kashmir. Memories come in the way of happiness here. And sorrow, like that ubiquitous bunker on the street, has found a permanent home in Kashmir.

The wounded architecture of the city is saddening. Burnt buildings, reduced to abandoned remnants of encounter sites, evoke sadness. Blackened, burnt wood in place of windows; damaged walls, sprinkled with bullets; exposed bricks, punctured with bullet holes. All these destroyed buildings – once peoples’ homes, public offices, shops – are devoid of life now. They are the building blocks of sadness. They evoke a sad memory. They stand testimony to a blood soaked past. New buildings are erected in place of the destroyed ones. But the sadness remains, forever locked in these sites. And the memories of the wounds remain, intact. Kashmir’s past—every Kashmiri’s past for that matter—is a landmine of unresolved memories. Even an act of remembrance can explode them.

There is sadness on the faces of Indian soldiers present after every other kilometer on the streets. Guns slung across their shoulder, few meters away from each other, their presence adds to the sadness of the city. They remind us of what we have lost. They remind us of what they have taken away from us. They, we are told, are here to ‘protect’ us. Keep us safe! Innumerable barricades, inked in capital red letters on a white background, are kept on the streets: ‘Your cooperation is solicited’. Your safety is our concern. Peace keepers of the nation....’ Courtesy: CRPF, BSF…

What can one say? Quote Agha Shahid Ali: “They make a desolation and call it peace.”

‘People there are helpful but they don’t smile,’ a writer wrote after travelling to Kashmir. This sadness stems from a bruised history. It is a result of unforgettable memories - of years of occupation, against the wishes of people, by the outsiders. It’s difficult to reconcile with a troubled past, look ahead, and live a content life. It is difficult to foresee a future which has no place for the memories of the past. You can forgive (or can you?) but you can not forget.

The sentiment of freedom, simmering inside for years, came out bubbling into the streets last year. It swept everyone who came along. But somewhere behind those joyous shouts for freedom, there was sadness. Sadness, for example, in the life of that man I met in the TRC ground. He lost his brother and his son in the nineties. He still manages to smile. He knows what sadness means. Travelling all the way from his hometown, he joined a sea of people that poured into the TRC ground in the summer of 2008. Only one cry rang into the sky – azadi! He too put his arms up. He shouted for Azadi. For every collective shout of hum kya chatay that reverberated in the air, he seconded – azadi! And he waited for his leaders.

Although doubt was palpable in the fractured voice of leaders that addressed people assembled in the ground, there was no doubt in his mind. He remembers his son; he remembers his brother. That’s why he came. He didn’t come for any compensation. He came to mark his presence. He came in the memory of his brother and son. They are both dead. He lives with their memory. They were killed, he told me, his words drowning in the din of slogans. But they live in his memory. For him, they are not dead. Sitting besides me in the middle of the ground, surrounded by thousands of people of all age groups, he seemed momentarily lost in his thoughts. Turning towards me, his gaze fixed on me, he said: “My son was young like you when he was killed.” I said nothing, and looked down. “Enough of young people have died in Kashmir,” he said after a brief pause. Then he looked away into the distance. The ground kept swelling with people. His spirits rose.

He’s sad. He’s angry. He is living. He knows the meaning of life. He has lost his loved ones. He knows what freedom means.

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