Do you know what a water cannon feels like on naked skin?
On a cold Delhi night, we sat sipping hot chai and sang songs of Kashmir.
Snow-clad mountains, skipping stones at the banks of Jhelum
Shayaris at the corner of her lips, orchards of apples fallen straight from Eden.
The rippling Dal lake where houseboats kept every lovers’ secrets,
and kesar blooming in the heart of Kashmir.
That wispy saffron still blooms
But now it spits out red because Kashmir wants to be free.
Years ago two warring brothers decided to part ways
And each wanted the crowning jewel: precious Kashmir.
But nobody asked her what she wanted.
They skinned and peeled and drew on her with barbed wires.
They took away her colours and drenched her in blood and khaki.
And Kashmir bled out of every widowed, orphaned, unanswered eye.
So they came at us in the dead of the night.
For singing songs of a time when Kashmir was covered in fire
from sunrays falling on forests of gulmohar and not from AK 47s.
The motherland’s devoted sons came for us with sticks, water cannons,
And rained liquid fire on our unsuspecting bodies.
That night, detained at the local prison,
Amidst the stench of steel, urine and bribes, we heard Farhad scream.
They had handpicked “the mastermind” from the huddle.
How dare he brainwash the others, the innocent, the gullible?
Kashmir was Hindustan’s haq.
That was Farhad’s crime, our crime.
That she was a living, breathing being to us, and not a stretch of land,
Caught between 24 spokes of an imaginary wheel and two colours: saffron and green.
In the wee hours of the morning, as he limped back into the cell,
I asked him- what did they do?
He smiled through his split lip.
“Same as last time. Same as the time before that.”
I did not attend the next meeting.
Mother had grounded me for ‘associating with anti-nationals’.
But Farhad was there, in his khadi kurta and jeans,
His bruises almost healed, his eyes prepared for new ones.
What happens when he succumbs?
When his dissent can no longer hold off the weight of a growling, angry nation?
Someone in the gathering asks him.
He merely turns the page over and belts out yet another Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
“Bol ke lab aazad hain tere”
Even in captivity, your words are free.
Far away, in the green recesses of Gulmarg, a little boy stares out of his window.
A battered old book of poetry lies beside him, the skies of Kashmir reflecting in his eyes.
How does a water cannon feel on naked skin?
Like a thousand tiny pellets shot into the heart of your homeland.