The two Kashmiri daughters left battered by unabated strife in the valley weave verses in longing of their fathers.
By Mir Seeneen
The frozen day of January 21, 1990 was another routine regularity for three-year-old Neelum, when suddenly the devastating news came and filled her home with shrieks and wails. As a milk-suckling baby, it didn’t strike her that CRPF troopers had piled up around 52 bodies on Gaw Kadal that noon. In that bleeding heap of corpses, she learned years later, was her jovial father.
As first massacre of nineties, that bridge carnage had packed around 250 injured people protesting molestation charges at Chota Bazar to city hospitals for emergency treatment.
But like many, Neelum’s father didn’t make it to the emergency ward. His body was later retrieved from Police Control Room, which was about to become Kashmir’s nightmarish mortuary centre.
Soon as biers were taken from almost every nook and corner of the valley, Neelum began feeling an obvious absence of her father—whose finger wasn’t there to pick and drop her from school, to play with her, to hold hand during outings, and make her festivals fulfilling.
Her troubling question—‘Where is my Papa?’—would threaten to resume mourning at her home and therefore, it was often brushed aside.
But her heart skipped a beat the day she learnt how her father, Farooq Ahmad, a taxi driver of Court Road, had fallen in the bridge bloodbath. The very thoughts of how her Papa had reacted when gunned down would make her restive and strangulate her heart.
When that state of fatherlessness grew, she finally took refuge in scribing her feelings.
I’ve been feeling
a strange pain
inside me every time...
As she read and research more about the fateful day, she started feeling proud of her father who had reportedly grabbed the gun barrel of a trooper and took 28 bullets to his stomach before dying. Her father’s last moment heroics did save many lives that day, when he was returning home with an appointment letter.
After a long toil, Neelum’s father had been finally appointed as driver in Gulmarg Cable Corporation. But he didn’t last to deliver that happy news to her family—who were soon mourning her demise instead.
Even as Farooq’s family finally found a new home in Bemina, Neelum could never take him out of her, despite hardly knowing and feeling his presence.
She reflects that sense of deprived daughter-father kinship through her poems now. Among other things, she doesn’t shy away from writing about her unfamiliarity with him.
I don’t know much about you,
But they say you’ve gone to a special place
and they console me not to cry…
And then, she brings the larger grief that most of the daughters who lost their fathers to the unabated conflict in Kashmir often feel and experience.
I don’t care
What they say, Papa.
It’s between you and me!
Neelum might not be a published poet, but her struggle makes her a part of the larger war-torn tribe of the valley who pens poetry in longing and remembrance of their loved ones.
Over the period of time, as Kashmir conflict is endlessly escalating tensions in the region, many more daughters are now stepping into the Neelum’s shoes.
Far from Srinagar’s deceptive hustle-bustle, southern Kashmir’s Yaripora Kulgam houses one such circumstantial poet.
At 12, the rhymester who weaves some heartbreaking verses is already well introduced in the valley.
Lately, as she came down to Srinagar to protest against her father’s continuous arrest, she left many tearful with her wailing appeals.
But back home whenever the longing for her father troubles Sugra Barkati, she quietly retires to her room, and writes rhymes in his remembrance—often in the dead of the night, when a ‘graveyard’ silence often messes with her sleep.
Sugra is the woebegone daughter of Sarjan Barkati, the man who became the popular face in protest rallies in southern Kashmir at the peak of 2016 uprising. Subsequently, as he was arrested and booked under Public Safety Act, his daughter began compiling a volume of verses for him.
Abu myani lagyoo arrest gachnas;
Beni hindi baayo khoni seet lalnawat…
Maaji hindih gabroo khunih manz bhi saawath
(O’ dear father, I’m troubled by your arrest.
I’ll cradle you with the warmth of my blood
And lullaby you in my bosom.)
Her ability to pen poems makes many feel that the daughter is only following her father whose “Na Bhai Na” protest song became the most popular resistance anthem in Kashmir during 2016 protests. The songmade him overnight sensation and a fresh face of Kashmir’s dissent rallies.
The slogan might not be reverberating anymore—like it did during pro-Burhan protests two years back, but Barkati’s daughter seems mindful of the conviction that her father showed, and suffered its consequences.
At times, however, the absence of father belittles everything, even her strong mindset that she wears on her tiny shoulders. But when even tears don’t console her, she picks up pen, and craves for her incarcerated father through her heartbreaking verses.
Zih weri mai waeti maelis wuchnas
Abu myani lagyoo arrest gachnas;
Sugra tche lajyo qadawar paanas
Yithnou Abu dalhem ath eemanas
(I haven’t seen you in last two years
O’ my father, I’m troubled by your arrest.
Sugra will give up herself for your towering personality
Father, don’t ever waver from your stand.)
Like Neelum’s, Sugra’s case also points out to the larger fact that the conflict offers its own consolation the battered souls. And in the duo’s case, it’s rhymes of remembrance.