Kashmir! Kashmir!: atmospheric

A Hindu's View

“Ab wahan khaak udhaati hain khizaan
Phool hi phool jahan the pehle”

( Now dust blows on autumn’s breeze,
Where once were flowers, only flowers. )

Matrydom stole into the Kashmir Valley slowly under the glistening and glittery moonlight on the pristine white snow and under the concertina wires, painting the valley red not only with the blood of Kashmiri Pandits as our current government would like us believe but of every citizen who went by his life peacefully. Violence struck them hard, so hard that some fell numb and paralysed by the darkness of it, irrespective of religion.

Let me start by congratulating Deepa Agarwal for explaining and describing that militant rule and terrorism in the valley of Heaven irked everyone’s quotidian life, may it be Kashmiri Pandits or Muslims. Often at times like this when myopic and biased views are in ample amount, we need to ensure that…

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Press Release – You Cannot Have All The Answers and other stories | Niyogi Books

From The Journal Of A Reader



You Cannot Have All the Answers, a collection of short stories, takes on life’s unanswered questions while dealing with issues like trauma, sexuality and prejudice.

 New Delhi
April 25, 2018

The book was launched at Lecture Hall II, Annexe (Basement), India International Centre in the presence of Keki N. Daruwalla, Major Indian Poet and Short Story Writer, Namita Gokhale, Indian writer, Publisher and Festival Director and Malashri Lal, Writer and Academic, Former Professor, Department of English, University of Delhi at 6:30 p.m.

L-R Namita Gokhale, Malashri Lal, Deepa Agarwal and Keki N. Daruwalla.jpgL-R Namita Gokhale, Malashri Lal, Deepa Agarwal and Keki N. Daruwalla

The programme started with Trisha De Niyogi, publisher at Niyogi Books welcoming the eminent litterateurs followed by the unveiling of the book.

A four way discussion took place starting with Malashri Lal asking Deepa about the idea behind naming the book. She also stated that Deepa is known for the wonderful works she…

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The Ghost of Christmases Past


One day, Papa said, he decided

to give up cigarettes. From forty a day,

he came down to none. Only

on Christmas Day,

when the swarm of visitors has diminished

to a select few

sipping their rum in the exhausted drawing room

does he pick up a Capstan Navy Cut

from the carved Kashmiri box

and blow smoke rings for our delight.

While a lonely piece of cake

sits on a chipped plate

surrounded by indifferent crumbs.


The Big Day has not ended we know

we have yet to negotiate the rocky path

to the brightly lit room

where Santa Claus will distribute gifts

for a price:

poems squeezed from reluctant minds

mimic songs that have long forgotten their tune

but I cannot, I will not parrot ‘Daffodils’

not even to earn a gift. Rejected, it lingers

under the Christmas tree,

another lonesome participant in a festive rite

lies there accusingly as I lurk sullenly in the shadows.


Ishwar chho mero gwalo

kai baate ki kami raunli

The Lord is my shepherd

I shall not want.

but I want, I want, I want

an unconditional gift, Lord

from the night which sucks up fading carols

and flings them among

the silent pines. Already

a ghost, Christmas is slipping away

searching for its past,

amidst the cake crumbs, gift wrappings

and the cigarettes in the carved Kashmiri box.


We will smoke them my brothers and I

alone on New Year’s Eve

we will blow foetal smoke rings

aborted by choking coughs

which drift heavenwards to join

the Christmases gone. And

the New Year arrives stamping in on frozen feet


Ishwar chho mero gwalo

The Lord is my shepherd,

I shall never want, I hope

for unconditional gifts.



Papa decided to give up cigarettes

I have given up sugar for brief intervals

even forsworn alcohol—moving around

in a haze

batting away invisible smoke rings

that coil like persistent ghosts. Like

the ghosts of Christmases which live

only in the past. Without any future.



But will any sacrifice help a child

who shivers in the alien dark

too distant and too alien

for mortal eyes

does the Lord accept trade offs

as they say? Or does he cheat,

as I suspect? A fast for longevity

a fast for good health

but can a hollow belly

bring joy to a marooned child?


Questions cluster like smoke rings

stinging my eyes.

I cannot ransom the marooned child

I cannot return to the smoke filled

drawing room with its scent of rum

the chill warmth of its glowing embers

turning to ash, grey

as Papa’s hair.


When I have finished irrigating the country’s soil with

my fertile blood. Seeding new warriors.

I will turn into fodder for famished screens. Millions of my faces

will bloom upon the idiot box

increase, multiply and feed countless starving eyes.

My blinded gaze will face compassion boredom

horror terror sympathy and disgust

my 15 seconds of fame glide across the microscope’s glass

and evaporate before the arc lights’ glare

as gyrating limbs and thumping breasts

overtake my fleeting image and

leave it far behind.

What race is this I lost before it began?

or did I win it standing still? Watching

my opponent’s heels kick nakedly at the oncoming dusk.

Synthetic dusk born from the smoke of guns

as irrational as my night which lingers on and on

while indolent dawn snuggles beneath the covers

waiting for someone else to switch on the light.

But. Where is glory better sought

on green grass or in slime?

facing the gritty winds of summer

or winter’s shroud of fog?

which does blood stain brighter

desert sand or mountain snow?

And. Who lights an eternal lamp for me

as I float, an anonymous cloud

carrying the rain child of glory in my womb

a child which refuses to be born

till the storm settles.

If it ever will.


There is a place

where jewelled cobwebs

dot the hillside

my father’s smile

never wavers

and the rocks

feel solid beneath my feet.

The mist swirls in the valleys

a potent sea

spewing stories

which my brother

conjures out of the vaporous void.

A magician

spinning a different web each day.

And yet it is I

who tell tales now.

Fishing in that timeless sea

of the past


old shoes

a rotted corpse

but sometimes

a pearl within an oyster…

Secret of Success

Why do we send our words out into this public space? Share some of our most painful moments, our most intimate thoughts with people who are strangers, whom we are not likely to encounter in flesh? We reach out to connect,  to hear someone say, “I have listened to your voice, I feel the same way, I share your views, I empathise.”

Sometimes even the note of dissent can be stimulating. At least someone listened and responded.

Frankly, response to any form of writing, whether it’s my blog or my books is my measure of success. Those words touched a chord somewhere, which means these outpourings have some meaning, are not mere self-indulgence.

Yes, I am striving for this kind of success as a blogger. If I wasn’t I’d confine my thoughts to the diary that is meant for my personal private perusal…



When “Anarkali”, the popular movie about the tragic romance between Prince Salim (later Jehangir) the son of Mughal emperor Akbar and the court dancer Anarkali finally arrived in our small town, I got a summons from my aunt,

‘You will come with me to see a film today,’ she said.

I was shocked. I had never known my somewhat stern aunt to ever watch a movie. But I had never had the guts to disobey her either, so I dutifully agreed. Of course, I was curious to find out too, about the movie that could make her act so out of character.

It was a two mile walk to the dilapidated cinema hall. I must add here that not having any other form of conveyance, we relied on our own two legs to transport us everywhere.

I’m not sure how old I was then, definitely below ten. But the movie, particularly the last scene in which, condemned to death, Anarkali is being walled up, left a strong impression on my mind. So strong, that years and years later this poem emerged from somewhere…


When the walls rose up

Around Anarkali

Her heart unfolded

In paeans of joy

(So the movie says)

Celebrating love

Her song soared up

Higher, sweeter

Even as the last patch of sky

Was bricked out

Salim mourned

But life is long

And love short

And finally

There was consolation…

There was Noor Jehan

The slave girl

When she dared to love

Little knew


The walls of love

Press close


They shut out the sky

And once

The air inside

Is breathed up

Nothing remains

But the song

And even that

Is often lost

Scattered, dissolved

By the winds of time…

Dealing with Loss: the Chimaera of Hope

The young woman struggles to maintain her composure as she talks about her parents, who have gone missing in the cataclysmic flash floods that occurred in June in the Himalayan region of Uttarakhand. A month has gone by and the government talks about abandoning the search for the approximately 6000 people who are unaccounted for, devastating for their families.

‘They might have sought shelter in some remote village,’ she says in a tear drenched voice. ‘Why can’t they ask the army to search?’

In the end she adds her own message to the numerous others people have put up on a wall for their missing loved ones. In a beautiful, rounded hand she writes: ‘Mummy-Papa, jaldi aa jaana. Hum intezar kar rahe hain.’ (‘Mummy-Papa, please come back soon. We’re waiting for you.’)

Her story, like that of the other affected people holding up photographs on the TV show is heartrending. A father who has lost his son along with his wife and grandchild, another who has lost several members of his family. These are the ones left behind, who are engaged in a search made cruelly frustrating by the inefficiency of the bureaucracy handling the disaster.

As I watch, their belief that their dear ones might be alive somewhere seems unrealistic.

Then suddenly I’m reminded of the time my older sister Shanta was reported missing in a cyclone that hit the east coast of South India. She had gone to Chennai on official work and the car she was travelling in was swept off an inundated road some distance from the city. When we got the news, I refused to consider the worst.

‘Someone must have rescued her. She must be in a hospital somewhere…’ I told my husband confidently. And I firmly believed it. How could my sister die?

When her body was recovered, however, I was forced to accept that she was gone.

Affectionate, ever cheerful despite her many problems, Shanta di had been an enormous support in the confusing early years of my married life and now she would never come back. It was extremely difficult to come to terms with this fact. The worst was she left an eight-year-old son behind, a child for whom it was hard to comprehend what had happened, and a shattered husband.

We grieved and as time passed we came to accept the inevitable. We were compelled to find closure and move on with our lives.

But what if her body had not been found? We would have gone on hoping and waited for her to reappear miraculously. It would have been too difficult to give up.

This is the predicament of the families of the missing persons in the Uttarakhand disaster. One hopes that some are indeed alive and safe somewhere. But till they are found or it is established that they are no more, their families will remain poised between hope and despair.

That I think is the cruellest thing that can happen to anyone. And I pray sincerely that their ordeal is not prolonged and they can find solace somehow.