I Was Seventeen When You Were Writing of Kashmir Burning

By Meenakshi Watts

(In memory of Agha Shahid)

It still burns.

This must be a seed planted in Raj Bagh,
under the ‘One Inch Himalayas’
On a summer afternoon in your father’s house.
Our parents stood around with old times
laughing and lost in shared memories
and sons that came back to make them proud.

The warm sun outside came held loosely in your stance.
Tea with friends, you said, too much mathi and pickle.
Two things that afternoon left intact through later years,
your autograph , [prized now, when you are gone.]
And the words, of a poet who read and said,’ keep writing’
That was the last summer I returned.

Twenty years since that hazy fragrance
of summer flowers has been singed with
the agony of a home being slowly lost. It writes itself,
stealing into Zero bridge and Pampore
In A Floating Post Office met two years back by accident
Your voice came back to reach into unfinished poets

Of the Valley, finding words on the tips of tongues and fingers
That had longed to be said. Saffron fields and dadi’saromatic kitchen
have walked somehow , all the way from that sunny afternoon
of many poetic lives into places other than abstract eyes.
They nudge me, every day, write! Let the world know!
There was a time when smiling hearts rowed all day on the Dal…
Or went looking for the fairies of Pari Mahal.
And counted autumn fires in golden Chinars.
Children ran around in little phirens in the snow,
making the Dal seem like a big flat white world
outside of which, none existed.
Nightmares did not exist, or at least we thought so.

Though they say the youth in today’s Kashmir,
fed on blood and strife don’t fear death
What we remember and lost is a song of life, Sufi strains
and Shiva’s chants.
Your nightmare of a Kashmir emptied
of Kashmiri Pandits has come true, Shahid! It has come true!

Let me die too, or die again, and find a window that opens

Back into the green -gold roads of goat’s eyes
shining bright in full moon nights
And perhaps find, a street full of happy Kashmiris
selling Pashmina shawls and calling out, ‘vaarey?’
Handsome men and beautiful women,
Of the land once called, Paradise.

The roads full of summer tourists, buying
walnuts and crewel embroidery
While chinars reach the sky and we wait for chestnuts in October.
Or maybe find friendly strangers stopping school buses
with ‘Tahar’ laden hands.
And a shepherd sitting at the entrance of Amarnath cave.
As he always has.

The mourning has not ceased since you left, though we waited half our lives
Waiting for that dream to re-awaken.

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