Lal Chund shaped
the Palace of Winds
as Lord Krishna’s crown.
He tamed the course of wind
to swirl and keep cold the Queens
of Kachwaha, snow shrouds on beds burning sand.
“Follow me, Ma’am,” the guide said, “I‘ll show you nine-ninety-nine windows.
Intricate lattice work, heavily colored so no one from outside could see the queens.”
I followed him up dark stairs, coiled like a snake, but I lost my way back, running and
through rooms and alleys reaching the same place again and again. I shouted, “Man,” for
not his name, “Listen you …take me to the Exit.” He heard me not, but I saw an eye on every window searching me. Wind howled like a beast in pain. Windows were graves. Eyes were tongues wagging from windows to walls, whispers only whispers like bees buzzing from hives, and tongues like soggy pages torn out, yet stories could still be read.
I am blamed for the sins of man, the serpent’s too, a tongue said; I was thrown into fire by the kindest of gods, another said; I was bet in a game of dice by the wisest of men; a witch was I to those who see God’s image in man; I was stoned, flogged for the sake of someone’s honor; I was drowned in the water of my womb; acid scars celebrate my face;
I have been sold since the time of the pharaohs. I am a battleground.
Echoes tore the walls down: I opened my eyes. My hair partitioned by a vermilion streak into two unequal parts. “Madam, you’re hurt,” the guide said, standing under a sign that
‘You are a rebel, so, you must perish.’
Excerpt from a letter written in red and black ink
from an unknown officer-in-charge of matters
between heaven and hell.
Why officer, what is my fault?
I offered only water to thirsty Prometheus.
A case of mistaken identity…I guess.
They call him Akenandun in the village, his Gham,
after some boy in a tale, whose severed limbs were raised from
seven bowls of thoroughly cooked flesh…
He is the one you buried under that hollowed Chinar,
circled by sniffing vultures.
He stealthy wrapped our secrets in small paper bags…
Contrapasso isn’t poetic justice; but he lays wrapped him in a shroud,
he shares with his seven grave-mates.
He also shares with these seven sleepers, a loosely hanging
headstone crippled by silence and a hurriedly written epitaph.
I often wonder what will happen to these men, when
Angel Israfel blows his mortal melody into his palm,
when wombs will fall, graves open their gaping mouths
to throw the dead away. Will their limbs, long-pressed
together, finally release from each other’s grip to make
themselves presentable in front of the Divine Durbar?
Or, will the grave-mates say, “Excuse us, God,
we know not which limb belongs to whom?”
The comrades-in-the-grave blurted: when
we were alive, we wandered enough. Now,
as we rest in peace, your blessed angels awaken us.
They also did mention, we are fragments
of yet-to-be-finished poem, a line here and there is missing,
like our limbs. The lines never felt fit enough to come
back to us, words fluttered cacophony of our bones.
Grave-mates signed off, saying: let
the missing lines remain missing.
Asiya Zahoor, who studied literature and Psycho-linguistics at the University of Oxford, teaches English Literature at a college in Baramulla, Kashmir.