The explicit emptiness of the mobile screen haunted me. The last undelivered message was smiling alone. The absence of the warm comforting feeling of anxious expectation for the dearest friend was so poignant that it pushed me into a state of turmoil before sliding into a black hole of a concoction of guilt and longing. And when silence was not chosen but rather imposed, it became more difficult to manage.
On August 4, my friend Raqif, whom I met on Instagram, asked me for a dua (prayer) for him because he had his law exam on the 5th. But the sudden declaration of the repeal of Article 370 , followed by the suspension of the mobile network, put an end to our daily discussions. Although he was much younger than me, his kindness and magnanimity never stood in the way of our friendship.
Our endless conversation about the works of Arundhati Roy made us glued to each other. But from August 5, 2019, it was complete silence. The initial agitated frustration descended into a deep, helpless and intense worry of many ifs and buts.
At such a point, you want the world to stop and listen or be pathetic at your pain. But that doesn’t happen. This world has a particular and indifferent way of moving forward. On the day of Eid, I missed Raqif more. He had asked me to share photos of dishes we prepare at home.
Although Muslims in India are oppressed by the general term ‘Muslim’, in reality the culture of the Muslim community is as diverse as the idea of India itself. Most Muslims in my part of India have never had biryani in their life. Although we as Muslims are often praised or nailed for certain particular eating habits. A biryani from North India is quite different from biryani mixed with potatoes from Bengal. Contrary to the belief of the right-wing narrative, a Bengali Muslim can live without beef but one can hardly live without fish. Food was therefore another subject of our daily conversation. His haak saag and my favorite hilsa curry were our ways of getting to know each other.
Time has flown. The wound of his absence has begun to shed blood on my existence. At one point, I thought of writing him a letter. But then I realized that my friend lives in a country without a post office. Poetry and in particular the poetry of Agha Shahid Ali became my resource.
The celebration, the joy of Kashmir’s silence by my part of the country was so deafening that I tried to find a way out of the guilt that gnawed at me. I took a pen and started doodling myself.
What else could I write but an address to my friend Raqif? I started writing with the desperation to let him know that I am not this India which gloats in front of its pain. Did I succeed? To know the answer, we must find the answer to this question: “Can an oppressor and an oppressed be friends?”
To be a friend we have to travel many miles and as a poet what better way than poetry? And walking this road I got my first book The daydreams of the dark.
I heard his voice again after five months at the end of January. I asked him how had he survived so many months without internet, without a phone call? He smiled and said, “We are Kashmiris, we are surviving.
The weight behind his words was quite heavy and I couldn’t ask him if we were still friends. I just sent him my poems.
Have the poems arrived in the country without a post office or do the poems still wander around the barbed wire and the throbbing hands of the persimmons? If you — the readers — ever manage to reach my friend’s land, please deliver these poems to him:
1. To my friend who lives in an imposed cemetery
I don’t want to say sorry to you
I shouldn’t be
Scissor your arms and your heart
cannot be forgiven.
Raqif, do you want to walk with me?
Oh, how can you?
I tied your hands and legs
I fed you bullets.
What are you going to spit,
blood or bullets?
Forgive me, Raqif
I dream of talking with you
among the leaves falling from the chinars.
Do you still want to teach me Urdu?
The Jhelum and the sound of your voice
will make a symphony that I will listen to
Sitting on the banks of the Jhelum.
Will you still make khewa for me,
with the best strand of saffron?
Please Raqif, my friend,
forgive me and be my friend forever.
please read me again
the Nazms of Faiz.
Don’t let the fascists dictate our hearts
Let’s prove them
The land they can rule but not our hearts.
(A poem from the collection, The Musings of the Dark)
2. I am your enemy, my friend
I can’t touch your words
that comes to life every time.
I open my heart and the words
leave me the stink
blood, betrayal and intestines
which I have earned over the years from your land.
The dark words that I
have injected into your vocabulary
hunt me in broad daylight
in my comforting room.
I turn the light off.
They become brighter in the dark.
Your silent questions haunt
my heart died for the answers.
I look away from me.
A murderer looks to others for
reasons for his crime.
How the voices arrive
with the sound of crying
and broken images
after the throat has long been slit!
Wanton brothers throw stones at
But the ripples are felt for a long time.
(Moumita Alam is a poet from a very remote village in West Bengal, India. Her first collection of poetry The daydreams of the dark is available on Amazon.)