To the Soldier in Siachen
the snow is treacherous
they are making you fight a treacherous war
you were not born in snow
you do not know snow, come back
I do not want you to fight that war in our name
I want you to rest, I want you to be able to feel your fingers
I want the snow in your veins to give way
for you to be able to breathe, to melt
into a corner, to sleep.
Go home to Dharwad
go home to Madurai, go home
to Vellore, Satara, Mysore
do not stay in the snow
go home to Ranchi, that war
is not for you to fight, that war
is not for us to give to you to fight
let not our name be ice, let it
not heave on your shoulders
do not let us steal your breath
the people there, the people of the snow
do not need us, they do not need you to fight
you were not born to snow,
you do not know the treachery of snow.
to the sun, to water, go home
to village nights
to the sweltering marketplace
to the noise of family-homes
to the sweat of the Ghats
to the dust of the plains
to rest, go home.
May you never
have to see white like that again
may you never see a colour
become death in your very palm.
Name: Nasir Shafi
School: Greenlight Higher Secondary
Resident Of: New Theed Harwan, Srinagar
Father’s Name: “More than 300 pellets pierced my son’s body.”
Mother’s Name: “He was tall and looked much older for his age”, “great footballer”, “wanted to be an engineer”, “had promised us he will take mummy and papa on Haj”
Date of Death: 17-Sept-2016
Place of Death: “…boys were throwing stones at government forces near the Theed bus stand…by evening, the police surrounded the spot from all sides. We saw Rakshak jeeps speeding towards us…We ran towards the Dachigam forest…As we reached near the Hapatghar, the bear cage, the police were already there…some of us tried to hide behind bushes and trees, others ran towards the saraband, the reservoir…I climbed a tree to save myself…I saw the SHO order his men to catch the boys…then I saw Nasir alone in the Saraband. A group of five policemen went towards him…one among them pointed his gun at him and fired…he fell down instantly…”
Cause of Death (according to local police): Killed by a Bear.
Meaning of Name: Nasir, ‘Protector’, ‘Helper’, ‘The one who will bring victory’
(thanks to UbeerNaqushbandi, JunaidNabiBazaz, Abir Bashir, Faisal Khan and Jehangir Ali)
As a kid I used to confuse my d’s
with my g’s, and that bit of dyslexia
didn’t really become a problem till
I once spelt ‘God’ wrong. That day,
the teacher wrote a strongly worded
letter to my parents, and asked me
to behave myself. Also, as a kid
I couldn’t pronounce the letter ‘r,’
so till I was sent to some summer
vacation speech correction classes
at age 5, I used to say, “Aamjiki
jai,” “Aamjiki jai,” – then a teacher
taught me how to hold my tongue against
the ceiling of my mouth and throw it
out quivering, ‘Rrrr,’ ‘Rrrr,’ she wrenched
it out of me, over many sessions, ‘Ram,’
until then, I did not know God was so
much effort. Till I felt him tremble
on the tip of my tongue, God was only
a little joke about mangoes.
First Week in Iowa City
On the sixth day,
a white graduate student tells me
my English is strong.
I meant to say, “That’s just as well,
I’m an English teacher,”
but didn’t, because why the hell
should English still be the gold standard
to measure race relations
On the second day
we went grocery shopping.
There was a McDonald’s across
the store, with two flags – the bright yellow ‘M’
flying a little higher than The Stars & Stripes.
America wraps itself in clichés.
On the fourth day,
I watched a YouTube video
in which the Indian Home Minister
in the seventh week of curfew in Kashmir
said that the use of pellet guns caused ‘least damage’.
I am beginning to think words
change their meaning in Kashmir.
I try to square ‘least damage’
with hundreds of children blinded, with
the paramilitary forces’ own admission that
they used 1.3 million pellets in over four weeks.
‘Least’ is the last word
to change its meaning in Kashmir,
in a long line of words
that include ‘Childhood’, and also
On the third day,
I meet a poet who writes of
the missing children of Palestine
those no longer on swings
those no longer on beaches
those eclipsed like
meanings from words.
The map tells me that
Iowa City is 6327 miles
and 7127 miles to Kashmir.
I realize how close
Kashmir is to Palestine.
On the fifth day,
we go to a house party.
I find out what sort of houses
University professors can afford in Iowa.
On the first day
at dusk, as we drive
from Cedar Rapids airport
to our hotel, I gasp
–and I didn’t think I’d gasp
at anything in this small town –
at the size of the moon.
The highway holds a silver moon
ten times bigger than I’d ever seen back home.
This is a beginning
I tell myself
and if the moon can multiply in size
then what is not possible here?
That Srinagar bed, hours, we spread to each other,
in our kiss, years, all that was unsaid to each other.
Even broken promises are worth holding on to,
break promises like rubies and give red to each other.
Stars aligned like a prayer or a cursed planet,
what was it that night when we were led to each other.
Death lends grace to love, a silent indemnity,
no more fear of what we could have said to each other.
Your voice, now forgotten, was the last to go,
It’s silent now, that amethyst night we read to each other.
Akhil, what did you give to him, what did you get?
My heart for his. That’s it? And head to each other.
In Dubardha Village
in District Ballia, U.P.
Lance Naik Rajesh Kumar Yadav’s family
erected barricades on the road that
“lead to our house to ensure that
no media-person or any relative
could reach there and talk of
Rajesh’s death to his
mother and wife.”
In stopping the news
did they hope the truth would retreat
that in the meanwhile
Parvati, Rajesh’s wife
eight months pregnant, would grip
her fingers on the impossible arm of resolve?
“We stopped everyone from visiting
our house,” Vikesh said, the Lance Naik’s
brother who farms 3 bighas in the village,
“but somehow, the reporters found
a way from the other side of the road,
reached our home later that afternoon
and told Parvati…”
Who owns the news
of a soldier’s death?
Who has the right
to hold it in their hands
as it stuns courage into disbelief?
Who can keep the night of mourning?
In Satara, the father
of a soldier killed at twenty-seven
is afraid of putting courage in the docks
afraid of cutting his finger on
the leaden edge of the word.
He asks the journalist
“Am I wrong in saying that I want
my two other sons to be safe?”
Should the news of a soldier’s death
not turn us into an impossible ocean
or should it run in tickers till blood runs dry?
In Gangasagar, 24 Paraganas, in Bengal
the road to their house had no light
twenty year old Bulti Ghorai
sister of late Sepoy Biswajit Ghorai
lives only in the country of loss.
She tells the journalist, resolve held so tight
in her fingers it cannot breathe, “I will
never let any member of my family
join the Army again,”
(thanks to Sweety Kumari and Manish Sahu)
Akhil Katyal’s second book of poems How Many Countries Does the Indus Cross won the Editor’s Choice Award by The Great Indian Poetry Collective and will be out soon. His first book of poems Night Charge Extra was shortlisted for the Muse India Satish Verma National Young Writer Award. His translation of Ravish Kumar’s Ishq Mein Shahar Hona is forthcoming with Speaking Tiger as The City Within Love. He was the University of Iowa International Writing Fellow in Fall 2016. He teaches Creative Writing at Ambedkar University Delhi.