London Muslim girl holds an anti-terror banner. Below laying wreaths
Bombings and Pakistani Connection: A Kashmiri View
July 20: I am no stranger to killing and chaos in my surroundings,
for I have lived most of my life witnessing, dodging and reporting
such events. As a journalist in Kashmir, I have filled columns
of newspapers counting the dead in dozens, collecting the pain
and suffering in lifeless words, and watching, the ‘paradise
on earth’ – that old designation of Kashmir –
burned to a wasteland of sadness by the violence kindled by Indian
a poet, I tried to sing the pain of my countrymen and women, the
wails of mothers whose children were snatched from their beds,
the government employees kidnapped by militants for being ‘informers’
– a phenomenon common now in Iraq.
stopped writing poems, since these seemed to me an inadequate
response; the words had become strange to the ears of the people.
I had become irrelevant.
years ago, I came to London for study. Being here made me sad.
My time here was shadowed by a strong sense of guilt that I am
free while my people remained captive. They cannot move an inch
without permission of the army man standing over their home. Even
marriage-parties, which were traditionally conducted by night
are now held in the daylight, for no one can move at night without
being shot at.
I had brought my unhappiness to London, this is scarcely surprising:
my life had been punctuated by bomb blasts, cries of loss by mothers
who had lost their sons, of children whose father had been tortured
to death. Everything was unpredictable and unstable; how could
I be expected to attain stability?
the time I went to college in Kashmir, everyone was talking about
holding a gun to fight for freedom. In no time, I saw friends,
teachers, neighbors, relatives exalting freedom and the gun. The
first blast I witnessed occurred in 1998, and I was standing just
yards away from where an old man died.
six months in London, I returned to Kashmir. I felt I had been
thrown out of life. I felt like an evictee form my own country.
I came back to London and settled here. But all the time I was
hiding from myself. I could no longer write. For a time, I even
stopped reading about Kashmir and its killing fields. I denied
everything that had formed me – my life, my background,
my feelings, even my friends. For a long time, my family thought
I had gone missing. My mother had become resigned to the possibility
that I had been just one more name added to the thousands missing
the time passed, I started believing that I was renegotiating
life on ‘normal’ terms, doing a job, going about life
– I came to feel safe. However, I could not resume writing
anyway – my thoughts eluded me in the blood-clotted lanes
in Kashmir knew I was not as ‘comfortable’ as I would
have been in my own culture, but everyone including my parents
acknowledged that I was at least secure, however painful the separation.
It is my usual practice to call my home and friends in Kashmir
after every ‘encounter’ or bomb blast that kills people.
Just four weeks ago, there was a blast a few minutes’ walk
from my family home, which wiped out six members of the same family.
7/7, the world turned upside down again. My brother tried desperately
to contact me as news of the blast poured in. My sister tried
everything to get in touch. Scores of friends from Kashmir left
messages or sent texts, and my old Kashmir days came back to haunt
me, as I realized I am in the firing line once more. Fate has
created another war zone similar to that I was desperately trying
the first news came through, I was in Holland Park tube station.
When people started to evacuate the station, confused and bewildered,
I was back in the Kashmir of my yesterday… The running footsteps,
the closed shops, the deserted bus stands. I called my wife and
tried to contact my father who is with me at the moment, and was
even then on the underground traveling to Central London –
the ‘theatre of action’ for the day.
my familiarity with bombs, the events in London shocked me, as
they have every Londoner, not because they exhibit the endless
capacity of human beings to turn to savagery, but because the
bubble of security I had created around me living thousands of
miles from Kashmir had burst. I realized I was once again vulnerable
and uncertain; and being in London Underground tube only makes
the vulnerability and uncertainty more certain.
the dead are ‘identified’, I have the same old feeling
of helplessness and a return of the constant grieving mode in
which I had lived in Kashmir. Now that I am a Kashmiri Londoner,
the grief is doubled. My soul feels suffocated in the dingy tunnels
of the Underground where blood is spilt of both oppressor and
the oppressed. It is scarcely new to me. I have seen hundreds
of deaths. I have participated in scores of funerals, of friends,
teachers, relatives, strangers. In my own hometown I witnessed
more than 40 deaths in one day. As we marched peacefully, we were
showered with Indian army bullets from every direction.
London outrage sparked a particular memory – 22nd October
1993, the day 43 civilians were mowed down in my town. I turn
on TV, read newspapers, and everywhere victims stare at me. We
don’t call them victims in Kashmir, we call them shaheed
or martyrs; wailing women sing to them and shower candies and
flower petals and rose water. We bury them in their own clothes,
whether torn by bullets or shrapnel. We erect tombstones carved
with Urdu verses
thay hum misle bulbul sair-e-gulshan kur chalay; Lay low mali
bagh apna hum to apnay ghar chalay (We came like birds, to
enjoy your garden; O gardener, take your garden, we are leaving
we bury our dead, we turn victims into martyrs, since the pain
is lessened and a certain calm descends.
I looked at the names of victims, a name leaps out. John Tulloch,
a professor, is one of the injured whose bandaged face was all
over the papers. He was my teacher during my journalism course
at the University of Westminster when I first came to London.
father, a retired professor, has been staying with us for a few
months. He visited King’s Cross every day to visit the British
Library, where he found many books and manuscripts which are clearly
not available in Kashmir.
he came, he was surprised by the relaxed life of London compared
to Kashmir, where he had lived surrounded by strife and destruction.
His visits to the library have stopped. Kashmir is suddenly my
closest neighbor in London.
writer is a London-based Kashmiri writer and poet and can be reached