Friday, October 30, 2009

The Burden of a Turban

I ever knew that a conversation with an autodriver could be so different.

Ay madam! How much will you pay me?
No, not sixty...lets see now, eighty.
Yes Eighty, for you, just for you madam,
I like you a lot: your face and gait
Is like a friend from yester years,
A friend of sometime 14 years ago
She's no more madam, she's no more.

What's your name? AH, that's nice,
Even your voice resonates with my friend's tone.
You know she was killed in the border skirmish in '95, yeah I am from Srinagar.
I asked them not to kill her;
So, they undressed her and...she died anyway.
I made her suffer a double death-
Once from shame and then from pain.
Don't think that I am a bad man,
I just see my friend in you,
Same salwar, same shawl, same streaming hair.

I am a Sikh madam, as you must've noticed,
Turban, beard and all...
Do you know what this black strip is for?
Kirpan...the dagger I keep on my person.
5 K-s have we- Kesh, Kanghi, Kara, Kirpan, Kacchha:
Hair, Comb, Bangle, Dagger and modest clothing.
I tell you madam I am a religious man,
I keep all 5 with me day and night.

Do you like music? I sing. Ghazals primarily.
It was my music that took me to Australia.
I was there with my family for 8 years,
Late night concerts, lots of money, respect, fame.
And one day my wife told me:
"Which do you want? Money or Children?"
The decision was made. We returned next month.
Back to Delhi in 1983.
Got myself a job as an engineer in a company.
Got a house right next to your colony
Towards which we head now.
A happy modest family with 3 children.

And then came 1984, we fled under the cover
Of dark, before they could lay their hands on us.
But where could we go? Back to my ancestors:
Back to Srinagar, the paradise on earth.
Should I turn left now? yes, that's right.

Where did you get your shawl from amdam?
Kashmiri is it? Even I sold garments there.
Never found myself a job in a company.
Garment industry seemed good enough
For our family of modest needs.
My business thrived by the blessing of
Wahai Guruji. And then began the troubles.
And soon the brethren turned enemy.
It was now "us" and "them",
A binary that still baffles me.
Again we fled from our homes
Bearing the burden of the turban
And the trauma of the friend who died,
The same friend who is mirrored in you.
I'll pray for you madam, YOU must live.

Our minister went there to inaugurate some train
That she named after her mom.
What about the hundreds of mothers
Who died before their children?
What about the thousands of children
Who were left orphans?
How many trains shall we inaugurate
In all their names madam?

What do you want to be later in life?
Professor eh? Suits you well. Which is your religion?
Ever been to Vaishnodevi? no?
Must go once...go after your marriage
The two of you together, you'll get what you want.
I got both my daughters married off to Singapore,
Graduates both of them, independent girls.
My son's doing a computer course
Will go to Singapore once he passes.
Don't believe me? I have a picture...here, take a look.

I still stay in my ex-company flat,
The groundfloor is given to tenants,
The 1st floor we inhabit.
A singer reduced to an autodriver am I,
Still happily bearing the burden and at peace.

Ah! Should I park it here?
See you again! Come sometime
To the Sikh temle from where
I picked you up today.
Till the I'll pray for you, I swear.
In the name of Wahai Guruji,
Madam, I'll take your leave.