It is early spring
of 1995, Sukeshi
has a dream.

In her dream, 
emptied, illegally occupied Hindu 
houses in Kashmir have
not been burnt down.

The windows, doors are intact, 
locks on them 
slightly rusted, outer walls
still bear imprints of foliage. 

Flowers painted for weddings.
Names of brides and grooms.
A lot has been washed out. 

In the dream, Sukeshi
feels she has 
to look up all her kin
in Kashmir's
two hundred tree lined

The Umanagari house 
displays marigold garlands, 
red peppers in a string, 

tiny, cookie like pieces
of bitter melon, thinner slices 
of purple brinjal.

The strings hang on nails. 
How they battle with
winter winds, summer rain! 

In the courtyard
she finds worn out bits of brocade, 
an old muslin saree torn to pieces. 

Home-dyed many times, after 
the original dye has
worn off. Some Jigri, or some Babhi,
or some Mami, or Masi of hers. 

There were always
so many when they visited
from Delhi, Suki could never 
remember names, or who was
whose daughter-in-law? 

They all had nice hair, beautiful 
bright eyes without make up.
Suki wonders what the original color 
of this saree might have been? 

Who might have worn it? 
Discarded it impatiently at night 
to find rest in the loving 
arms of her husband.


Sukeshi wanders alone
but it does not scare her. 
It seems right that she
should make this journey.
See how things are?

After all, this home
is hers; and these are her
properties, homesteads.
She has a mission.

It is Amavasya,
perhaps the month of kartik.
In the dark she can still see
the temple of goddess Uma
in her grandfather's beautiful

The blue spring
with lotus stems 
in a gentle peace.

Suki remembers
the summer
when she was three.
Devi Uma had come 
to her in a dream.

She told no one.
Devi Uma had said
nothing, given 
her nothing, only
a beatific smile played
for a moment.

Lit up the green silk 
with decorative fringes;
the goddess's vesture.
Her eyes, arms, weapons,
and peacock feathers. 

A woman's tears
over a sick child at her feet.
The goddess can not heal.

That evening
Sukeshi went to the temple
holding her grandfather's hand,
offered a full bloomed lotus 
with seed pods and the petals.

Devi Uma's lips, eyebrows stirred
she thought, just a little bit. 
Shadow of a magnolia
caught in morning breezes. 

Did the goddess
have something to tell?


In 1998
Sukeshi's dream changes.
She sees the crazed woman

Amrita, a close relative's abused wife
who drowned herself in Vitasta
a long, long time ago.

Amrita's twisted, long hair trails
with the wind; she is bent low
and moaning, face covered
in mud and soot.

Seeing Sukeshi, Amrita 
runs wildly through muddy streets, 
village after village, 
dirt roads strewn with bramble, 
small wooden bridges. 

Vegetable gardens fenced 
by mud walls, covered with
thorny brush and hay. 

Ivy creeping on them, 
or a star eyed jasmine 
here and there.

Chinar, willow, popular,
apricot and walnut trees.
So many rivers.

They've come to a place
of sorrow. Long, deep wails rise from
a cluster of houses, near where
there is a public courtyard,
a mosque, an Islamic school.

Moonlight falls on cobbled stone, 
an octagonal natural spring, 
and ten devdar trees. 
Suki no longer knows where 
she and Amrita are; it is some village.

And the weeping grows.
It is not like Amrita's moaning, 
not like mourning for the dead.

It is more like groaning,
mad anguish, low, quiet, relentless
through the night.

Someone is watching 
else being hacked 
to death, someone they love.

A first born son is being shot
in front of his father
who is tied to a tree.

Amrita is screaming, but no sounds
come out of her mouth. She wants 
someone to see this, to know this. 

A woman's husband 
is dragged out of his sick bed,
taken to prison 
without his glasses, or his pills.

The same woman's brother
is shot dead near
the river; he is an informer. 


Amrita's eye lashes have become 
pine needles. Her lilac face
is trampled and bloodied.

She is weeping for everyone. 
Even the dogs
she thinks are weeping;
they don't bark anymore. 

Now she has reached
a center, some village
in the Liddar Valley. Sukeshi 
follows her closely, keeps an eye on her.

Amrita climbs the top of a hill.
From here she sees lights 
go on in every empty house.
The valley glimmers.

Houses of all sizes
and shapes have clustered
together like a Las Vegas 
playscape, lit at night.

No one draws a curtain,
or shuts a window pane.
No one asks a child to pick up
one last piece of laundry 
from the clothesline.

Light fills
Sukeshi's dream, and
it dissolves.


© Lalita Pandit, June 21, 1998

Priya - Summer rain - Bride in red
The city of dread - The rishi - Self spectre

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