Returning to Paradise
by Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee
She is leaving for Srinagar. When I learn this, she has
Already boarded the flight. “Have you told your family”?
I ask, worried. “Yes, my siblings”, she says, carefully.
“Will you be safe?” I ask, too late.
She has tucked safety into her luggage. Her heart
Beats for Paradise. But she won’t return
To the same place. Paradise is a graveyard of hope.
They ran a bulldozer over an article of faith.
Paradise is an ailing city. People pray for medicines and
Telephone calls on Eid. The mosque appears
More desolate than the moon. A curfewed Paradise
Has no room for prayer. The pigeons of Hazratbal tell you,
The sky is a mirage, if people aren’t free.
Check posts with nozzled eyes, discourage intruders.
Truth is an intruder in Paradise.
I ask her, to distract my fears, “How many people
On board, how do they look?” She writes, “Very few.
And mostly quiet.” I must tell her, so I do,
“I feel proud to know you, brave one.” She replies,
“I shall keep that in my heart.”
I think of the chinar, Akbar’s imperial gift to Paradise.
Will it remain the joy of autumn, or will the real estate mafia
Slaughter the trees like animals, for profit?
We retain the passion for war, not beauty. Still we wait
For beauty to save the world. There is beauty
Already in resilience, in resistance, in her returning to Paradise,
Holding back her fears. There is beauty
In the promise she leaves behind, with the poet’s line,
“We shall meet again, in Srinagar.”*
*Agha Shahid Ali, ‘A Pastoral’, dedicated to Suvir Kaul.
Buy Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee’s Looking for the Nation: Towards Another Idea of India.