A Rooster For Supper

kashmir rooster for supper amma

“When his bushy grey eye-brows rose up and his cheeks puffed with the impact of the first pedal on his bicycle, history was made. Amma, after a decade of cold-war with his in-laws, in the attire that all undisguised commoners of downtown Srinagar could afford in that March of 1996, pedalled to the place where 30 years ago in the finest attire he ever wore in his life- he was awaited for, as a groom,” writes Jamsheed Rasool in his short story based in Srinagar, Kashmir.

It is nearing the end of winters in Kashmir. A thick, grimy fog, black and white tinged with grey, hangs over Srinagar for most of the day. Morning visibility is bad-clears up a bit with a dull sun in the afternoon, before darkness descends again on the city. Perched on the leafless branches of poplars and sycamore trees, the pigeons, over-fed in summers, hopefully wait for the kind-hearted to broadcast grains on the stony parapets of mosques and shrines. Panting heavily the most resolute of the faithful populace climbed the steep, frosted stairs of Makhdum Sahab shrine, loudly seeking blessings, cribbing why their toil was left unpaid. Occasionally, an army Casper, with a grimacing mural of an Indian soldier in army fatigues, kneads up the snow and mud in the street as it heads for the roundabout. A helmeted soldier eternally has his head bobbed out from the turret to keep vigil.  Every now and then, the wailing sirens of ambulances, carrying the injured of the ambush incidents to the tertiary care hospital, disturb the calm, thick January air. At nights, one was served better to keep filament lights off; the wax candles along with opaque curtains were high in demand.

Hunched at the window of third storey of his old home in the city’s downtown, the greying, hand-to-mouth earning, Amma Shouda, was mouthing at shopkeepers on the street. The clangour of bicycle bells, the screeching of the wheels of auto-rickshaws against the dirtied snow, and his own sonorous pants made his discourse unintelligible. He sneezes in between, his hands reaching out for the handkerchief on the jute mat frequently.  With his long, bony hands, he, every now and then, applies a great, smothering effect and wipes his aquiline nose’s residue. The hustle in the street was that the highway-which was already closed for a fortnight-may not open anytime soon. Holding Radio transistors to their ears the butchers and chicken sellers, who had hoarded the livestock for the day, kept on exploiting the high-heeled and the gullible of the city, much to the chagrin of the cooped up, penniless man at the window above.

Amma could not, as it is, endure the stacked up potatoes and pulses for supper.  At the same time ending the decade long cold war with his in-laws in the countryside was not all that feasible given he had to live with the shame of being the initiator of truce.

Amma could not, as it is, endure the stacked up potatoes and pulses for supper.  At the same time ending the decade long cold war with his in-laws in the countryside was not all that feasible given he had to live with the shame of being the initiator of truce.“I will not go to those morons”, he thundered back after his wife suggested him so. He lit up his filter-less Cavender cigarette, had a few long puffs at it, and flicked the ash off with his index finger and turned on the transistor.  When the newsreader said- “Highway unlikely to be thrown open for traffic this week”, he said in a humble voice to his wife, “What time would my bicycle be oiled ready? I think those morons may have a visitor today.”

“10.30 a.m.”, she said with a giggle.

It was after traces of crushed bricks were found in the powdered red pepper his in-laws had sent him one autumn ten years ago in 1985 that he had gotten up to his attic, slammed open one rusted tin sheet of his rooftop and summiting the apex point yelled in his heavy voice like a mad man, “From here onwards I consider all my in-laws dead men. I may better visit a bear cave than to visit them”. The common saying was that his yelled oath was heard right up to Kohe Maraan, a small hillock about a mile away from whose summit Amma’s three-storeyed “skyscraper” in Fateh Kadal would look like a bedecked match box. From that day onwards, all and sundry knew that the sun may rise from the west, but Amma should would never visit his in-laws in the countryside.

“The Bobber just does not move. There is nothing there. Perhaps, even the fish are scared of the Army,” he said disgustedly to himself. To the suggestion of his wife that Amma should cull his prodigal pigeons he almost bayed in retort “I may better slaughter you than cull my pigeons. A true pigeon fancier never culls his pigeons.”

Amma, the ace angler that he was would hardly return empty-handed any day. He called the Jhelum river bank his second home: A place he would be stationed eternally like a lifeless mannequin,  fixing his gaze at the bobber of his fishing line and would be squatted there till Azaan would ring out in Nazir Bab’s sonorous voice from the minaret of a local mosque at twilight. “The Bobber just does not move. There is nothing there. Perhaps, even the fish are scared of the Army,” he said disgustedly to himself. To the suggestion of his wife that Amma should cull his prodigal pigeons he almost bayed in retort “I may better slaughter you than cull my pigeons. A true pigeon fancier never culls his pigeons.”

As the pungent smoke of cigarettes kept on billowing out from his wide nostrils, Amma sensed that he had to swallow his ego; there was no other way to have a rooster at supper.  If it came to a bit of barter with in-laws, he would barter the rooster with the dried-vegetable hanging from the latticed windows of the attic above. Amma rushed to his attic, found his stock of dried vegetables thinned out, gazed across to the attic of his mongoloid-nosed neighbour Gulla Gurkhu, leapfrogged on to it and squandered away with a bagful of dried bottle gourds and turnips.

When his bushy grey eyebrows rose up and his cheeks puffed with the impact of the first pedal on his bicycle, history was made. Amma, after a decade of cold-war with his in-laws, in the attire that all undisguised commoners of downtown Srinagar could afford in that March of 1996, pedalled to the place where 30 years ago in the finest attire he ever wore in his life- he was awaited for, as a groom.

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That evening, as he relished his favourite ‘leg piece’ , Amma recalled what a historical day it had been: how he bicycled twelve miles taking the shortest route that slithered through the weeping willow alcove, how he had clowned around the children of his brother-in-laws to gain their favour, how the rowdy cityite like him  hobnobbed with the uncouth village headmen, how he himself crawled in the hen-houses to lay his hands on the biggest rooster, fending off other rebellious roosters -who were pecking their beaks at his hands and obstinately jabbing their talons at him, how he had gibbeted the skinned rooster upside down through the warrens of his area at twilight and just now how he had flung the chicken bones and entrails on the rooftops of his well-to-do neighbours who had had flaunted  their roosters to him while he lay snuggled up in his room earlier in the day.

The dogs, which had crowded below, had been ragingly barking for more bones.

“May the wolves have your bone marrows, I have none to give. Quiten down,” Amma yelled at them.

When they did not stop he chased them right to the Fateh Kadal Bridge, a place where if the army spotted him at that hour, his visit to one of the notorious interrogation centres was due. The embers in the fire pot, which he had sneaked underneath his coarse-clothed cloak while he set out to chase the dogs, had been frittered away by his ambling and now, from an odd left-out ember at the base, he lit up his cigarette and gazing at the cold waters of Jhelum, he stood squatted on the cemented, chipped bank lifelessly like he were during his peak angling days.

As he had long drags at his cigarette, he was reminded of his hey days on  its banks and of what had befallen Kashmir: How he had meticulously taught the art of angling to the young men of the area, who now lay dead in the sprawling Malkah graveyard after falling to bullets, one being his own son; how married men of his lane were paraded naked in the warrens of his locality and how in earlier times the same men would be pompously queued up for tickets at Shiraz Cinema, mimicking dialogues of the last month’s Bollywood flicks

In the pitch darkness the narrowed river meandered on. Muffled up and bitten by cold, Amma momentarily wondered how come such a big river as Jhelum had its origin in a small pond in South Kashmir. As he had long drags at his cigarette, he was reminded of his hey days on  its banks and of what had befallen Kashmir: How he had meticulously taught the art of angling to the young men of the area, who now lay dead in the sprawling Malkah graveyard after falling to bullets, one being his own son; how married men of his lane were paraded naked in the warrens of his locality and how in earlier times the same men would be pompously queued up for tickets at Shiraz Cinema, mimicking dialogues of the last month’s Bollywood flicks; how he would set up nets among the thickest brambles on Kohe-maran to trap pheasants; how the Indian soldiers, as his deceased father had told him, had airdropped at the airbase in Budgam; how the last ethnic Kashmiri king was tricked by the Indian king Akbar; how a Pakistani woman, smitten by his kalchi pigeons  in 80s had cast flirtatious glances towards him; how madly irritated he got when his in-laws send him adulterated pepper; how his high-heeled neighbours were leaving the violence-infested downtown to live amongst pacifist lots in the uptown locals of  Rajbagh, Jawahar Nagar and Hyderpora; how the grave-diggers of the nearby locality, by dint of digging countless graves were the novae riche of  downtown Srinagar and how his assiduously crafted carpets, earlier exported to elites of France and Germany now collected cat shit in the attic.

He had stood out too long-even for a jocular old man who could act a madman before the army personnel at the drop of a hat- and his stock of cigarettes was also finished. He searched in the other pocket and found a Nippo flashing search torch; a thing, which at such a place in that dark of night would have invited a sure shot staccato of AK-47, rounds on his chest.  When a strange putrefying smell emanating from the waters below reached him, he sensed something ever so slowly was moving in water and was now to be anchored on the sandy banks below him. He lifted his torch, rotated the disc with his hands and turned it on. The beams focused on a bloated cumulative mass, stinking, decomposed; beyond contemplation and meaning.

The three stinking bloated corpses, stinking unbearably, flaking off …tied to each other…with only four pronounced limbs on them.

They must have, must have…… been killed ……on the poplar-studded banks upstream,” Amma gibbered. He drowned his face in his cupped hands, mumbled a prayer underneath his breath, blinked back the tear which glistened in the corner of his eyes and stood up. He fleetingly cast a glance towards Fateh Kadal Bridge, thinking how heartlessly the bygone autocratic rulers had gotten the corpses of rebellious youth skinned alive and gibbeted for days on end from the cantilever pillars of bridge.

They must have, must have…… been killed ……on the poplar-studded banks upstream,” Amma gibbered. He drowned his face in his cupped hands, mumbled a prayer underneath his breath, blinked back the tear which glistened in the corner of his eyes and stood up. He fleetingly cast a glance towards Fateh Kadal Bridge, thinking how heartlessly the bygone autocratic rulers had gotten the corpses of rebellious youth skinned alive and gibbeted for days on end from the cantilever pillars of bridge. As he turned off the torchlight, he was reminded how the bony neck of the rooster he held flauntingly high in his hands had been dangling at twilight. He took short, soundless steps, squeezing his muffler in his tooth-gaped mouth to prevent his wheezing from being heard, and not even letting nostalgia disturb him, set off for home.

When he reached the nook of his lane, he sat on the cobbled shop front of the coppersmith Ali Khaar’s shop which doubled up as a secretariat for all never-do-wells of the area. He pulled out the soggy muffler from his cogged mouth and let out the suppressed panting all at once. His neighbour, Gulla Gorkha, in a guffaw after hearing something funny on radio gauged Amma’s presence by his panting and besides the silhouette as seen from his dimly-lit room  was either of a six-feet-something Amma or that of a Yeti .  He stationed the radio at the windowsill, turned its disc to full volume.

 “In a miraculous effort, unheard in history, the road clearing authorities, braving the vagaries of weather and acute shortage of gadgets and vehicles, today cleared the Srinagar-Jammu highway, the only connection of Kashmir with the rest of the world,” the radio blared.

“You begged to your in-laws, fell at their feet.  All for nothing! The roosters would be available at cheap prices tomorrow,” Gulla Gorkhu blurted.

Amma, as if possessed by a ghost, lifted pebbles from the ground and began slinging them at Gulla Gorkhu’s window panes. “Only a fool like you can trust radio news in Kashmir, Only a fool like you can trust radio news in Kashmir, the eternal fool like you, my dear gulla gorku,” Amma let his baritone ring out in the lanes of his locality. His cloak still reeking of the chicken droppings he had smeared his cloak with as he had lain crawling in that hen house of his in-laws.

 

 

 

Image via blareharrington.photosettler.com

Jamsheed Rasool is a pass out of Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. He was briefly associated with the Press Trust of India(PTI). Besides that, he presents LIVE western music programs on Radio Kashmir. He also hosts a popular LIVE program on DD Kashmir. His hobby is trekking. He also loves to read literature of all genres. Bernard Shaw, VS Naipaul and Maxim Gorky are his favourite writers.

10 Comments

  • Reply February 9, 2017

    Muhammad Mushtaq Wani

    They must have, must have…… been killed ……on the poplar-studded banks upstream,” Amma gibbered. He drowned his face in his cupped hands, mumbled a prayer underneath his breath, blinked back the tear which glistened in the corner of his eyes and stood up. He fleetingly cast a glance towards Fateh Kadal Bridge, thinking how heartlessly the bygone autocratic rulers had gotten the corpses of rebellious youth skinned alive and gibbeted for days on end from the cantilever pillars of bridge.

    The situation of vailing valle recalled beautifully.

  • Reply February 10, 2017

    Maria

    A very assiduously written piece. Sublime. Picture perfect presentation of the turmoil of 90s in Kashmir.

  • Reply February 10, 2017

    Shafaq Lone

    A highly intense story…Award-winning stuff..brilliant writing.

  • Reply February 10, 2017

    Puneet Singh

    Arguably the finest specimen of literature on kashmir- conflict. It is after so long, I have read such a piece of literature. Brilliant. Simply superb.

  • Reply February 10, 2017

    Farkhanda Shadad

    The thing with this story is that the writer has kept so many balls hanging in the air. There is is internal conflict and there is the external conflict. It also shows how Amma shouda whose son is killed goes about his daily chores. It is brilliant.

  • Reply February 11, 2017

    Nazir Ahmad Moomin

    Very brilliant piece on the conflict torn Kashmir. Amma is a victim of this situation and represents the pain or DOUD ,that is Kashmir

  • Reply February 11, 2017

    Javed Qanungo

    Good one. It reflects the pain of 90s decade. What a terrible time it was for Kashmir. This story needs to be preserved as a relic of Kashmiri’s struggle to gain its identity. The writer has deftly dealt with conflicts arising in the day to day life of a common man. And at the same time not losing sight of the bigger outer conflict. Brilliant short story,admittedly.

  • Reply February 16, 2017

    sham Lal koul

    This is a short story which will be remembered for many many years. An out and out masterpiece. Simply unputdownable. I would have wished the writer to dedicate a short story to the suffering of Kashmiri Pandits. I am sure there is plenty to write about Kashmiri Pandits also.

  • Reply February 17, 2017

    Shaista Majeed War

    I think we have a story teller. A good one for that. Kashmir was looking for something beyond the tear jerkers and this was pleasantly exceptional. A well woven narrative.

  • Reply February 19, 2017

    Owais Ashraf

    Fabulous! One does not just get to read words,but see for himself the pictures that reflect poignancy..Great stuff.

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