As the cawing
crows darkened the sky
in their flight back home to roost
and the mynahs chirped and squabbled
to settle in the eaves for the night,
somewhere in midtown Srinagar
a shouting horde of near three hundred
descended on ancient Kralkhod.
The slogan-mongering menacing crowd
in pherons, mufflers, blankets
skullcaps, helmets, turbans
kangris, lathis and handguns
dashed in different directions
and some more took up positions.
While the Vitasta flowed its meandering
and the muezzin from the nearby mosque
beckoned the believer to the evening prayer
they rounded up from the neighbourhood
Pandit families that had withstood
the threats to run away for good.
Pushed and herded into a compound
walled with houses all around
and the exit to the entrance lane
blocked by a ramshackle barricade
were a hundred and fifteen souls
male and female; young and old,
shaking with fear, shivering with cold.
They were charged to stand there
in that cramped yard, wet and bare,
and warned of lashing, bashing and death
unless they recited the scripture
and chanted Allah-o-Akbar
till the early morning hour.
Infants tugged at their mothers’ breasts,
little kids kicked and cried in terror,
the old and the infirm could barely mutter,
while the others were left with little
but to recite loud and clear
for the whole of Kralkhod to hear,
The Pandits pitched their voices right
and the chorus progressed into the night
as the sneers of the zealots and their
yielded slowly to cheers and tears
and the militant crowd chose to disperse
leaving behind a few warriors
to see it run to the appointed hour
when the muezzin called the morning prayer.
The chants died down at daybreak
and the released captives limped away
but that was the last we heard of them.
Kralkhod weeps for its inhabitants,
for its centuries-old descendants,
who never returned to their waiting homes
but were forced to become ‘migrants’.