Saturday, July 23, 2016

My poem, Kashmir, for International Writing Program 2016

My poem, 'Kashmir' as a part of the International Writing Program 2016 conducted by The University of Iowa, USA, in response to readings of some of Walt Whitman's poems written during the American Civil War. I also learned that Whitman was America's first war journalist.

“How you threw off 
the costumes of peace
with indifferent hand,”
Whitman wrote in 'Drum-taps'.

A young man in Kashmir
Sits on his bed
Bent over a book
Of war and peace:
A collection of verses.

He looks out of the window:
At the tall mountains
The guardians of the valley,
At the placid lake
The soul of the place.

He closes his eyes,
Surrenders to memory
A day in the valley
Of protests and rallies
Of defiance and violence.

Then came the policemen
With their pellet guns
To diffuse the mobsters,
angry stone-pelters,
protestors, spectators.

In the line of fire:
A child of five
A pellet strikes his eye
He falls to the ground,
Lets out a weak cry.

A shroud of gloom
Covers the valley
As costumes of peace
Lie muddied and torn
Spirits, broken and worn.

A young man in Kashmir
Sits on his bed
Seethes with anger
Looks at his brother
Sleeping in peace.

A child of five
In a world of dreams
A child of five
Who'll never see.

- Eisha

How I created this poem:

I read some of Walt Whitman's poetry after the first IWP session and came across this line, " you threw off the costumes of peace with indifferent hand," in the poem, Drum-taps. The first thing that came to my mind was the visual of a man taking off his cloak with the symbol of peace on it and revealing that he is a soldier with a gun. The imagery was so powerful, I wanted to use that line and situation in a poem.

These last few days, Kashmir has been the focus of news in both India and Pakistan. Since 1948, both countries have laid claim over Kashmir and the state has been divided into three parts which are controlled by India, Pakistan and China. It's a beautiful valley surrounded by the Himalayas and has been often referred to as 'heaven on earth' in Persian and Indian texts. Since 1989, Kashmir has seen a rise in militancy and conflict. Some militant outfits want accession to Pakistan. Others demand an independent Kashmir. The once-peaceful state has now become a hotbed of terror. Bombings, suicide attacks, mob violence and curfews are common. The armies try to curb militancy aggressively. As often is the case in conflict zones, the innocent people – men, women and children – who only want to eke out a living, are the ones who suffer the most. Intermittently, there is peace in Kashmir and it becomes a favourable destination for tourists who soak in the valley's unique culture and take in its breathtaking beauty.

Recently, there were mass demonstrations in the state after the Indian Army killed one of the militant commandos. Mobs of stone-pelters attacked the policemen at the rallies. The police retaliated using non-lethal pellet guns. The indiscriminate firing of pellets to diffuse the mob caused injuries to hundreds of people. Many children were hurt and blinded.

I did not know Whitman was a journalist till I joined this course. I am a journalist and I also work with organizations that educate people in conflict zones. This is my attempt to describe the recent events in Kashmir in the form of a poem. The constraints were to use not more than six words in a line and use Whitman's phrase in the poem.

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