Thursday, August 26, 2010

Frames of Freedom- Beyond the Frame

They can put you behind bars.
They can chain you to the walls.
They can cage you for years.

The one thing they can NOT do is take away your dream. The other thing they can NOT do is blur your vision. Even a little bit. So don't look at the frame. Look beyond.

Let your fingers make their way through the cold, steely fence and tingle when the wind from the other side gently tickles their tips.
Let your face press hard on the fence, kiss a vagabond leaf coming a-wandering by with the wind and yearn for more.
Let your senses close in on you, little by little.
And let them open fully to the silent whispers of your heart. 

Take a deep breath in. And let go.
Hush now, don't go rushing or searching anywhere else. 
Freedom is right here, right now. So stay where you are.

Don't look at the frame. Look Beyond.

-Avinash Agarwal

This photograph was taken by me in 2009.
This post is for the Frames of Freedom Contest by Blogadda

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It feels good, for Once.

They told me,
Don’t dream of things that cannot be
Don’t look beyond what your eyes see
Don’t even think you can be free

So I sat still,
Against the window grill,
My knuckles white,
Eyes shut tight.

This is how it’s always been,
And nothing more than black I’ve seen

Until today, when I finally break free
No more of their ways, no more of their rhymes. My life is now all mine.

I burst through the front door, out into the open. I trip, fall and hurt myself.
But it feels good.

It is winter now, and spring will soon arrive. My skin tastes the wet snow. My hair feels the icy wind ruffle it. I can still see naught from under the blindfold.  But for once I know, and for sure I know, I’m free.
It feels good.

Breathing harshly, my feet sinking in the snow, I make my way across the garden. I bump into a tree. My trembling fingers gauge its bark. It’s rough, scaly and cold.
But it feels good.

My hands make their way up a slender branch. At the very end of it is something soft. It’s a flower, not yet in full bloom. It seems to reach out and let my fingers caress it.
Yes, it feels good.

All of a sudden, from nowhere, two tears ooze down my eyes. I feel them staining the blindfold, moist and heavy. They’re tears of blood.

The years of darkness and fear seem to converge into this one moment, breaking through the shackles of time. They fall out as soft tears as my eyes gently bleed. It pains a little. But it feels good.

All it took was one decision in one moment of light. I’m free now.
Oh, yes. It feels good.

- Avinash Agarwal

I am participating in the WeBlog's Sleepy Sunday contest! You may read other participating posts HERE

Friday, August 13, 2010

Day 41- A Soldier's Diary

This is a land where roses have lost their red and the grass has forgotten it’s green.
The water in the lake has the stillness of death, except for an occasional ripple when the oars of a shikara slice through the shining film on its surface.
The trees lose their leaves faster than they could grow, and their barks are hollow and cracked, as if waiting to fall by the might of a single whisper.
The sky? It’s just like the life in this valley- grey and dark, except for an occasional ray of sunshine that flashes as if by accident. And before you could blink or squint to see if it’s for real, it’s gone.

Welcome to Kashmir, formerly known as paradise on earth. Now, there’s no name for it. It’s just a tract of land torn to pieces from all sides. Only a faded mirage of its ethereal beauty now remains, like the laugh lines on the cheeks of a young woman turn into wrinkles as age sets in. When this remainder of beauty will go away is only a question of time. Or maybe, it’s the answer.

I was posted here some 41 days ago, transferred from the Nepal border down in the East. I remember coming here with the same tingling sensation in my fingertips and the same lump in my throat that I know many others before me have come with. We had all heard tales of this land- its haunting beauty, its serenity, the scented winds that blew and the paintings in the sky from the very hand of the painter who made that thing called color. That’s why the tingling in my fingertips. And the lump in my throat was because I was to see what I was to see. We soldiers have seen more than our lifetime’s worth of death and pain, but that’s different. The first breath of air I took as I entered the valley of Kashmir shook the very foundations of what the words ‘death’ and ‘pain’ meant to me.

What would you call a child who drags a little toy with his shoulders drooping and knees heavy, as if he were a hundredfold his age?
What would you do to an old woman who stands in front of you with her arms spread, her chest bare, surrendering to a dignified rape or a noble death, anything but this pathetic excuse for a life?
What name would you give to the time of the day when there is a silence which is by no means sleepy or even awake? All that is visible is smoke in the sky, which has, over long years, taken the place of clouds.

Maybe it’s because I’m new to this place, or maybe because that’s how I am, that the unexpected happened. Two days ago, I made the one mistake I shouldn’t have; at least not here, not in this land, not in this time. This, the very land that God himself hath created and forgotten, and I had the blasphemy to do the unforgivable. I fell in love.

There are all kinds of activities that go on here, some so grotesque that I wouldn’t even be able to describe them in human vocabulary and save myself the torture of reliving it. But all that is passé. It’s old news. There’s nothing ‘sensational’ about them any more. This thing called love, however, is unforgivable here. And you pay a heavy price for it. Your heart, and maybe a piece of your soul. Both are ripped away without consent.
The first time I saw her was about a week ago, when we had stopped a bus for an ID check. Those with IDs would be pushed forward as if they were nothing but dumb sheep with red marking. Those without them would be allowed to proceed no further, and with one step out of line, they would be shot in the head. Our fingers were always on the trigger, that’s the first rule of being a soldier in Kashmir.

She had stepped out of her bus with her daughter and baby boy and promptly produced all their IDs after a customary salaam. I grunted with approval and dismissed her. She was just one of them, she didn’t deserve another look. I kept checking. There were two young men without IDs that day, whom we shot dead just as they fidgeted with their hands near their pockets. Who knows, they might have been seconds away from brandishing a weapon or signaling to a militant hidden in the mountainous terrain. Their bodies were cleared away like vegetable peels outside a food-house in minutes and the bus proceeded as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

The last thing I remember seeing was the woman’s eyes staring in the distance from inside the bus. A few long strands of brown hair blew with the wind and her large earrings dangled to and fro, lightly touching the window grill of the bus. I thought she deserved a second glance then. It was because of her eyes. They were hard as stone. And they peered into the distance looking for something. It wasn’t respite; it wasn’t relief; for she would find none of that here, try as she might. I don’t know what it was they were looking for. She probably didn’t either.


The woman with a daughter and a baby boy occupied a few minutes on my lonely mind before the change in evening guard duty happened. Then she was forgotten as I took to attention with a resolute salute.

But it was precisely two days ago that the mistake I talk about happened. It was two days ago that I gave her not only a second glance, but all of my heart and a piece of my soul too.

There had been an explosion. It was the first in eight days, so we were on high alert. It was a ‘delicate’ situation just after a blast, because a blast could mean anything- a new consignment of weapons in the area, militants on the move, a rebellion, a distraction or cover-up of something worse or just another extra-ordinary day. And a blast is followed by a curfew. Immediately. It goes without saying. So, anybody running or brandishing a weapon or even raising their voice in the vicinity is shot dead instantly. If they are lucky, that is. Otherwise, they would be tortured for weeks for information, news or just vindictive indulgence.

This time, we had lost three of our army men in the explosion. And we were furious. Who wouldn’t be?

We had begun firing. Window panes were shattered. Tyres, sticks, blood-caked shawls, pieces of glass and other debris were strewn about. There were screams and shrieks, mixed with grief and pain that penetrated the thick clouds of smoke from burning buildings. And it was at that precise moment, when I saw the woman and our eyes met that it happened. That one moment was all it took.

She sat with her back to a wall, holding her little son in her arms. From what I could see, the little baby’s legs had been blown off. I do not know if he was dead or alive. And in front of the woman, immobile, was her little daughter amidst corpses of two other children in dry blood. The daughter was dead for sure.

I do not know if she had finished screaming or had not screamed at all, but our eyes met for an instant. I was in a uniform, the same as many of the others holding rifles. I might as well have been the one responsible for this. But I also might not be. It could have been the militants, those unholy predators who kill people from both sides, provoking the fire to burn deeper into the heart of this valley and keeping the wounds fresh and sore even after half a century.

There is another hard lesson an army man learns, sometimes with practical experience.
No bullet asks for permission before tearing apart the thin walls of human flesh.
No bomb goes off taking care to blow apart just the window panes and the brickwork of a building that was once a home.
And no drop of blood appears different from any other in an undignified pile of human bodies, uniformed or otherwise.

It was at that moment, two days ago, when our eyes met. She looked at me, and again, her eyes did not know what to search for. They were wet with tears but hard as stone. They didn’t know whether to blame me for her heart wrenching loss, or look for sympathy from a man stationed here for the security of the very life she had no reason to continue living. So I answered with both.

Yes, my eyes were guilty. And yes, they were sympathetic.
I obliged her for a second then looked away. I tightened my grip on the rifle, cautious to any movement around the alley where the explosion had taken place and got on with my duty. One moment of sharing the gaze and I could face her no more. I turned away.
But in the last fraction of that moment, just before our eyes tore away from each other, I felt something leave me.


Today, as I am waving my hand and bringing another bus to a grinding halt, I know what had left me two days ago.

Now I know it in the back of my mind, as I see another bunch of terrified, nervous, silent Kashmiris get down from the bus with ID wielding hands raised in meek submission.

I do not know if I shall ever see her again, alive or dead.
I don’t know if she’ll ever know me for the man I really am or the feelings I really feel under the camouflage of my uniform and steady gait.
I don’t know if this unforgivable love I feel shall ever be redeemed or come to pass.
I don’t know if it shall ever be anything more than a whisper from a tender corner of my heart on lonely evenings amidst cold winds and orange-purple sunsets.

But then again, maybe that’s the beauty of this excruciating pain.
It shall throb on like an open wound refusing to clot, as long as my living heart twitches. 

And then again, maybe I shall continue to ask myself why I was foolish enough to give away to her something so precious- all of my heart, and a piece of my soul.

(Based on true articles, incidents and news. Only the love story is fiction. Or maybe not. 
Maybe this has really happened. Maybe the truth about this tale is hidden somewhere, deep down in the recesses of two hearts in that valley called Kashmir)

- Avinash Agarwal

Monday, August 9, 2010

"Indi-end, it doesn't even matter"

Ah, another year gone by, which makes it, what, 64?
Wow! That makes us the youngest, largest, most ‘shining’ democracy ever! We’ve achieved the impossible and proved the world wrong time and again. Emerging unscathed from almost two centuries’ worth of colonial rule, giving the power in the hands of the common man and well on our way to taking over the world, we’ve really done quite a lot! Happy Independence Day.

But wait a minute; do you really feel the freedom in the air? Do you really feel we are living the glorious life we were promised at the stroke of midnight, when the world was sleeping and our country awoke to life and freedom? Honestly, I don’t.

All I can see are the mangled remains of two things that were handed down to us by our freedom-fighting forefathers. Or rather, the only two things we chose to inherit from them- One, the English language, which we’ve deep fried and masala-garnished to turn into our own hilarious version-‘Hinglish’. Kudos! It has been no mean feat, really. Burying the mother of all civilized languages, Sanskrit under a pile of toxic colloquial garbage really is no joke.

Inheritance Number Two is a Mantra.
It’s been handed down from the ancient Aryans and Dravidians who fought with each other for land and water, the Mughals who let foreigners rip the ‘Golden Bird’ to pieces and then the first citizens of new India who reclined in their homes all day, tired out from winning that war for freedom. It’s a Mantra they’ve all used, and to great effect at that. It’s been coined here, copyrighted here, and will continue to stay here.

Chant with me- “Indi-end, it doesn’t even matter.”
Impressive, isn’t it? Yes, it does catch on. Just watch.

There’s a flood in the east. There’s a famine in the south. All the money sanctioned has been eaten up on the way. Helicopters are dropping obituary forms. It doesn’t matter.

The elections are coming. There are two choices on the ballot- the unscrupulous and the shameless. Who will you vote for? It doesn’t matter.

Kashmir is under curfew. There are riots in Gujarat. Mumbai is trembling with bomb blasts Hundreds killed, thousands injured. Multi-billion dollar scams are rocking every chair and seat of power in the country. Yes, I saw the news. It doesn’t matter.

Our elected members to the Parliament step on flooring made solid with the files of criminal cases against them. Political goons make a mockery of democracy and secularism by beating up men, women and children on the pretext of language, religion, height, weight, blood group and other very valid reasons. Sports Committees are gobbling up more calories than our players can burn out. The Indian Army survives on adulterated, expired food and stands on the borders to protect our lives. The media enthusiastically plays tennis, on the table and in the lawn, day and night, to and fro, back and forth, just as long as we sit still and watch the show. After all, Indi-end, it doesn’t even matter.

It’s astonishing how this one Mantra has always solved and will continue to solve any problem, any disaster and any calamity we face. Move over ‘shining’ and ‘flying high’, for this Independence Day, we shall celebrate some new adjectives for our beloved motherland. Take your pick- India ‘sleeping’, India ‘wait a minute’ and India ‘we’ll do it tomorrow’. It’s a good deal, is it not?

We are not a completely useless lot, you know.
We’re not complete fools, or even half-baked idiots.
I say, we’re a little more than that. We’re a lot more than that.

I know that after I finish writing this piece, I will probably roll over on my back and go to sleep like a street dog.
I know that after reading this, you will impulsively click on another internet window or turn to another page and your eyes will light up reading some other fancy words.
I know that tomorrow, people will continue to die of hunger, disease, blasts, terrorism, religion or just because they have nothing better to do.
It’s not going to stop in one day. In fact, it might not even stop one day.
But that’s not the answer, is it?

You see, there’s this thing inside a human heart that keeps it beating.
It’s called hope.
There’s this warmth in our palms every time we reach out to touch.
It’s called faith.
There’s this thing playing in our mind every time we close our eyes.
It’s called a dream. And maybe that’s why we love to sleep so much.

Yes, we do live our own sweet lives in our own diabetic worlds. And we do chant that Mantra every now and then so we can turn our back to situations without guilt.
But how long can we survive on the nutrition of self-blame and vitamins of sympathy?

It’s been ‘okay’ so far, living with Indi-end, it doesn’t even matter.

No more now. Enough.

I’m not telling you to go charging on to the streets with a tricolor or shouting out slogans.
No, that’s an adrenalin rush. It will stop when you run the length of your street and start panting, or when you trip, fall, bruise and cut your fair and lovely skin.

I’m not telling you to leave your perfect worlds and go join the millions of homeless, starving helpless. No, that’s not the solution. You’re of no help to another if you cut off your own limbs.

I’m just telling you to wake up. By all means, dream every night, it’s a healthy habit. But please oh please, wake up in time to see that every morning brings with it a chance to make that dream come true.
Give it a shot. Give it your all. Or at least die trying.

Our world is much smaller than it seems. We’re all much closer than you think. We’re a lot more dependent on this connection than you would believe. Deep down inside, we’re animals of the same breed- sharing the same source, same destination and the same underlying humanity. That’s why, every little bit matters. If not yet today, tomorrow for sure.

Make your schedule a little different this time.
Don’t let it be just another Public Holiday or a disappointing Dry Day.

Make every less minute you sleep and every extra minute you work count.
Find something, find someone and find someplace which really matters to you. Let every oozing drop of sweat, tear and blood mean something. Look around you and realize that life is meant to be lived well. And that your life is a life lived well only if it can help others to, long after you’re gone.

The day you look into the mirror and realize that ‘my’ life means a lot more than just ‘my life’, the clouds will start to clear up.
The day you stop asking others for their surname, hometown, mother tongue and religion, your own identity will come to surface.
The day you find that something you’d willingly die for, life will suddenly seem worth it.

And I promise you, that day we shall certainly have our freedom, our Independence Day.
Because, believe me, Indi-end, it all matters.
Every little bit.

Jai Hind.

     -Avinash Agarwal
 (This post has been entered for the BlogAdda 
'Mera Bharat Mahaan' Contest)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fed up of Female partners, Rahul Mahajan now decides to marry a Boy

Television husband Rahul Mahajan has begun leaning over to the other side. After accusing all his wives (2 official and 12 unofficial) of domestic violence against him, Rahul has now had enough. He is all set to move in with long time sweetheart and boyfriend Rosy Durjan.

Who said only women fake orgasms?
Coming out in the open about his hidden relationship with Rosy Durjan, an interior designer spoiler from New Delhi, Mahajan told the media that he has had it enough with this "false, baseless, commercial institution called marriage" and that he "doesn’t believe in the commercialization of marriage by TV channels".

In a rare non-violent moment, he recounted with nostalgia the day he first met Rosy 17 years ago. "We met at an underground party in Mumbai. Our eyes met while we were snorting harmless white powder at the same instant and since then, our relationship has only gone ‘higher’ and ‘higher’."

Gaiety Gayness on display
"All this while, I tried to cover up our relationship and sexual orientation with the help of a number of marriages with other TV personalities losers and hitting on random women in buses, trains, bars, on the streets and on TV shows. But now, Rosy and I have decided we had had enough of staying apart. The night we decided this, I knew Dimpy's time to get beaten up had come. It was now time to take both the relationships to the next level - the level they were intended for."

Rahul has also started taking coaching in the Martial Arts, because this time, he wants his marriage to work. And he wants to be able to take the ‘beatings, punches and kicks’ gracefully in his backside stride.

How distressed he looked at the time of his marriage -
An unhappy Rahul during his marriage

with a happy Dimpy
He nobly believes, and we agree, that relationships are all about compromise and adjustment. “A little bit of beating, punching, kicking, pulling by the hair, pinching, burning, teasing, and 1st degree torture is necessary. I believe in it strongly. That’s why I don’t mind when my partners do it to me,” said Rahul with a historic civilised sample of laughter, otherwise rare from his side.

It is a matter of national pride that this laughing stock inspirational figure will now settle down with what we hope would turn out to be the most meaningful, beautiful, violent and torturous relationship of his life. "I am still a very good friend of his," claimed his divorced wife Shweta for the hundredth time, and said, "On the behalf of his horde of limb-broken heart-broken wives, I wish him good luck." 

Marriages really are made in Heaven, aren’t they? If only they didn’t turn into hell on earth…

This story was written by me for News That Matters Not.