by Shadab Zeesht Hashmi
Okra, mint and chilies grow in the back and marigolds and roses in the front yard; they’re in my peripheral vision as I bike and study. The seeing is important. Before my grandmother began teaching me and before I owned a student desk with wheels, I didn’t care much for Math. It’s now a ritual: I roll my desk out of my room to the verandah, bring a stack of paper and ask my grandmother to give me Math problems I can solve. I do this after my daily bike ride in the yard. My grandmother reads the newspaper while I work on equations. Occasionally, she shares a news item of interest. Twice I’ve seen her tear up reading about the brutality of the Indian military in Kashmir. She is a Kashmiri. She folds her spectacles and closes her eyes when I ask her for a story; it’s typically the one from the Quran about Moses in a floating basket, how he chose coals over gold, and the knotting of his tongue. There is too much brutality in the world and not enough words. The knotted tongue resonates with me.
In the sunlit verandah, where my grandmother reads, combs her hair, offers namaz, I find the slow pages of Plato’s Republic or Iqbal’s collected poems. She has been a professor for years and years; she spends all her time reading unless she is picking mulberries with me or telling me the story of King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, Androcles and the Lion, or the one about the Qazi of Jaunpur, sometimes the story of Kashmir. She drinks tea, I eat kinnos. The stories are like homes in the wilderness— familiar, welcoming, fortifying. All the bullies at school, all the demons diminish and melt away. The art of the story has a peculiar majesty— it nurtures vision, it unties the knots of history.
At the time of my grandmother’s passing, I’m ten years old, and in shock for long. My mother later describes what was to be their last drive together—how she wiped her mother’s glasses as they passed the river Ravi and historical Lahore. Ravi means narrator, storyteller. I imagine my grandmother as being rapt in the view of Ravi and the twelve doorways of the Mughal bara dari. Years later, I’ll remember this moment of seeing through her eyes, when, in her beloved Kashmir, pellet guns are used by the Indian Military to blind Kashmiri protestors, many of them women—mothers—the unspeakable brutality of “dead eyes” in the midst of the living beauty of Kashmir.