Pelting Stones

Are you afraid to pelt stones?
‘We are not afraid of death,’ says Javed.
Silence ricochets in the small room
While stoic faces stare back at me.
Half-embroidered pashmina shawls lie crushed in a corner
Wallowing in the dust like all Kashmir is today.

‘Pelting stones is a lark,’ says Javed,
Stretching out his prosthetic leg on a thin carpet,
As thin as the veneer of promises made to Kashmir
By smiling Buddhas in a faraway city.

‘I ran with the mob when I was fourteen.
This leg was shot off by the police.
But you need hands to throw stones
And those I have.’
‘Yes, he is not afraid,’ Mother corroborates.
‘My sister was shot sitting by her window.
She was no stone pelter.’

‘What is there to be afraid of?’ His sisters echo.
‘To breathe freely, to make choices, to be safe:
Those are the messages on our stones.
Why must we be afraid to speak up?’

Javed glares and spits it out.
‘Every stone we throw is to shoo off
Ravenous dogs fighting over a prize.
Satanic flesh-eaters bloodying this paradise.
Ripping apart our fragile Kashmir.’

Mother has a distant look in her eyes.
She sees things that I cannot.
I can hardly hear when she whispers.
‘The first word Javed lisped was ‘Azaadi’,
‘No. My son is not afraid.’

‘Pelting stones is not a sport.
‘I’m afraid, Javed,’ I say, ‘this is not a stunt’.
However, I’m evasive and don’t deign to ask,
‘Javed, what’s the matter? What is it that your people want?’
Because I am afraid, just like the rest of you
To be shot with a chilling riposte.
In one voice, Kashmir will shout, you see
‘I don’t need any of you!
‘Will you bloody just keep off me?’

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