Back in the eighteenth century when Sultan Mangogul of Congo suspected his mistress Mirzoza of infidelity, a genie gave him a magical ring. Rub the ring, the genie said, and her private parts will sing out the whole truth. This ring makes indiscreet genitals confess. As they say in Hindi, Woh dinn. Aur aaj ka dinn—that was then, and so it is now. Now, 250 years later, the same benign genie gave the ring to a good Kashmiri woman named Azra Jan.
It works on male genitals as well, he told her.
How she wished the genie had given it to her in the presence of the great judge in Jammu & Kashmir High Court that day when she had pleaded with 100 other women on the unspeakable things that had happened to them. That was in February of 1991. Mad monsters had done this to us in deep snow, Judge sahib, she said. Only great warriors can get it up in the snow, argued the defending lawyer. But they did no such thing, he hastily added. Only lofty patriots can ejaculate angrily at just the mention of Pakistan, he said. But they did no such thing, he hastily added. Only state uniformed brave-hearts with a battle cry on their lips can awaken their genital guns in the arctic Chillai Kalan winter of Kashmir, and that too while facing their own side, he insisted. But they did no such thing, he hastily added. Only fierce and conscientious soldiers can listen to the call of duty in their pants even in the startling sleepy beauty of the winter fairyland of Kunan Poshpora in the paradise of Kashmir, he proclaimed with the elaborate touristy appreciation of history, an enduring habit of his breed. But they did no such thing, he hastily added. Only honorable armies, he averred, will never rape women across the border because they are partial to the ones on their own side, he waxed. But they did no such thing, he hastily added. Only the most pious soldiers will rape the exact auspicious Hindu number of 101 Kashmiri Muslim women in complete conformance with Hindu numerology in pious India. But they did no such thing, he hastily added.
Judge sahib, cried Azra Jan in chorus with a hundred other Kashmiri women. They did it, they did it! They did the unspeakable, they croaked.
How I wish back then I had this very ring that could make the private parts of a soldier sing confessionally to the great judge, she thought now, nearly thirty years later.
Woh dinn, aur aaj ka dinn. That was then, and so it is now.
The 2 plus 2 of 2020.
The curse of the number 4.
Or that No. 2 that many democracies have now become. Which were once No. 1, like this one back then. And now are No. 2. From the excretory nomenclature of No. 1 to No. 2 – from piss to shit, it’s been such a long journey. Yet there is hope. Because there’s nothing else.
Azra’s hope is real.
It glitters and shines and feels cold to the touch in her hand. This ring. And she’s rushing through the melee now—it’s never too late because Hope has no expiry date—hurtling past to VT station where all the population-control ads must’ve been shot and shown on 70 mm CinemaScope before Bollywood matinee idol Rajesh Khanna began to shake his slanting head to ward off his leading lady yet achieved the opposite somehow. She is hurtling through the heat that, for all its torturous affliction, cannot dampen productive Indian libido and stop it from producing one Australia a year. She’s careening past more luxury per square foot than anywhere else in the world and more squalor per square foot than anywhere else in the world. The hub of heritage real estate and the capital of slumdom. She’s hopping past a beggar boy with shiny eyes and glancing off a pot belly on chicken legs beside an overweight limousine. She’s slipping past a cop in a pair of brown shoes, the right one browner than the left, the right sleeve of his shirt folded up smarter than the left, even moustache less limp on the right—clearly a right-leaning policeman in these neon-lit right-winging times. She’s running beneath a Bollywood flick poster with a woman managing somehow to pout from both her upturned mouth with its horizontal lips and her cavorting hips with their vertical lips, both tightly pursed and benignly pouted. Azra Jan doesn’t care. She’s a woman on a mission. The spirited pursuit of justice has seized her. She’s clutching the ring tight. It’s long been with her but she saw no use for it till she had this clawing epiphany. And she’s still a virgin all said and done if you don’t count the holy ling that forced itself in that one time. Not that she was never married, of course she was, and at eighteen. But they took her shohar, her husband of two days and one night, that night itself when an army of lings (are they called dicks in the more simple form of English?) came calling and swooped and descended on the twin villages of Kunan Poshpora on that snowed-in February night. They did what they did to her and the women, but they took him away all the way to Papa 2, that little place where they have fun with the men this time. While three of them went for her right there on the mud floor with the Kashmiri hawa, that insanely delectable breeze, screaming azadi freedom outside. Three days later, when Junaid still didn’t return, she bussed it over to the big High Court and met the great judge all over again. But before she could speak—it happens to Kashmiris whenever they speak in the holy land of India—the vakeel sahib, the lawyer, spoke again. Only brave men can pick a fight with a mountain man, he said. But they did no such thing, he hastily added. Only versatile warriors can take both—a woman from the front and a man from the back. But they did no such thing, he hastily added. Only martial Hindustanis will accustom Kashmiri testicles to a lit cigarette with the noble intention of fostering immunity to pain. But they did no such thing, he hastily added. Only pain-resistant commandos will not realize that pliers squeezing a man’s nuts and wires passing current up the anus can be painful, cause impotency, somehow even blindness and mental impairment. But they did no such thing, he hastily added. Judge sahib, Judge sahib, Azra Jan cried. They did it, they did it, she croaked.
But. But. But…
But justice in India (of which Kashmir is an integral part, as we’ve learnt metrically by heart) is like the 33 Million Gods in Hindustan. Omnipresent to the point of absence. The judge stared hard with eyes of Kashmiri topaz and ordered evidence. His body! she croaked. In an unnamed grave, she said victoriously. The defending lawyer scoffed. That’s the body of a jihadi, he said. Her man was one, he added. He was shot in the forest on a high pass on the border upon infiltrating, he parroted. He was antinational, he said. Unnecessarily. Necessarily. The great judge’s downcast eyes were like a melting ornament. He shook his head like the Kashmiri yemberzal, the narcissus bloom shaking sadly in spring. He breathed the fragrant Kashmiri air deeply. And she waited and waited and waited. But he said nothing. The matter never died. Because it was never born.
Like Bhagwan Rajneesh was never born.
Till it was doused in hopelessness.
Till the great judge fulfilled his karma and had bedsores on his ass to show for it.
Azra Jan left beloved Kashmir after leaving flowers on an unnamed grave in a foggy graveyard. She left for the great metropolis back then when it was still Bombay and not Mumbai, to fend for herself in the city of broken dreams.
But now, years later, she has to find Judge sahib regardless. You see, Hope has no expiry date. It’s like foreign occupation. So she wants to find the man with the Ram tattoo on his valiant forearm, that man who led the other two to do the unspeakable to her on that night now famous in Kashmir as the Kunan Poshpora night, that night which is still mostly unheard of outside the soundproof Hindu city of Jammu, the only gateway to the jannat of Kashmir.
And so it’s February 2020, nearly thirty years later.
And she’s entering VT station that’s been renamed like several other things that the state didn’t make and the British did. And she’s dwarfed under the huge ceiling and lost in the thronging crowds, the multitudes who maraud unknowingly by the sheer dint of their Malthusian numbers. And she’s inhaling the sweat at the platforms and the steam from the shit on the tracks. A mongrel with an open fly-flocked wound plays the peoples’ real representative, an enduring symbol well into the seventh post-independence decade. And she’s entering a train compartment that looks worse than that one in Attenborough’s Gandhi—no, not the one in South Africa, the one of which Kashmir has been told it is an integral part of.
But the ring, it is clutched tight in her coarse fifty-year-old fist. And the train now leaves the beautiful ugly holy murderous rich poor terrorized terrorizing city of Bombay Mumbai, and she sighs like the grossly misplaced Kashmiri hawa in sonth, in spring. The train pulls away from the searing platform, kicking up dust speckled with a swarm of flies. And she sighs again in relief. In relief, because she doesn’t know that there’s so much she doesn’t know.
That it is February 2020. And so the curse of the number 4 is intact.
That the four into ten or the forty-year-old great judge of then is dead.
So what. There’ll be a new one in his place.
The army commander of then is dead (of a heart attack on a golf course).
So what. There’ll be a new one in his place.
The soldier with the Ram tattoo was long missing. He disappeared unnamed in the unknown multitudes.
But she knows none of this.
So she still hopes. Because Hope has no expiry date, like the perpetual call of Azadi.
So she still hopes.
She shuts her eyes and wakes up startled when they play back the snows of Kunan Poshpora on that brutal February. She shuts them again, tight this time and squeezes optimism out of her dry tear glands. And this time she dreams. Flakes of dreamy mountain snow are falling. Sheen Mubarak, people hail each other with the auspicious first flakes. Dreams of Hope follow. She plays director of a Kashmiri Bollywood-type flick with a happy ending, naturally. She sees the great judge with eyes of polished topaz. His slouch is gone. It left with helplessness. He leans forward and tells her confidently, Begum, you say…
And she does.
She slips the magic ring on the finger of the soldier’s right hand on the arm that bears the Ram tattoo. And the great judge hears the great confession.
Judge Sahib, the criminal patriot says in his actual voice from within his trousers. I raped her. But he did no such thing, his defending defense counsel says hastily. We were a full army brigade, horny as hell. But they’re impotent, and did no such thing, his counsel hastily says. We raped and raped while the snow fell outside. If they were capable of it in such weather, they wouldn’t have lost territory to Pakistan in summer! his counsel hastily protests. They did no such thing. They were 101, her included. That’s auspicious, said the counsel. But they were not 101…er I mean, they did no such no such thing to 101, or rather, I mean they were neither 101 nor did they do any such thing, or rather, I mean the soldiers did no such thing, not that the women did either because even they weren’t there, nor were the soldiers nor was Kunan Poshpora at Kunan Poshpora. Hell. Wait. I mean nothing at all happened. It just snowed all night. Oh I mean, not just that night, but that whole February, oh not just that February but all Februarys in Chillai Kalan. The great judge glares. Azra Jan stares. The Ram-tattoo champion bares. He opens his fly. With this, he says, his intelligent soldierly best, as though it could have been with anything else. And she weeps, and she rocks, and then she wakes up.
The train is reaching Jammu, the Hindu gateway to Kashmir, but there’s no point. Because it is February 2020 and let alone the great judge or justice, even telephones are dead. Oh, but they have been like that for long. The internet is also blocked. But that’s been so for long. Even the so-called leaders of Kashmir are locked up. But that’s so since months. But a full-blown siege is on. Oh come on! Can a siege ever be half? But now all of Kashmir has turned into Kunan Poshpora. What? Because the road to Kashmir is shut. Lockdown, she’s told. A new cloak for oppression.
She is trapped in the soundproof gateway to Kashmir.
She stares at the ring.
And then she returns it to the genie to give to someone else.
The opening about Sultan Mangogul of Congo in this political satire about the infamous mass rape of Kashmiri women in the twin villages of Kunan Poshpora on Feb 23, 1991, by Indian soldiers, is from the plot of The Indiscreet Jewels, the allegorical novel by Denis Diderot.
Ash Kaul is a Kashmiri author who contributes a political satire column in Litro (UK and USA). His flash has been published as a “favorite” by Reflex Fiction. He is a past finalist of Cutbank’s Montana Prize for Fiction. He is at an exciting submission stage for two literary historicals.