When our roots are young tendrils, when our leaves are still buds, our eyes are shut to the world and we can only hear.
And hear, we did. We heard distant stories of old blood and ashes of burnt houses; we heard whispers of death and despair. When our roots were still scrambling for purchase in the mud, we, with all our might, we struggled to remain upright.
But a land of war is a land of noise and a land of fear. It is difficult, so taxing, to keep our spines straight. It became especially so on the 16th of May, when the early whispers of bullets that almost pierced us, of the grenades that almost wiped us out and the boy who left us, all weighed down on us, a thousand times heavier than the sky can ever be.
This, I believe is what happened to the tree of roses, that is growing in Pulwama, beside me.
In me, lived a little boy and an old man, and a silent member of our family was a tree of roses. Growing, scrambling for purchase, gasping, blinded and listening. Beside concrete, beside a press house, beside a lonely outhouse, beside a shelter for cows, beside a house that would one day be a militant house. There is a tree of roses, standing there, listening.
I estimate that this plant heard a few thousand things in its lifetime. Listening to the bouncing of the ball of a lonely boy that lived nearby, who spent his evenings throwing the ball towards the sky and waiting for it to come back. It heard the chatter of men who whispered talks of what is happening in the town today. It heard the calls of pelters, asking for freedom, it heard the launching of tear gas shells, and it still bloomed, remaining upright.
That night, I asked this tree why its flowers were facing the ground. I asked him if the sounds had finally overwhelmed him. If the noise had filled his ears and the violence had spread in his veins. But it was not noise that finally bent the unbowed tree. It was something else.
The crying tree
That night the sound of silence was louder than the sound of wind blowing into my petals and slowly withering its presence; louder than the beam of moon light reflecting off my leaves making dances on the floor; louder than the cries of the my trunk pierced with pain; even louder than the sound of my roots pulling me inwards and my arms struggling to reach out. That night, which followed the night it happened. When I was closest to an encounter (army-militant shootout), so much as being a part of it. Standing fast against the pull of panic, trying naively to whisk the sound of gun shots, grenades and helicopters, I realised that this made normalcy in Pulwama. I have been here many years, watching the curfewed streets die in isolation, moving with the skies drumming the sound of bullets. I have lived through years of quiet mourning under my shade. But being in the middle of what I'd only imagined through sounds and stories moved my roots. I realised what being helpless meant when a boy I have watched growing up in my garden, paid through his life for a purpose he didn’t sign up for. And there! One more of my twigs broke and fell off me, feeling burdened with the guilt of having survived, while a loved one died. And here I am, standing wounded by the political apartheid, strong armed by the protectors of it. And although I Iaid low so far rooted in lawless fear, protected choices, and breezing dreams of change, I choose to let loose now my arms and embrace what I have been only shading - Azadi, the urge to grow into flowers of beauty and peace, fed by the soil we choose, watered by the ones we love, gardened by the hands we raise. Azadi - the dream of honest seeding, humble growth and radiating death. Azadi - the pride of being me and of my kind, of us and our kin, of oneness in my diversity, of multiplicity in our unity. Azadi - the grit to rise to my element, not throttled, but kindled, not singled but paralleled to stems my age, roots my kind, and flowers my colour. Azadi - the promise to do good and do well, independently. Azadi - the most beautiful flower in the garden of night.