Peace, I say and walk into the tent of polyester fabric hung from wooden poles.
What I don’t say is that I see a concentration camp here – the 35th day of the sit-in protest against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, at Hauz Rani, Gandhi Park.
The Act, bigger than a pick-up wagon, will haul the Indian Muslims out of India.
A Muslim woman in a black abaya is reciting prayers. Allah hum sab ko sehan sakhti de, sab taraf aman-chain ho (May Allah give us strength. Peace.) It’s Maghrib prayer time. Other women on willow and Styrofoam mats recite the prayer in unison. These women, like bare branches of a lone tree here in Hauz Rani, coil up.
One woman protester puts her arm around my shoulder and asks: “Aren’t you Afghani? Why isn’t Modi kicking you out? You weren’t even born here.” I don’t tell her I am from Kashmir.
Is there any difference between her and that Kashmiri woman I saw in the Select City Mall the other day? Not really, I think to myself, as her Kashmiri face flashes in front of my eyes.
She wasn’t looking at me but at the beautiful bodies of women in short dresses and men in bermudas drifting down the line of stores. I realised this when I heard Kashmiri words under her breath: “amis chuna garam gasaan ath jacketus manj, yuta taap hei chu (isn’t she feeling hot in the waistcoat when the Sun is so low across the sky?)”
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At Hauz Rani, the woman’s daughter sat between us and didn’t glance at her. She was talking softly like her mother, while looking at my jacket from the corner of her eyes.
Quiet down, quiet down.
They don’t know I am Kashmiri. My mother and I have the same style of talking. I watched the daughter as she shook her legs dangling over the ground. I folded mine up on the concrete seat around the Peepal tree.
Now here at the park, tied to the tree; I saw frayed, soiled posters of Gandhi, B.R. Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh.
Everything starts smelling good like the Peepal tree growing out of our small Kashmiri world, and every branch of the Gandhi tree blossoming with each other.
The abayas and sarees waving this way and that, the branches swaying back and forth amidst raised fists of sisters, daughters, dadis, bob-haired LGBTQIA+ activists in khadi jackets and kameez.
These real brown princesses are more than just the fictional characters of Alderaan, princess Leias of Star Wars dominating the men’s series.
I sit underneath the tinted branches.
Huma Sheikh is originally from Kashmir, currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Creative Writing at Florida State. Her prose and verse have appeared in various journals and magazines. A memoir and book of poems are in progress.
Featured image credit: Yashas Chandra/Instagram