The Engraver at Panthchowk — A Poem by Mashood Rather
December 10, 2021
In Mashood Rather’s poem, a mother seeks her son and a son seeks his mother, with the two kept from each other by a spectral curtain that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead. The engraver tasked with pronouncing “death with each chisel mark” is their intermediary in these haunting verses where life and death converge as they do tragically upon a valley.

The Engraver at Panthchowk

Mashood Rather

The engraver at Panthchowk
on the banks of the Jhelum,
engraved someone’s epitaph,
producing macabre music
with the chisel and hammer.
With the pain of labour on his hands,
he pronounced death with each chisel mark.

I sat besieged by silence
to see what life this cold dead stone would take.
I sat fishing out the ghosts
that lurk in the undercurrents of the Jhelum.
I asked him why we don’t cremate like the Hindus:
body to fire, and ashes to the Ganges…
no markings on a tombstone—
nothing but a plunge into the void of everything.
With angst, he reminded me: “she is your mother…brute!”

Last night I returned from Srinagar at midnight,
the roads to my home all covered with a thick shroud
a deathfall,
the warmth and agility of day
lost to the cold, glossy winter-nights of January
hanging icicles on corrugated tin roofs
like the canines of some monster from an untold fable.

A cold, dying, pale moon hung above on the dome of despair,
it propped its elbows on a cloud and intensified its gaze,
I walked alone and aloof
accompanied by the horrid silences
and the faint stomping sounds of my own steps,
how long that one kilometer walk stretched!
I would’ve never believed that the state of fear
could even stretch space and time,
disturbing even the cosmos.

In the lapses between each beat within my heart
there resided a grotesque fear
of the ones who wear Jackboots
but to my awe I saw the Tasrupdaar
with his eyes gouged-out and a smashed head
dripping thick blood through his mouth like molten tar,
and a bus full of wedding guests
whose movements were frenzied, fluctuating…
singing wedding songs to an awestruck, dumbfounded bride,
her pent-up emotions turned her eyes
to empty and bottomless pits…
and mine to burning embers.

My mother whispering to herself,
“Khabur aaz yiyaa batte govus hundur”[1]
has left the door ajar
it meant what it means: a clear paradox,
I knew I have to keep myself alive
to eat that hundur batte,[2]
while stomping sounds resounded
like someone biting through bones.

I know what form my dreams are going to take:
metal hung on the shoulders of armored beasts,
metal wheezing by,
the engraver hammering his chisel on the cold stones…
carving a life out of a cold stone
in some distant place.

Then, in a wider view,
a million, a multitude of engravers
creating a chorus of rough silence.


[1] Translated from Kashmiri, “Will he return today? His plate of rice has gotten cold”

[2] Translated from Kashmiri, “cold plate of rice

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About the Contributor

<a href="" target="_self">Mashood Rather</a>

Mashood Rather

Mashood Ahmad Rather is a student of English literature at Cluster University Srinagar. He hails from Awantipora.