Radio Kashmira — A Six-Part Poem by Kapil Kachru
January 20, 2022
In his six-part poem, Kapil Kachru versifies the experience of someone returning to a motherland from a great distance marked by the passage of greater time. Part by part, the poem progresses through the gaze of a tourist whose vantage point shifts to that of someone seeking a home worn out by an untimely departure. As ‘travel literature’, Kachru’s verses oscillate between the blurry lines of indefinite displacement and momentary familiarity, made clearer by a voyage that spirals into the terrain of concealed memory.

Radio Kashmira

Kapil Kachru


In rustic valleys carved by ice
where disillusioned prophets found forbidden peace
coddled by forgetful, overbearing centuries
there’s a combat ready soldier for every three trees
on the road out of this bitter, brooding city

Three hours in, six thousand feet up
pine trees are growing at forty-five degrees ­
and you’re gliding through clouds on vulcanized
wings and ravens are croaking themselves hoarse
hopping from branch to branch to stone

No reason to be afraid anymore, the guide says
the French built ski lifts some years ago
his accent thick and sticky and not too sweet
like the honey in these parts, wild and free
of affectation

What of that young Edmund Hillary
whose head wound up on a stick
in the Meadow of Roses recently? 

An isolated incident, I swear
they return in hordes every winter
accommodations are impossible
even if you’re related to management

Way back in the day
incurable romantics came here from far and wide
enticed by the passionate ravings of storytellers
with hooked noses and unrelenting appetites for

Some lost their hearts
others squandered their minds
all were unburdened of fortunes

parceling out depleting royalty in princely sums
to wandering men of learning and ambition
delusional enough to decode
the raucous, rasping, speech of ravens

One of them spoke to you, once
in the squinting ghost light of morning
fragile silence fully shattered
by massive flutter of feathered darkness

that descended so impressively
on a stainless-steel pipe sticking out of the ground
and glared at you with beady, all-knowing eyes
that gleamed like hot coals when stirred

Slapping the tap open with its splendid beak
it partook of the spring water that gushed forth
and having extracted its mineral rich fill
glared at you again with rightful indignation

What’re you looking at
you can’t even speak Kashmiri, the creature said
without uttering a word
only a fool thinks he can learn another language
before he knows his mother’s tongue 

Ah, yesterday
the pony grunts with every step but doesn’t grumble
under the weight of tourism along the deserted road
uncoiling ahead

Anything under ten thousand feet is not a mountain
says the master, dismissively, bent with bronchitis
limping ahead of the pony

He straightens up when you arrive at Look Out Point
the pony stretches, too, when you climb off its sore
broken back 

Look carefully, my son, the master says
stepping onto a wooden platform that’s been
cantilevering off the cliff for almost a century
Thanks to Her Royal Majesty
and Her Royal Stolen Crown Jewels 

This, the master says, spreading his arms
we call our inheritance
his tired, grizzled face glowing
with forgotten grandeur 

Look carefully
it can be blinding all at once
he steps back and lowers his gaze
you need more than one lifetime
to take it all in

Back at base camp
a policeman puts down his rifle
and plays cricket with village boys

A raven perches
on an empty tin of ghee
by the side of the road and
watches the scene unfold
with ancient fascination

Art by Sonam Kachru


Every bridge groans in its
own peculiar way in the city
of perpetual mourning

Should you stop and listen
on this wooden thoroughfare
and nobody does

You can get arrested for that
kind of behavior these days
and when you’re stopped –

didn’t say it was easy
getting to the other side

– or do so preemptively because
you don’t give a damn anymore and
sorely need to shake newspaper
headlines out of your hair

When you stop
close your eyes and listen
Habbakadal will groan for you
like an uneasy mother

weaving lullabies
out of sandbags and barbed wire

If you wait, she’ll sing in verse
tart like pomegranate seeds
ageless instinct wailing
under the cold, dead weight of misery

Remember that saffron-tongued Queen
when the Benevolent Empire
cut her chest open with a diplomatic smile
and buried her heart in an unmarked grave
you should’ve heard her sing

Don’t let the wicker fool you, my child
Fire grows in clay pots around here

On the left bank
an old woman clutches a ration card
in shaky hands, her cheeks dented
from being poked too many times
by foreign rifles

Below her worn feet
once mighty Jhelum hisses
in muddy trickles

Habbakadal groans gorgeous and archaic
waiting for somebody, anybody, to stop
and listen

Bear witness to our beloved bridge
dying the only natural death
in this city of perpetual mourning

Art by Sonam Kachru


He’s spent his life on his knees
like a proper Kashmiri
mute witness to incalculable villainies

He’s spent the morning standing 
with his beard on fire, an antique lament
floating through his frazzled skull 

What else is there to do but stand
rooted to the spot by the gate
eyes on this patch of trodden dust
our municipality insists on calling road 

On its lawless fringes
rabid dogs reenact history
with vicious precision 

He waits for a restless village boy
garland of weeds and wildflowers in hand
fitting welcome for a prodigal son 

Who wrestled demons across
continents and never forgot
how he grew 

roses and onions
in the shared courtyard
and learned to cry in public
like a proper Kashmiri

Art by Sonam Kachru


Along a ruined stone wall
behind the abandoned school
glimpses of your father’s youth           

How he used to sit
by the open mouthed window
with its broken glass teeth 
and dream of caravans 

Slow lanes of laden camels
spanning the bridge
with exquisite foreign vanities 

The mad schemes he devised
to hitch a ride and smuggle himself
out of town under a custard
yellow moon           

He learned to walk here
in these narrow lanes
learned to drown 
in these wide canals 

Here, he worshipped voices
leaking from his radio after dark
especially on Wednesdays 

The house he called home
still stands, humble
heartbroken rooms bound
by stubborn, blind faith 

Faded Aum on peeling wall
unclaimed matchbox in empty

You always wondered
what rain was like in Rainawari
here, heaven sighs, inconsolable
and sheds paisley tears 

When you step out, the wet patter
will wash yesterday’s hurt and 
the silent eagle will
still be there 

on the drainpipe, under
the pitched roof, waiting
for sky to clear

Art by Sonam Kachru


Who will feed the crows
when we are gone?

Mother’s mother asked
leaving for the last time
the house her husband built
in the Garden of Turnips

Ever since then, the question
addressed to nobody in particular
gets raised, like a threatening sickle

Eighteen years later, heading to Anantnag
you miss seeing or hearing crows
miss the turn for the place
Father insists on visiting

By a slender shoulder of road
you ask a passerby
taking his bicycle for a walk

Much easier finding an old grave
than a new one, he says, with a smile
drier than day old bread and points the way

In her school days, Mother saw
where the poet lived, the one-room hut
on a small hill, two windows on one side
rough desk on the other

His back to the world
he crafted gems out of common stones
in the flickering spectacle of an oil lamp

to adorn his people’s tongues
and embroider their hearts
giving breath to his verse
preserves the beauty he so loved

Father does not say a word at the
sparse monument to his favorite poet
a river of song flows through
aching gorges of memory

Crows don’t care for the inspired
noise we call poetic. Never have.
Too busy, beaks full, delivering
burning messages

between the land of the dead
and the land of the dying
that still don’t understand
each other’s languages

Eyes clear as mountain water
minds sharp as sickles
crows translate on the fly
and wonder when

those who fed them
for this service
those who listened
will return

Art by Sonam Kachru


Internal combustion engines
cough, splutter n’ honk
through old city alleys
in angry, glaring afternoon

To your left if you care
a young pony stands his ground
unhitched, without saddle

under the covered porch
of a deserted health clinic
in front of a screen door
like he’s waiting for bad news

alert, docile, dejected
unwilling to budge
before his companion
gets the attention
she desperately needs

Her –
a young filly sprawled across
the pockmarked pavement
awaiting fate without dismay

just lying in the driveway
with a firm grasp of the situation
and a slow, sad song in her tired
young eyes

singing despite
the prolonged
pointless agony
of it all



Art by Sonam Kachru


Shuban Krishen Kachru
who never let me forget
and took me back
to hear with my own ears
and see with my own eyes

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About the Contributor

<a href="" target="_self">Kapil Kachru</a>

Kapil Kachru

Kapil Kachru is a Kashmiri writer based in Boston. His poems and stories have appeared in journals, magazines and an anthology in India, The Netherlands and the United States. Negligible Inertia, his debut collection of poems, was published by Writers Workshop. His new book, Radio Kashmira, is coming soon to a bookshelf near you. Stay tuned.