Neutrality in the times of War – Part II

Suddenly, one day, he was spotted wandering on the manned streets of Srinagar, hymning, “Ann pour Mansooier, Rahim loug daawas…”

But the way that scholarly man was chanting this celebrated couplet of a Kashmiri mystic poet, Rahim Soab—that too, like a madman—beguiled the sensible, and baffled the commoners.

People had heard that he had become some kind of a wandering dervish who repeated those lines in the times when the entire valley had become one big garrison. But nobody would say why a promising person like him behaved that uncanny. A raging rumour was: after 30 funerals in 3 days marked the beginning of 2016 civil uprising in Kashmir, he had started behaving strange.

That’s what they say about him. Otherwise, why would someone abandon home in a strange manner, leaving behind a sentence, “Melancholy, go kill yourself!”

That’s what they found written on his diary that he would daily update with grim details. That summer day, on July 19 (the day a young mother lapping a toddler was shot dead in Highway town, Qazigund), the line became the last entry in his diary.

But his wild street-forays were yet to come when he sensed how he and his neutrality had become a street subject. While that had become his worry, another killing of a minor forced him to come out of his home, mad.

He was now Rehman Mout.

ALSO READ: Neutrality in the times of war – Part I

Such men rouse mixed responses. Some faithful revere them for their supposed spiritual powers. While some detest them for being cons, or some ‘covert men on a mission’.

Ever since people learned how a top Indian spy disguised himself as a street-side beggar in Pakistan to peddle intelligence, they had started doubting Rehman’s tribe. The dubious catchphrase was: “You never know!”

This sense of suspicion wasn’t alarming, but that it existed was enough to suggest: how even losing wits in the times of war was highly pitiless, and an equally scandalous thing.

Already, Rehman’s brethren had become threatening for street enforcers. At Safa Kadal where Hydaspes bereft of boats continue to enchant the sightseers, a calm-faced—a harmless mout—was almost pelleted to death on a summer day when he was sunning on a shopfront. It didn’t make sense. It never does. Somebody who opened his kill account previously with a mout killing was now saying, it never will.

But who would have conveyed this lurking threat to now threat-less Rehman. He had even stopped visiting his home. He had no one to counsel—but the good thing was, he wasn’t a usual mout either. He would still talk to you as a man of letters — that he was.

As a freshman at Amar Singh College in searing spring of 1977, he had quietened some in-campus rowdies with his brilliant display of intellect.

“What’s it that explains us?” a novel aficionado among the ragging pack quizzed him.

With his head high on letters and eyes heavy with brooding, he answered to their amazement: “Our unique individuality explains us.”

“Make it clear!”

“It’s like understanding a small situation over here, making you the raggers—and me, a ragged. These are roles we play based on our belief and individuality. We can’t flip roles here—no matter how hard we try. These are destiny-driven moves.”

The answer left many of them confused, except a bibliophile among them who was beaming with a smile. He could sniff special talents in the new campus entrant.

“But why do you think, you can’t be the other way round here?”

“Well, the kind of world we dwell is being majorly populated by ragged souls. You see, raggers are all over us. I can’t shift the role—because then, I won’t be representing my race…”

“Wait… who’re we representing then? Are we some aliens to you, huh?”

“Of course, you aren’t! But, like I said, it’s about individuality and belief. Even dreaded Qadir Ganderbiel was one among us. But that’s not me. I might be a coward for not showing enough spine to end this ragging session, but that never makes you aliens and me a turncoat!”

They knew — especially the literature guy among them that they ragged a different person that day, who was no customary learner in the campus. They befriended him, for they loved to hear from him at length beneath the cool Chinars and inside the cacophonous canteen. Perhaps genius was a too little an attribute for him.

But then, some mysterious mindset was to suddenly change the man, years after his campus exploits.

Certain theories doing rounds about him suggested that the man had been possessed by djins. But since he displayed no violent conduct, the theories fell flat on their face. But talkers all around the town had their own take on the person they knew so well and respected for his scholarly tastes.

His night would often end at the gates of a garrison. Atop those high-walls of what once was a notorious “concentration camp”, blinding floodlights would keep a close eye on him. In the middle of the night, he would break into a poetic monologue: Ani puor Mansooier, Rahim loug daawas…

He would repeat those verses till inviting wrath of a sentry, a mercurial man from the lower Ganges. He loathed Rehman for being a street bugger. Before the arrival of the visitor that summer, he used to have a calm night duty. But now, the mout and his poetic monologue were getting on his nerves.

ALSO READ: How Kashmir’s mentally unstable have been used as cannon fodder

But a week after the arrival, when the wind was steadily shattering the silence of the night by striking against the early crimson grown leaves of Chinars planted inside the garrison, the sentry was in a good mood to talk. But the mout wasn’t interested. The militarised street outside was stripped of greenery. Empty liquor bottles dangling with concertina wire made for a blatant military fence.

The mout fixed his gaze at those tinkling bottles. Growing sound propelled by the wind was raging him up. Abruptly, he rose up and repeated that verse: Ani puor Mansooier, Rehman loug daawas… For some reason best known to him, he altered the mystic line. Rahim became Rehman.

He repeated, and repeated it — until, the sentry broke his mad chant: “Hey, hey… stop it, I say!”

Rehman at once sat down, quietly.

“Why do you keep repeating this line every night, huh?”

The mout remained silent. Under the floodlights, the sentry saw him opening a sack full of paper. In absolute silence, the bewildered military guard watched him muttering what appeared to him madness packaged in words.

He was unable to make sense of this mout madness. A basic military thought flashed: Shall I detain the man to blow his cover—if any? But, that’s not how his tribe work in the valley. They never think before taking any action against the suspect. The sentry seemed different though — different, because, he wanted to understand the suspect—who, of course, was not innocent till proven guilty.

But he took much time to act, till one night when he found the mout missing from the shopfront.

Summer, meanwhile, was seething in Kashmir. Killings, maiming, blinding was growing — so was the global outcry. Amid all this, the mout was nowhere to be seen, until one Sunday, he was spotted conversing with boys on a shopfront in Old City’s Khanyar.

“Say it — and say it, loud and clear,” the boys in a mood to whip up some fun amid gloomy clampdown told him, “This is an occupation!”

“Well, sire,” Rehman replied in his Oxford-accented English that once used to leave his college lecturers in awe, “why to say the obvious, sire!” Before bursting into loud laughter with madness written all over it, he set the boys thinking, “Beware, beware, beware…”

And when an amused boy asked his views on death sprees across the Vale, Rehman smirked, grinned, laughed, silenced—in one go.

Anticipating more of a cranky reply, the boys were stunned when Rehman took out a paper from his sack.

“There, people,” he announced jubilantly, “here’s something you should know: ‘Last night, in my dream, I saw stars disappearing from the skies, one by one. What was it? I asked the father before he showed me another morning’s another gory headline. Our stars are disappearing at the moment, I realised. But one good thing about stars is that—like us, they return to shine after passing through dark nights.’ ”

As the street silence around them resounded, the boys saw him disappearing from the scene, quietly.

But between his sudden street appearances and disappearances, no one was able to tell why he was oft-repeating that mystic poet’s line. When the word about it spread, and reached far and wide, many elders came up with their own interpretations.

Some said Rehman was seeking some spiritual powers like most in his tribe. Many termed it his gimmick to escape social responsibilities at a time when many families were finding it hard to put enough food on their table.

But only one person could join the dots between his street venture and the mystic poet’s line.

That person was Pir Samad, who loved to hear Kashmiri folk music loud — especially the one, in which the folksingers sing mystic Kashmiri poetry. But sadly, his revered tribe had also started facing the music.

Amid summer protests, if anyone happened to pass by his lane and hear the folk-music blaring from his windows, they would remark in repulsion: “Delhi wants only this type of Islam to flourish in Kashmir!” The remark would be trailed by a scoff—a serious brewing scoff.

The talkers were apparently reacting to how Delhi was patronizing Sufi Islam in the Valley perceived threat-less—a euphemism for ‘peaceful Islam’—to the authorities. This realisation had become a discomforting idea for some sections back in the valley. But such thinkers were not to be blamed for it.

Ever since that self-styled author of 11 books—the one who shared podium with an Indian Premier along with many Mullahs—became the self-appointed brand ambassador of Sufism in Kashmir, Pir Samad’s tribe faced fundamental enquiry. It was an invisible yet troubling probing.

But when somebody informed him about Rehman and his oft-repeated line, Pir Samad — a pious man who had famously healed cancer patient some years ago — understood the quandary. He realised that Rehman had stepped into the shoes of Mansoor—the famous Muslim mystic who happily executed himself for upholding the word of God. And since the verse literally meant that Mansoor’s act has left a thorny path for others (here, in the verse, for Rehman) to tread, Samad was sure that it was indeed a classic case of mystic madness, although for a different cause.

Here Mansoor, argued Pir Samad, was every other person regularly falling to the bullets on the Vale’s streets for upholding the cause. Their sacrifice and growing street whisper about ‘neutral’ Rehman had probably forced him to shed his burdened image.

Probably, when Rehman failed to trace a way out, he became so distressed in the face of unabated slaughter that he wrote that line: “Melancholy, go kill yourself!”

But somehow he remained distressed until one day, he heard a folksinger singing: Ann pour Mansooier, Rehman loug daawas…

Pir Samad would opine Rehman had instantly realised the underlining message of the line. And the next line—Naawas wandsay sar (Let me sacrifice myself for Him)—was enough to make him lose it. The line called for sacrifice and he offered himself.

It was indeed the madness for the method, which was beyond one’s sanity to grasp.

When one senior psychiatrist was told about the case, he called it a motivational madness triggered by a strong desire to do something sincerely for a certain cause. “It’s like,” he explained, “you like somebody and start wooing him/her to a point where your actions appear bizarre to others.”

There was this fifty plus man from Srinagar, the psychiatrist told the person who had informed him about Rehman’s case, who had fallen for a girl in her late twenties.

“To impress her, the man even started gifting her meat and chicken,” the psychiatrist who handled the case said. “That girl as well as the people who learned about it cracked jokes over the man’s conduct. But then, such is the motivational madness. It never made sense to others, but for the man, it did. It still does.”

But one thing was still unclear though: how could someone—the incorrigible fence-sitter like Rehman—turn mad, when he had already seen more intense violence in his life? And why was he carrying that sack full of paper?

As the seething summer thawed, many learned how becoming a street subject for his neutrality in the times of war had badly derailed his mindset. In his moment of solace, he would trouble the paper with his agitated mind, detailing the street savagery. But when, even the pen didn’t give him solace, he started to cut loose. Before venturing out, he had carried all his papers with him in a sack.

He was indeed done with his neutrality.

But the way he offloaded himself continues to make him street subject. While Rehman continues to wander around, many say, war certainly follows its own course to rule over peoples’ lives.


From the Editor: Rehman’s tribe isn’t new to Kashmir. During the nineties, there was a famous “English Mout” making rounds around the besieged Downtown, talking about stars and galaxies—when the war was still at its peak. The grapevine was: the unfolding situation had cut him loose. Last summer, it was Rehman whose ‘neutrality’ became the reason for his insanity. But losing wits in protracted conflict is Kashmir’s long agony. Among those wandering mouts, there’re tortured insurgents and civilians alike, inconsolable mothers of “Shaheeds” and perhaps—any other commoner residing in the “most beautiful prison of the world”.

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