He regularly ventures out on the streets, visits offices and knocks at residential gates, exhorting and persuading people to buy his socks. But while the kid from a Srinagar slum struggles to earn for his family, it’s his Bohemia-like talent that makes him to skip his routine momentarily, and rap his heart out.
Pitching his compulsive trade cry—“Sou mein teen” (Three [socks] for Rs 100), the boy from a Batamaloo slum routinely hits the streets to earn for his family. But as the rain plays spoil-sport on an ironic Children’s Day, he takes a break and begins rapping about ‘bombs and bodies’ in a deserted corner of the city centre Lal Chowk.
When the rain stops, Mohammad Shahbaaz, 14, goes around the streets of Srinagar—soaking wet, looking for the customers, with packets of socks in his bag.
As the rain has another extended run, he wears an anxious face — mulling over another ‘bad weather day’ impact on his day’s labour.
“Sou mein teen,” he goes about his trade. Dripping water, he constantly looks at the fading market buzz.
As it turns out to be another glum day for the boy, he stands under a roof in a shopping complex at Lal Chowk, and starts rapping his favourite song, by Hip Hop artist Bohemia.
Pyar ‘ch tere agge marre kinne aadmi ve,
Akhiyan larhiya saddiya jive larhe Army,
Hun chaaro paasse tabahi ve,
Bomb-baari de shor ‘ch,
Raati neend na mainu aayi.
How many men lost their lives in your love,
Our eyes met like an army fought,
Devastation all around,
East West North South,
Noise of explosions all around,
I couldn’t sleep all night.
As the rain falls, Shahbaaz’s rap song resounds for a while. A smile crisscrosses his face, and momentarily uplifts the gloom for his younger brother Asif, who helps him in selling socks.
The song has been originally sung by Hip Hop superstar Bohemia in a 2015 musical album called Akhiyan. Born as Roger David who goes by his stage name Bohemia, Shahbaaz’s idol is a Pakistani-American rapper and record producer.
“I love Bohemia,” Shahbaaz says, taking a moment from his singing, “He speaks my heart. I want to be like him.”
Looking blasé to talk further about himself, he resumes rapping.
Sadda faisla karaa de Rabba,
Rab kol duawan karde,
Lokki note kamaande,
Appan yaadan teriyan nu rakhde.
God, decide for us,
I pray to God,
Among this shooting,
People earn money,
And I keep your memories.
Six years ago, Shahbaaz first came to Kashmir with his family from Jammu’s Nagrota. Since then, he lives with his mother, two sisters and younger brother in a Batamaloo slum. He holds no good memories of his birthplace — after his father died in an accident, forcing him to become the breadwinner of the family.
As a kid, he had no option, but to work and survive, for the sake of his family.
“We chose work over begging,” Shahbaaz beams in his signature rhythmic style, on a cold shivering day in Kashmir. “Along with my younger brother, I earn with dignity for my family.”
Working all day fetch the brothers anything between Rs 100 and Rs 150. They buy socks from a whole-seller from the cityside, and earn a Rs 10 profit from every single sale.
On days, when he and his brother can’t come out on the curfewed streets of Kashmir, their sisters go out to offer domestic help. That’s how the family survives.
But as someone who is passionate about music, Shahbaaz is mainly drawn to Rap. His skill makes him a prospective artist, who needs grooming.
In absence of support and training, he picks up the threads of rap from his hero, earning him a name—Bohemia—in his peer group.
“I watch Bohemia’s rap songs from my friend’s cellphone,” he smiles, before carefully—and effortlessly—breaking into the rap again.
Gin gin bachake athru bahaunde,
Jind gayi beet,
Jado puchda koi haal,
Main keh denda theek (main theek),
Yaad ‘ch teri pher chakeya kalam,
Nai te Raje ne kado de likhne chhad te geet,
teri udeek te…
Saving moments while crying,
My whole life flashes by,
Whenever someone asks, how I am doing,
I just say fine,
And in your memory, I turn to the pen,
Else I stopped writing songs, along time ago,
While waiting for you.
And with that, Bohemia from Batamaloo hits the rain lashed streets again, halting the rap song which gives him momentary respite during his tiring routine.
What reigns is the cry for survival, than the elusive singing—which remains a mere ‘heart melody’ for the kid, in absence of support.
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