‘Ominous Child’ that I was

I was born at noontime almost one year after men in olive green had landed on our land

ZGM
Srinagar, Publish Date: Dec 16 2017 11:21PM | Updated Date: Dec 16 2017 11:21PM
‘Ominous Child’ that I wasRepresentational Pic

Whenever, I played a mischief with my grandmother, in a fit of rage she often called me an ‘ominous child’.  She never used this epithet for my elder brother even if he behaved my way and staged antics to her annoyance.   She fondled me, she loved me, she sung lots of folk songs for me that like sonorous brooks resonate to this day in mind, yet in a bit of rage, she called me ‘ominous’ child. This duplicity in grandmother’s attitude annoyed me- I did not find an answer to this question.  

 One day in a bit of rage answering this question she sounded to me like Shakespeare, ‘the fault, dear Brutus, is not in you but the times you were born in.’ I had heard lots of stories from my mother about the times and the hour when I had tumbled into this world. A thousand others like me might have been born on that day with no cannons fired from the fort on the top of the hillock. Even the city criers that often beating their drums at the roundabouts in our Mohalla read out royal proclamations had not announced the birth of many babies like me with chains.  Thanks to my mother;   I knew, I was not born at the stroke of the midnight that had seen Jawaharlal Nehru at peak of his eloquence. I was not born when soldiers in olive green descending in hordes from biplanes at the aerodrome were greeted by the tall leader of the land and his ten-year-old son like Maharaja of Air India with folded palms.  I was born at noontime almost one year after men in olive green had landed on our land but how had time and year of my birth made me an ominous child – my mother never told me. 

My grandmother had been a great connoisseur of noon-chai and soout (maize cornflour roasted in butter). There were, stories she had an admiration for keeping samavor steaming like an engine by her side and consuming a good number of cups of salt tea. It was much later, I understood that she calling me an ominous child had also some connection with her love for   Noon Chai. 

She had a bagful of stories about airplanes bombarding the villages and the dust arising out of these villages. She recounted her experiences of watching along with my mother from the birch bark roof of our three-story house the bombers pounding bombs on the nearby villages. She narrated stories about the innocent villagers killed in the bombing and their bodies lying in fields without burial for days and these feasted upon by vultures. She narrated stories about the arrival of armed men from the tribal areas in our neighborhood and halted near Shalatang. She saw me as an ominous and ill-fated child for no fault of mine but for the agony and pain that had descended on people when I was still in the womb receiving nourishment through the umbilical cord.   She did not talk about people in many areas suffering from starvation and many others in the urban areas eating boiled rice spruced with chilies but complained about not having salt tea for a few fortnights. The stories about the shortage of rock salt and green tea leave drinking “machran’ tea a concoction of some indigenous wild herb were punctuated with sighs and sobs. This wild herbal tea was brought into the city by some people from nearby forests and marketed in the city by some vendors dealing herbal medicines- popularly called Bohrus. She never had machran chai and sea salt- till her death she shared bitter memories about those days.