Poem: I Bury Them Under the Witnessing Yellow of the Chinar

For Atta Mohammad, gravedigger and caretaker of unmarked graves in northern Kashmir.

It is a little over three years since the death of Atta Mohammad, the man who singlehandedly buried close to 200 unclaimed and unidentified bodies of disappeared persons in northern Kashmir. Mohammad died on January 11, 2016.

Atta Mohammad. Credit: Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society


I bury them under the witnessing yellow of the chinar,
blood-moon faces yet to taste the sweetness of youth,
beards just beginning to show,
fake encounters,
scarred bodies of great importance
to someone, somewhere,
sons whose mothers will never find them,
young girls with torn vaginas and dreams in their eyes…
I bury them all,
and the blood in my veins grows still.

I have spent my hours naming
the disappeared, the dead, the forever gone,
uttering prayers over each new grave.
I have spent them weeping,
and the chinar trees have wept with me.
Under the same chinar,
my old happy self lies

A friend teases,
“Mohammad, you have gotten rather good
at this burying business, haven’t you?”
He is right. I will bury anything that makes its way to me.
What I cannot bury is the remembering.

K. Srilata’s book of poems The Unmistakable Presence of Absent Humans is forthcoming from Poetrywala, Mumbai