He sleeps like a mother whose daughter has been picked up by his men late in the evening. It has been seventeen years now. When he can finally close his eyes, he dreams of a white-bearded man in a navy-blue gown. He does not know it but the man in his dreams is Jalaluddin Rumi. Rumi always has the same questions for him. The first one is, “Can you understand Farsi?” Avtar nods, even though he does not understand the language. When he is awake, it always torments him that he is a liar even in his dreams. Rumi continues in Persian, which Avtar now understands because he has lied about it, “Do you know what murder is?” Avtar wants to reply in the affirmative but then reckons the white-bearded man might have some information to reveal so it would be better for him to feign ignorance. He shakes his head. The Rumi of his dreams smiles in a way which makes Avtar feel guilty and says, “Murder is when the soul of the murderer leaves his body and that of the victim enters it.” At this point Rumi vanishes and Avtar wakes up, sweating and trembling.
He has a daughter who has just turned ten. She loves him, loves his uniform and his pictures with an assorted bouquet of guns. Whenever he is home, she insists that he let her sit on his lap. He gets nervous and refuses, making this excuse or that. His daughter begins to cry and complains to her mother. Husband and wife have a fight over it. He ends up saying sorry but slowly, he can see the anger building up inside him. He knows the feeling too well.
When he was informed that the white-bearded man was an ideologue of the militants, he decided to pay a visit merely to break the old man’s will. He appreciated that people in Kashmir pissed in their yazaars on seeing an army major. But when he saw the dignity of the man as he offered him a seat and tea even as he was shouting menacingly in the corridor, asking whether militants ever visited the house, anger rose like an Indian summer inside him. The old man acknowledged that militants regularly visited the place. Avtar tried again. In an even more foreboding voice, he demanded to know why they visited the house. The old man, without a trace of fear in his voice, said, “They visit to seek counsel.” That did it for Avtar. He stormed into the room and began to kick and slap the old man. As the old man’s howls began to fill the nippy air, his daughter and granddaughter came running from another room to protect him. The daughter threw herself over her father like a shield. The granddaughter, yet to enter her teens, grabbed Avtar’s arm and pushed him away from her grandfather. Avtar was shocked by her courage. He left without a word, to the astonishment of his men and the family.
Back at his camp, his thoughts kept returning to the little girl and the way she had pushed him. He began to daydream the expression of disgust on her face as he repeatedly lowered himself on her while she tried to push him away but couldn’t. He could hear her squeals and cries. It was music to him. In his imagination, the resistance gave way to enjoyment and the girl even sat on his lap and kissed his moustache. After he had drowned himself in the alcohol of the evening, he ordered his men to bring her to him.
The girl did not seem to understand what Avtar was doing to her. She was in extreme pain but sobbed quietly, like a child who has decided, after endless teasing by her peers, that she will not be a sissy anymore. In the morning, she left full of anger and disgust but with no shame. Avtar could not bear it. Half an hour later, he went after her, dragged the old man into the courtyard and shot him. Then he told his men to cut him into pieces and throw them into the river.
One monsoon afternoon, when his daughter is adamant that she wants to sit nowhere but on his lap, he slaps her. She is growing up to look alarmingly like that other girl. All women are the same. She even smells the same, of skin which has been sucked red. The girl, hand on her cheek, goes crying to her mother. Her mother comes out and begins to nag Avtar. Suddenly enraged, he gets up and slaps her hard. She drops on the floor. Avtar is about to kick her when the daughter lets out a war cry and pushes him away with both her arms. Avtar gets seated on the sofa. He closes his eyes. Rumi is asking, “Can you understand Kashmiri?”
Major Avtar Singh was an officer in 35 Rashtriya Rifles, a counter-insurgency unit of the Indian Army, wanted for the murder of the Kashmiri human rights lawyer Jalil Andrabi and at least 28 others. On June 9, 2012, in Selma, California, he shot his wife and three children before turning the gun on himself. Avtar’s madness/savagery towards his own family is his redemption; and the fact that more Indian soldiers who have served in Kashmir are not similarly tormented is testimony to the inherent violence of the Indian National Project.