Fire in paradise: Kashmiri poet Madhosh Balhami’s 30-year labour of love turns to ashes

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Sri Nagar: In the strife-torn Kashmir Valley, houses being gutted or blasted in gun battles between militants and security forces are no unusual occurrence. But last week, when a two-storey house went up in flames in Balhama area on the outskirts of Srinagar, a poet’s 30 years of labour of love turned to ashes in just 12 hours.

Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, better known by his pen name Madhosh Balhami, is a shattered man. But it’s not the destruction of his house and all his belongings that hurts him. What he mourns is the loss of his “life’s earnings” — all his poetry and other literary works, most of it unpublished. The house can be rebuilt, but wherefrom would he get his treasure of poetry and prose compiled in three decades, he laments.

Balhami was in the compound of his house writing some verses on March 15 when three militants entered the premises. He said the militants offered prayers and then sought forgiveness from him, saying they knew they would die and that his house would be damaged in the gunfight with security forces. They asked Balhami to leave the house along with his family.

The militants were fleeing after making an unsuccessful attempt on BJP leader Muhammad Anwar Khan’s life in the nearby Khunmoh area. With security forces hot on their heels, they took refuge in Balhami’s house. Police, CRPF and army personnel encircled the house. The militants fired on the troops who retaliated and in the ensuing 12-hour gunfight, the three militants, belonging to Zakir Musa-led Ansaar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, died. Among them was Pakistani national Abu Hamas, a wanted militant.

In the exchange of fire, the houses of Balhami and his brother-in-law Ghulam Mohiudin Mir were completely damaged. Balhami said an army official involved in the operation told him his house would have been spared had Hamas not been among the trapped militants. “He told me Hamas had given them the slip many times earlier and so they were determined not to let him escape.”

All that is left of Balhami’s house, built by his father in 1967, are rubble, and a few standing walls. “Everything except the clothes we are wearing was turned into ashes. I lost my shelter and my 30-years of literary work,” he said. Barring his books on poetry, Sadaye Abu Zar and Dard-e-Furqat, published a decade ago, nothing else was published.

“I lost my 30-years of literary wok in 12 hours of gunfight. Everything was turned into ashes. My poetry was my life’s earnings,” said Balhami. He said he had written books on subjects ranging from religion to the Kashmir turmoil. Balhami said nobody from the government had approached him to provide relief.

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