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Officer Ram Lal’s Encounter With Kashmir’s Persian Bloom
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Officer Ram Lal’s Encounter With Kashmir’s Persian Bloom

As spring became synonymous with tulips in the valley over the years, many refreshing signs heralding the new season took a backseat. Among them are Srinagar’s purple flowers reinforcing Kashmir’s Central Asian connection and the change of heart in an emergency enforcer.

In the rumbling convoys of the early nineties, Ram Lal came as an emergency trooper deputed by Delhi to counter Kashmir’s winter of discontent.

The man from the lower Ganges was everything an Indian officer was then in the rebel region: ‘hawk and hostile’.

But once he started manning a paramilitary bunker in Srinagar’s Hyderpur area, he got involved in an act evoking the valley’s transcendental Persian influence.

Years later, Ghulam Nabi Dar turns wistful over Ram Lal’s mention while cooling his heels for noon prayers in the blooming garden whose graveyard glory is sweetening the spring air in Hyderpur at the moment. 

The mosque president recalls the stern man just another enforcer when ‘desolation was peace’ in the valley.

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“The flowers you see here,” he points at the blooming Persian Lilac, called Yasmenn therri in Kashmiri, “made that paramilitary officer realize that ethical conduct is the only conduct, even in a warlike situation.”

The spring flowers are much sought after aromatic plant in the area. / MI Photo by Arif Nazir

Ram Lal’s bunker was a stone’s throw from Hyderpur’s Astaan Bagh housing a graveyard, Jamia Masjid and shrine of Syed Hyder Simnani [RA]—one of the companions of Mir Syed Ali Hamdani [RA]—after whom this erstwhile agrarian society got its name: Hyderpur.

After triggered by a certain local catalyst among others, the massive upheaval of the nineties made the bloom of purple petals of Astaan Bagh just another war-torn desolation.

What used to be a sign of spring for locals became an overlooked scented forlorn.

“That strife-induced sense was the clear undoing of the cherished local ritual,” Dar muses in the garden.

Before bullets and bombs would enforce a glum indoor routine, the elder says, Hyderpur’s outing was jovial. Families would arrive to have a multi-course lunch and Samawar evening tea parties in Astaan Bagh. 

The retreat was equally boosting the local pocket. Since the bloom would be bountiful, Dar says, the residents would make a bouquet and sell it to travellers on the airport road.

The lawn houses the mausoleum of saint Simnani [RA] who greatly influenced life in Hyderpur during his lifetime. / MI Photo by Arif Nazir
But the garden which used to be the first picnic spot for many school-going kids changed when characters like Ram Lal became all-weather street shadows.

And with that, the elder says, the fabled flowers mostly withered in want of sightseers.

By then, Ram Lal would already march through Hyderpur bazar for the daily area-domination drills and became a regular patroller.



“But one day his outing turned deadly,” says a local grocer and an eyewitness of the incident. 

“While patrolling with his men, he got involved in an encounter with militants near Astaan Bagh.”

After suffering damage in the firefight, Ram Lal, the next morning, showed up with men with machetes

“He ordered chopping of Yasmenn therri that according to him had sheltered the armed men and helped them to give his men a slip,” the grocer recounts.

Jamia Masjid Hyderpur is another landmark in the blooming Astaan Bagh. / MI Photo by Arif Nazir

Soon the perfumed lawn dotted with the Persian Lilac became a barren land for the first time since the saint turned it into a glorious garden. 

The chopping badly distressed the locality which treated the lilac as saint Simnani’s Central Asian gift to them.

“The saint’s poetry clearly mentions that this blooming and blissful Yasmenn has Central Asian roots,” says Younis Ahmad, a scion of the shrine caretakers.

During his Central Asian travel, local Mohammad Yaseen Kirmani had spotted the same flower in Iran.

“Since there’s no documented proof of Yasmenn not being a native plant,” Kirmani says, “this belief of it being brought from Central Asia has passed from generation to generation. And as someone who spotted the same flower in Iran, I see a clear Persian connection.”

The paramilitary officer’s act has become a household legend in Hyderpur. / MI Photo by Arif Nazir

Weeks after chopping the same revered flowers, Ram Lal was seen pleading at the door of the saint. 

Among those who saw the paramilitary officer holding hands and lowering his guard and gaze at the revered gates was a local school-going boy. 

The student’s curiosity soon revealed a strange happening on the heels of the officer’s flower uprooting move.

“He was not keeping well after the incident,” Arshid Ahmad, the boy-turned-businessman, recalls.

“And since he was a market face for his regular patrols, some elders enquired about his ailing condition. And once the faithful among them understood the underlining cause, they suggested him to seek forgiveness for his act to the lord and the saint in whose lawn he violated and abused the spring plant.” 

For the next two years till Ram Lal was Hyderpur bunker’s officer, it’s said, he regularly paid his obeisance at the shrine. 

Resurgence after burial. / MI Photo by Arif Nazir

After his quiet departure from the scene where now a certain patriarch was enforcing a new writ, the bunker he commanded ran out of its order. 

In the sweeping change, even Astaan Bagh witnessed multiple mud-layering that buried its idyllic lilacs. 

The barren scene reminded many of Ram Lal’s machete act creating desolation in the garden. 

“And then something very strange happened,” continues Arshid. 

“The flower bloom returned six years after its internment. The scene fascinated us in the same manner as officer Ram Lal’s sudden health fall did.”

As the saint’s garden once again bloomed with the Persian flowers, Arshid says, it invoked Dinos Christianopoulos, a Greek writer and poet to many: “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.”

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