Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ek Mulaqat

PM: I know you are upset.

MM: One is ‘naraz’ with one's own.

PM: Getting angry doesn’t solve anything.

MM: That is why I'm here.

PM: Leave these tantrums.

MM: Give me a few CBMs.

PM: I shall write you a nice tweet.

MM: I’m not Omar.

PM: OK, I will say something nasty about the Abdullahs.

MM: I want something concrete.

PM: How about evening flights at the Srinagar airport?

MM: Big deal! These NC wallas track night flights.

PM: I don’t know what else to give you.

MM: You know what I want.

PM: Listen, you shall be exempt from singing Bharat Mata Ki.

(At this point Amit Shah and other heavy-duty gents in the ante-room come running, hollering: Jai, Jai. The PM looks at them sternly, signaling ‘all is well’!)

MM: Can’t you offer me something better?

PM: Would you like Anupam Kher as the brand ambassador of Kashmir?

MM: No way. He is like an Amritsari shawl. Not even proper Kashmiri.

PM: You mean a cheapster?

MM: A fake shawl. If you know what that means.

PM: Get me an original pashmina shawl next time.

MM: I will. I promise. Just give me something — this one time.

PM: We can give you a quota in JNU.

MM (snidely): I hope you won’t call it anti-national quota?

PM: You just gave me a poor joke (PJ) for my new tweet.

MM: Keep my request in mind, please.

PM: Yes, yes. Of course.

MM: See you soon.

PM: Make sure the shawl has my name all over it.

@Sameer | PS: This communication is pure pasquinade. tongue emoticon

Thursday, December 31, 2015

#Kashmir2015 — A year of quaking

Perhaps only a gay marriage would scandalize Kashmiris more. So when PDP entered into a wedlock with the BJP earlier this year, most people’s WTF meter went up several notches. It was blasphemy — of the highest order, some thought. You can’t afford to have a Shyama Prasad Mukherjee school of thought coming up bang in the middle of Srinagar.

Nine months after taking oath as the 6th CM of J&K, Sayed is in the ICU at Delhi's AIIMS
Days following the coronation of Mufti Sayed and his motley cabinet, the common refrain was one of shock. Darn, it was clearly not what Kashmiris had risked their voting fingers for, but you see, the inevitable had already happened. Nine months on, the PDP-BJP combine seems to be going steady, with occasional tu-tu-mein-mein but then what is a marriage without an occasional feud. Wise men call it the spice of life.

There were more rumours in end-March. It continued to rain for days on end. Big deal — it pours incessantly in many parts of the word but Kashmir is different. We have a creaky infrastructure, our rivulets aren’t properly drained and sewage overflows in rainfall. A non-stop spell of rain can spell doom.

Everyone uploaded flood gauge readings — Sangam, Ram Munshibagh and Asham — on social media — 24 X 7

Memory afresh with the flooding of 2014, March rains bothered us a great deal. Social media, with its increasing flocks of rumor-mongers meant that pictures from previous year’s big floods went into circulation. Naturally the nation’s collective blood pressure shot up. It came down only when the rains stopped. Soon the usual madness resumed.

In between there were several mid-summer tremors. Some shadowy guys emerged from the woodwork and started bumping off people in the telecom business apart from targeting cell phone towers. In the last 25 years almost everything has been attacked in Kashmir — from the headless white horse that stood outside Pestonji building on Residency Road (now relocated to an godawful mini mall, I hear) to lorries carrying cattle.

Targeting the sad-looking towers was a new low, even by Kashmiri standards. In any case several landlords, frightened to death, asked telecom operators to remove the vile towers from their properties. Since dismantling of towers was going to take some time, an enterprising landlord got a hastily written banner up outside his home: Is badbakht tower ko hum ne nakara kar kiya hai. (We have rendered this wretched tower useless). Just by way of abundant precaution, some would say.

And autumn gave way to winter. Suddenly a political quake swayed the valley on Christmas. Just when Pakistan was getting ready to celebrate the birthday of its two great fathers — Jinnah (founding father) and Nawaz Sharif (father of all things rich), in strode the selfie samrath of India — PM Modi — along with 100 wise men.

By some fluke or luck it was also the wedding day of Mehr-u-Nisa, the beautiful granddaughter of PM Sharif, and who better to bless the newly-weds than Don Corleone himself. Kashmiris watched in horror as Nawaz Sharif, himself a true-blooded Kashmiri, strutted around in a pink turban gifted by his bbf, a token of endearment understood only by those under 30, with the exception of Pakistan’s Prime Minister, perhaps.

Sharif has been at pains to explain that the pink turban — now an urban myth — was not from Modi. The media refuses to believe.

That same night there was a massive earthquake, shaking parts of Pakistan and Kashmir. Since the epicenter was somewhere in Afghanistan, conspiracy theorists and gossip mills got their grist — almost readymade. So Modi visited Afghanistan, and then Pakistan, bringing about the quake. As Kashmir is at the core of it all, we had to shake along.

Heck, despite chilay-kalan and the icebox chill it brings along, millions of Kashmiris ran outside at midnight, huffing and puffing, seeking forgiveness from Almighty. Attributed to a combination of our many grave sins, Modi’s impromptu Pakistan visit and the wrath of God, social media updates came thick and fast. Next morning less than 0.5 per cent of the population was up at fajr for prayers. Over 99 per cent slept it off.

God, it is expected, shall be merciful in 2016. Hope is the step-brother of faith.

© Sameer

Monday, December 28, 2015

For mom

(Dec 25, 1950-Dec 28, 1995)

Was it effortless like your smile?

Did they wake you up one last time?
Or was it quick like a burglar in the night?

Was it a grim-reaper or an archangel?
How many wings did it have?
Did you float or glide?
Was it heady like dope?

Is it hot or cold beyond the stars?
Do souls have footprints
in the kingdom of heaven?
Is it limitless hence?
Are you weightless tonight?

Do they let you see God
from a crack in the heavens?
Here, by your grave in Sopore
Jasmine blooms in winter.

© Sameer
 Her 20th anniversary

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Whose martyr is this?

“And the CM prays for his jannah” reads the last line of the press communiqué. That is the official elegy for the three-year old Burhan, who was killed in his father’s lap the other day in a village near Sopore. I, quite frankly, had pledged to tear myself away from whatever keeps happening in our neck of woods on a day-to-day basis and instead keep my focus entirely on some creative endeavors that I am undertaking but the senselessness of it drags you right back in. There is no escaping this.

By now I’m utterly convinced that we inhabit a very broken world. Those who perhaps took a call to bump off the kid’s father might not have anticipated the new situation but the wickedness of Kashmir’s dirty wars is such that anything goes. There would be condemnations and the press will run a few stories and then it is back to square one. The debate on beef shall resume.

Here is the catch though: As a society we fail to understand that something profound is happening to us. We think, Oh! As long as we are in our comfort zones — in our big brick-and-glass-homes, as long as it is some poor kid in the countryside, it is perhaps OK. Can’t happen to us, for sure. The problem with this sort of logic is profounder than what we might even anticipate. Our complacency clearly points to something deeper. At an emotional level we have ceased to be tender, to be human.

It does not require telling but we need to do more than express cynicism. Yes, life must go on but what we must not fail to remember is that empathy is the most essential characteristic of a civilization. The silk carpets in our homes, our shiny new roofs or our new-found fascination for full-length beards don’t necessarily make us cultured. We must instead ask ourselves why is this happening to us, to our future?

Most of this talk around ‘unidentified’ and ‘identified’ is bunkum. We are politically intelligent enough to understand who pulls the trigger. The slaughter and hard knocks have gone on for too long. And it has taken the shape of what wise people call reductio ad absurdum. How can we allow this to be carried on to such an absurd extreme? How can toddlers be allowed to become casualties in some senseless agency warfare?

And then we have the gall to wish everyone ‘heaven’. Let’s not blame the CM or our pro-freedom ideologues but honestly this entire concept of martyrs at pearly gates and paradise’s milky streams has gotten a little daffy. Life is precious, especially if it is a three-year old’s and does not deserve to be snuffed out anywhere — neither on a Turkish beach nor in a Kashmiri village. Burhan must have been allowed to live and wonder. He must have been allowed to see the world, explore and make his own mark. His killing — any innocent’s killing — is not normal. It must make everyone — our political class across the board, our citizenry, everyone — intellectually and morally uncomfortable.

That discomfort is humanity. Let’s not lose it.


Toon: Suhail

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

When Nature strikes

Destruction, hence, like creation, is one of Nature's mandates.
~Marquis de Sade, French thinker

Something is really the matter with our world these days. Heavens are refusing to let up. There is water everywhere in Kashmir. April used to be an utterly pleasant time, as far as I can remember, but not anymore. These days everyone and his uncle is watching over the flood gauge at Ram Munshi Bagh. Sure, there used to be rain earlier too but fear seldom prefixed Jhelum.

Carrying their big black umbrellas, people used go about work gingerly in Duckback shoes in those years. You would still find laborers, with inverted burlaps on their heads, waiting to be picked up in Lal Chowk. Women would usually make razma at home, which somehow, almost magically, tasted better with hot rice and pickle, during rains. Not anymore. Looks like the idea of a romantically wet spring is lost.

These days with the first hint of rainfall, everything goes under. Water has replaced CRPF men -- with twirled moustaches -- in our nightmares. May it be that we have entered into a phase of collective fear-psychosis, exacerbated by social media? Sadly one of the downers of living in information age is that bad news travels fast. Good news is like that tortoise in Aesop's Fable. Rumors run like hare in Kashmir.

Unfortunately there is no Omar Abdullah to blame this time. The new dispensation stays away from social media as if it were plague. One has to make do with the good old Radio Kashmir for its calm and sedate updates about the unfolding flood situation. Apart from putting out reliable information, they play good music too. It is only during political broadcasts that something happens to them. Suddenly they become government parrots.

Jokes apart, this is about serious stuff. Forget about finding faults with the government. With hardly enough money to pay salaries to its employees, where is the money to upgrade the infrastructure? Authorities do have responsibilities, loads of them, but people need to soul-search. Temperamentally we are a knee-jerk nation. In a super panic-mode right now, a month down the line, when the rains stop and situation stabilizes, everything will be conveniently forgotten.

The focus -- to upgrade our disaster management system and fix the shaky infrastructure -- is likely to waver. Everyone will basically continue with making new homes, railway tracks would be cut through natural barriers, flood channels would be encroached upon, wetlands will keep shrinking, pilgrims will ride in hundreds of thousands to glaciers and sewage will continue to fill up Dal. This shall continue till it rains again and suddenly we would be jolted into thinking that we might all sink. Over again.

How long shall we keep fooling ourselves? Every time I fly to Kashmir, the widespread disfiguration of its landscape astonishes me. It is a shame that hillocks in Srinagar should be blasted away to make way for more quarry sites and concrete structures should come up on ridges in the countryside. When we fell trees indiscriminately, crazily, the soil is bound to slip some day. And lo and behold, it is slipping now.

Nature, for which we often pat ourselves in Kashmir, has destructive powers. The same Jhelum, our lifeline since ages, can carry away structures poorly equipped to withstand its might. Bridges, houses, trees, and cars can wash away like detritus in its ferocious waters. The erosive force can easily drag dirt from under shaky foundations. Our homes, along with our greed, can quite easily take a tumble.

We must wrap our heads around the fact that we cannot afford to screw with nature because if we do that nature often has a very strong comeback. Disasters, lets not forget, are divine interventions in disguise. We, the people, are both the cause and the remedy.

Lets fix us.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Arnoub, Alam and other Amusements

It appears that Arnoub Goswami, India’s insulter-in-chief, is getting more converts than poor Mother Teresa could ever dream of. Every single night, day after day, this outgrown schoolboy invites guests to his high-decibel show, only to put them out of countenance.

One wonders if there is wisdom in accepting an invite from a somewhat bizarre host, if you know that he might spit in your coffee. Still people flock to him. Whoever said that ‘sensation’ is intoxicating must be bestowed an Order of the Night Hour.

Not surprisingly, the very mention of the word Kashmir sends Arnoub on a hallucinatory trip, as if he was a grumpy farmer and Kashmiris, collectively, have stolen his cow. So this past week the insulter-in-chief was besides himself, delirious with rage, because Masrat Alam, a Kashmiri separatist leader happened to complete his jail term.

Along with his flunkey, a very sad-looking gentleman called Maroof, the anchor drowned his guests, as usual, in tons of pure nonsense. They got a hasgtag #ProPakCM trending on Twitter India. In the end the only take-away was this: If Arnoub has verbal diarrhea, Maroof has got mental diarrhea.

Since Kashmiris have forever romanticized anything that exhibits a degree of nuisance value, his show is a hit in the valley. Recently on a press trip to the island of Cyprus, I instinctively asked the concierge if they get Times Now in the hotel. ‘What is that, sir? A monthly magazine on watches.’

I smiled at the chap, who perhaps grew up around the Mediterranean Sea, and imagined him in front of India’s judge, jury and executioner – all rolled into one. “What? You don’t know Times Now. Isn’t that an insult to 1.2 billion Indians and viewers in 57 countries? You shameless little bugger. The nation demands that you should be lynched. Right away.”

Everyone watched in amusement as the anchor grilled, first a somewhat uneasy Zafar Mehraj of the PDP, and then Haseeb Drabu, J&K’s Fin Min, the next day. Both gentlemen tried to reason, unsuccessfully, with a man who has built an edifice of bullshit and who regularly talks down to people from its putrid balconies.

It is almost comical how he pontificates unsuspecting people not to get ‘worked up’ after launching a tirade against them. It is akin to someone dragging the ‘freedom of expression’ by its pigtails to the attic and molesting both freedom and expression, while a highly aroused audience watches on. Like reality TV on Viagra. Only that the host himself is a dick here.

As if we didn’t have a million worries already, now we have an ex-top cop, known for his notorious policing ways, saying that he was asked to ‘bump off’ Masrat way back in 2010. Strangely, the busy handle that just doesn’t stop tweeting, has fallen silent since yesterday. Let’s just hope, for the sake of Dastageer, that the Nuisance Merchant at Times Now doesn’t speak before our ex-CM does.

@Mini blogs

Friday, February 27, 2015

Love in the times of swine flu

These days nothing much happens to the liking of Kashmiris. There is swine flu in Srinagar and no one has a clue why. If that is not a worry big enough, those juvenile Pakistani cricketers are not helping with their lousy performance Down Under. Anxiety levels are up. For the first time ever – since Kalhana wrote Rajtarangni – more people are buying tobacco than mutton. This is bloody alarming.

Disappointment comes to Kashmir like Omar Abdullah’s tweets. Those thousands upon thousands who defied old boy Geelani, the padre of resistance, and came out in droves to vote during pre-winter assembly elections, were faced with a big downer aka fractured mandate. In a major what-the-hell scenario, they were to soon learn that Mufti Mohammad Sayed, the ageing groom from Bijbehara, is to take Narendra Damodardas Modi of Vadnagar, in a political marriage.

No, Modi’s sense of fashion didn’t steal any hearts here (he scores self-goals on that count anyway by wearing silly pinstriped dresses); it was the months-long courtship that surprised everyone. While everyone tried to discourage Mufti and Co from wooing the wrong set of people and notwithstanding some serious trolling by Omar, nothing could stop the inevitable. The wedlock has happened. In a few days we will have the PDP walking down the aisle with BJP.

In a comical anticlimax of sorts, the same mademoiselle, who was supposed bring bad luck to the household, became the bride. Kashmiris, by and large, are witnessing the celebrations with a ring of consternation and amusement. When I asked a senior PDP neta over phone the main reason for this liaison, pat came the reply: ‘Marriage is the only war in which you sleep with the enemy’. One cannot completely disagree with the wisdom, at least figuratively.

True the two creatures – PDP and BJP -- have very little in common (South Pole and North Pole, confesses the groom). While the former peddles a mild strain of soft-separatism in Kashmir, the latter has a pan-India presence, thanks largely due to a very shrill form of nationalism that is somewhat antithetical to all things Hum Kya Chatey. It would be interesting to see how, and by what alchemy, will Mufti Sayed manage this alliance. After all persuading Kashmiris to dip the nib of their collective fate in saffron ink (incidentally in a green inkpot) is no mean feat.

Coming back to the wedding, ofcourse like all weddings in the subcontinent there is an exchange of dowry, give-aways and largess involved in this one too. In plain speak it is called quid pro quo. Basically both the bride and the groom have agreed to behave and shall not bitch about each other (and the in-laws) on complicated stuff like Article 370, AFSPA and the like. Self-rule and other such romantic talk will be considered kid stuff henceforth.

The famous Kashmiri custom of flattery is expected to kick in any day now. Muzzafar Baig, who once unsuccessfully attempted to save Maqbool Bhat from the gallows, has already started quoting Syama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder of Jan Sangh. Who would have thought that those promising us autonomy and self-rule would one day deliver sermons in the name of those who would deny us those very freedoms?

Meanwhile having perfected the art of not speaking out of turn, unlike his detractors who talk nineteen to a dozen, Mufti will –- in all probability -- try to recreate that Midas touch, variously called healing touch, that he is famed for. Now that he has trucked with an incredibly influential set of people, one should expect some of the dowry to be used in our neighborhoods.

Known to throw lavish wazwans, where local journalists are also invited, Mufti has finally ascended the throne that evaded him all along. Even as guests struggle to dichotomize tabakmaz at his grand feast, the wizard of Bijbehara will have little respite. He shall constantly be on the look, cautiously tiptoeing the jungle, making sure that the witches and werewolves on prowl don’t mix his drinks.

If Amit Shah be the djinn, Mufti is the peer.