Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Amusing Kashmir

Kashmir never fails to amuse me. It is a pixilated piece of paradise.
I was there last month and couldn't help pick some of the oddity out. It appeared peculiar -- and weird -- amidst frenetic slogans, calling for freedom [Azadi]. The phenomenon seems to have cropped up during the last few years and it has become so routine now that the locals either don't mind it or have become too familiar with the sheer absurdity of it.

Lights on syndrome: Call it an original Kashmiri invention or a local compulsion. Whenever a groom goes to collect his bride these days in Kashmir, all cars in the wedding party put their parking lights on. That’s when they are driving! It goes like a rule. An unwritten one. ‘Helps identify the wedding party cars’, goes a standard explanation. It is fun, goes another one. Not to be left behind, the army too has joined the silly party. There is an exception though. The military trucks keep the Head-lights on -- in broad day light!
Now no one really knows why?

We don't care two hoots: There is pan-Islamism in air. We know that such winds are currently blowing in many Muslim lands but nowhere in the world will billboard size posters of polemical Islamists be put up so non-chalantly. I saw a life-size portrait of Hassan Nasrallah -- chief of Hezbollah [a much feared chap in the western capitals] -- firmly pinned to a canopy of green trees near a Shiite village on the national highway, leading to Baramulla. It looked like a permanent feature to me. One thing to like a much controversial resistance leader and another thing to eulogize him!

I want my own concrete: They all want their own slice of concrete in Kashmir. A separate home, complete with a lawn, a red roof [a fast picking phenomenon] and a brick fence. And everywhere you look around in the urban and not-too-urban areas, construction is going on in full swing. Houses are coming up at an amazing rate. As a result agricultural land is fast shrinking. It will soon resemble a concrete jungle. I was recently reading that Kashmir cannot produce enough food to feed itself now. No wonder! They all want exclusive homes. Damn the food and fields.

Meat till I drop: A wedding in Kashmir is nothing but food. Organizers run helter skelter to ensure that there is no stone left unturned for a grand feast. People just wait to eat. There is not much entertainment except for some moments when you briefly catch up with an old friend or an acquaintance. A troupe of wazas [chefs] usually does the cooking in the backyard, which becomes the ground zero of the wedding. Everyone pays at least one visit to see the open-air experimentation with mutton. Then a food extravaganza begins. It never ends.

We have a point: Creativity is at a huge premium in Kashmir. Most business establishments have names that border on funny to comical. One recurring note is ’point’. Almost every fifth or sixth shop is some point. It could be cool point, in case of a soft-drink store or an ice-point, in case of a ice-cream corner. There is a strange affinity with these points. There are print-points, pool-points, fitting-points and the list goes on.

Our national carriage: I have rarely seen a dumper outside Kashmir. I don’t know why TATA makes these monsters and dumps them in Kashmir. The natives call them tippers, which is not an incorrect usage. It is slightly archaic. And dumpers are eye-sores. Usually a garish orange or ugly maroon, the dumper drivers drive as if they are on perpetual dope. Most road accidents are caused by these vehicles, which needlessly outnumber other modes of material transportation in Kashmir. I so hate them.

Living away from Kashmir has its own perks. One is able to go back in a while and look at all the change and metamorphosis that the place undergoes. Some of which is for good and some -- not surprisingly -- plain kooky.

Kashmir, with all its oddity, is fascinating. May be because it is home.