I saw a couple of my friends being asked to pay up or wait for ever -- for a routine -- and an otherwise simple errand. They eventually paid up. “Why, I asked them, do you have to grease their fat, grimy, religious palms?” This is a corrupt island, Sam, and everyone is expected to be complicit here and if you dare to think otherwise, they simply push you into the sea, I was coldly told. The sea, may I add, is deep and dark and no one ever emerges from it.
There are no big fish to carry you on the back either. The age of innocence and lore is bygone. Welcome to the corrupt island.
Three things are very evident in Kashmir. Bad roads, religious sermons and corrupt men. I don’t know if there is any connection between the three but I am sure that the roads have been planned pre-1947 and have not changed since. The tribal raiders [who attacked Kashmir, along with Pak army regulars in October 1947] took the same roads. They are narrow, pot-holed [big enough to keep an MLA in each one of them] and jut out as perpetual eye sores.
The highways are no better. There are countless pockmarks. You can’t enjoy the scenery when every bone in you rattles by every pebble that jolts the wagon to the last frigging bolt. And I am not exaggerating. You can really keep an MLA in each one of those puddles and let them go only after they tell you the correct spelling of macadamization [Named after John Loudon McAdam, who pioneered the process of road macadamization].
Of course the Jazbe-junoon [Frenzy/nuttiness for freedom/whatever] is very alive. A clarion call from coordination committee [a gaggle of separatists, shopkeepers, advocates and the like] is good enough to get everyone rushing from behind their cedar tables in offices and shops onto the pot-holed roads. And there are slogans for Azadi [Freedom]. ’Ban-Ki-Moon visit Kashmir’…read a placard. I've studied bits of political realism. I know, for a fact, that the south Korean diplomat [and the UN boss] will never come to the valley. The good boy was put in the hot seat by Washington DC and London. Both 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and 10 Downing street won’t approve of Moon going on a Kashmir trip. For the while Kashmir has to suffice with the earth’s natural satellite and its reflection in the dirty water that collects in the big puddles on her many roads. Sad but realism, they call it.
I saw cops and armed troopers chasing stone throwing kids on the last Friday of my Kashmir holiday. Friday is a tough day for the police. They brace for the day in advance and oil their batons and get ready for battles that usually start just after the afternoon prayers. The kids [with the help of some adults] know the escape routes well and have their ammunition stocks [medium to small stones, bricks and slippers in jute bags] ready. One group carries these bags and positions itself at vantage points in the town. Another band, good at ‘kush’ [no transliteration: the closest would be a mix of sharp shooting and hightailing] fights the battle of wits. The teen-age crowd throws stones and used slippers at the cops and holler non-stop insults, interspersed with Azadi, Azadi. The police responds by lobbing tear-gas shells and an occasional bullet.
Two children [aged 14, 15] jumped into the Jhelum when cops tried to intercept them from both ends of the Sopore bridge. Luckily both survived and were quickly arrested. I saw a kid [aged 11] being dragged by two troopers. I reckon he was from the stone-throwing gang and couldn’t get away in time. I am sure they released him later and he lived on to fight another day. I am not too sure if he will ever learn to be cultured like the kids of the more fortunate.
Tales like these play out in Kashmir all the time. The less priveledged often take bullets for the elusive Azadi, in which [if it is ever granted] they will have no stake. The real stake-holders sit in drawing rooms, exchanging small-talk. The upscale crowd I know have stylish high-end phones that just don’t stop to trill. We talk about global financial instruments and they tell me if their investments are safe. They believe that Sarah Palin is hot and Zardari sucks. Occasionally they comment on the stone-throwing army. Intifada, I must admit, one fellow added, as he munched on roasted cashews. Yeah. They shot a kid in the right leg, last night, someone observed. The poor kid still had a rock in his left hand. By the way, Sameer, have you heard "You're Gonna Go Far, Kid" by The Offspring.
They rock, man.