Sunday, September 28, 2008

An evening with the inimitable Cat

Yusuf Islam -- formerly Cat Stevens -- king of pop in the 1970's plays out live on BBC4. A soulful, exhilirating and touching rendition. Encore!

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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.


Monday, September 15, 2008

City city, bang bang

Saturday, Sep 13 five bombs went off in quick succession in Delhi – India’s quintessential capital. It was a coordinated mayhem and immediately left a wake of destruction. The blasts shattered the vibrancy of a city – known for its panache. The famous hustle halted briefly as people bled on her many avenues. Terrorists who carried out the attack had chosen the venues chillingly well: Upscale markets, peak-hour metro station, lawns at the weekend India gate. The intent was clear and deadly: Maximum damage to a completely innocent bunch of people, who have nothing to do with either hate-politics or whatever shit ideology these stupid guys harbor.

This is anarchy. Terror has come to haunt us in a city – which is not only the political and administrative capital of India but also a city chock-a-block with history and heritage. I thought it won’t happen here. Not in Delhi. I thought the city was always in a state of high surveillance. One could have been forgiven to believe that Delhi was a boisterous and chirpy town and nothing dreary will ever pass by it. Alas we were to be proven wrong. Some dirt-bags had other sinister plans. They attempted to blow up the city – along with the pluristic values, the joy, the commotion that we take so forgranted in everyday life. Need I add, they failed miserably.

I have been living in this metropolis and the city seems to have grown on me. It is huge and haphazard – and humid these days -- but it allows you a freedom that is so beautiful. It emancipates you and liberates you from wherever you come from. Like all great cities of the world it opens its heart to you and makes you its very own. Its airs still carry the scent of a million dead poets. Delhi is the very idea of diversity and survival. The indomitable spirit of the city is, simply put, overwhelming.

I was happy to read that Delhi Metro resumed services soon after the blasts happened and people came back to the markets that were bombed the previous evening. Complete strangers ferried the wounded to hospitals. A concert was called off and the audience rushed to donate blood. The resilience was touching, so was the spirit of the city of Djinns.

I hope the cruelty that was inflicted on this city is defeated by its people.

I want the poetry back in her airs. And pronto


Thursday, September 04, 2008

Adieu Pervez

This past August, things got so out of hand in Kashmir that one watershed event went almost unnoticed. Musharraf exited as Pakistan’s most controversial, candid and colorful president ever. I don’t wish to write a political elegiac for him but I’ve no qualms in saying -- that although not without his own set of flaws -- Musharraf was an out-right liberal who not only popularized out-of-the-box political thinking but turned out to be more democratic than most of Pakistan’s present crop of leaders.

It is no secret that Mush took power in a coup and some of his policies -- like exiling the tough-nut Punjabi Nawaz or taking on the tribal chief justice Iftikar --were blatantly autocratic. However Musharraf lorded over a nation of 170 million believers in a post 9/11 world with such prudence that it won’t be wrong to say that he dragged Pakistan back from the brink of militant frenzy. Mush paved the way for the entry of private media in Pakistan. From one state run TV station, when he took power, Pakistan now has 50 independent media houses. Ironically all of them now bad-mouth the man, who gave them the medium to speak.

Pervez made genuine peace moves with India like no Pakistani politician. He came to Agra and wooed the Indian media. Mush, much to the chagrin of the hard-line elements both in Pakistan and Kashmir, proposed to deliberate on the Kashmir issue with a new mind-set. Borders with India saw a never before lull as skirmishes fell to a naught. He not only ensured but sincerely adhered to a cease-fire with India. Since the new government has come into being this year, Pakistan has returned to its old naughty ways, and if we go by recent news, the return of democracy in that country has seen a return of cross-border firing and major disturbance in Kashmir.

Mush banded with the US in the war on terror. Though a loaded political term, given the terror Americans export to other parts of the world, Mush’s war on the extreme elements in his country did keep them on a tight leash. The support to US brought him doles of aid and much needed assistance for infrastructure projects in Pakistan. He threw the fundamentalists out of Islamabad’s Red mosque and tried to police the tribal bad-lands, though without much success. This made him many enemies, who attacked with him an increased ferocity each time. Mush survived every attempt like the proverbial cat of nine lives. The half-salutes and chutpah almost never stopped.

The new-found confidence of the Pakistani middle-class can safely be alluded to Musharraf’s bold liberal economic policies. Together with his technocrat prime minister Shaukat Aziz, he led the average Pakistani to newer pastures. The country’s economy grew by a record 7%. Foreign investment grew by leaps. Pity, no one remembers Mush for the gratuity. Pakistan very much remains a land of vendetta where you are often remembered for your trivial mistakes and not for the larger good. Mush is its latest victim.

His downfall began the day Benazir was killed on his watch. Mush should have been more watchful but fate is an inscrutable bird. Benazir was a huge huge leader. I knew, as I posted shortly thereafter, that Musharraf’s days are numbered. He tried to play his cards safe but ultimately they brought him down along with his fearless, stylish, winsome ways.

Now we wait for Benazir’s crooked husband to be crowned the new king. He is an old corrupt playboy. Pakistani ruling class is, notoriously, showy and shallow. Nawaz is no different. Already there are fissures in the coalition government. Suicide bombings continue. Islamists are grinning. The Americans are keeping up the pressure. The PM’s car was fired at yesterday. Anarchy reigns. Pakistan style!

Musharraf, my fave soldier, will know.