Saturday, December 19, 2009

Yellow rice people

We have had fried rice culture in Kashmir much before the Chinese became rich. Taeher is rice, sprinkled with mustard oil and freckled with a lot of turmeric. Kashmiri women have forever distributed Taeher to the faithful, outside countless Astans [shrines/reliquaries] and graveyards. I remember running as fast as I could in my childhood to collect a handful of the sticky yellow rice, generously strewn with golden brown onions. There would be a million random reasons why Taeher was offered to neighbours, friends and bystanders: A birth in the family, someone getting a job or simply Dastageer Sahib’s day [Abdul Qadir Jilani, lovingly called Dastageer Sahib, lived from 1077-1166, was a Persian saint who never visited Kashmir and yet we adore him].

We are a very natural people. We have these large barns of rice that we devour in decent amounts. Rice is well stocked in every Kashmiri family by fall. Crops when mowed down are collated beautifully in small hut like formations. Thea-per. Our meal. Threshing completed and husking done, the rice grains, heart like, light, crisp and razzmatazz, are barreled. And then it may snow over and the ever-leaking Jawahar tunnel may close on us and the only airport in Kashmir may appear deserted, we don’t give a damn. As long as there are endless degchis [cauldrons] of Taeher.

[Makhdoom Sahib, courtyard corner]

On rough-hewn stone stairs leading to the mausoleum of Makhdoom Sahib, also called Sultan-ul-Arifeen [king of knowledge], people can be seen divvying up Taeher to the pilgrims. The trek to the top of southern side of Kastoor pind is about 90 stone stairs from the north [Bashi Darwaza end] and about 127 from south [Kathi Darwaza end]. Makhdoom Sahib, for the uninitiated, was born to a Rajput landlord family some 500 years ago in Tujar, near Sopore. They say no one goes hungry from the mystic’s abode in Srinagar. Cinnamon color sparrows can be seen feeding on Taeher crumbs along the flight of stairs.

We are a hugely exuberant people also. In the decade of 90s we suddenly rebelled. Like March of the penguins, we poured out on the alleys, in the countryside and in the hills. Hundred thousand, two-hundred thousand. Hollering loud. Singing songs of the revolution. Women would pack Taeher in polythene bags and throw it into the crowds. People partook of the offering, readily. Azadi [Freedom] hovered above, like tumble-weed clouds. We were told later that it was mass hallucination.

As 2009 fades, serious things continue to happen to us. We handle them with such lightness that evokes Chaplin. The conflict years have seared the collective consciousness of a generation and as we try to emerge out of it, the scars remain. Yet there is laughter shining in people’s eyes. I met this very chirpy boatman in Srinagar, this time around, paddling at the putrid waters of Dal, singing in atmospheric, whisper style Kashmiri. ‘What do you do Chacha, I asked, when there are strong currents in the lake?’ He raised his oar high in the air and held it in both his hands above his head. ‘Ya Peer Dastageer’, he replied in a soul-baring way.

We continue to be such simple Taeher people.


Monday, December 14, 2009

A week in Srinagar

Text and images: Sameer

It was cold as St Andrews Day winds. From inside the plane the cops on the tarmac appeared pink-nosed. They had condensed necks. The paramilitary men, who quickly take positions along the aircraft as soon as it taxies, shriveled. The outside temperature was barely 6 degrees centigrade, which without any heating systems in Kashmir – barring Hamams that the well-heeled have -- is darn cold. As I deplaned, a light icy feeling of abandonment crossed me. There is always something bittersweet about home coming.

As a rule night comes early to Kashmir. I woke up to a nippy Eid morning. It gladdened me that Geelani was in town, and he, like me, had chosen home [read Sopore] for Eid. I mostly get to read his reactionary stuff in the online variants of Srinagar-based English dailies. Nothing beats the thrill of listening to him in person – all shrill and sound and fury. I know most of what he is says sounds dated and obsolete now but I love the finality with which he says it. Mirwaiz doesn’t even come close. Omar will take a lifetime to get there.

Our political leadership [separatist/mainstream], much on the lines of the Pakistani ruling class – and so unlike Indian politicians – are extremely well turned out. They dress smartly, like film stars. Geelani wears long chesterfield overcoats, paired with chequered mufflers, usually contrasted and a nice felt cap. His beard is nicely clipped and grey. Mirwaiz has a stunning collection of designer Pathani dresses and rug caps. Trendy eye-glasses often compliment his jaw line beard. Yasin, our homemade socialist, has a weakness for dark Kurta-pajamas. Embroidered shawls usually drape his frail frame. Not to be left behind most adjuncts and second rung leadership follows the fashion quotient.

And November welded into December and newspapers were suddenly replete with ads and stories in the run up to Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s birth anniversary. The Sheikh’s grandson – cover boy for December in the men’s fashion mag GQ – had promised government jobs and other fringe benefits to the natives on the occasion and everyone was eagerly expectant. In Srinagar, the old patriarch Sheikh smiled to his people from the life-size billboards patched across the city. Nearly three decades after his death, nothing much has changed.

[The patriarch laughs]

The night before Omar was to make the grand announcement, flanked by his party confreres [their highnesses, the ubiquitous duo Ali Sagar and Nasir Sogami], someone decided to attack a very fine gentleman, one who always wears a Pheran. Fazal Haq Quereshi, the original rebel and Al-Fatah founder in Kashmir [who made ‘underground’ a household term in the 1960’s] was hit/shot at/clubbed. I was sitting with a bunch of journalists amidst coffee and smoke when texts started to pour in. Suddenly everyone was animated. It was news-night.

On a balmy, cold morning NC workers were chart-wheeled to the tomb of Sheikh Abdullah at Hazratbal. The place looked like a Communist International, with the distinctly red NC flags strung on everything from iron grilling to lamp posts. There was much jostling. In other part of the city – Rajouri Kadal – protestors gathered outside the Mirwaiz manzil [old home of the Mirwaiz] to burn, yes you guessed it right, old bus tyres. Only God knows how many tyres have we burnt in the last two decades? Imagine the CO2 emission. In an era of intense global warming debate.

[Gangs assemble for Kani-jung]

I had Harisa with pals – at a stone's throw from the stone throwers. The intrepid Harisa-seller had very cleverly downed the greasy shutters and we had to literally slither into the mutton-fume-filled shop for a bite. Harisa is like Marijuana. The spices in the meat porridge come together [It tastes heaven] and explode in your head. You feel giddily replete. People speculate who shot Fazal Sahib. There are claps by the Dal bank, near the Sheikh’s concertina insulated mausoleum. Old city is sore. The contrasts stay. Have stayed forever.

[Concertina to protect the Sheikh's last abode]

[The dope den: Harisa shop]

Friends had invited Terra Naomi, an Alternative and rock star to perform in Srinagar. I sat through some of the ideation process. ‘Let’s print car bumper stickers, I opined’. She was to sing to draw the attention of world leaders towards the fast melting glaciers of Kashmir, a source of water to most of the sub-continent. Newspapers [Urdu as well as English] continued to call her YouTube sensation, irking me a great deal. An old man, with Chinese ear-muffs, clearly confused, was heard asking a passerby:

Ye Kahaz Gov you toop. [What’s you tube?]
He thought the government is asking people to switch over to tube-lights.

You killed the joke, tube light.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

The great climate debate

Even as the United Nations Climate Change Conference gets underway at Copenhagen, Climate Change Deniers are losing their sleep. Expectedly so. The well-heeled Climate Change Denier Industry – also called Global Warming Skeptics -- has a history of insomnia. One such influential band is the Global Climate Coalition, which represents ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, the American Petroleum Institute and several big motor manufacturers. In 1995 the GCC’s own panel of scientists turned renegade and stated that ‘the scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied.’ Expectedly GCC worked overtime to hush the matter up. They didn’t stop at that and spent millions to convince people that just the opposite was right.

The most credible body tasked by the UN to evaluate the risk of climate change is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The panel elucidates in its last major environment report that ‘it is more than 90% likely that humankind is largely responsible for the modern-day climate change’. Notwithstanding the fact that the Earth's climate has always changed naturally over a period of time the main cause of anthropogenic (human-made) climate change is burning fossil fuels – that produces carbon dioxide (CO2). The carbon dioxide in turn compliments the CO2 already present in the Earth's atmosphere, trapping more of the Sun's energy, thereby warming the Earth's crest. IPCC bases its assessment majorly on peer reviewed and published scientific literature.

Back in Copenhagen, much has been made out of the nearly 1200 limos and 100 private planes used to ferry the delegates. The very premise of this argument is silly. The expenses for transportation for more than 20,000 people coming in from all over the world, if compared to the consumption of a densely packed urban center of 140,000 people -- who aren't traveling -- is simple: 5% of those dignitaries from 120 nations will make use of the limos while 95% of the visiting dignitaries WON’T be riding in limos? And how many cars they use at the Climate Change Conference is going to be absolutely inconsequential in comparison to any final binding agreement they might make. This is painfully obvious.


The ongoing din (suddenly ratcheted up) is a very clever ploy employed by the Deniers to belittle any possible outcome at Copenhagen. They cherry-pick personal e-mails, misrepresent data and cut off graphs before their curves become inconvenient. There are special interest groups at work with marked financial interests who pay to misrepresent the scientific consensus on climate change. And they sound increasingly like the Tobacco lobby. In 2006, The Guardian reported:

‘There are clear similarities between the language used and the approaches adopted by Philip Morris and by the organisations funded by Exxon. The two lobbies use the same terms, which appear to have been invented by Philip Morris's consultants. "Junk science" meant peer-reviewed studies showing that smoking was linked to cancer and other diseases. "Sound science" meant studies sponsored by the tobacco industry suggesting that the link was inconclusive. Both lobbies recognized that their best chance of avoiding regulation was to challenge the scientific consensus. As a memo from the tobacco company Brown and Williamson noted, "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.’

When the evidence doesn’t fit, the skeptics go, the scientists edit the evidence. This is a typical anti-science stance. As a matter of fact scientists correct their results from time to time when new evidence comes to light. The recently hacked emails should be a case in point. With no interest in establishing the truth about global warming, the Deniers insist that one or two odd lines of personal correspondence are just enough to destroy the entire canon of climate science. That is a far cry from truth. The emails in question cannot be de-contextualized and presented as the Final Judgment. Here’s why:

One of the supposedly most damning quotes from the CRU Hack “scandal” is:

“I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” Phil Jones

Before the laity is drowned in lengthy denunciation of the ‘rouge’ scientist’ and his gall to HIDE stuff to prove his point, let it be known that every profession evolves a specialized vocabulary. Two medicos exchanging correspondence will understand much more about what is being said and meant than someone else, even if that other person knows all of the vocabulary. Top reason why most scientists are spectacularly unimpressed with the emails’ leak. As a thrown in, Trick here means technique. (For example trick of the trade).


The scientific conclusion behind the climate change debate is very clear: What drives climate change is a variation in the earth’s orbit around the sun over thousands of years. In a normal warming cycle the sun heats the earth, the earth gets hotter. The ocean warms up resulting huge amounts of CO2. This creates a greenhouse effect that makes warming much more intense. That is why humankind’s release of CO2 is so perilous. We are out of step with the natural cycle.

Jeff Severinghaus, Professor of Geosciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California lucidly explains what the lag of CO2 behind temperature (a charge Deniers often invoke) in ice cores tell us about global warming.

‘At least three careful ice core studies have shown that CO2 starts to rise about 800 years (600-1000 years) after Antarctic temperature during glacial terminations. These terminations are pronounced warming periods that mark the ends of the ice ages that happen every 100,000 years or so. Does this prove that CO2 doesn't cause global warming? The answer is no. The reason has to do with the fact that the warmings take about 5000 years to be complete. The lag is only 800 years. All that the lag shows is that CO2 did not cause the first 800 years of warming, out of the 5000 year trend. The other 4200 years of warming could in fact have been caused by CO2, as far as we can tell from this ice core data. The 4200 years of warming make up about 5/6 of the total warming. So CO2 could have caused the last 5/6 of the warming, but could not have caused the first 1/6 of the warming.’

CO2 does not initiate the warmings, but acts as an amplifier. From model estimates, CO2 (along with other greenhouse gases CH4 and N2O) causes about half of the full glacial-to-interglacial warming. In modern industrial times, there is so much CO2 being independently emitted by human activity that the amplifying effect might simply overwhelm the other factors that otherwise cause the earth's temperature to fluctuate up or down.

There is talk now of imposition of a carbon tax to protect the environment by reducing emissions, helping to mitigate climate change. An alternative policy is a cap on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions [Cap-and-trade]. It is an endeavor to cap emission levels of GHGs and issue/auction permits (grandfathering) freely to polluters. Market may be allowed for these emission permits so that polluters can trade some or all of their permits with others. Infact both cap-and-trade and carbon taxes are intended to give polluters a financial incentive to reduce their GHG emissions. The main difference between them is that carbon taxes provide price certainty on emissions, while a cap provides quantity certainty on emissions.

Interestingly there is no evidence till date that the European carbon price affected their trade competitiveness. It has been more than 18 years since the Swedes established a carbon tax on energy consumption. Whenever skeptics claim the tax kills growth, its proponents whip out its track record: since the tax was introduced, Swedish greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by 9%, while the economy has grown by a whopping 48% since then. So this tax doesn’t slow growth in the least. It is not regressive.

The carbon tax has to be made revenue-neutral (for every dollar raised by a tax, an equivalent dollar is returned to consumers) to be effective. To illustrate this, in 2005, America’s richest 20% spent an average of $3,182 on gasoline, or 3.6 times as much as the $882 spent by the poorest 20%. So, although the poorest 20% of Americans spend a greater percentage of their income on carbon, they pay less overall and thus would receive more money back than they paid in carbon taxes. Except for those industries the tax is intended to raise prices for anyway, the effect is relatively small. A revenue-neutral carbon tax minimizes the effect even further because overall tax burdens would not rise. Unaccounted for in these figures are the costs companies would incur to shift away from carbon-intensive inputs. These costs can be passed forward to consumers. Those extra costs, however, will create jobs in new industries aimed at carbon reductions.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

History’s Stepchildren

The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice ~Mark Twain

When it snows in Europe at night, for centuries children have bunched up near fireplaces to listen to the Cinderella story from grandparents on a rocking chair. It is a classic folk tale about a stepchild – Cinderella -- whose attributes are neither appreciated nor recognized. And how she achieves success after long bouts of darkness. Near to home we have a similar tragic fairy tale unfolding in the absurdly beautiful twin valleys of Chenab and Peer Panchal -- the step-children in the chequered history of Kashmir.

The Muslim divisions of Jammu have become a mere oversight in the estimation of all wise men -- historians, journalists and intellectuals. They are lost in the loud chatter on Kashmir. Largely overlooked because of the tendency of academicians to concentrate on the Kashmir conflict, the people living amidst the magnificent fir and deodar forests of Chenab and Peer Panchal valleys have suffered too much for too long. Excluded from all public discourse, they are only in news because of deadly traffic accidents.

There is a little nugget of history to the disconnect. The LoC of 1949 vivisects JK roughly into two equal parts. India and Pakistan’s joint military conference sat in the July of that year to draw the line, on a simple rag of a map. The etchings, needless to add, still draw blood 60 years on. Out of six distinct geographically linguistic and cultural regions of the state, three [Baltistan, Muzaffarabad-Poonch and Mirpur] came into the hands of Pakistan. All predominantly Muslim. The territory of Poonch including outskirts of Poonch town fell on the Pakistan side while the town itself remained with India. Two million unheard voices continue to live in the truncated Chenab and Peer Panchal.

Chenab valley comprises of Ramban, Doda and Kishtwar on both banks of the river Chenab. Pir Panchal valley in located on the west-end of JK and includes Rajauri, Poonch and parts of Reasi, mainly Gool-Gulabgarh. These are thickly forested hills. The timber found in them is among the best in whole of Himalayas. Kistwar produces gemstones and better quality Saffron than Kashmir [All we remember them for are old hags, Pity!] Reasi is mineral rich with high grade bauxite, iron and copper. The walnuts of Doda have no takers. We have long discarded them.

Both Chenab and Peer Panchal valleys continue to grovel in darkness. That is a shame. They are our people in culture and faith. Most people in these valleys are Muslims and speak Kashmiri. And they continue to remain backward – economically, educationally and otherwise. The road infrastructure and the tourism infrastructure is the poorest in JK. Jammu, paradoxically, likes to lump these valleys [for their population] with it just to score brownies in that never-ending shallow provincial squabble with Kashmir. There is no real sense of affinity.

It is an administrative skew as much as it is political. Doda is like Kashmir in many ways than one. It receives snowfall during winters but schools are entitled to summer vacation and not winter vacation, because ‘administratively’ it forms part of the Jammu region. Politically the Muslims of Jammu favored independence during the heady days of Abdullah-I’s quit Kashmir flux -- in contrast to Sheri-Kashmir's clear tilt towards India. NC’s very genesis had been valley-centric, never finding a great foothold in Jammu. It does not come as a surprise thus that subsequent NC governments – as well as Congress administrations – stayed at best indifferent to Chenab and Peer Panchal valleys.

In olden times Rajauri was the capital of the Kashmir Kingdom that ushered in a halcyon and bountiful era. The Pakistanis, when they took control of the other half of Kashmir, quickly realized that among all Kashmiris -- Poonchis make the finest fighting material. They are hardened, driven and unbreakable folks. Yet our media rarely features them. The Hurriyet boss Mirwaiz graced Chenab -- last week -- for the first time ever. Meantime the government's blasé attitude continues.

We cannot afford to let them down. We cannot afford to let their history and heroes remain unsung. We must not let them fall through the cracks.

In the end Cinderella returned to the palace where she married the Prince. Time we hug our castaway brothers.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Harisa Times

We shall meet again in Srinagar,
By the gates of the villa of Peace,
Our hands blossoming into fists,
Till the soldiers return the keys and disappear

Agha Shahid Ali (1949–2001)
Kashmiri-American poet and intellectual

Time makes mini memories of everything. Suddenly it is winters and a sprinkle of fine snow has already fallen on Srinagar. Upon zero bridge. Across freshly harvested meadows. On the empty civil secretariat. The old quarters of the city, I can tell from memory, are enveloped by an early morning tang of Harisa this time of the year. [Harisa is an Arabic word that means -- to break into pieces -- but they have a separate chilly paste called Harisa in Tunisia and Algeria]. Ours is traditional spicy meat porridge -- steamed, sautéed, simmered and served piping hot. The conversation in the Harisa pind [similar to a Kashmiri bakery] is mostly bawdy and fair to middling. Drivers of MLA’s along with domestic helps of the Hurriyet leadership can be seen jostling for space. We like it oven-hot.

With the ministers gone, their more ambitious sidekicks get the ‘real stuff’ packed for their big enchiladas in Jammu. There are daily flights to the winter capital. Oh, I forgot, come early November, each year the annual march of lemmings begins. The Durbar [court/seat of government] moves. It is an absurdly futile practice started by the second Dogra feudatory Ranbir Singh in 1872. [Ranbir was knighted by the Brits and he married all of five times. Famous for gifting a Kashmiri shawl, with an intricate street map of Srinagar, complete with its alleys and bridges to the Prince of Wales, recognizing the suzerainty of the British crown]. 137 years ago, upon Ranbir Singh’s orders men and mules moved the Durbar because he couldn’t take the winter chill of Srinagar. It is 2009 and we continue to be dyed-in-the-wool status quoists.

On the Durbar move eve Omar wore a Karakul [Kashmir’s national hat]. It was a rain swept morning and he took salutes from smartly turned out armed police guards in the Jammu civil secretariat [The estates department of the state government, worked overtime to have everything in place, fresh paint, face-lifts and all -- well before D-Day]. However the name plates of ministers in Urdu outside their spruced up rooms in the civil secretariat had to be suddenly taken off when someone realized that the word ‘Huzur-e-Aala’ [His Excellency] was prefixed to their names. [Imagine Huzur-e-Aala Ali Sagar/Huzur-e-Aala Pirzada Mohammad Sayeed]. Like the durbar, some of Omar’s men exist only due to gratuitous compulsion.

The chief minister spoke with media outside the ho-hum Jammu secretariat. Omar makes all the right noises. Always. Statements of leaders in present day Kashmir are often crisp and self-righteous since people watch them live, making it impossible for them to resort to multiplicity of faces at Delhi, in Jammu and in Srinagar. Sheikh Abdullah had this privilege; Omar Abdullah can’t avail of it. He ended up disagreeing with a top army General, chief of the Northern Command, who dubs all protestors agitational terrorists. Madame Mehbooba sure must be sulking. Not the one to be left behind, expect a sensational press statement in the next few weeks.

Meantime the resistance is kicking the bucket in Kashmir. It is being kept alive mainly by inexplicit but bold defiance -- by a frail man advanced in age, who passes his time between audacity and house arrest. Timeservers masquerade as Kashmir’s intellectual brigade and watch from the ringside, occasionally passing a verdict. There is too much hate, too little accord and loads of double-dealing. We may be not bad as a people but we flunk miserably as a nation.

Early snow is an agreeably beautiful thought. Darn the climate changers.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Silence in the ranks

Ordinary people are for most parts silly. They don’t understand much. Economics. Electricity Distribution. Exchange rates. Hedge funds. State budget. Or Security. Only governments make sense of these things. The mobile phone, for most parts, a communication brick in your average Kashmiri pocket can pose a great risk.
It can jeopardize the plans of Indian army in Kashmir. When you have no clear understanding of how important a country’s internal security is, you can’t possibly argue such stuff. Hence mobiles shall be banned, henceforth.

Close to four million people may not be able to communicate now. That is but a small detail. When historians finally sit down to write the gold-colored history of Kashmir -- after the last rebel is killed in some encounter -- they shall mention [in sun-color ink] that four million Kashmiris stopped talking amongst themselves in the winter of 2009 because 800 rebels continued to hide behind the obelisks of the old mountains. How many nations can claim to go through pangs of such renunciation?

People will soon be struck dumb as the phones in their hands will no longer cheep [I can imagine the utter helplessness]. Lovers may not be able to whisper into darkness, holding the cell-phone at midnight, like the mitt of their beloved. Friends may be unable to plan the evening together. Parents shall never know the whereabouts of the college-going kid. And when that ubiquitous guest turns up suddenly while the hubby is still out, how does the lady of the house inform him: Maz Pava haz Unzo [Get some mutton]. Life was so much less complicated earlier.

Mobile phone. The 207th human bone. In Kashmir the extra bone shall be removed shortly. The policy mandarins in New Delhi are very wise men, apart from being grim. And they know one lesson by heart: Go forth and ban anything if you can’t fix it. Now if you are a democracy you can’t get away with imperial diktats, such as this, without reasoning it. Security reason. That trite, simple, user-friendly alibi. Period. Twenty thousand ordinary people, who lived off mobile business in Kashmir, shall go jobless. But people are mostly silly.

When no mobile towers existed, rebels, as early as the beginning of 90’s, were known to make use of new-age, highly advanced satphones.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Autumn Notes

It is the onset of autumn in Kashmir. Of all the seasons, I reminisce about fall, the most. In evenings, the Kangris [earthen pots, swathed in fine wickerwork] are out by now. We have historically been a lazy people. Kangri stands up for that tag. It warms the cockles of your heart. And keeps you glued to the carpet. Clutched inside a Pheran [another bliss cloak -- a loose, long, warm tunic], Kangri is to Kashmir what radiators and electric storage heaters are to Britain in winters. It can also be used as a projectile in case the powers-that-be show any disrespect. A million Sur-Kangris [Kangris, filled with hot, dark-teal ash] have been hurled at the army in the Kashmir edition of Jihad. Who dares call us unimaginative?

Around this time of the year in Kashmir the Oriental plane -- Chinar -- looks its best. Naked, it sheds its rusty foliage. The crisp orange leaves cover the landscape like one continuous Oriental rug. Amidst these settings envoys from New Delhi visited last week. India’s interior minister [Home minister] – the stern sounding PC, hair dyed and gaze flinty, too descended. Omar, the boarding-school educated CM played the perfect host. Many feasts and forethoughts later, the natives were informed that peace shall soon dawn upon them. After 62 long years. It is going to be unique. Sui generis. And it is going to come about quietly. Like the morning dew.

Though Farooq Abdullah [variously called gobar gas minister, an appellation that makes him mad a March hare] made some dissenting voices, by and large, the envoys from Delhi were pleased with Omar. He’s Kashmir’s prince charming. Affable, highborn, slightly condescending, tech-savvy, torch bearer. Kashmir’s Nehru. [One can’t help draw comparisons with several British commissions that used to come down to Delhi from London – pre independence India -- to declare: the native’s aren’t ready yet]. Madam Ambaki Soni enlightened us that everyone participated in the 2008 Kashmir assembly elections. Thank you, maa’m. Diplomas in French and Spanish apart [from Alliance Francaise, New Delhi and University of Havana respectively] and being friends with the High Command [read 10, Janpath; equivalent to Her Highness in imperial UK] – her understanding of the Kashmiri sentiment is quite noteworthy.

Alas there is a spoilsport too. This is an old gentleman with a grey beard who kills the joy of the ruling clique and their boot-lickers every single time. Without fail. He is a right-winger, who refuses to play ball. And he sneaks out of every possible cordon that is thrown around his home. [God knows how!] Once a favorite of Pakistan, he is now equally loathed by both India and its bête noire. With everyone – from the Mirwaiz to the rococo-like Lone – coming around, this conservative has stood his ground. Though hugely irrational at times [there are jokes about how he prefers a chicken meal in jail], Syed Ali Geelani has more credibility than all other troupers in the Kashmir theatre. He’s Kashmir’s Jinnah.

So autumn is here again. Mobile phones are going to be banned again. Omar will hold more Durbars [courts], reeking more of a medieval potentate every passing day [Can we do without the imperial, moth-eaten colonial nomenclature? How about Awami Milan [Interaction/Meeting]? Doctors and Transporters may join hands to not work. Both, effective healthcare and public transport is non-existent in Kashmir. Yet people have to be paid every second fortnight, reason why socialism never really works. On top of it Geelani has a new computation ready: The army has occupied upwards of 8 lakh Kanals [500 million sq yards] of prime Kashmir land. Vacate it now. We want to grow honeysuckle in it.

It is fall. The year's last, loveliest smile.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Obama is ennobled!

Every year the Norwegian parliament chooses five wise men to form the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. It is one of the world’s most secret societies and little is known of its modus operandi. All we know is that these old Nordic men shortlist five names for the Nobels fredspris, as the award is called in Norwegian. The shortlist is then evaluated by the Nobel institute, which has permanent members, mostly academics of repute with expertise in peace. This year Norway’s ex Prime Minister heads the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. And they put their heads together for endless hours to pick an individual for the huge honor whom they think ‘shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses’. Clearly George Bush II never stood a chance.

Come December 10 [death anniversary of Alferd Nobel, also the day UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948] US president Barack Obama will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, in presence of His majesty Herald V of Norway. The King is a cousin to Queen Elizabeth II. Being a great-grandson of Edward VII, Herald is technically in the line of succession to the British throne.
This winter he too shall clap for Obama.

The decision to give the award to President Obama has generated a lot of buzz. Broadly broken into three distinct categories, most people are expressing anything from a general bewilderment to dyspepsia. The first major group constitutes conservative Republicans, pink cheeked Fox News commentators, distempered neo-conservatives and the likes of Ms Palin with a Bible under their arms and Bush doctrine on their minds. They are visibly upset and bitter. And we know why. The second category is made up of amateur commentators, with little or no knowledge of international politics or critical faculties, who find it in-vogue to dislike anyone making sense and talking peace, however earnest the intentions. We live in silly times and all mutineer talk is hip. Open season.

The third chunk comprises of people, some genuine admirers of the Obama success story, who think the award is premature. Having shifted in my emotions, since I got a text informing me about the news, I have settled down in the last category. The Nobel Peace Prize has come a good three years early. It is hasty and a huge recognition, one that Obama could have perhaps done without, for the while. When the Europeans decided to prematurely anoint him and announced it in a much anticipated press conference in Oslo, I reckon, Obama was sleeping in DC and had no inkling of the great onus to come.

So why did the Nobel Prize Committee do Obama the honors? And so overearly? For starters the Peace Prize is always politicized. It has forever gone to unexpected men and women. Obama has been into his administration for just nine months. And though his vision for peace is earnest and mostly honest, he hasn’t achieved much in these past months. I think the Nobel Committee decided to give him the award anyway because of two major reasons:

A -- This is as much an award to a new America, lead by Obama, as a clear rebuff to George Bush II and his dork policies. May be an award in default to Barack for not being Bush. From a warmonger, whose mantra was kill, kill and kill till all those who disagree surrender and start to fear the world’s self appointed door keeper -- to a fresh hope, who is willing to engage with friends and foes alike. [In the first year of his presidency, Obama proposed holding talks about nuclear affairs with Iran, removing a precondition that Iran first abandon enrichment of uranium process. He scrapped a plan to deploy a missile-defence shield in Eastern Europe, which was seen as a clear provocation by Russia. There is a marked change of tone in America’s foreign policy. The speech given in Egypt in June 09 was an eloquent call for a new understanding between America and Islam. American policy towards small and repressive regimes, ranging from Myanmar to Cuba, has already shifted]

B – In essence, Obama was given the award more for what he stands for, and less for what he has achieved. That is a break from tradition, yes but diplomacy for peace is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population. Nobel Peace Prize is about facilitating that process. In lay terms, it boils down to this: Look here, Sir, we know you don’t yet have a clear policy on Afghanistan. Iran and North Korea continue to be dark spots. We also know that you haven’t been able to spell out lucidly your course about a Palestinian state till date. Yet we know in a world of ideologically intolerant positions, right wing lunatics, left wing clamor, turbaned fanatics and domestic depression, all we perhaps need is promise. For Peace.

The bar, for you, has been set high. Now Deliver, O.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

To Kill A Demon

You can’t be in Delhi and miss out on its myriad occasions of merrymaking. People from all over India inhabit this city. They make it one crazy, chaotic, chintzy city that wakes the dead. Bengalis play first fiddle. They love a fierce looking, multi-armed, lion-riding, wildly gesticulating mythical goddess called Durga. Last night she was worshipped in CR Park, Delhi’s very own miniature Calcutta.
I was invited to the spectacle.

I’ll be crisp. Myths don’t really excite me. I am however a huge habitué of culture and Bengali savoir-faire fascinates me great deal, much like their classical music which is more western than Indian. All entry points to CR Park were sealed. That did not prove to be a deterrent because I’d a media sticker on my car and a resident Bengali accompanying me. I drove in while hundreds of Achakan Pajamas and the Shamla Pugree wearing Bengalis walked to the Pandals [temporary structures where the goddesses are worshipped]

Devout men and Baluchari Sari clad women stood in serpentine queues waiting for their turn to get into the very elaborative Pandals. The workmen, I was told, labor throughout the year to make the statutes for the occasion. The virtuosos compete with each other to depict Durga -- in plaster of Paris -- attempting to slay the demon, Mahisashur [whose dad was a demon and mom a water buffalo – precisely the reason I detest mythology]. Since Mahisashur was a good guy to start with [hence blessed with the boon that no human could kill him] and became bad only later, the gods conspired to create Durga to finish him off.

CR Park, like 399 other spots in Delhi where the Puja is performed annually, was lost in noisy revelry. Children were jolly as sand boys, vendors shouted their wares, big bindi-ed women walked about talking hurriedly in Bengali and for once no one sold fish. If I had a sweet tooth I would have bitten into Shôndesh or an authentic Bengali Rôshogolla. I had neither. A fat little kid was scrunching something sweet, much to my chagrin.

Being influential helps. Always. We breezed though the security manned gates without having to bear the torture of standing in never-ending queues and got smuggled to a prime spot to witness a special dance [to please the goddess, I surmise]. Select boys and girls gamboled with open top earthen pots and burning coconut husk in it. If I recall well, they call it Dhunuchi. The drummers, called Dhakis, slowly accelerate the beats. Gradually the Dhunuchi dancers balance the earthen pots delicately in their mouths. Everyone swayed, I noticed. The priest, doing the sacred prayers, too gyrated.

Outside the Pandals it was almost carnival like. Everyone hopped, ate, clicked, queued, giggled as if tickled pink. There is a certain method to this shindig. I think in the end Durga does kill the demon. It was waxing moon, so the myth goes. It was half-moon last night.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kashmir diary: One year after Ragda

My mind had been imperceptibly wandering. I’ve been travelling recently, tanking up on a lot of innocent countryside gossip and also reading up quite a bit. If these are not alibis’ enough for my not been able to update my blog, I’ve another fish story. From time to time, I have this somewhat nonchalant urge to not write, as if attempting to rebel with this constant creative pow in me. Thankfully I am back in my element now.

I took a lot of mental notes which have now begun to mishmash in my head. Before it is too late to recollect [being a terribly forgetful chap], I shall jog my memory. Let us start on chipper notes. Cynicism can wait.

On a pleasant August noon, as the maroon sun shone in its relentless form, I along with a band of buddies set off for the hills of South Kashmir. Past caring, past peacock color fields prancing with the rice crop and past scent laden apple orchards, we trundled onto a secluded spot where fronds of shining mist greet you in a perpetual slow motion. We were met with an insane amount of traffic on our way [the cars have more than quadrupled in the last decade] as honks blared with mad abandon. Some geese scurried for cover. Apparently it was a holiday weekend, and I figured out, everyone wanted to holiday.

War-weary Kashmir was emptying out on Pakistan’s Independence day eve. To Pahalgam perhaps. Sixty two years is a long time to keep your fingers dipped in old wounds. While in Delhi that baritone intellectual Jaswant Singh was turning the Hindu rightwing cock and bull story on its head by declaring that Jinnah was a great bloke [which he sure was], and while Pakistanis sang their ‘qomi-tarana’ [national anthem] without having to fear Baitullah Mehsud for the first time in years, we drove on to the lush green woods of South Kashmir to camp, an act unthinkable of, only a decade ago.

My Kashmiri friends are very meticulous. They amaze me with their knowledge of camping tents and allied outdoor gear like gazebos, sun shelters and sleeping bags. Raj and Salus got down to pitch the NorthPole tents and in no time five all-weather tents were up, doors facing one another, high up in the hills of South Kashmir. A brook danced on cobbles nearby. Soon barbequing began in all earnestness and the fragrance of small mutton chunks, marinated overnight, spread. A local, in charge of the nearby fisheries farm, came over to inform us that the smell of meat in the wild may attract animals, especially bears. I knew this was the closest to real nature – virgin, dangerous and best that I could get to. And if ever I attempted to do a mini Bear Grylls [Conservative British politician Sir Michael Grylls and Lady Sarah Ford's son, famous for his Man vs. Wild TV series] this was my moment.

At dot eleven the sole lamp in the camping site [habituated by our five tents] went out. The darkness was the blackest I have ever seen. There was nary a bark except for the sound of clean water. The crackle of palsy laughter and the perpetual stream of gags, perhaps the only reassuring evidence that humankind still existed. In feeble candlelight [we had conveniently forgotten torches or battery operated lamps], more than 7,400 feet above the sea-level, many altitudes away from our loved ones, in the middle of an eerie pine forest, my band was digging up happiness.

I loved the chill that perforated me in a million places, notwithstanding my Puma light jacket. I smelled rain and before long a mizzle began, prompting us to scramble to our waterproof tents. Soon heavens opened up and it began to rain old women with knobkerries [clubs] as they say in Afrikaans. The patter of cold rain on my cozy tent was enlivening and something to die for. [I so love rains] Outside, the wind rustled in the woods, as though trying to speak someone’s name. Staccato lightening lit up the mountain silhouettes. No one really slept that night. We kept hollering at each other from inside our tents, completely transfixed by nature’s awe inspiring nocturnal display. Sleep came at daybreak.

We were awakened by the sweet tweedle of country birds. Like a childhood fairy tale. I ran, with others, to the adjacent stream, loud with the sound of cold water. Usually used to controlled showers in the confines of marbled wash-rooms, it was fun doing a balancing act in the glacial brook. We threw water at one another, we screamed at the top of our voices, as if trying to sing human hymns to the rainbow trout fish that kept plonking from time to time. I was entirely unaware of the sun tan I was getting. [Days later the first reaction from a pretty female journalist colleague at work was thus: Good to have to back, Samy. You look bronze. Were you holidaying in Greece?]

The outback was outstanding. We fetched groceries from a nearby tiny village. Since they didn’t expect a horde of mad boys to descend upon their languid three shop market and hence stocked no poultry, we were guided to a place they called Vayel City [City, in the hills, in a forest range, the guy must be bonkers I reckoned]. Well Vayel City proved to be no NYC. It was another piddly little village with seven shops. Luckily they had chicken. And the foul from Vayel City became our forest feast.

When you go red in the face and your eyes turn mild jade with glee, you know you are high. An olio of untrammelled nature, night long rain and beautiful pals is one such recipe. High up in the green hummocks of South Kashmir, I was spaced out because I’d all the three – a dale so beautiful that you’d think you are dead and this must be the phantasmagorical heaven, they speak of in the scriptures. A million globs of rain, like angel tears, coming tap-tap-tap, quenching our earthy lusts. And friends – you can never have enough of ‘em.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Omar: you don't hang boots in six months

We have had a lot of rulers in Kashmir – stupid, passionate, dimwits, charlatans and the like. Omar is by far the youngest and the most poignant. I must have come down heavy on him in some of my commentaries but that is mostly to do with a journalist’s prerogative to act as a societal/political watch hound. I have no qualms in saying that despite his many imperfections, the boy has his heart in the right place.

I know he fumbled many times -- in handling the Shopian episode, in getting the separatist leadership arrested and the like. He even exposed his lack of political correctedness on a few occasions when he prejudged things and stepped on gas, issues he could have very well skirted. Some ugly things happened under his watch. However to his credit he has been brutally honest in owing up to most of it.

Kashmir is never an easy fief to administer. There is a perpetual squeeze from Delhi. That lug from the centre is oft times too hard to withstand [journalists know that better than the laity]. Top of it a million mutinies are always brewing in the valley. Everything is a tinder box. A crime, a mere charge, a rumor. Doing a balancing act isn’t exactly easy.

I think leveling charges of Omar's involvement in the sex scandal -- by the opposition PDP -- was plain shallow. Muzzafar beg is a smart fellow, who took his Harvard law lessons seriously and along with Mehbooba makes quite a gang. Since Omar is essentially a well meaning guy, and doing reasonably well, these guys plotted his downfall. Hence a counterfeit charge.

So Omar, taking the bait and real hurt, gave an impassionate statement on the floor of the house -- to announce his resignation. People may call it histrionic but Omar is not Farooq Abdullah. His diatribe does sound immature and rather schoolchild type but he is not exactly melodramatic. He is politically immature though. You don’t drive to the governor’s lodge on a rainy day and wake the old bureaucrat up.

It would be fair to assume that given our current crop of mainstream leadership – NC, PDP, Congress – who are chiefly a crooked pile, Omar stands out. And not because he is Farooq Abdullah’s son, but because at heart he is a regular Kashmiri, emotional but upright. Yes he surrounds himself with bootlickers [did you see them falling over each other to stop Omar from leaving the assembly] but I must concede that he is a refreshing break from the past. And his offer to quit may well check mate the wily PDP.

I hope he continues.


[Blogged in a hotel lobby, in real quick time, as I wait for my chap to turn up]

Friday, July 24, 2009

A case for Kashmiri

Language is the spiritual exhalation of the nation.
~Wilhelm von Humboldt
Influential 18th century philosopher, academic, linguist and a great friend to Goethe

Pardon me for being a little indelicate here but I must confess that one of the worst things to happen to us in the last two decades is a steady erosion of our identity. We are losing our ability to converse in our mother tongue without actually feeling a modicum of guilt about it. Everywhere one looks -- in private schools and government offices -- Urdu has gained ascendancy. Doctors speak in Urdu, interspersed with bits of English. Journalists love to chatter in Urdu. The chief minister too is at home in Urdu, having stayed out of Kashmir for most of his adult life. Leave alone Srinagar, people in even small towns have started to encourage their children to converse in Urdu, insecure like the elite, who have long banished Kashmiri from their lives. Now we have Kashmiri columnists writing in the local dailies, pontificating the importance of Urdu.

Let’s get it straight here. Most Kashmiris speak a very Kashmiri variant of Urdu. We simply translate Kashmiri – our cradle tongue – into Urdu – our official language -- without caring two hoots about syntax or idiom. Native speakers of Urdu would scoff at our Urdu diction. The truth be told, but for notable exceptions, our Urdu is mostly mediocre. Our English being generically flawed, we seem to be taking a certain strange pride in not bringing up our future generations in Kashmiri. In reality it is wacky had it not been so tragic.

There is a beautiful York County maxim: As a hawk flieth not high with one wing, even so a man reacheth not to excellence with one tongue. We perhaps need the toasted Urdu we so love to talk in. We also can’t do without English to comprehend sciences and computers and art. However it can’t be at the expense of Kashmiri. I don’t know how many Kashmiris know that 148 languages in the world have lesser number of speakers than Kashmiri. It is such a pity that we belittle our heritage, our very roots. Emerson got it right when he said that we infer the spirit of the nation in great measure from the language, which is a sort of monument to which each forcible individual in a course if many hundred years has contributed a stone. Kashmiri is our intellectual wealth. We simply can’t afford to squander it.

I fail to understand why Geelani gives most of his fiery speeches in Urdu? I am at loss to fathom why the Tabligis ambush people and drown them in their Urdu jargon? Why does the Mirwaiz suddenly switch over to Urdu, lording over his followers from downtown Srinagar? None of the aforesaid is official. The mainstream may hide behind the official language façade, when they talk in Urdu. But why can we not have two official languages like Bihar [Hindi, Urdu], like Assam [Assamese, Bengali], like Himachal [Hindi, Pahari], like UP [Hindi, Urdu]. We are such a crooked pile.

Outside the English speaking world -- in Europe and elsewhere -- mother tongue is afforded the highest status. In fact in Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and other advanced economies like China, Japan [including Russia] as well as smaller countries in Asia, the medium of instruction is their respective mother tongue while children have the option of learning English language as well. In Kashmir, we are not asking for such concessions. It is time that we seriously introduce Kashmiri as a compulsory language in our school curricula [government, public and private schools].

Kashmiri children need to learn their language, the literature of which dates back to the 14th century. In simple terms we are as old as the English literature. Surely we shouldn’t feel shame reading it. And our children need not squirm at the thought of having to look at a Kashmiri textbook. UNESCO in its global monitoring paper on education concludes that the importance of mother tongue-based schooling for educational quality is key. In developing nations mother tongue-based bilingual education not only increases access to skills, the report suggests, but also raises the quality of basic education by facilitating classroom interaction and integration of prior knowledge and experiences with new learning.

In essence a language helps us express ideas and thoughts. When it comes to the mother tongue, thoughts often come straight from the heart. We dream in Kashmiri, we understand its humor, our laughter and tears have Kashmiri hints, when we are in pain we moan in Kashmiri. We express our best and the deepest feelings in Kashmiri -- because it is our real cradle tongue.

No culture is complete without its language. Kashmir needs to revive Kashmiri. We can perhaps take cue from Israel. One of the most spectacular feats of that country after its formation [illegal/legal – that’s another debate] was its miraculous resurrection of the dying Hebrew language. A pragmatic educational policy can be a great beginning to set the skew right here. Also we need to perhaps lessen our fixation to converse with family and friends in non-Kashmiri funny accents. There is no pride in it. It only makes us linguistically silly. And our expressions poor. Kashmiri is rich enough.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

The loyal singer

Rafi came to our household in the late 70s I am told. He was all of 15 when he arrived in petite London, as people in Sopore liked to call the town then [taking a certain pride in the fact]. I was born a few years later but the London connection always baffled me. Sopore was, and still is, famous for its rich apple produce. I was to learn much later that they grew blackberries, raspberries and gooseberries in England. Apples and plums too can be found around London but only as wild forms and barely edible - unless you're desperate. In Sopore orchard caretakers would often chase us over long furlongs whenever our desperation to filch an odd apple took the better of us.

So Rafi, the young boy in a duffle coat came to our home for work. His father thought Rafi could stay in a big town [Chota London], pick up a few social graces and make some money. My folks took a liking for the boy, who was actually named Ramazan. When my mom asked him about his likes, he surprisingly said singing. Apparently the sole transistor in his village belonged to a rich man where his father used to work and Ramazan would listen to it, when he accompanied his father, with veneration. He must have quietly begun rehearsing. Thereafter his father brought him to the town.

And he helped mom in scutwork, watering flower pots, tidying up the kitchen and allied little chores. Also he would sing to her. Songs of the village, Kashmiri folk songs and most enthusiastically songs of the popular singer Rafi, he had picked up from the old radio in his village. Soon mom had a new name for Ramzan: Rafi. Hence everyone in our home, my dad’s chauffeur, workers in our orchards, our neighbors and relatives started to call him Rafi. He took it well. The re-christening made him even perkier with a satirical sense of humor.

Years later I was born and Rafi loved me dearly. He would carry me on his back, become a horse for me and ofcourse sing for me. New songs he picked up from our Texla Black and White TV [It would take five minutes to start]. Since TV was a rarity in the 80s, even in Chota London, Rafi would often narrate, with much melodrama, the plot of last night’s movie to eager yokels in the bakery where he would go to fetch the hot oven-baked morning flatbread [Lawasa]. He got told off for getting late but Rafi was not the one to mind such mild admonition. So he continued to work, cut jokes, watch endless stupid Hindi films and live with us.

Then came a time when gunmen began to appear in our locality.
They were everywhere and carried real guns, inspiring awe. Rafi would dismiss our wonderment with his unique brand of humor. ‘That guy with a double magazine Kalashnikov, he once told me pointing to a militant, can easily cut throats of the enemy’.
How can you say that mama, I asked curiously? ‘Oh, he used to cut people’s pockets earlier’, came the prompt response with a mischievous grin. In all likelihood Rafi was speaking the truth. During those difficult militancy years, he used to close the lawn gates early in the evening and when dad went out for the final prayer at night, he accompanied him to the mosque, just in case. [He had overheard in the bakery that gunmen harassed the landed gentry]

Then there came a time when I had to go out for higher studies. It broke his heart. He had only seen the places, I was headed for, on TV. Rafi thought I would drink and date debauched women. He had these simple notions about life. On my last night in Kashmir I remember he had a long talk with me, filled with innocent, naïve bits of advice. Like a wide eyed babe in the woods. I soon took a flight to alien lands and never really went back in the real sense. My only date with Kashmir remains my annual sabbaticals.

While I was away Rafi went on to get married and raise a family. He left us but continued to visit, especially when I came from vilayat. Since there was no phone in his village, I had to drive to his village, to his tiny hut [he liked it there, found peace, he told me] and bring him over to our home for a week. Ofcourse he would ask me a million questions about the new world, since he had grown to be so fond of world news on his radio -- BBC Urdu. I had to simplify things for the guy, who helped me grow up.

Rafi, I am told, after he went back to his beautiful village [his hut was in the middle of a mustard field] learnt other crafts. He became a mason in summers and wove carpets in the winter. However Rafi found time in every season to come down to his first place of vocation – our home -- and rustle up great food for my folks. And he spoke with me on my sister’s cell phone.

Day before he clambered on the roof of his little hut, ostensibly to fix a leaking arch. It was raining outside in the mustard fields. A loose brick led to his fall. Rafi fell and he was dead. While it was still raining outside.

It feels like missing a step on the staircase of memory.

I hope he sings to my mom in paradise.

A God fearing, old school, loyal – Godspeed.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Defiance Day

July 13 is the closest we have to a national defiance day. It marks the beginning of our assertion as pretenceless, independence-seeking, audacious people. Most historians agree that on July 13, 1931 the sky was tenderly overcast in Srinagar and there had also been a dust storm that morning. But no tempest could stop the fervor in the hearts of people, who had gathered outside the Central Jail in Srinagar. They wanted an open trail for the mystery man – Qadir – who was being tried by the Dogra ruler’s [Hari Singh] kangaroo court.

Qadir, now relegated to the margins of Kashmir’s vicissitudinary history, still has historians confounded. Most chroniclers of our nation’s narrative cannot agree on where he came from or what happened to him after July 13, 1931. All we know of him is that he was a butler to Major Abet, a British army officer, British Resident in Kashmir. On June 21, 1931 Qadir gave a rousing speech to hundreds of assembled men at Khankah-Mohallah in Srinagar. Kashmir had never seen such upfrontry. Pointing to the Maharaja’s palace in the Zabarwan foothills, Qadir hollered the famous words: Demolish the edifice of injustice, cruelty and subjugation.

The immediate provocation was the desecration of the Holy Quran by Maharaja's troopers in April that year. The Dogra feudatories would often treat Kashmiris like shit and had no regard whatsoever for their faith. A huge resentment was already brewing against the vainglorious rulers for years of persecution and all it needed was a sharp spark. Infact people had assembled to find a way to channelize their sentiment on the June day when Qadir gave that fiery speech. Before he spoke, a committee was formed to continue the fight against the Dogra oppression. Seven wise men were selected: Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Sa’ad-ud-Din Shawl, Mirwaiz Moulvi Yusuf Shah, Mirwaiz Ahmadullah Hamdani, Aga Syed Hussain Jalali, Munshi Shuhab-ud-Din, and Khwaja Ghulam Ahmad Ashai. [Yes Mirwaiz’s and Omar’s grand-dads too. We share a collective legacy, don’t we?]

Four days later Maharaja’s men zeroed in on Qadir and put him in chains. He was swiftly charged with sedition and waging war against the state [yes the same sections of the Ranbir Penal Code, Omar still slaps on the pro-Freedom guys]. Qadir was to be tried on July 13, 1931. But he had already kindled a fire, which was going to consume Kashmir, in its enticing warmth. Around noon, as more and more people encircled the Central Jail in Srinagar, Maharaja’s troopers panicked. Matchlock guns were cocked. People refused to bulge, demanding the release of Qadir. Never before in almost 350 years [since the Mughal annexation in 1586; the vain rule ended 1753] was such an angry defiance palpable in the airs of Srinagar. Soon gunshots pierced the rebellion. Khaliq Shora, a feisty man from Srinagar, was the first man to fall. Kashmir had its first martyr. Crimson blood spilled. Twenty seven others died. Two women among the martyrs. Scores lay injured. The magnitude of Dogra brutishness was such that no one attended to the injured hours after they were shot.

July 13 marked an epoch in our assertion of a bold, new, chivalrous defiance. Hitherto called cowards and slaves, Kashmiris rose to the occasion and attempted to storm the ugly walls of tyranny, just like the French did in Bastille, on July 14, 1789. Sadly we couldn’t breach the walls. What was to follow was a murky trapeze that involved a series of compromises and deceits and charades. And as years went by the committee constituted in Khankah mohallah to take the struggle to its logical conclusion split. The Mirwaizs went their way, the Sheikh ofcourse we all know, walked into the glory-land, only to fall later. Ever since both sides have staked a claim to Kashmir’s past, its martyrs, its patch-work history. Both have dibs on a sentiment which in reality belongs to no one person. It is a collective legacy.

It was a spontaneous, collective act of rebellion, of revolution, of uprising which was to give an impetus to Kashmir’s centuries old yearning for freedom. Not that we were not rebels before but July 13 truly made revolutionaries out of us.

And we were never ever the same.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Whose city is this?

Kashmir valley is a mere 135 km by 35 km in length and width.
That is it. Srinagar is the only city. In the old world sense.
[London, one of my friends who lives in NY, told me once much to my chagrin, is a glorified village compared to the New York City. Srinagar by that definition would be a complete wasteland, light-years away from anything remotely modern, but here we seek to make an exception for our ‘Shahar’ since we talk of home and hence unabashedly biased].

Now Srinagar is to Kashmir what DC is to the States. Jhelum is our very own Potomac. A little unclean perhaps but we haven’t been a particularly clean people. Talking of Srinagar, how can one give Dal a miss? Dal is our Lake Anna. And in winters when it snows over, we walk on its weed-filled water. Like Jesus. There are other bigger lakes in Kashmir, complete with migratory ducks with pierced yellow beaks and red-crested Pochard in them, but no one will tell you that.

Locally called Shahar, Srinagar an island of close to a million people who speak in an elongated dialect [more likely to say Naaa, compared to a crisp Na spoken in Sopore or Anantnag for instance]. It is also the seat of the government. The civil secretariat [with a million silver fish happily slithering in its myriad layered government files] and the CM’s office is in Srinagar. Hari Niwas, the 66-room palace, build by the last Dogra ruler Hari Singh for his wife [converted into a hell-hole interrogation centre by Indian soldiers during the insurgency years] too is in Srinagar. The obsolete DoorDarshan and Radio Kashmir [still listened to in rapt attention by everyone above 50] have offices in ‘Shahar’.


Historically the original inhabitants of Srinagar, who have since been overwhelmed by a steady stream of people from the countryside, labelled everyone outside the boundary limits of Srinagar: Gamik [villagers]. The word was laced with a very strange potion of conceit. It was exactly said for the purpose: to make the non-Shahri’s feel a little inferior, though they won’t acknowledge it. Just like you don’t call a milkman [Goore in Kashmiri], Goore on his face, yet you say it – amongst family, friends, neighbors – to show the poor milkman his place in society. Also because it satiates a certain class lust, mankind is so drunk on, in us. Marx was not entirely wrong, the erudite, white-bearded German. The City-village debate has a similar sub-text.

Curiously the people living in townships didn’t take such talking-down all too well because they didn’t consider themselves Gamik. People in places as diverse as Sopore, Anantnag, Baramullah, Bandipore, Shopian and other such places consider themselves townspeople, distinct from those living in villages [the real pastoral countryside]. There’s such a realm as middle ground and that’s where towns ought be placed in the pecking order, they opined. Alas the brutes, devouring their Harisa Zafrani [no translation needed, closest would be a hundredth variation of meat, steamed, sautéed, simmered and served piping hot] in the drawing rooms of Srinagar had already blurred the line. Everyone outside of Srinagar is a Gamuk. Period.

The Gamik laid in a patient wait, wearing a hurt and martyred expression, not failing to send their kids to read and write. The Srinagar-wallas meantime got busy selling fake Shawls in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar and Connaught Place, passing every rag off as semi-Pashmina [there’s nothing called semi-Pashmina. It is like selling semi-Silk]. All this while a quiet revolution was taking place. The folks from Kashmir’s hinterland, notwithstanding their apparent lack of resources and refinement, made their way to colleges and universities. They were fast planting flags of knowledge. Suddenly they were everywhere. The tide had turned.


Coming out of the terror soaked years, Kashmiris had undergone a fundamental change. It was most noticeable in the villages. Having crossed the threshold they refused to be terrorized intellectually. Ergo the best doctors in premium medical institutes, the top civil servants in the government, most skilled professionals and the academic elite come mostly from the villages of Kashmir. The villagers seem to be celebrating their redemption, globally. In the last one week – not one but two Kashmiri girls, from Sopore, joined the Obama administration. Among other things post-Tehreek [variously described as revolution/nuttiness/frenzy] the townspeople perhaps quietly stopped minding such stereotyping. They had become the new Shahris. Gingerly.

However the specter still haunts. It is still fair to ask who’s Shahri and who’s Gaemi in Srinagar, a city whose demographics have undergone a sea change in the Tehreek. The debate, though not too played up [we like things subtle, till they fizzle out] is taking place in the nut-wood paneled drawing rooms of Kashmir. Even the Tehreek -- on its last clutches, and kept alive by Hurriyet through their often inexplicit but bold defiance – is not sacrosant. The rise of Geelani and the downfall of Mirwaiz [both Peers, and that’s another class game] is squarely seen through the Gaemi-Shahri kaleidoscope. A top cop in Kashmir [true blooded shahri] I know, confided to me recently, this Gamuk [Geelani in a disparaging sense, he meant] has made life hell for us.

Even the mainstream is not immune. The ruling Abdullah’s [a mixed family with a true international blood-line: Swiss, Kashmiri, English, Indian] are considered Shahri, though puritans would exclude them. The patriarch Sheikh Abdullah [Yes, the Lion who stopped roaring towards the end] was born in Soura [a village in the outskirts of Srinagar, since integrated into the city]. So the Sheikh’s have always been half-shahri. Things came to a boil in 2002 when the Mufti’s of Bijbehara [Gosh, a village] came to power. So eventually full-Gaemik did rule Kashmir. In a way it marked a complete sub-urbanization of our political space. There were no sacred territories. The whole world, nee Valley, was the oyster. And the mad scramble to grab it continues.

In the olden days, when we were still innocent and spilled no blood, there used to be groups of northern Pintail in Kashmiri villages. Wild geese roamed the streets of Srinagar. They used to quack a lot, both being the same lot – ducks. In the smoke of the clash that we eventually jumped into and have been unable to extricate ourselves from, the duck talk has died out.

We mustn’t, I think stop the chatter, no matter how thick the smoke.


Friday, July 03, 2009


Daem phuit chi gamitsh myaen nazar
yoot matsar kyah?
mei rov labith lol shahar
yoot matsar kyah?

~ Zarif A Zarif, Kashmiri poet

My gaze has been silenced
What frenzy is this?
I lost my city of love,
What frenzy is this?

We are in the middle of this cruel completeness. The motif is flickering at such a rapid pace that it is near impossible to fathom what is happening to us. Still coming to terms with the rape and murder tale coming out of South Kashmir and its elaborate, planned, devilish cover-up, bullets flew thick and fast in North Kashmir. In a matter of less than 40 hours, four boys were sent to their graves. Prematurely. Suddenly. Coldly. Kashmir has stopped keeping a count of its injured. That is a mere footnote in our pursuit of justice.

Still hours later the scene shifts again to South Kashmir. A kid, 16 is summoned to a nearby army camp. Youngest in his home, Basharat went hopping to the 36RR fortress, never to be seen again. Parents, like anywhere else in the world, furious and restless, started making frenetic noises. Neighbors joined in. Omar Abdullah, the new czar of Kashmir, who surrounds himself with a useless bunch of advisors, joined the chorus, albeit in his condescending style: Find the boy or his body. Thank you, Sir. How easily does the lexicon change in the valley? People, alive and laughing minutes back, suddenly change into bodies. Omar’s narrative is not only tasteless but pure apologetic. Kashmir is too dangerous a place to let things drift in such an insensitive manner.

Salah Mattoo, my childhood pal, wrote in the London’s The Economist: ‘The Indian constitution affords all her citizens right to protest, which no doubt is at the heart of Indian psyche as it stems from its history of fighting the British for her independence. In Kashmir there exists no outlet for people to express their grievances.’ Alas protests in Kashmir trigger a panic button in the government war-rooms and they go to any darn extend to break it. In reality, any elected government in Kashmir [and Omar is no exception] does not want to do anything to displease the off-reality hawks, who sit perched in Delhi. Suppressing the sentiment back home is directly proportional to your status in North Block.

A very strange spiral has engulfed us. Like an F-5 tornado. And things move round and round in it. Half-bricks and Hartals and Curfews chase each other. In the absence of mandatory crisis management infrastructure to deal with human rights violations, people resort to throwing rocks [styled on the Palestinian Intifada]. There is a freedom camp [split in the middle – one side of it is this old, tough boy Geelani, hugely respected but rigid and other side is this young, dubious boy Mirwaiz, moderate but inexplicit] with its politics of dissent and strikes. The only common factor is the karakul caps they wear. The government of the day, unsure of how to go about it [how, on God’s green earth, can a Jammu based car-dealer advise Sheikh Abdullah’s grandson, how to deal with a sentiment for which six million people and the Sheikh himself staked everything. Pray, How?] End-result: Mirwaiz and co, locked up in their palatial homes. Geelani, too dangerous at his age, put up in a hut-prison. Omar hops all over his fief, like a czar pontificating the futility of stone throwing, while his subjects continue to die, under his watch.

I don’t think removing CRPF [we never used to fear them anyway in Sopore] will do any good. It is time for the creation of independent institutions to monitor human rights violations in Kashmir. If Omar has nothing to fear he should back calls for allowing independent organizations like the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others in Kashmir. No one trusts the government commissions. Two things, should they happen, may ameliorate the hurt to a large extend: disbanding of the thuggish SOG and removal of inhuman laws like AFSPA. Troop withdrawal can follow.

I used to love this beautiful, soft-spoken US-Kashmiri poet we had. Agha Shahid Ali. He died many years back and lies buried in Amherst, Massachusetts, close to the resting place of another great American poet Emily Dickinson.

An excerpt from a poem he penned on his beloved Kashmir:

Freedom’s terrible thirst, flooding Kashmir,
is bringing love to its tormented glass,
Stranger, who will inherit the last night of the past?
Of what shall I not sing, and sing?


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

You can't curfew our hearts

A desire to resist oppression is implanted in the nature of man.

Baramulla is a small, hilly, quaint township in north Kashmir. As I blog, it has been curfewed over. The orders may have been announced or unannounced but everyone has to adhere or you die. If you perchance don't know that a chocolate-color-curfew [the only presence is the cops/CRPF with their brown outfits, lording over empty roads and street dogs] is on, you may well be shot in the head or heart by a CRPF jawan lying in wait. In the last 36 hours, five kids have been killed in this fashion. Their only crime was that they had gotten together [in their naivety or in a bout of emotional impulse] to protest alleged misbehavior charges against the local police by a woman, which has since been rubbished by the cops. In the 21st century Kashmir you can't show your fists. Expression is dangerous. Resentment is prohibited. Dreams have been curfewed over.

Agree a furor exists. Agree that there is a huge mistrust that people harbor against India and the state government, agree that the same cops said a month back that those two unfortunate Shopian girls bore no injury marks and died of drowning [since proven wrong], agree that there is a trust deficit with the police who even failed to register an FIR in Shopian for a long while [eventually forced to do so], agree that the separatist leadership has been severely gagged, agree that people are genuinely angry at the Omar led government’s insensitivity, especially the way things were mis-handled in the aftermath of the rape and murder case -- not a dram of remorse exists. Instead the local police and CRPF -- exactly the likes of riff-raff -- who when they are not killing, while their time away by smoking bidis and cutting off color jokes while watching C-grade Hindi films, have been given a free rope. And boy do they whip the people!

I don’t know how to put it straight but people get beaten up a lot in Kashmir. And that shit happens everyday. People are slapped on highways and lowlands. In orchards and bylanes. For little or no reason. The catch is high-handedness. Ergo, to break up an instant protest, the Khaki scoundrels use excessive violence, which is not only disproportionate but plain inhuman. The fiercely independent Kashmir Times correctly editorializes that they are armed with blanket powers under the prevailing draconian laws and enjoy immunity for their acts. The dreaded instrument of repression is evident in the kind of blatant human rights abuses they commit and get away with. Omar, the new CM with old prejudices, can’t do much. He can, however, promise enquiries as the body count grows.

There are restrictions on movement. There are house arrests. There are beatings. There are bayonets held up to scare us. There are tear-gas canisters. There are furious bullets piercing innocent 20-somethings. There are attempts to silence protest. When has the stick suppressed the giggle of children? For 62 long years there have been protests, even before that. It is a mad trapeze in our hearts. They attempt to disperse people, chasing unruly crowds but fail to disperse the aspiration that hangs still in the smoked air.

You can curfew the lanes but not our dreams.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Midsummer Night Out

When I suddenly act cute for no reason and nod approvingly in a smart conversation on the subtle difference between blended grain and blended malt whiskey, I know I am being daft. So here I was with random people [being pals with this one hell of a guy, only] at 4am, passing the pot to the distant twinkle of a starry sky. I’d this sense of a cross between being lightheaded and permagrin. Or both.

Smoking grass is such a youthful thing to do. There is a boylike recklessness to it. The Jamaicans call it spliff, I think. I was trying hard to remember name of this guy from ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ who does dope. That Irish bloke Wilde, who left the British Isles forever -- after being jailed for being a non-conformist by the prudish Brits -- made his protagonist smoke weed in his masterpiece.

Last night the night sky was sooty and the lights would flicker like a musical rhapsody. I could soon spot stars. Rare. Ever since I left the hills, I haven’t really seen the stars sparkle. There were these stars, on a clear cloudless night, hundreds of them, muted silver in color, no bigger than orchid seeds. [Jesus probably got it wrong when he said in the Bible: The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seed] Orchid seeds are much smaller, I reckon, and the stars these days look tinier and farther away than their usual.

The night changed shades. Like a gal changes clothes. From pitch-black to a deep azure. The leaves were visible, clung tightly to twigs in the tall park trees, reveling perhaps in a quiet plant hug, while the whole world slept around them, disturbed only by the silly cackle of our stoned laughter. A cricket hopped on a cork and disapprovingly jumped off the Bowmore cap, wiping its antennae as it disappeared into the night. There was no cricket song to the darn insect.

Pals in pot fumes are like these wacky songs the soul needs from time to time.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Drama at the Chateau of Versailles

The French President has re-kindled the debate over Hijab at the Chateau of Versailles. Breaking one and a half century old tradition, Sarkozy addressed the French Parliament, greatly upsetting the opposition, which criticized the speech as an opportunity for self-aggrandizement. Like Louis XIV. The Sun King was the archetypal absolute monarch, who ruled France from 1643-1715. People were not allowed to knock on his door in the Chateau of Versailles. Instead, they had to gently scratch on the door, until the permission to enter was granted. As a result, many courtiers grew long fingernails. Sarkozy is styling himself as a modern day Louis XIV. [Major political parties like the Greens and Communists refused to attend the Chateau of Versailles event and the Socialists left early, saying that the venue for the address smacked of monarchy and a thirst for power]

Not surprisingly Sarkozy, who famously likes his pictures photo-shopped to look good [Paris Match had to retouch photos of Sarkozy in order to erase a love handle], attacked the concept and culture of Hijab in his Chateau of Versailles policy speech. "It will not be welcome on French soil," he began, sounding every bit like an authoritarian demagogue that he is, ever ready to trade away civil liberties for political gains. “We cannot accept, in our country, women imprisoned behind a mesh, cut off from society, deprived of all identity. That is not the French republic's idea of women's dignity." Sarkozy has indeed chosen to fight a very wrong battle.

Two things are going to come out of it immediately. One – the decision will stigmatize Muslims at a time when France needs to do more in its fight against discrimination in the job market, which had led so many Muslim youth to feel forgotten by French society. When France needed their erstwhile colonial subjects to lay train roads or dig tunnels for them back in the 1940's and 50's they got them to work like mules. The immigrants significantly contributed towards French nation building*. Only when their second generation grew up in Paris suburbs and started attending schools, the French went cold in their feet. It so smacks of racism.

Two – we are now sure why Sarkozy flunked grades in school and college before he obtained his baccalauréat. He continues to not comprehend this simple idea about the diversity of cultures. Given that the concept of laicite [secularism] is sacred in France, the point is whether women are forced to cover themselves or are doing so voluntarily out of their own will, and whether wearing the Hijab undermines French secularism. It does not. Like the same way Mr President has “no issues” with nude photos of his wife because he thinks the pictures are tasteful – and importantly -- the CHOICE is Carla’s, the CHOICE to don a scarf should be the sole discretion of a Muslim woman.

Modern states have no business telling women how not to dress. When we do not feel intimidated by a topless girl walking around a beach, do we really need to fret at a girl covering her hair? I think there is something profoundly hypocritical about banning Hijab in the name of pseudo-secularism and gender equality -- while the French government continues to subsidize private education for that globally influential misogynist religion -- the Catholic Church -- at a higher rate per pupil than public schools.

Sarkozy’s initiative has even his own cabinet split in the middle. The French immigration minister, Eric Besson, believes such a ban will only create tensions. It will isolate Muslims. France is home to five million Muslims. Hijab has always been a cultural symbol and Muslim women have worn it for more than 1,430 years. The dress was only put on trial after the events of September 11. Sarkozy only reinforces the paranoia.

You can’t claim to be liberal and ban individual choice. The French – and Europeans largely – have come to practice an absurd form of secularism which has indeed come to rubbish everything that secularism stands for. We seem to be at such a point in history where we are seen to care too much about the rights of beetles and houseflies while rubbishing the inherent beauty of human co-existence and liberty. When governments go all-out to abolish cultural symbolism close to the belief system of a billion and a half people around the globe, the cherished human rights, naturally, go up in holy smoke. Like Jeanne d'Arc. That was 1431. This is 2009.


* As the major colonial power after Britain, France could call on a potential workforce from what is called the Maghreb [North-West Africa: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia], certain countries in Sub-Saharan Africa [Senegal], Indochina [South-East Asia: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos] and the DOM-TOM [Départements d'outre-mer and Térritoires d'outre-mer] like Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guyana [in the Caribbean]. The vast majority of these workers were from Algeria, the jewel in the crown of the French colonial empire.
[Source: The University of Sunderland,UK]

Thursday, June 11, 2009

How serious are we about our Human Rights?

Bhaiyoo mea bacha (brother save me), moajee mea bachao (mother save me).
~Cries of the two girls allegedly gang raped inside an army truck by Indian troopers in Shopian, as heard by an eye-witness

I don’t know how a non-Kashmiri may react to this. As a Kashmiri, despite having acquired a different accent in alien lands, I can very well identify with the sad shrieks that purportedly came from the army truck. We mostly call for our mothers or brothers whenever we are in pain. We think, in our simple world view, that they are our guardian angels -- in dreams, in life, in death. And will come to protect us. Every single time. That explains why Asiya and Neelofer – now sleeping an eternal sleep in the peach fragrance of countryside Kashmir – must have hollered the way they did. And that is why the poor man, shivering in his old hut, is speaking the gospel truth.

My first reactions as I read the news story was this: How dehumanized have we become? There are people – and the tribe is swelling -- who have become bored with the narrative by now. They seem to be insulated at the moment -- and hence -- they foolishly think, such a thing might never happen to them. That is such a make-belief attitude because in reality no one really is immune. In choosing to prefer economic well-being over human rights they allow for the door to be left ajar, and a likelihood for such an atrocity to recur in future. May be, just may be, the economic realities of life make everything secondary, even inherent rights one gains as a human being.

I was talking to a friend in London, fiercely tutored, Ivy League, deeply interested in Kashmir affairs. He observed that there is no push for human rights in Kashmir from the people at the helm of affair: be it the state or the separatists. The truth be told there is no human rights set-up in Kashmir. It is not that people are unaware – they understand what living in occupation entails. Kashmiris however don't seem to care about these things collectively; even though it is in our interest. 'I think they don't care because human rights don't lead to a financial gain', my pal quipped. We have become an individualistic society – like so many other societies around the world -- pretty much interested in personal fortunes.

The debate about human rights should be at the core of our consciousness. Unfortunately it isn’t. We remember our human rights only when there is a rape or a murder or a dead body is thrown out of a speeding SOG van. If human rights was what people valued more than a stable economic system and job creation then they should have been clear that the valley will not vote until there is a proper human rights protection and the enforcement of human rights violations in Kashmir. Instead we voted a bunch of people, who make a crooked pile, into power. Do we expect an elected MLA to speak up sincerely for human rights? [Ms Mufti’s antics can be squarely dismissed as political gimmickry] As long as lowly people salute them and open doors to their cars and as long as their lofty Karakul’s sit intact on their petty heads, anything goes.

In Kashmir there is no communitarian sentiment or communitarian institutes which will have a serious impact in terms of consistently advocating and defending the rights of people. The marches and protests do help but can they solve our problems. Perhaps not. It is like saying lets march against Pinochet and he will give us human rights. Omar -- the CM, says his officials misled him, Umar – the cleric is mum. The Bar Council is meek. Most voices are either disparate or desperate. If the leadership is like this how can there be a human rights centered movement in Kashmir? Old boy Geelani can’t certainly pull it off, alone.

That leaves the people in a conundrum. One will find it surreal that one day they will support the government [which oppresses them], next day they will deride the CM for hurting them; following on, they will be back to the government for patronage, give them support, knowing fully well that they will hurt them again; and lo and behold they do hurt them again. Now that is both odd and erratic.

The people of Kashmir do not deserve to suffer just because they voted a bunch of lackeys to power. Or just because our leadership isn’t up to it. Till date we have not shown consistency in our actions and as a result, the government knows that a protest means nothing and that we will bear the insults for a few days and then things will be back to normal. It is the utter lack of consistency and lack of development of institutions by Hurriyet that is responsible for our directionless response. One cannot play ping pong with government and give in every time they ask for votes. That makes us politically immaterial.

We can, perhaps, begin by developing an intellectual culture in Kashmir and start working towards a human rights oriented approach. Till then, I am afraid, the body-bags will come.

PS -- The women in the picture are mothers whose sons have gone missing, after being picked up by the army, in Kashmir. Srinagar, June 10, 2009

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Frenzy Returns

We are now faced with the fact, my friends that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.
~Dr Martin Luther King Jr, iconic leader of America’s civil rights movement, ‘Beyond Vietnam’ address, Riverside Church, New York, NY, April 4, 1967.

A fear of the awkward looms. Last year around the same time a new-found furor floated about. Fresh slogans were coined. Millions marched. The frenzy returns this season. Kashmir is agitated like an active volcano, brimming with broken promises, chunks of deceit, voting machines, lordly corrupt leaders, rusty bullets, cherry-color blood. Tulips. It imploded, yet again this June. Does this month symbolize anything for us? Perhaps. Perhaps not. The imperial British formally accepted the idea of Pakistan – a separate homeland for Muslims of the Indian subcontinent on June 3, 1947. Six decades on Kashmir still gets these June jolts. At the moment a charade of democracy is on display in Kashmir, a place overhung by Chinars and smoked over by fumes of our moral mildew.

Early June, when it smells of green apples in countryside Kashmir two cheerful girls – Asiya and Neelofer – went giggling to their tiny orchard and simply melted into the evening. A frenetic search yielded no results. Next morning, as if by magic, both girls appeared near a depth-less canal – bruised, battered, repeatedly raped and killed in cold blood. In Kashmir rape is rare as goblins. Despicable as it is, the incident soon turned murky. The doctor, who conducted the post-mortem, told Kashmiri newspapers that the two ladies were gang-raped.

In the post-mortem report, the doctor added, they mentioned that the injuries and samples collected from bodies clearly suggested rape and murder. A friend who has access to the pictures of the two girls was quite unequivocal: ‘Third degree gang-rape, around a dozen times - multiple times after death’. A strike was swiftly called to condemn the horrible act. Tempers frayed.

Like most conservative societies in the world Kashmiris are extremely touchy about two things – our religion and identity. Add honor to the list. I agree it is an arguably naïve stance to take in a modern world but back home in Kashmir we have been living in a timeless warp forever. To make matters worse the 38-year old CM [much is made of his age] proved that he is as inept at gauging the pulse of people as his notoriously colorful dad. Adding fire to the fuel, Omar attempted to sweep the muck under the proverbial rug.

He declared in a press con that primary findings indicated the girls were neither raped nor murdered. It was prima facie a case of drowning. [In ankle-deep water]. In pre-judging the findings Omar was not only plain condescending but utterly insensitive too. [The victims families have since gone on a hunger strike, seeking justice for their daughters]. Public sentiment smoldered. Sensing trouble Omar changed tack and conceded that ‘something has happened there’. Yes, Mr CM – multiple rapes on two young girls -- our girls -- their helpless cries piercing the sad air of their small village. Dying a most painful, brutal death next to – [who knows may be inside] a CRPF camp. Pray, when will you guys stop being smug and stop living in denial?

An investigation was ordered. Justice Jan is going to look into the matter and shall report to his neighbor [lives next to Omar] in 30 days. Is that going to ameliorate the hurt? Rather than coming out with a forceful statement, assuaging the victims’ families and at least sounding a little more empathic, an insane police force has been let loose against those protesting human rights violations. Instead of making a candid, passionate appeal, what you get to hear from the chief minister’s office is the same old trite, banal, moth-eaten crap: These are communal forces, vested interests, anti-development, political rivals out there to get me. The trigger-happy cops and paramilitary forces, whose only vocation in life is to fire tear gas canisters at school kids, occasionally successfully comatosing some of them with a direct hit, roam aimlessly like wild creatures.

Often enough the state uses brute force to get over with a given situation. In reality, nothing goes away. It simmers slowly. And it comes back. You think it is over, as the very brilliant British-Pakistani intellectual Tariq Ali once said, while it isn't. The administration is choosing to go after anyone -- having especially singled out Syed Ali Geelani -- who dares look them in the eye and say the uncomfortable truth to their face. It is an irony. The Jammu based English daily Kashmir Times is far more pragmatic and insightful in its coverage on the Shopian incident while Kashmir based English papers are editorializing the futility of resistance. I reckon many ideological constructs lead people to take the kind of political positions they take but we can't truly afford to decontextualise our economic well-being from our legitimate aspirations.

Tulips without stipple isn't exactly beautiful. The stipple is our very cherished honor.