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.