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.