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.