Saturday, May 15, 2010

Our Catch-22

So what is making news in Kashmir, my editor habitually asked me. 'Hmm, Kashmir is calm', I ran on. And before my super-rich boss could even begin the thought process of asking his pretty personal assistant to book him the next business class – for a quick air-trip to the valley -- I chipped in: 'but the calm takes no time to turn into a storm'. The look on his face suggested that I grounded his flight before it took-off. That is, I think, our reality. We are a riddle. There is a lull, like when a bomb goes off. Who knows what comes next?

When we are not on a strike or obsessed with the latest encounter story, we like to watch cricket. Everyone is a Pakistan supporter.
I am startled sometimes. If it was only about religion then India has had its share of Pataudis, Azharduddins, Kaifs and Pathans. It is not about faith. There is some profound, archaic, incomprehensible obsession with Pakistan that while not many in Kashmir would like the idea of Zardari as their president, they would root for Team Pakistan.

Brings to my mind an occasion in my childhood in Kashmir. On August 15 – India’s Independence day – for many years in the 1990’s the Indian army mandated that every bus, car, horse-carriage, motor-bike and bicycle should have a little flag of India. This was to show-case our ‘Indian-ness’ as also massage the soldiers’ ego, who took some perverse pleasure at the sight of independence-seeking citizenry carrying the tri-color flag. There was a strange irony to it. For many it was forced love, like unwilling love-making.

Quite unbeknownst to my friend, a resident of Srinagar, who lived in the US and home for holidays, the show, was on. He decided to pay us a visit. Since his car had no flags slapped on it, he was flagged down by troopers near the Sopore Bridge and asked to step out. A handsome army officer in his 30’s asked for his identity papers. An explanation was sought for the act of disobedience. My pal produced his American passport which had the desired effect. And I don’t frankly know about the flag business, he said in his rather honest defence.

The officer smiled and spoke in polite English and explained that putting up an Indian flag in these parts on August 15 is as important as vermicelli [a sweet pasta like dish called seviyan in India and Pakistan] on Eid. So get a flag, the officer grinned as he handed his passport back. I’ll, my friend responded, as he hopped back into his car, ‘but officer’ he shouted just as the captain began to turn his back: ‘our hearts are green. And we don’t eat seviyan on Eid.
Kashmiris don’t have a sweet tooth’.

The paradox stays. A local boy topped India’s elite civil services recently. Everyone and their uncle congratulated one another. A Kashmiri had done them proud. The stereotype had been broken, the pigeon-hole dismantled, the myth shattered. So everyone danced in the rain. Same evening when Pakistan played their T-20 match against England, lots of prayers must have gone up for the men in green. Head says India, the heart whistles: Pakistan.

It is our Catch-22. We are complex.