Friday, July 30, 2010

Scarlet puddles

Woodlets are cold once again
Nights are drawn-out again
Death rattle is here again
Burying grounds are busy again
Scarlet puddles have formed again
Bowmen appear on trees again
Wildly shooting at dreams again
Each bird is a foe again
Birdcalls are grievous again
Darkness at dawn again
Nighttime at noon again
Clouds bursting once again
Old men crying yet again
Savage wilderness once again
Hop-skipping puddles time and again

© Sameer

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The naked dervish

When I was growing up in Sopore – a tiny whistle stop town – there was a lot of violence. The militants of Sopore used to be the fiercest and the security forces perhaps got an additional briefing or two before they were dispatched off to this front-line township. There was a lot of hostility in those days between the Indian army and the locals, much to the glee of militants.

Night-long gun-battles were routine. Since Syed Ali Geelani, then in his 60s and fiery best, came from a hamlet near Sopore, his iconoclastic following was at its pinnacle in Sopore. Winds of mutiny blew rapidly from Wular. I was very young but I remember vividly. There was only one solace to a large number of people in this mayhem: Ahad Saab Sopore. The naked dervish.

Ahad Saab upset a lot of believers because he walked naked. Stark naked. Even in winters when it snowed for days. I must have seen him all of a dozen times – walking always -- and let me admit, as a child I used to freak out at his very sight, not because of his unclothed state, but because of his gaze, which was quite intimidating. He would look at you with blood bellowing in his ears.

I froze in my school bus when he walked past. Ofcourse I would be baffled about how he managed to survive the freezing temperatures, when everyone wore a Pheran [loose warm tunic] and held a Kangri [fire pot made of clay and wicker]. It was only much later an American professor explained that there is a state known as Fana-al-Fina (forgetfulness of annihilation). It is a very deep, mystic concept of unconsciousness. And it drives Wahabis all bonkers.

A lot of people used to visit Ahad Saab and they did things which the vocal Islamists promptly clubbed with polytheism. The home of the mystic was like a carnival where people would come, get-together, reflect, weep, talk and at times sleep. In absence of any other outlet to give vent to their emotions, they found Ahad Saab’s abode a spiritual watering hole, where they went – again and again – for some sort of spiritual communion, perhaps.

Sometimes the public opinion was split in the middle: visiting the dervish was blasphemous, some would suggest, yet people kept pouring in. Sufism has its own intellectual culture, the physical artefacts of which are these mystics, his followers felt. And the one man who never spoke while his detractors and acolytes clashed was Ahad Saab.

Inspite of the growing trend of pan-Islamism which has swept across the Muslim lands and engulfed Kashmir also, the valley still has at its heart a very syncretical ethos. Dastageer Saab, a very reverend saint in Kashmir writes about Tasawwuf [spirituality] and Dervishes: A mystic can do nothing and is nothing in his self-being. But Lord gives him a helping hand. [The Sultan of the saints: mystical life and teaching of Shaikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jilani]

And yet you will meet people in Kashmir who vouch for numerous inexplicable things and occurrences that Ahad Saab was capable of. I don’t wish to negate what is attributed to the ascetic but there is no doubt that he was a common focal point who tied so many human beings together.

Ahad Saab died last night. Naked. The peripheries of his soul never felt bound within his body. He tore clothes and shrieked when attempts were made to put a blanket on him in sub-zero temperatures. People came from far and wide to have a look at his face. Hear him speak. Yet he would rarely open his mouth. There is something companionable about silences, sometimes. ‘But he is naked and he looks unhinged to me. Looks awkward. Isn’t this be-adabi [indecency]?’ I asked someone long years back.
‘Love is be-adub’, pat came the reply. Sufis.

Ahad Bub
Patron saint of Sopore

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ideating on a Hartal morning

National Conference (NC) is to Kashmir what Congress party is to India. With minor absenteeism the party has mostly ruled Kashmir since 1947. On its website NC has put out the last testament of its founding father Sheikh Abdullah in text animation which states that '…People’s hearts can only be won by love, justice, truthfulness and sincerity. Not with subsidized rice, army and offering largesse.’ Paradoxically Kashmir has been witness to a frightening shrinkage of agricultural land (hence reliance on imported and subsidized rice), more army men than government employees (4,50,000 men and women in government service compared to roughly about 6,00,000 troopers) and last but not least we are extremely liberal of spirit while doling out freebies and bribes. Any one in Srinagar will tell you that. Thence stands belied the last testament.

That does not mean NC has no relevance. It is a completely democratic party. Out of the JK’s 87 assemble seats, NC has men and women on 28. That is roughly about one-third. It also has a central working committee comprising of 22 wise men who actually call the shots in the party. With the situation in Kashmir getting more complicated than Kandahar, these wise men decided to get their heads together for a Chintan Baithak (introspection meet) of sorts last week. Sheikh Abdullah’s eldest son Dr Farooq Abdullah, naturally, is the President and gets to sit on a low-chair. His eldest son Omar Abdullah is the state’s chief minister (CM) and gets another low-chair to the right of his dad. Nineteen other gentlemen have to hunker down on the carpeted floor. One guy sits in between the two chairs separating the former and the current CM. God knows why? Sheikh Abdullah smiles benignly from the wall.

It was a closed door meeting held for 420 minutes (7 hours). Eight resolutions were passed. So Omar stays as CM, all ministers (whether inefficient or not) will continue as ministers, Sheikh Nazir (relative to the CM and CM’s dad) will carry on as the general secretary and ofcourse Dr Farooq Abdullah will continue to be the President of NC (what if they won’t make him the President of India). All the men were agreed that there is a need to strengthen the party. Dr Farooq Abdullah gave a personal assurance to his crew that they will get to see more of him, henceforth.

As soon as the get-together started to get a tad boring (with usual uninspiring speeches), the unexpected happened. Dr Sahib pulled a rabbit out of the hat: Autonomy! Give it to us Now – pure and unadulterated as it existed for six years -- between 1947-1953. There is a longish history to the eight magic words. Let us cut it short here for the sake of brevity. NC after partly shelving the Autonomy in 1975, revived it in 1994. A resolution was passed (unanimously) in the JK assembly in 2000 adopting the Autonomy report (Autonomy committee was headed by Maharaja Hari Singh’s son, Dr Karan Singh). India wasted no energy. The government of India out rightly rejected the wish. [Who knows they might have a change of heart this time?]

At this the meeting was announced concluded. The delegates filed out one-by-one into the lawns to their gaping white ambassador cars, fitted with red lights. Into the city, with no soul on any thoroughfare, drove the twenty wise men. Window panes rolled up. Sirens blaring. Dad and son retired for siesta. No chips on their shoulders.

© Sameer

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The deer in my dream

I keep having this dream whenever I sleep just before the cock-crow. It is kind of recurring. I see a green jungle, thick and beautiful, with all kinds of wights. There is a little cottage in the densely wooded forest, covered by the bark of trees. It is like a million romantic movies. There is a powerful abruptness about the place.

I am standing outside the cottage, looking at the fish plonk in the rill that passes by. All of a sudden a gilded deer ambles by and walks towards me, hesitantly. I am unsure about how to react. Something about its eyes attract me. The eyes are like Persian almonds, big and sea-water like. The Iranians call them Chaqalu bâdom.

The deer waffles a bit, looks around, and then with the gait of Megan Fox walks upto me. I let go off my hesitancy and pat it playfully. It is lithe with legs suited for the rugged woodland terrain. I detect it is vulnerable and weak too. The deer appears to be looking for riding out the harsh jungle. I offer my little cottage. We become friends.

I get to hear noises in the jungle that I never imagined. Some days the clouds hang so low that you could see the grey twist of the mist right outside the cottage. The deer continues to stay. I would take it to the streamlet for a bath. I fed it out of my hand. When it was stormy in the woods at night, I would leave the door open.

Writers have very strange vagaries. I used to read poetry and scribble my fictive parables on cold cold eventides with only the deer by my window. A swarm of wasps would travel past. Occasionally a ladybird, blobbed in a hundred places, would slide by. The deer was getting tidy all through. Its eye shone.

And then one fine morning it was gone. It is hard sometimes to nurture a flower and water it each day and then find it suddenly plucked away. I don’t quite know what happened to the deer. There are creatures that lurch in the jungle. I missed the deer, in my dream, I recall. It shouldn’t have been gone. It still had plenty of growing up to do.

I didn’t get time to look for it. My dream broke. The tender smithereens of the broken dream lie all about my mental landscape.

© Sameer

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Striking it out!

7 Race Course Road, Lutyen’s Delhi. Lush as a freshly watered golf course. Pea fowls spurt about in the laws of the Prime Minister’s bungalow, spreading their iridescent blue-green plumage. Dr Manmohan Singh walks out of his study, clad in a spotless white Egyptian cotton Kurta-Pajama [lose-fitting traditional Indian attire]. He wears a turban, the color of a clear noonday sky.

Indu Shekhar Chaturvedi, PS to the PM, walks in front. She leads the PM to a hotline. It is a secure point to point communication system that connects the head of the government to whoever he wishes to speak to. K Muthu Kumar, OSD to PM, steps ahead and presses a secret button. He hands the phone to the PM. Dr Singh clears his throat a little.

PM [in a soft voice, whisper-like and silken]: Hello. Hello. Is that Mehbooba Ji?
Mehbooba Mufti [turning pages of an Urdu newspaper]: Yes, and who is this. What do you want? [The pitch is both idle and shrill].
PM [hand on mouth-piece of the receiver]: What is this Muthu? Can’t you inform them in advance? [Removes his hand from the receiver and clears his throat again] Mehbooba Ji, this is the Prime Minister.
Mehbooba [Bored like an average Kashmiri on a Hartal afternoon]: I don’t like people joking with me when I am going to go into a sulk.
PM: This is Dr Manmohan Singh, Mehbooba Ji.
Mehbooba suddenly remembers the satiny voice. OMG, the PM. She jumps to her feet. Aquiver like a pea-hen.
Mehbooba: I am so sorry, Your Excellency, I was drawn away by the latest Hartal time-table in the newspaper. I couldn’t realize it is you.
PM [a tad relaxed]: That is fine, Mehbooba. How is Mufti sahib? Where is he?
Mehbooba calls her dad [hand on mouth-piece of the receiver]: Mufti Saab, Jalti yiyov haz. Zehra haz badlav takdeer. [Mufti Sahib, come quick. Our fate is likely to change]
Mehbooba to PM: Mr PM, what is it about?
PM: What?
Mehbooba: Why do you wish to speak with Mufti Saab?
PM: Err…No, I was generally enquiring about him. Courtesies, you see. I want to talk to you.
Mehbooba [a, shade dejected]: What would the PM of a mighty country want from a small regional party leader like me?
PM: Well, you know, Mehbooba. I don’t know the language of politics and how to say these things but since you have been such a nice girl, I [stammers], I was just wondering if it could be possible for you to attend the ‘All-party’s meeting’ called by our BlackBerry farmer in Srinagar.
Mehbooba: Sir, I don’t want to sound rude but I don’t like Blackberries at all. Besides we have another full week of strikes here. I was just reading in the newspaper.
PM: Beti [daughter, affectionately] How can you not attend? What is democracy without opposition? We will look plain silly.
Mehbooba [by now an agitated Mufti Saab is around, keenly listening into the tête-à-tête]: We have a considered opinion sir and let us submit it to you, here on this hotline. We think the BlackBerry farmer sucks. His tale is over.
PM: Mehbooba, dear-o-dear, we know that story. Who do you think writes the script? So pray, be a good opponent now and go to Srinagar tomorrow.
Mehbooba: His Excellency, papa has something to say.
PM: Mufti Saab, aap baat kyo nahi samajtey [Why don’t you understand?]
Mufti: Dekhiye, Wazire-Azam Saab, yaha haalat mukh-talif hai. Hartal hai. Nahi Ja sakte. [Look, Mr PM, it is different here. There is a strike. We can’t go]
PM gesticulates to his aides, all of whom are looking peculiarly at the phone. The gesture suggests: What now? They ask him to hang-up with an alibi.
PM: All right Mufti Saab, please try and re-consider your decision.
Mufti: Hartal hai. Saang-bari ho rahi hai. Kahi pathar laga, to. Nahi Ja sakte.
[There is a strike. There is stone pelting. What if we get hit? We can’t go]
PM: Have a good day.
Mufti: You too, His Excellency.

Mufti turns to Mehbooba: And you thought New Delhi wants a change of guard.
Mehbooba: Heck, I thought why else should the PM call me.
Mufti: They back the Abdullahs at present.
Mehbooba: Drop it papa. Did you check the latest calendar?
Mufti [with a wink]: Is there a strike day for mainstream politicians’?

7 Race Course Road:
PM to his aides: They kept repeating Hartal and Hartal.
First aide-de-camp to PM: Apparently a new Hartal time-table is out in Srinagar, Sir.
PM: What the heck? Don’t they have any relaxation hours in the Hartal?
Second aide-de-camp: Yes sir, for a few hours, on Saturdays.
PM: Interesting. And how do they re-impose a Hartal?
Third aide-de-camp: Throw stones.

© Sameer

Friday, July 09, 2010

News Hour by Arnoub Goswami

Welcome to News Hour. This is Arnoub Goswami, live from Mumbai, from my studio, blue as tobacco smoke and you are watching the most watched TV show in India. We are debating the current unfolding events in Kashmir tonight.

[The camera zooms into Arnoub’s strangely smug face, highlighting his greasy hairdo. Soon there is a close-up of his face and the image stays for nearly an hour. Arnoub has recently watched the archival footage of famous TV anchors in history and tries in vain to imitate them. There are fake pauses. There are intellectual pretences. End of it he looks totally daft]

Arnoub: With me tonight in the blue studio is only one man: Arnoub. We broadcast live from Mumbai and since no one politically significant lives here, I am joined by guests from Delhi, Srinagar and elsewhere. Remember it does not get bigger, bluer and better than this. So stay glued. We’ll be back in a moment to ask tough questions and call them all on carpet, especially the ones from the land of carpet-sellers. Watch out.

[Commercial break]

Arnoub [in a CU (close-up) shot, taking the whole frame]: We have tonight with us Mirwaiz Umar and Sajad Lone from Kashmir. Dr Chandan Mitra and Rajeev Rudi join me from Delhi and here in our blue studio in Mumbai I lord over them. We begin Round-1.

Arnoub to Mirwaiz Farooq: Mirwaiz, do you pay these agitational kids who throw stones? My channel has access to your landline logs and it appears that your domestic-help actually helps you transport stones from his ancestral village in South Kashmir, an anti-national place, since stones are in short supply in Srinagar.

Mirwaiz: This is non-sense. I don’t know what you are talking about. I….[at this point Arnoub, the judge, jury and the executioner rolled into one, cuts Omar short].

Arnoub: I want to bring in Chandan here. Chandan, What do you make of the stone ferrying?

Chandan Mitra [Chewing on something sheepishly]: I think there is a lot of juice in the transcripts’ that your channel has so painstakingly accessed. That is not only a clear indictment of the mobsters who target our brave Jawans in Kashmir but it also goes on to prove, Arnoub, your own dexterity and ability. I salute you tonight. Like I saluted you last night. My God. How incredibly ingenious!

Arnoub: Thank you, Dr Mitra. At Times Now we try to be popular, never populist. Let Sajad answer my next salvo.

Arnoub [grinning] to Sajad: Is it true that the kids who get shot provoke the cops? Also is it true that paid stone pelters push little boys to the frontline on purpose so that even as our troopers, exercising extreme caution, fire below the belt, the boys invariably get shot in the chest due to height variation. Answer me Sajad. The nation deserves an honest answer.

Sajad: As long as you stop looking at it as a simple law-and-order problem, you can't picture it right. Height variation. Extreme caution. You must be kid…[at which point Arnoub decides to interrupt Sajad].

Arnoub: Nobody is a kid here. We are all adults and we are talking adult business here. We are talking real guns here, not toy guns. [The anchor looks straight into the camera and as if on cue the cameraperson does an XCU (extreme close up), exposing the gleaming side-arms of Arnoub’s glasses. Arnoub has a glitter in the eye that says: Good boy, Arnoub, point scored].

Arnoub to camera: We have heard the view from Kashmir, which is both fragmented and frustrated. When we come back after the break we will hear again from Dr Mitra [who will finish his mushroom soup by then]. Rajeev Rudy will also enlighten us with his views on Kashmir.

[Commercial break]

The prank resumes. The prankster repeats the cycle.

The conscience aches. One wishes to weep into the crook of arm. At the banality of it all! Will the silly anchors ever fathom that the fury is many decades, many centuries deep?

© Sameer
PS: All situations in the blog are fictitious. Artists invent lies, at times, just to tell the truth.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

What next?

Our sorrows will never be sad enough
Our lives will never be important enough
~Arundhati Roy

Kashmir is a beautiful cage this morning. The inhabitants behind the grilles are strung out and edgy. Their luxury of innocence has been taken away. A peek through a crack in the windowpane can invite a ‘stray’ bullet. There is no venturing out of the home-cages. The bylanes are fitted with death-traps that resemble mousetraps. And they have been put in place in Srinagar and Sopore and Anantnag and elsewhere. We have become the townmouse and the countrymouse, like the Aesop fable.

There are curfewed dawns and curfewed noontides and curfewed evenings. Hazarding a guess – whether it is full moon or moonless tonight – is impossible. Our gaze has been curfewed over. Ill tempered spectres prowl about in the backyards. And there is no sound except jackboots mashing something, someone on the curfewed road. The sick can’t cry. A girl, from north Kashmir, withering with stomach ache, died in the wagon while her aged father tried to convince the mechanical creatures ‘imposing’ the curfew to let them pass. In utter vain.

Is the dead girl a martyr? A martyr as in bullet and blood martyr, we know not. The supremely disconnected TV anchors, sitting in plush studios in New Delhi, perhaps know better. There is a bespectacled host, son of an ex-army officer, who in particular knows all the answers. He is the Bill O'Reilly of the silly Indian TV circus. His mouth turns in such a disgusting manner that every phrase he manages to mutter comes out phoney. It is lame and dumb. And it comes from the ‘free’ media of the world’s most orotund democracy.

There are no newspapers on newsstands in Kashmir today. The local press has been curfewed over. Their pens rendered unsuitable. Dissent and debate is part of a democracy. While India's self-righteous leaders never fail to highlight its democratic credentials, they remain ignorantly indifferent to the misery of more than six million people, who have been cooped inside one of the world's biggest prisons. The state calls its own violence law, but that of the individual crime, Max Stirner the German philosopher once averred.

One wonders what is next: What after the curfew outlasts its utility? What after the last flag march has been conducted? What after the doors of the cage are re-opened? What after the last guard goes away? What after the last body is fished out? What after the inferno burns out? What after your scream solders onto my scream?

A long wordless hug. Zero-tolerance. Probe. Mid-terms. What?

© Sameer