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?
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.