Sunday, August 15, 2010

The brown boot

Hans Christian Andersen is one of 17th centuries' greatest story-tellers. I especially like his fairy tale 'The Red Shoes' which the Danish author wrote in 1845 [around the same time the Brits fought the Sikhs in north India. The Dogras, till then Sikh loyalists, cleverly turned British supporters overnight and got Kashmir] about a girl Karen who becomes a victim of her own red shoes. Yesterday a cop [variously described as a nutcase, drunkard, contentious et al] threw a leather brogue at the duke of Gupkar.

He missed. There was frenetic activity at 1 Gupkar road at night. Farooq Abdullah shaved for the second time in one day and jumped into his waiting SUV and drove from his home at 7 Gupkar, a 45 second walk, to Omar's bungalow. Palace insiders gave this account.

Farooq [hassled]: Where is Omar? Where is Omar? Tell him Farooq is here. [Dr Sahib prefers to use third person for himself, like Gaius Julius Caesar]
Omar [clad in a Zara tee-shirt and Bermudas]: I am coming, tell him not to create a scene. I am already stressed out.
Farooq: Any leads on the shoe case?
Omar: They are looking into it.
Farooq [loosening a big-stoned ring on his index]: What is your guess?
Omar: You may have an idea. I told you I want to resign and go someplace nice and quiet and cool – to unwind. Now face this!
Farooq: Come on Omar. I have faced bigger challenges in life.
Omar: But you never faced a shoe.
Farooq: The cop, they say, is not in a sane frame of mind.
Omar: I heard him shout – Hum Kya Chahtey: Azadi [We want Freedom] very distinctly. He didn't sound like a madman.
Farooq: Do you smell fish?
Omar: The butler is making tuna tonight.
Farooq: I mean – do you rule out the hand of Muftis in this?
Omar: It has to be someone's foot dad. Remember, it was a shoe.
Farooq: Now who is being non-serious? And you think I act casual.
Omar: Well no one from PDP turned up at the stadium.
Farooq: Good riddance. Continue with it. Send them no invites. Why should they eat at government functions in the day and then criticize us in TV debates at night.
Omar: I don't care, dad.
Farooq: Well I do. I think our naughty neighbors could be involved in this.
Omar: They have floods. Apparently they got no time to brain-wash disgruntled old policemen at this time.
Farooq: Someone threw a shoe at Zardari last week.
Omar: Just because someone tried to knock him down, it doesn't mean they will pay someone to try it on me.
Farooq: Who do we blame then?
Omar: Divisive elements. I prefer keeping it vague and low-key.
Farooq: It is a big deal – already.

[There is a knock]

Knock, knock.
Farooq: Who is it?
Voice: Devender.
Farooq: Devender who?
Voice: Devender, Omar's advisor.
Farooq [with that Omar-you-and-your-so-called-experts look]: Come in.

Enter Devender, chest heavy with some intel he wants to share.

Omar: Speak Devender. It is OK.
Devender: Bandipore is Carnival-like! Thousands are marching to Ahad Jan's home.
Omar: Who is this Ahad Jan, now?
Devender: Err...The cop who threw the foot-wear projectile at you.
Omar: Dad says he is mad.
Devender: He bagged the President's bravery medal in 1990.
Farooq: Wayeh Khudaya, kom pagal gaye agadey. [God, we are faced with crazy people]
Omar: Whatever. Devender, mind a Tuna dinner. The fish is meant to be eaten raw. Just flame-kissed with lemon.
Devender: I won't mind.
Farooq: Devender, where is the shoe now?
Devender: Err... [At which Omar cuts him short]
Omar: Dad how about some Ortiz Bonito del Norte tuna.
Farooq: I have no appetite tonight.

© Sameer

PS: The palace conversation is pure pasquinade.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The domino effect

It is awful to follow Kashmir these days. Each voice in the tiny valley carries a hint of sob. Every hour brings in more sad tidings. The roar and the smoke of clash seem to be getting louder by the hour. Curlicues of Barbwire and Dannert wire appear ineffective. All efforts made to describe the strange shape of this furor have gone wrong. Without attempting to be all too worked up, it is safe to assume that the Tehreek [movement for Freedom in Kashmir] is on an auto-pilot.

There is a limit point upto which the human mind is capable of remembering names and ages. So many kids have fallen to ugly force in the last couple of weeks that the threshold has not only been submerged, it is completely blanked out now. Since the mind is programmed to seek answers, partly to beat the tedium and partly to comprehend what is going on, opinions are abound. Like moths on a starless night. Everybody – from the harried CM Omar Abdullah to the underground fugitive Masrat Alam – is incriminated. Vox Populi is filled with bewilderment.

The right to protest is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Throwing stones is not. Setting fire to government property is not. Clearly someone is not abiding by the law of the land. But that is not the whole picture. The rules on the use of force against unlawful crowds are also clear. Section 130 of India’s Code of Criminal Procedure, is clear: ‘If the assembly cannot be dispersed otherwise and it is necessary in public interest, then the executive magistrate can order armed forces to disperse the assembly. Even then, every officer must use as little force, and do as little injury to people.’ In Kashmir the line between natural rights and legal rights is often quite blurry.

At this moment a fear of the awkward looms. No one knows what happens next. The protests come along as asymmetrical. Bricks don’t come from Pakistan, as prime- time TV anchors with prim faces smeared with foundation cosmetics would break down for us. The weekly Hartal [strike] calendars issued from some hideaway, much electronegative as they are, continue to be followed in letter and spirit. The traditional opposition to the ruling coterie, Hurriyet, appears as naïfly as the common man. Omar is politically sidelined – trying to assert his authority by taking turns subsequently to preach on TV, order probes, dash off to Delhi (as and when summoned) and express -- what can be at best be called a cross between impuissance and an inability to do anything.

Three full fortnights of strikes have passed by. While it strikes one as windy and impractical, given the fact that the axe falls first on the less privileged, the effrontery is seriously alarming. The curfews are getting punitive. Phones in more sensitive pockets of the valley are jammed for well over a month. Text messaging doesn’t work at all. Six million men and women of Kashmir are finding it hard to grasp what they can do and what they are allowed to do. No one talks about the silver minted look of Omar anymore. As if on cue, everyone is looking up at the sky. The clouds appear shaped like stones.

© Sameer