We may be different political beings but we are all human beings.
~Syed Ali Geelani
Delhi, October 21, 2010
The auditorium was filled to the rafters. Geelani sat calm as a mid-summer's sea. I don’t quite subscribe to the man’s politics but you can’t help grudgingly admire him. Apart from sounding total convincing, he is frighteningly intelligent. He speaks in a disciplined, clipped dialect and makes Haryanvi cops jostle with one another to pluck their cell phones out and click him. The Little Theater Group audi, next to DoorDarshan, located in the heart of Delhi, was Kashmir’s very own Broadway this Thursday. Syed Ali Shah Geelani was the sole protagonist.
Even before Geelani got up to speak, those perennial dorks from BJP’s student wing ABVP and their ideologically intolerant brothers-in-arms which go by fancy names like Panun-Kashmir (our Kashmir) and Roots in Kashmir began their distasteful sloganeering (Crude swear words, cusswords, expletives all). In the melee some buffoon attempted to throw paper missiles at Arundhati Roy, sitting next to Geelani. Something was hurled at the rostrum but it missed the 82 year old leader. Trespassers have such poor mental trestlework.
Kashmiri volunteers immediately threw themselves around Geelani. Students formed a human shield. The man betrayed no emotion. He continued to beam a beatific smile – in intervals -- as if scoffing at the frenzy subliminally. Eventually two men helped him to the lectern. Geelani began on a wispy note and just two minutes into his speech, given in flawless, genteel Urdu, interspersed with Kashmiri-accented English, everyone was in raptures. There was rapt attention. He constantly shook his head (could be age) and recalled historical dates like a farmer’s calendar. No wonder he churns those calendars with such ease back home.
Over the next few days the Kashmiri papers – and FaceBook videos -- are likely to shed light in some detail on what Geelani said at the convocation. The Indian TV has already given it a rotten spin: Kashmiri students heckle Geelani. That is such a cunning slant. The Hindi news channels in this country, and some English channels, their camerapersons (they look like car mechanics) and anchors (IQ levels seriously negative) should all be put on a bus without brakes and send on a paid-vacation (with free Samosas and Chai). The future generations will be grateful. With the kind of TV happening, India may soon be a nation of morons.
In dense Urdu Geelani talked about justice, basic human bonds and democracy. Ofcourse he repeated some of his standard fustian statistics but his speech was never drab. There is something uncomfortably scrupulous about him even if you tend to disagree. He looks injected with truth serum. The manner is uncharacteristically poetic. The inflections are fresh while the delivery is clear. I thought the top cops – revolver grips shining in holsters -- standing on the exit doors were so cued in to Geelani’s one hour long speech that their subordinates, who usually won’t dare stand near their bosses, shoved their way to catch a glimpse. ‘What democracy are you talking of, Geelani thundered? It was never exhibited in the valley. Before 1990’s if they caught you listening to Azad Kashmir radio, they would put you in jail, along with the culprit radio, he told a giggling crowd, which comprised of journalists, intellectuals, writers, students. And sulking badgerers.
I don’t know how big Geelani’s influence is in present day Kashmir or how to measure it in the competing narratives but he has for sure transcended into something big. He does not carry that Jamaati-chief tag any more. He has gone beyond the Hurriyet boss appellation now. I reckon Geelani defines Kashmir’s defiance.
You may loathe him, love him or harangue him, but there is no denying his indomitable spirit. As a parting shot, almost chokingly, Geelani said: You (India) could aspire to be a superpower, perhaps surpassing America some day but frankly we don’t care. Aspirations can’t be abolished. Even by a superpower.
Some spunk this old man has.