Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Harvest and hankering

Can we not light up a fire
and see each other’s gaze?
Can we not make noise
like those good old days?
Can we not break into a song
when first snows alight?
Can we not be awe-less
and fear not the night?
Can we shut out the guff
rulers let fly at us?
Can we summon to mind
poems of harvest and hankering?
Can we paint wistful meadows
in bold colors of concord?
Can we sit and laugh
in the midst of this curse?

© Sameer

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The hecklers

Aesop, the Hellenistic slave, narrated a profound tale in the winter of 6th century BC. The story is simple but the message remains relevant 2700 winters later. A Bee, queen of the hive, buzzed her way to Mt Olympus to present Jupiter some fresh honey. Jupiter, delighted with the offering, promised to give her whatever she wanted in return. The Bee thought for a while and then said, “Please give me a stinger, so that I can hurt whoever might come to take my honey.”

Jupiter didn't quite like the Bee's desire to hurt people, but he had made a promise and had to keep it. So he answered: “I hereby give you the stinger you want, but use it at your own risk. For you may only use it once, and it shall break off in the wound you make. Thus you will die from the loss of it.” Right-wing Kashmiri Pandit groups have taken recourse to the stinger, over and over again. Cloaked in nothing but nuisance value, the loss is, in plain words, their very own.

I don’t frankly admire the Mirwaiz too much. I think he reeks of an elitist with all those expensive caps and well-pressed designer Kameez-yazars [Pathani dresses] but he is an important voice, however rapidly he talks on TV. The fact that some goon in ill-fitting pants will awkwardly lunge at the spiritual head of a huge section of Kashmiris is such a travesty. What compounds the pain further is the sight of neo-Nazi style fellow Kashmiris, cheering the mobsters on. Hell what have we become?

Heckling and assault on dissenting voices has become the new bench-mark of the largest democracy in the world. If instant 2-minute TV fame is your idea to spend a dull Thursday afternoon, then all you got to do is this: Rush to the nearest Kashmir seminar in town and behave like an undomesticated mare, kicking away at everyone. Bare your teeth menacingly and go ahead and smack the speaker. In no time the robot-like cameramen will have your attention. And Eureka: You are a nationalist. An ultra-nationalist, if you please. Friends can see you on telly. Simple.

One wonders if this is the educated, liberal, brainy, respected Pandits who once inspired awe. Not to mention an overwhelming majority of Kashmiri Pandits do retain their secular ethics and cultural upbringing. Somewhere in the melee (post the exodus, which is such a shameful chapter) several second generation KPs mingled with the rougher crowd. Soon they would become the flag-waving, uncouth, sloganeering jokers in the pack. What is transpiring at the moment is part of the same transmutation.

Lately it has become quite fashionable to dub anyone ‘enemy of the state’ as soon as something displeasing is said. Ofcourse there are heart-aches, ofcourse there is displacement, ofcourse there are serious disagreements but taking a passado at everyone who holds a position contrary to your own makes you a crack-pot. To shoot a man because one disagrees with his interpretation of Darwin or Hegel is a sinister tribute to the supremacy of ideas in human affairs -- but a tribute nevertheless, the literary critic Steiner said sometime back. One only agrees.

© Sameer

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wintry tales

Only the curer whose love makes me drunk
Only that hand, if it wants can cure me!
Requirement is not a test of my tears
Eyes, not carriers of rain laden clouds!
~Shahi-Hamdan, Amir-Kabir

The Alvand mountains in the Hamdan province of Persia are lush green. One fine morning an old poet who lived nearby decided to set off for Kashmir. It was 14th century, historians agree. He rode a horse and came. And we were never ever the same. He made Sufis of us all. Despite what the likes of G Parthasarthy and Arnoub Goswami and his bald guests will have you believe, we still are a soft-touch lot, which gets quite dewy-eyed at the drop of a hat. We cried both when Sheikh Abdullah ceased breathing and Benazir was slaughtered in broad day light. Each year on Herath we seriously miss out on the wet wall-nuts that Kashmiri Pandits used to stock. We are nuts, I agree, but our heart is in the right place.

So we decided to lock horns with the ‘biggest democracy on earth’ and its military apparatus for five whole months. And boy, what engagement it was? We let the dust gather on shop fronts and government offices but we didn’t budge. Even a wee bit. With no major movement on roads we plastered king-size graffiti on highways. Armed with nothing but a moral rage our kids picked up stones from the roadside and took aim at the democracy. Ofcourse a democracy has hidden fangs and it lunged at us – again and again. A lot of young people who went out to tease the democracy are no more. They sleep forever in the apple fragrance of countryside Kashmir and beneath the bustle of Srinagar.

And as autumn gives way to the bitter chill of winter there shall be mehfils [gatherings] again and people will celebrate Eid and other associated occasions of merry-making and quite unbeknownst to all – snow shall fall. A million flakes will descend on cold nights upon forgotten graves and tall pines of Gulmarg. Skiers will slide over soft, cottony, clean snow. One of the two Abdullah’s might take a quick chopper sortie to the mountains. TV OB vans shall follow to get images for the jingoistic middle-class, which but for the lack of an expression are likely to bawl: Swarg hai Kaashmir [Kashmir is paradise]. Indeed. A jinxed one at that.

The roughhouse seems to be abating because there is a certain critical point till which eye-lids can not be batted. Eventually eyes get strained and blinker. The democracy is running worried and not without a reason because every intelligence index suggests that people might put up a fight – if only next summer. So there are efforts being made to reach out. A three member panel is wandering about with a tent which they pitch in towns and taverns. Only the already converted see them. Ideally we should have held them in a dreamless embrace but we are walking on eggs here.

Bohemian love songs reverberate in Srinagar this time of the year. At Syed Ali Hamdani’s Urs [anniversary] last night people thronged to seek blessings and peace, I am told. The bloke was neither born here, nor is he buried in Kashmir. Born in Hamdan, he died in Khatlan [modern day border of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan]. A poet, Hamdani visited briefly to help us fathom love and tolerance. We soaked up both his philosophy and message.

And now we stand accused of being intolerant. Pity.

© Sameer