Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why so serious?

Humor is a reminder that no matter how high the throne one sits on, one sits on one's bottom

The spoof appears to have run aground. Omar is an angry young man because someone attempted to lampoon him in a picture on FaceBook, along with his dad and grand-dad. The image appears to be a rip-off from a poster of a popular film ‘Three-idiots’. The Abdullahs’ – Kashmir’s high-brow first family – are mimed as Kashmir’s ‘Three-idiots’. An instance of Juvenalian satire, it would pass as just another gag in any civilized polity. Except Kashmir. Suddenly the ruling cabal is agitated, like an aged volcano.

A hurried press conference was called in Jammu to denounce the lampoonery. Rahim Rather, an old National Conference [NC] strong man, was flanked by two rising stars on the NC horizon Nasir Sogami and Devender Rana [expected to keep pouring paraffin in the NC lamp in Srinagar and Jammu respectively for many years to come]. They vented their ire on Mehbooba Mufti, leader of the opposition, and no Lal Ded herself. Ms Mufti was accused of forwarding a text to friends, asking them to check the picture out. Now Zardari was last seen giving final touches to a new law in neighboring Pakistan, attempting to gag those ridiculing him in texts. NC may well move a similar bill. AFSPA can wait.

Prof Howard Zinn, the very fine author, professor and intellectual who wrote tirelessly on civil liberties died in a swimming pool in Santa Monica, California last month. He often used to refer to Thomas Jefferson’s famous letter to Abigail Adams -- written during Shays’ Rebellion in western Massachusetts -- “The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere.” It is not known whether the NC bosses know that in satire, irony is often militant.

Humor is like an aphrodisiac, which needs to be popped once in a while. In London, the city I love, Punch was a ground-breaking magazine of popular humor that often involved satire of the contemporary political scene. There are so many references and pastiches of wit in Islamic culture itself. Arabic poetry, the genre of satire, called Hija, mixes amusing anecdotes or wit in a grave subject to make it just more palatable. Satire gained currency after Islamic philosophers such as Avicenna and Averroes elaborated on the Greek thinker Aristotle's Poetics.

Nearer home in the good old innocent days, our folk singers, Bhands used to fuse play and dance, to portray social traditions and evils, bringing out the satire in them. Our Ladishah is a beautiful sarcastical form of singing. It is humor loaded with political reproof. In the present day Kashmir there are just press conferences, where particles of froth can be seen floating about in abundance.

We learn three new things from the ‘Three idiots’ joke and the subsequent press conference: Mehbooba Mufti – with that black cell phone of hers – is a gamester. Omar has two spots of angry red on his cheeks. Our humor has been molested.

Must be the conflict.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Lest we forget

Soon we will have the first spring blossom in Srinagar.
Hyacinths, blue and beautiful, shall smell like a mix of lavender and candy stick. Schools shall reopen. Low rumble will follow angry thunderclaps. Clouds shaped like abandoned honeycombs will freckle the skies over Dal. At noontide in the hinterland, ducks can be seen foraging for food, which usually consists of purple worms and fresh grass. Small ducklings with downy plumage usually walk in tow, imbibing the craft in their duck-brains. Rain is also expected.

There is talk that people who crossed the ‘line of control’ on cold, dark nights long years back – in bands of one dozen and two dozens – may be asked to return. It was in all probability a cross between uncontrolled anger and wild ardor that led to the night-walking, authorities are suggesting now. They are our folks, in language and temper, blood and spite, and must return. ASAP. The color of the sky oft referred to as green in classical Arabic poetry, isn’t green.
It is red with a plough for moon.

Intelligence sleuths are faced with a tough task this spring. How do Kashmiris acquire all the stones in the world – in myriad shapes and sizes? That is the riddle of the season. Ours is an oval valley. Surrounded by hills, Kashmir has volcanic rock formations. Rocks, many rich layers of them, are found in the Lidder valley in South and hillocks of Baramullah in the north. Only God knows how gunny-bags full of stones and half-bricks -- find their way to the alleys of Srinagar, as narrow as grids of a crossword puzzle. It forms the ammo to take on the might of a nuclear power, with close to 700,000 troopers on ground-zero, always in a state of battle-readiness.

We hit the bricks too often and too easy. Conflict makes people ornery. The entire cycle of throwing bricks and destroying public property and shutting down businesses has gotten tinged with a certain amount of rowdiness. Ofcourse those employed with the government continue to get paid as a divine right while they sit back at home [citing lack of transportation or safety as rhyme]; the economy continues to take severe hits. Private sector, still in its infancy in Kashmir, pays its staff for playing a game of cricket or attending a feast on an average strike-day. It happens nowhere else on earth.

Pastoral Kashmir is languid in spring. Women artfully balance the Paej [baskets made of stiff willow fibers] on their delicate heads. The contents may include animal dung, collected over the winter, to spray in their chestnut colored meadows. It is also the time to sow the first Haak [collard greens] – the official vegetable of Kashmir. While we like to think that only we devour Haak, not many people in Kashmir are aware that Haak is a staple food in Southern American cuisine also. The African-Americans love it as a part of their soul food.

Our backwoods have not always been pictorial. Nineteen years ago, this dreary day, February 22, a tiny north Kashmir village Kunan-Poshpora was snowed under. Early morning troopers from 4 Rajputana Rifles descended. The army men were apparently under the spell of some gypsy curse. What transpired in the sad, damp village over the next few hours is both gut-wrenching and disturbing. The mass rape is folk lore in Kashmir now. Two decades later the village wails on a single thin note, like someone taken by the Vikings and impaled.

I like the azure of Hyacinths. Legend has it that Hyacinth was a stunningly beautiful youth loved by Apollo and Zephyr. Once playing a game with Apollo, Hyacinth got hit by something hard. He dropped dead. Accusatory fingers were pointed at Zephyr. Envy could have been one reason. Apollo, it turns out, did not allow anyone to claim Hyacinth. It made a flower from the youth’s blood – Hyacinth. The flower smells ancient Greek blood.

PS – Farooq Abdullah, the ageing son of Sheikh Abdullah – his only claim to fame – reportedly danced and shook like a harlequin yesterday for no apparent reason, greatly amusing his hosts. Omar his capable son appears to have grown hair on his head in recent pictures.

Happy Spring