Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Persecution -- what are you tonight?

Persecution has a shape, and a weight and a texture. This summer it is unmistakably evident in Kashmir. Mornings fetch sad tidings here. The beautiful garden that is Kashmir appears run over by strange creatures. When a crisp blue suddenly gives way to dreary evenings, it is sadness beyond comfort. That has become out subroutine. Kids engage the cops, who in turn shoot them in the head or heart, tempers fray, the government shuffles a tad, strikes follow, there is furious sloganeering and curfew. The action shifts to another corner of the garden. Evil emissaries’ prowl. With whips in their hands. They smell of funk and coconut oil.

I am summering in Kashmir and it is kind of bittersweet. Hopping out of the home is a challenge. My media accreditation cards allow me to drive a bit but I am not to venture near the war-zone. That is where the action is: young men – aged 20 and less – try and engage the CRPF in a battle of wits. A devil-may-care ferocity looms. The police train their guns on the kids. 11 boys were killed in this fashion in June alone. And the spiral continues. The government calls the kids rioters. While the claim cannot be substantiated given the government’s track record of speaking nothing but untruth on Kashmir, one finds it hard to put an exact expression to this fury.

Mosque loud-speakers are blaring out old cassettes. They ask people to get out of their comfort zones and gather. God knows how the magniloquent songs of revolution survived these two decades to mysteriously emerge now when no one even cared to remember the lyrics. I don’t frankly fancy the verbosity of the songs but I must concede that the Azadi sentiment hasn’t exactly withered in Kashmir. It lies torpid and in a state of suspended consciousness. People go out and even vote in between the dormant years but it never really goes away. That is the take-home twenty years later.

The strike is now supplemented by a curfew. There are fetters around the garden. Imagine a life where you are kept within bounds, your phones are jammed and your expression is severely gagged. People still find ways and means to sneak out and forgather near their homes. They exchange back-fence talk and speak in exaggerated tones. Someone says that the cops are coming. Some places the crowd simply melts into the alleys. Other places the mob sticks like glue. A confrontation ensues. There is sound of tear-gas shells exploding. The shells come down like handfuls of nails flung hard by a seriously riled sky. Then there is wailing.

The cycle repeats.

© Sameer

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Red is my orchard

There is mild rain in Sopore. This is a small borough with lots of apple orchards and apricot trees, that are salmon pink this time of the year. There is shrieking this evening. The distant wails come to me in mockery of the pounding of my heart. Two kids, ages 14 and 17, too young for beards, were put to death a few hours ago. Shot dead from point blank as they attempted to knock themselves out with cops. Irrational exuberance – the government press release shall in all probability suggest. Instant martyrs – the townspeople have already picketed in.

A bunch of kids attacking a CRPF/SOG vehicle is a good enough alibi for the jackboots to open fire on them. Standard operative procedure can be thrown to wind when harsh non-indulgent laws exist. In case of extreme provocation there is an option to aim at legs or in the air. Like today in Sopore, and last week in Srinagar, the guns are targeted either at chest or in the head. If the idea is to instill fear and intimidation in people by firing live ammunition with an intent to kill, then apparently it is not working. There should have been no Sopore today after what happened in Srinagar a few days back.

Clearly the government has got it awfully wrong in Kashmir. Cornered like a wild Chimp, it lunges at little boys who chase it. The official version notwithstanding – any confrontation between stone-holding youngsters and massively armed troopers – is disproportionate. As a result any death resulting out of such a face-off puts a serious question mark on the government’s cavalier attitude. It becomes a savage cycle thereafter and incidents such as these further provoke the hostility of people. The separatists simply tap the alienation.

As I blog it is evening time in Sopore. Two more homes are chopfallen in the cursed paradise. Little sisters’ running barefoot after an irate mob that carries their dead brothers’ is nightmarishly painful. Their eyes were like alien moons. They are simple, poor people and they don’t deserve to die like this. I don’t have an exact expression for my regular journalist friends in New Delhi or London as to why these kids fell today. I don’t know what frenzy is this. Is it a jinx around our necks or have we become somewhat unhinged in our heads? I can’t fathom.

Pray just don’t tell me there is yet another probe. That sounds like an expletive now.

© Sameer

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Where are my fireflies?

As a rule night comes early to Kashmir. The lowdown from ground zero is that violence has now been completely institutionalized. The largest democracy in the world and its Blackberry czar in Kashmir seem to be clueless about how to deal with their single biggest problem -- the street kid. Less than three weeks after the prime minister of India dropped by for a two day spring vacation, assuring the natives that their human rights will be respected henceforth, three young boys were sent to their graves. Their human rights scattered in Srinagar bylanes, with their teenage blood.

Accountability is a slut in this city. Top cops I conversed with say their men come under a hail of stones from irate mobs and they only fire in total defense. The paramilitary troopers cooped inside their sad bunkers lead a drab life and shoot when slightly provoked. Add to this the countless intelligence agencies at work, trying to help the government maintain law and order, and the riddle is complete for you. Kashmir is a police state. No dissent is brooked. The idea is to hold the popular sentiment down with jackboots. The panic button is perpetually on.

Across the other end of the Kashmir conundrum are the pro-freedom blokes. Having exhausted most of their options the separatist chariot is kept trundling by strikes, locally called Hartals. A human life is worth a day’s Hartal. Period. During the strike period the elite stay indoors to water their well-manicured lawns, those with no gardens to till read Urdu newspapers to the last tittle and the more outdoorsy sit on shop fronts, exchanging small-talk. Kids in several hot-spots throw stones at cops with a recklessly irresponsible defiance. There is a curiousness to it: All this looks perfectly normal here.

The civil society is somewhat split over the frequency of strikes. Hartals in Kashmir are unique in that they are very political in nature. Historically strikes have been the prerogative of workers. We have refashioned Hartals to fight an economic and nuclear power, which doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about clenched fists. How else do we protest, a senior separatist leader asked me quizzically? I had no ready-to-offer answers. As long as a strike remains peaceful, the society can be expected to support a legitimate cause. Any inconvenience caused to people is an expected spin-off. You cannot overdo it.

The narrative flickers at a riotous speed in the valley: From killer troopers to trouble-making teenagers to well-heeled separatist leadership to the bacchanal mainstream polity. Everyone has a strong, almost poisonous opinion of one other. They appear like strings of a beautiful musical instrument and when you try to strum it, it sounds like a vuvuzela horn.
The melody is lost.

As I blog, I can hear gun-shots piercing the waxing gibbous night. A fierce encounter is ongoing somewhere near the riverside. There are no fireflies tonight. Only tracer bullets.

© Sameer

Sunday, June 20, 2010

One more tear

One more smokestack is smokeless tonight
one more child put six feet under
One more mother is wringing her hands
one more son is inhumed tonight
One more joy is trampled upon
one more lad is overhung tonight
One more bullet to the heart
one more woeful home tonight
One more sombre evening
one more starless sky tonight

© Sameer

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


There is a certain informality about Kashmir that is both whisper-style and soul-baring. I’m home and everytime I come, it is raining like stair rods. It was tipping it down as I pulled into the vale, green as an impressionist piece of art by Frédéric Bazille. The mise en scène was broken only by troopers’ dourly standing guard. A very few people were on roads. The strike call given by the padre of resistance, this old fellow called Syed Ali Geelani, was being observed with all conviction. A kid had been shot in the head for no apparent reason. Kashmir may be the proverbial paradise but it is a very cursed one at that.

I absolutely love rains but folks say it has been raining here for more than a couple of weeks now and the farmers are a worried lot. When it rains in Kashmir it pours. The driblets tap-dance on all the rooftops in the neighborhood making it very agreeable, especially at night. You can hear the rain. It is near songful in Kashmir. I’m however willing to suspend my romance for rain – albeit temporarily -- to the country people’s concern for their crop. There is talk of special prayers being planned to make peace with God. And propitiating heavens is no mean feat. God has gotten irascible these days.

The absence of sound at night in Kashmir appears a little extraordinary to someone used to the clamor of citified life. It is peaceful here, I must concede. There is nary a bark. Only total, complete muteness like that of a graveyard at midnight. It takes you a few days to get acclimatized to the stillness. Eventually you get on with it and begin to appreciate the simple life. Why do you need street lights or night-life? Slowly you get used to the uncomplicated lifestyle. Only that it gets a little laidback and languid.

Regular narrative in Kashmir is replete with talk of separatists and their ingenious ways. The padre of resistance was recently heard profusely thanking people for making the last strike a success. Yasin is planning court arrest over the weekend. There could be some fisticuffs and more action. Such activity is grist for the rumor mills which go into overdrive. Local news agencies lose no time in sending texts of sad tidings to people, who in turn take a perverse pleasure to read the contents aloud to whomever is around. Everyone is a citizen journalist and the ubiquitous cell phone is a harbinger – of whatever is not right with us.

Some of what we love still remains. I listened to Wanwun. Wanwun comes close to madrigals. These are melodies of mirth sung in unison, usually in marriages. Beautiful women with still beautiful voices tell the stories of love and happiness in a very sing-song fashion. Chorus. They form a human chain with arms flung over one another and swing like an ancient rhythm. Their carols curl and pop in the rainy air. The pitch rises and falls and steadies with each note. The thrumming of Tumbak-naris (small, hand-held drums) turns the atmosphere euphoric. All hurt vaporizes.

God, I was missing on the homemade opera. I am glad to be home.

© Sameer

Thursday, June 10, 2010

To my old bed

I smell wild wood trees
possessed by buccaneers and bulbuls
criss-crossing each other
along heaving paths
I see bee-eaters, their iridescent wings
like violin bows upon the track
fringed with tall pines
like sharp arcs into blue Eden
I hear sounds being chargrilled
in the timberland, so green
surrounded with dug-outs
as deep as war sorrows
I walk into my vale
self-same over the years
cacophonous and comforting
if only to fell happily
into my old bed

© Sameer

Monday, June 07, 2010

PM in Zabarwan

Monday morning. The doors of Air India-001 are flung open at the Srinagar airport. The sky is blue, like the British Conservative party flag. A lean figure with a light blue Turban -- snowy white hair concealed within -- appears at the door. He has a duffle coat on. There are whispers on the Tarmac: Prime minister, Prime minister. With a brown bag in hand. Lots of goodies for us.

Slowly, with the grace of a sonneteer, Manmohan Singh descends the air-stairs. There is sound of salutes. Left. Right and centre.

Omar, clad in a crisp jacket, hair greying, like an amateur philosopher, steps ahead and extends both his hands for a hand-shake: Mr Prime Minister, Welcome to Kashmir.
PM: Nice day. The weather is fabulous, Omar.
Omar: Yes Sir, it was raining all through the last week. And the week before. We feared floods. All rivers are flowing over the danger mark.
PM: Hay Rabba [Oh God]. Why is everything so dangerous here?
Omar, tittering: Nothing serious, Mr PM. The rains can be a blessing sometimes. The only way to keep the separatists indoors.

Both step into a waiting car fitted with a zillion gizmos. Not even a robin on the tree can trill when the motorcade passes by.

PM, turns to Omar: Oh, by the way, I was mulling over to invite the separatists to a closed door.
Omar: Well, sir -- Geelani sahib is angry, like always. CID wallas tell me that even Mirwaiz is irate. And Yasin has been asking people to burn torch-lights at night. Sajad writes angry notes on Facebook.
PM: Grim, very grim. Why are they so annoyed?
Omar: Must be the weather, Sir. Grumpy like northern sky.
PM: I shall still renew my offer for peace. Sonia Ji insists.
Omar: How can there be peace Sir, when people are plucked out of their fields and clobbered to death?
PM, gaze a little stern: Don’t sound gloomy, Omar. It is a nice day.
Omar: Pardon me, His Excellency, I was a little distracted.
PM: You know we can’t afford to loose focus.

The cavalcade crosses a desolate looking Boulevard. Farooq Abdullah and Ghulam Nabi Azad follow in their respective cars. Sirens blaring. Farooq taps his driver to overtake Azad. [Tez Chalav Shahmas-lada -- Drive fast, you dimwit] Soz trails in another car, looking repeatedly at his cell-phone, wondering why it stopped working [Khabar haz kya gov yath – What happened to my phone? – Jammers Professor, Jammers]

Meanwhile in the PM’s car –
Omar, gathering courage again: Frankly, I am for zero tolerance, Sir.
PM: So am I.
Omar: We are on the same page.
PM: Zero tolerance for violence and terror.
Omar (in his thought-baloon): And human rights violations.
PM: Did you say something?
Omar: No Sir – we are already at the convocation centre. Let’s step out.

© Sameer