Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mommy



In looking on the happy autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.
~Tennyson


Mom’s anniversary. Fifteen years have passed since mom exited our lives. The scriptures say that there is a paradise in the skies complete with gardens and yew trees where the good and the kind are sent for some paradisiacal foot massage. The word Paradise comes from the Persian root word 'Pardis' which means an exquisite garden that is enclosed between walls. It is not an open space, perhaps. I just hope they allow the tenderhearted in.

There is no Eden on God’s green earth. There are only memories, which are like these mini-drawings in our heads. No amount of wealth or intelligence can bring back those who accidently wander to the pastures beyond the known. There is an eerie discomfort about it which pokes you in the most improbable places. There are times in life when you laugh without meaning it. Nothing comes back. All we can do is honor people. And miss them in our most private, personal thoughts.

We grow up and branch out in life. We traverse alien shores and pretend to be independent. The heart, though, stays captive to old thoughts, floating about in familiar pastures. No matter how refined your dining experience becomes, you reminisce about eating in your old kitchen, hurriedly, wanting to join your waiting friends for fun. No amount of perfumed candle light can ever knock one’s sock off like the popping of Izband [rue seeds] in a Kangri [fire-pot].

Graveyards have so many tales in them. We, the un-dead, may never fathom. Mom lies interred in a beautiful, simple grave, in a green triangular meadow, by a quietly flowing river, in countryside Kashmir. In summers a lot of Viburnum flowers drop from trees and fall on her tombstone. It is bittersweet to visit her. I think it snows over in winters. I have no ways of knowing since I decided to find my peace elsewhere.

A million stars in the sky. Never ending snowflakes. Hundreds of dewdrops to greet the dawn. Hundreds of bees in the purple clover. Hundreds of butterflies on the lawn. But only one mother the wide world over.

Boy, I just hope the paradise story is true.

Mom,
28 Sep 1955- 28 Dec 1997
RIP

Sameer

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas


There is a merry tinkle about Christmas that makes it a very very delightful occasion. When I was kid, I was enamored with the idea of a fat old man, white as snow, sledging his way from the North Pole, where he is believed to have a secret gift factory. I’ve forever imagined Santa’s red coattails fluttering as his sledge speeds up.
And his beard, flowing white, not fox orange, dancing in the wind.
I was unable to fathom how such a fat man could slide in through a narrow chimney. But I loved the idea. Who does not love beautiful myths?

Christmas has always been about snow. And old Santa’s reindeer with those weird antlers. It is that time of the year when you don stocking caps and eat cakes and sing carols. To humankind! Though commercialized by sinister market wolves now, Christmas still has a feel-good factor that is irrespective of your faith-meter: you may be religious, secular or completely godless. I've hardly known a bloke who does not like the distilled spirit of goodness, that Christmas is.

For some strange reason Christmas makes people smile a lot, for it engulfs the whole world in a congenial conspiracy. Suddenly the irrational becomes rational. An unwed mother gives birth to a baby. The unpalatable becomes palatable as north star appears. The unreal welds into the real. Three wise men show up. Snow falls. Lore is fact. Hearts hammer. A lone bell begins to tintinnabulate. People re-meet.

I am culturally Muslim and spiritually liberal. I like Christmas for all its sweet secure spirit. I want a million coniferous trees to grow. The lights to glow. The bells to toll. The cakes to bake. The hymns to pop.
The love to spread.

We -- irrespective of our color and belief system – are wired to celebrate the good and the beautiful.

Sameer

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The return of Chilay-Kalan

It is cold as a well digger’s arse in Srinagar. The valley has just slipped into the nippiest part of winter, locally called ‘Chilay-Kalan’, which lasts all of 40 days. There is something about the 40-day Chila [epoch]. If the Tabligi jamaat [band for spreading faith to the faithful] somehow gets hold of you around this time in Kashmir they are likely to whisk you away for a period of 40 days. And you will never ever be the same, I swear. Apart from mosque Hamams, Harisa pinds [joints] are just about the best places to recline and indulge in a free-flow of the juiciest gossip in town.

So in every sand and brick home, little kids – each cheek a shade cherry -- are wrapped up in layer upon layer of woolens and kan-topas [monkey caps]. They move around like miniature astronauts, muttering away in Kashmiri-accented Urdu [but mind you, no Kashmiri, else you sound like a Groos]. Grown-ups hug the ubiquitous Kangri, to not let it go even for a heart-beat’s span, periodically handling the fire with a stoker, tied to all wicker-and-clay Kangris. There is no fighting the CRPF when you wake up in the morning to fight the frozen-oven tap. The wintry lull is not without a reason.

With little news happening, except for the cut-and-dried-and-shrill news-bytes offered by the intensely-yours old man of Hyderpora, the mike-wielding gang is a worried lot. In absence of political news they occasionally dash off to the shores of Dal to report the ice floes [called Tula-katur] to their ignoramuses in New Delhi. The lake freezes over in parts every winter and long years back, someone drove a Jeep on it. That is folk-lore. There are ice-roads in northern Canada, Russia, Scandinavia and elsewhere where truckers and motorists drive regularly but let us not digress too much from our fore-shore. Oh, Harzatbal rises like a florescent dome in glacial climes.

Despite the night temperatures dipping dangerously during the wintertide, the call for prayer [Azaan] always comes on time. In the countryside it is immediately followed up by an utterly pleasing cackle of coots, shovellers, pochards and wigeons. The songbirds tweedle upon treetops, singing in an almost melodic fashion, who knows, songs of winter and the joy of warmth. Deep in the pine jungles of Kashmir, which hide European Hoopoes and dark secrets in them, little indigo columns of smoke can be seen coming up from the Kothas [pit-houses]. It smells of simple wood-smoke at day-break.

When my generation was growing up in Kashmir, during the era of tea-colored bullets and power-less wintry nights, we thought in our juvenile abandon that Chillay Kalan must be an old, fat, Karakuli-wearing spook who exits his mountain cave at the onset of winters to bring all the frost and icicles and snow. Just like Santa Claus minus his goody-goody image. Now it does not snow like it used to in our childhood. For the contemporary and politically conscious breed of Kashmiris, Chillay Kalan must be someone like Farooq Abdullah. Theatrical. All bark and no bite.

© Sameer

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Devil is in the diary

The valley, it appears, is cold as blue blazes. Shakespeare wrote in Henry V in 1598 that I felt to his knees, and they were as cold as any stone, and so upward and upward, and all was as cold as any stone. Friends say that water lines have frozen over in Srinagar. The bitter chill of December is permeated only by the political happenstance, something never in short supply in our neck of woods. That also keeps journalists in constant business.

This Chilay-Kalan it started off by a yawning -- but perpetually paranoid -- security grid greatly alarmed by the sudden emergence of a blank diary and a calendar – all of six pages – printed by the same old nemesis of the establishment: the government’s tormentor-in-chief, that old man, who has by now developed an uncanny knack of frightening the largest democracy in the world with just about anything. Even a sneeze.

And this time it has been blank pages of a small pocket diary with innocuously elucidative quotes thrown in. Perhaps something like: Do not drink, all ye faithful, for you see, liquor can be spurious these days. Now when there is a talk of opening pubs in the city, where the chatterati and holidaymakers can giggle away to glory, such incendiary material like a pocket diary and wall-calendar with calligraphic verses can seriously disturb peace.

You never know what invisible ink Mr G might use. Why take chances? So orders were issued to appropriate all the goddamn calendars. There is a possibility now that J&K Bank might fast-forward its 2012 edition of calendars with 5th December, marked in red, with an exegesis: Birth anniversary of Jenab Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. One of the policemen, manning the house-arrest, could be given a copy to slither it under Mr G’s door. Just to ensure that he is cheesed off, proper and sour, in the 80-something Chilay-Kalan of his being.

The little debate on rowdiness notwithstanding, walloping a few photo-journalists here and there while they go about their professional duties, beating up a few dozen Moharram processenists, tearing down pages of wall-calendars, impounding blank diaries as if it were black hash, does not constitute hooliganism. Lo and behold if you show that silly mirror of yours to us, you might just be carrying out the worst form of hoodlumism. Why. Because we say so!

Pugmarks of a leopard were recently seen near the chief minister’s summer residence at Gupkar. A doctor who lives next door had his dog attacked and killed in the dead of night by the big cat. Experts were called in the next morning to figure out the phenomenon. They spent many hours examining and cataloguing the pugmarks in the foothills of Kohi Suleiman and concluded that in all probability it was a huge leopard that had wandered off the adjoining woods. Thank you, wildlife geniuses.

Grapevine has it that the leopard made a hasty retreat after noticing that it had crossed the perimeter -- into the turf of the original lion.

© Sameer

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Abdullah of all seasons

Whenever Doctor Sahib opens his mouth there is snowball's chance in hell that you won’t be surprised. The latest verdict, it appears, is loud -- as is expected from the older cub (they can be cubs only for there is only one lion): We badly need to have big screens back in Srinagar and open up the goddamn beer shops. Pronto. Tourists, you see, when they come to Kashmir have this tremendous urge (it could be the weather) to see Shahrukh Khan halt trains with the nail of his left little finger in cinema. Guests also want to eat butter chicken but often find no beer or Bagpiper available. This must change!

The tourism minister naturally adds to the chorus. 2011 saw 700,000 tourists visit Kashmir. Imagine millions of bottles of whisky – cheap, desi and malted – they might have consumed and the revenues thereof -- quickly collected by the state. In neighboring Jammu, where booze is freely available, by the way, excise duties et al on liquor comes to Rs 60 crores a year. Whatever the gain to the exchequer, tipple-tax may indeed be helpful in a state where the CM blows up Rs 12 crore on his chopper sorties alone.

All handicraft stores might need to display monkey-caps from now on – prominently. And journalists must wear bright clothes while clicking Haryanvi holiday-makers, enjoying boat-rides in the Dal. Else you could be mistaken for some obnoxious weed and dredged away into oblivion. The state government has -- till now -- efficiently, one must add, spent upwards of Rs 160 crore on the Dal clean-up project. Now the lake is as speckless as Veena, the neighborhood bombshell. All indicators suggest that ISI did not try to sabotage the project.

If one were to take Doctor Sahib seriously, we could be shortly in for a round of ‘controlled democracy’. Given his insouciant image, and apart from the fact that Sheri-Kashmir in a very un-socialist gesture put the dastar on the golf enthusiast one fine morning (since Farooq was more pliable and hence acceptable to India, his younger apolitical sister opines), Doctor sahib thinks he has a divine right to distribute over-simplistic gyaan on the workings of democracy in his capacity as India’s wind and biogas minister.

Other than the annual NC sound bites that Sheikh was a tall leader and how we are all grateful – and shall remain so – because he was for harmony and all that, the governor also had some nice words to say. Sheikh Sahib, Raj Bhawan noted, was among the notable leaders of his time who had worked closely with Jawaharlal Nehru. What they won’t say or choose to carefully blot out: Nehru put the Sheikh in prison for 23 long years and Indira Gandhi let him out, only to walk into a trap.

By the way has Doctor Sahib being listening to Kolavari Di, oflate?

© Sameer

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A patij for Omar

This autumn was consumed by a game of dumb charades in Kashmir. Newspapers wildly speculated whether or not AFSPA shall be rescinded in two counties. The chief minister, initially gung-ho about the revocation, soon figured out that the Dhoti-Wallas in South Block, are no walk-over. The defense establishment in Dominion Column is apparently less likely to be swayed by Twitter bravado. While the importance of being on the Unified Command is not lost to many, but like then the Queen of England, the CM of J&K is largely token.

Whether or not the dreaded law is finally removed, poor Mustafa Kamal was removed for attempting to be Kashmir’s Digvijay Singh. Known for his acidic quotes, he promptly blamed the prince – his nephew -- for his banishment from the court. Ironically in Omar’s maatamaal, the royal offspring of a monarch use the full style of His Royal Highness Prince(s) to their respective names but Gupkar clearly is no Buckingham palace and historically the monarch’s second offspring is considered bit of a threat to the throne. No surprises here.

Talking of politics and intrigues of Kashmir’s first family, Sheikh Abdullah, the patriarch – who has more detractors than acolytes these days – was son of a shawl-trader Sheikh Ibrahim. Born somewhere near the Anchar lake, Sheri-Kashmir married Akbar Jehan, the daughter of a European hotelier Harry Nedou. The Sheikhs had seven children. Two died. The five remaining children have been forever feuding.

Sheikh’s eldest child was a daughter -- Khalida, followed by Farooq, Tariq, Mustafa Kamal, and Suraiya. Sheikh Tariq is no more. He had huge differences with Farooq. Khalida Shah heads the ANC, her husband GM Shah’s party and is considered more of a political foe to Doctor Sahib. Shah’s rebellion against his brother-in-law is legend in Kashmir’s NC and non-NC circles. Suraiya Ali Matto née Abdullah used to teach at the Maulana Azad Government College for Women.

With Khalida and Suraiya out of the fray, only Mustafa Kamal stayed by Dr Farooq’s side, all along. Oflate he is reported to have consumed some kind of a truth herb. The no holds barred son of Sheikh Abdullah fired one after another verbal missile to devastating effect – My dad never signed on the dotted line, who’s Rahul Gandhi, The army throws grenades here, Soz has a small moustache (sorry I made the last one up) and so on and so forth.

Doctor Abdullah must be an embarrassed man. Exasperated he told Doctor Mustafa to go for a walk. Autumn is a great time to peregrinate up the Zabarwan hills. The leaves turn an intermediate color betwixt light green and orange. Near the governor’s mansion the yellow leaves strewn on the roadside give you a uncanny feeling of walking straight into a neo-impressionist painting by Camille Pissarro. Something like Entrée du village de Voisins.

I walked for a bit in the hummock early this month and bumped into this villager, around 70 years of age, feeble, wearing a Sozandar toup (peasant’s cap) and Pheran (loose tunic). He had dried muck on his plastic shoe and looked ruminatively into the multicolor foliage that grows in the Zabarwan around this time.

‘What do you do for a living, I asked?’

‘I used to make wagoo and patij’ (reed mats, made from rice stalks)

‘Vyon mahaz tschu kah hyeva’ (No one buys straw mats these days)

‘Does the government provide any assistance?’

‘Hai toeme kadhan jinab homanee, bae wanhak akh akh patij moel-potran’ (If they could get those out of here, I’d weave a straw mat each for the father-son duo), he said pointing to one of the numerous bunkers that disfigure the insanely beautiful hillocks of Srinagar.

© Sameer

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rain, Eid and Geelani

A fine rain was falling as I disembarked the aircraft. Srinagar was shivering at 7 degrees centigrade. Rams and ewes, all set for slaughter on Eid, looked forlorn. Meat-market persons in untidy pherans haggled with locals for rates. Half the male population, I noticed, had not seen a shaving blade for weeks, a very Kashmiri trait most noticeable in winters. While it continued to drizzle, queues outside ATM machines got fretful. At least three people entered the cashpoint at one time to witness your transaction. The invasion of financial privacy has a very harmless ring to it, which is very indigenous.

Eid, like other festive occasions in Kashmir, is more about gluttony and less about socializing. So everywhere you go, you get fed like sheep. Ironically you are served one or more of a dozen improvised varieties of mutton (of sheep, generally). All your entreaties and appeals that you can’t humanly consume so much will fall to deaf ears, as the hosts will gang up to stuff more lamb down your throat. Eventually you give up, knowing deep down that your resistance is futile and stuffing one’s face is perhaps too insignificant a crime in face of the famed ‘mohabat’ of your Kashmiri comrades and relatives.

Then Eid came. It appeared disdainfully scornful that Farooq Abdullah and his sonny (in similar shades of Karakul caps) would offer Eid prayers at Harzatbal, with their sidekicks, while the same freedom was denied to the elderly man at Hyderpora. Now in his mid-80’s Mr G wasn’t even allowed to be with his sick brother in his last moments. A day after Eid the leader’s brother passed away in Sopore. It took the death of someone in his immediate family for the police state to relax Geelani's house-arrest. Obviously on ground the world’s largest democracy is running scared of an ex-Jamati, thrown out even by his own party?

To be frank the Karakul cap does not sit very elegant on Omar’s pedigreed head. The AFSPA debate is at its vertex these days. The CM has made a strong pitch, asking for the revocation of the law from more peaceful areas of the valley. Military-wallas, as usual, have put a spanner in the works. They are against the partial removal of the pathetic law even on a selective basis. The Indian army has committed many war-crimes in Kashmir and no one wants to lose the immunity to be tried in a court of law for all the injustices and villainy. And if Mustafa Kamal states the obvious, it is just fair game to guillotine him.

I tend to be slightly antiquated in my appreciation of people. While in Sopore, and since Geelani’s late brother was a neighbor, I got a chance to catch up with Mr G in person. On a rain swept evening, a few days after Eid, I sat face to face with the frail old man in his mid-80’s. In a very cordial conversation, which lasted an hour and was only interspersed with rare laughter by Mr G, he sounded totally sophisticated, extremely well-read -- with a conviction, that is both dainty and devastatingly honest.

One must be forthright though. It is hard not to be impressed by Geelani but when you press him about removal of AFSPA, he would just say the same thing he has been saying since the dawn of mankind. There are things, though, he spells out in such lucid terms that you would mistake him for Gene Sharp. ‘The quest for something that has a profound insight, intellectual message and inspirational value for us won’t be slaked by a road here or a sightseer there.’ The feeble smile stays.

In a rare unguarded moment he removed the Karakul cap and I can report safely that he has not lost a single strand of hair. It is silver grey. ‘You talk in Kafkaesque terms. Are you not afraid to be dubbed as a Utopian?’ I asked. Some wise soul says ‘A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which humanity is always landing,’ pat came the reply.

Rain continued to fall outside. It was pitch dark. Sopore would be the last on the to-do list when they finally come around to scrap the draconian AFSPA, I thought as I began to take leave of the padre of Kashmir’s resistance. This has always been the stronghold. ‘I wish you good health, Sir’, I said as I got up to shake his feeble hand.

‘Nothing can exist without a cause. I am only incidental’. Geelani is sharply aware of both -- his age and ideas.

© Sameer

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Kashmir's Horcrux

Hectic parleys are on at the moment to jettison the dreaded AFSPA in the valley. By conservative estimates the army must have beaten about one in every five Kashmiris at one point or the other since this piece of horrible legislation was slapped on us. An unjust law, is no law at all, Martin Luther, the symbol of protestant reformation, verbalized the sentiment of St Augustine in the 15th century. Rings true to this day.

For more than twenty years people have been punched, thrown in the back of military trucks, knocked down by gun-butts, given kicks, pushed around as they got off a bus or simply slapped around for no apparent reason. Just for being themselves, perhaps. No you could not question the moral turpitude of a military-walla from Madras if he clubbed your aging father.

All that may change now. At least that is what we have been picking up from palace sources. The grapevine is abuzz that ever since Omar’s Range Rover (signal flags with farmer's humble plough shaking rapidly on the luxury bonnet) could not overtake a military lorry -- greatly upsetting the grandson -- the young CM (he is forever young and must be called thus till his children come of age), has decided to put his foot down. On a more serious note AFSPA has become Kashmir's Horcrux: How will they finally destroy it?

There is a little detail though that needs ironing but friends inform that there is no electricity in Srinagar. To scrap the law -- that the UN calls colonial-era, breaching contemporary international human rights standards -- another legislation/notification (God knows what jargon they use for it) needs to be annulled. It is a gift by an ex governor with big glasses and little compassion, following his subjective opinion. Plebians call it the Disturbed Areas Act.

Technically we were all disturbed for the last twenty one years. Disturb is actually based on Latin tumultus or tumult and applies better to physical agitation. In that sense Kashmir has been agitating for several decades. Omar’s grand-dad was also affected by the same tumult until he decided to forgo his defiance that saw him being sent to bars by ‘friends’. Now we are no longer disturbed, the first family thinks. Must be clap or cry.

As 2011 draws to a close and deadlines to get the law removed get stretched, one wonders if Omar’s Delhi friends shall help him relegate the law to where it belongs -- the dustbin of history. Ofcourse armymen with shok-shereen (whistles), shooing people off the roads, in fast moving convoys, will object. The entire defence establishment will fight in down. Soz, even as his moustache gets smaller and smaller, will oppose.

But a law that shields every non-commissioned fellow -- read a mere trooper -- to shoot and kill small children – as young as 9 -- based on mere suspicion to "maintain the public order" needs to go.

There is plenty of law at the end of a nightstick.

© Sameer

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Colonel's Legacy

The body dragging spectacle is on at the moment. People love gory TV. Qaddafi, the tyrant. Mad dog of the Middle East, Ron Reagan once dubbed him. Twitter crowd is rubbing their hands in glee: it is gag time again – bon mot, as they say in French. Each time someone dies or is knocked off by a US drone or NATO’s Brimstone missiles, a great menace is over; the world becomes a better place. And we can move on to the next target.

Mad old Qaddafi. He wasn’t in exile after all. Not in Niger. Not in the Algerian presidential palace. Not in Chad. He was not bluffing when he said I shall stay put in Libya. While alive Qaddafi rambled quite a lot. He confronted the Saudi king, putting His Highness out of countenance, in an important international conference in Doha two years back, the videos of which can still be found on YouTube. Ofcourse no one does that. You don’t talk down to the most important man in the world. Qaddafi was eccentric but in a very fearless way.

The Italians colonized Libya around 1912. They did a lot of shit in the beautiful African country as most occupiers do. If you perchance read history (which is a tad difficult on iPhones, I agree) you might come across a reference to the Turco-Italian War (Guerra di Libia in Italian) of 1911. Italy won the war and occupied Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica (roughly what constitutes modern day Libya). The first Libyan to fall to Italian bullets was Abdus Salam Bouminyar, grandfather of Qaddafi. Not a canine pedigree, exactly.

The truth is that Qaddafi was a flip-flop. The west never really trusted him, even after he voluntarily gave up his nuclear programme. With all the oil that Libya has (largest in Africa and ninth largest in the world) and his lifelong fascination to unite Africa, Qaddafi was always bit of a suspect. His female body guards and lapses into pitch-a-tent delirium, not to mention the stupid Green Book he wrote -- came in handy to call him a loony in garish clothes. Who pitches a Bedouin-style tent in the gardens of Baron Gustave de Rothschild's multi-million dollar mansion in the heart of Paris?

As long as he signed cosy deals with the Europeans, they welcomed him with official protocol at capitals and castles. Silvio Berlusconi used to come rushing to Rome's Ciampino airport to receive his ‘friend’ who came bearing goodies — oil and gas. So it appears a bit rich when the French rightwing nut Sarkozy says Qaddafi’s death has started a democratic process. Berlusconi used a Latin expression on hearing the news before quickly adding that the war is over. The Italian leader is a good seven-eight years older than Qaddafi and among other famous things, is best known for his sex party boast: eight is not enough.

Now that four decades of madness has come to an end (to use one of the cool expressions being bandied about) the uncouth rag-tag army of NTC, pushing each other to give bytes to Western TV channels, are no saints. Notwithstanding the praises they seem to be foregathering at the moment, an important 107-page report by Amnesty International late last month revealed that while Gaddafi forces committed widespread crimes under international law during the conflict, forces loyal to the NTC have also committed abuses that in some cases amounted to war crimes. Apparently they summarily executed the original 'Guide of the Revolution' after capturing him alive. No hermits here.

To cut the chase, Qaddafi proved to be a total screwball. But so was Bush. Thank the fathers of American constitution, a US president can serve only two terms. Yes Qaddafi bought soccer teams, spoke mercurially, was quirky sometimes, had simple-minded solutions for the most intractable problems like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Unify both, call it Isratine. Simple). He gave money to Colombia’s FARC and the IRA. Switched-over on the Lockerbie bombing issue. The legacy -- if any -- is both fractured and fragmanted.

In hindsight Qaddafi was a bad juggler. He sought a middle way between capitalism and communism. He tore pages from the UN Charter while speaking at the UN. In Libya he never came down off the high horse and ruled rowdily. Historians won't have problems dismissing him as a narcissist with a bohemian heart. Notably Qaddafi gladdened many a heart back home in Kashmir, much to the embarrassment of India, when he famously supported the idea of an 'independent state' for Kashmir. So much of an idealist in those African robes.

Hugely influenced by the iconic Eygyptain president Nasser, Qaddafi absolutely loved Nasser's pan-Arabist ideas and deep down probably wished to succeed him as leader of the Arabs. Sadly he could never make the transition. He remained a tribal with a golden pistol on him, always. The NTC foot soldiers are currently brandishing the Samuel Cummings small firearm.

©Sameer

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ants in pants of right-wing

The intolerance of the Hindu right wing just hit a new low. A few goons, boorish beyond belief, barged into the private chambers of the well-known Supreme Court lawyer and a fine gentleman, Prashant Bhusan, and assaulted him. Apparently Mr Bhusan had said that demands for a referendum in Kashmir are legit. In saying so he only quoted the promise made by independent India’s first prime minister, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, to the people of Kashmir.

Not only has it become terribly unfashionable to mention Kashmir in India these days but God forbid if you happen to speak your mind and toe a line, that is not in sync with the lunatic right wing, you are doomed. They will quickly send a few school drop-outs with pot-bellies and vulgar feet to your home -- to pee in your garden and threaten you with dire consequences for holding the mirror to them.

As they shout in a loutish, disgraceful manner while kicking an old man, breaking his reading glasses and tearing his shirt apart, you wish to tap the retards from behind and tell them that India published a White Paper on Kashmir in 1948 with multiple references to the issue of holding free and impartial plebiscite in Kashmir. What did this poor man do? He just stated the obvious.

And while you slap and beat him to pulp, reflecting the character of your Sena, do you even know, that the Constitution of India guarantees the right to freedom, given in articles 19, 20, 21 and 22 to him. Had you been to a school, you dimwit, they might have taught you that the framers of the constitution of this country -- that you have now set out to defend in the unwashed shirt of yours -- guarantee the freedom of speech and expression, as one of six fundamental freedoms.

For ignorance that blanks out your ilk, and for taking an eerie pride in beating everyone from poor autowallas in Bombay to respected gentlemen in Delhi, you deserve to rot in prison – because primitive minds sure require some downtime.

© Sameer

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Why bother?

The question we all should be asking is not who killed the NC bloke. People wouldn’t care less about how this guy kicked the bucket. Let me stick my neck out on this one. I don’t frankly think Omar had anything sinister to do with the mysterious death of the NC worker. Perhaps he dealt with the matter in good faith, but since he is wont to donnybrooks and controversies, it comes back at him. Always.

Now TV chaps have a habit of chasing inconsequential things and glamorizing pure poppycock. So day in and day out -- for the last one week we were subjected to this rather weird Rishi character, apparently involved in graft, talking with a new-found piety to poor TV chaps flying light, since it has been a somewhat normal season in the valley. Since nothing substantial is happening in Delhi at the moment, media had a field day in Srinagar.

This entire dramaturgy amounts to nothing. Indian media, when it comes to Kashmir, is mostly corn-fed. Forget about the theatre. I understand where our own unease stems from. Many of us don’t like the arrogance with which Omar talks down to people, notwithstanding his glib TV performances. We understand the disconnect. We know that the manicured lawns of Royal Springs can’t palliate the pain of parents who get sleepless nights thinking about the unmarked graves of Kupwara and elsewhere.

The singular tragedy is that we expect the prince and his courtiers to abdicate power and go on a vacation just because one of their own allegedly died in the castle. How unseasoned is that? Should we really get worked up whether a sitting or standing judge writes the time-line of what happened at Gupkar last week? How about getting started by counting how many accused in the killing of 118 kids -- last summer -- had charges brought against them? Did we not have commissions of enquiry set up after each of those despicable killings?

If 2010 appears too distant a memory, what about events that came to light this year, not too long ago. Apparently a government body endorsed the findings of all those tireless organizations -- which have been crying hoarse all these years -- about the presence of unmarked graves dotting rural Kashmir. But for an exception or two the findings registered nary a blip in the national media circus. And why should it? Salam Reshi, with his deliberate pauses, makes for sexy viewing. Middle class India does not care for rotting cadavers. It wants emotional porn on KBC and Bigg Boss.

The truth be told it is somewhat unfair to blame poor Rajdeep and that greasy hair– Arnoub – and the Times of India boys in Kashmir. The Indian parliament didn’t deem the matter of mass graves fit enough, regardless of the Atut ang raag, to be deliberated upon. Forget about the parliament in Delhi, the JK assembly speaker, a gent with large glasses and a notoriously short temper, simply turned down the demand for a discussion on unmarked graves. No sweat. Matter adjourned.

And as we hoof-it into another winter, there shall be layers of snow soon, followed by Harisa. And skiing tourists. In two months it will be two years from 2010 and who knows what hornet’s nest we stumble upon next. Already Mr G is saying: Show the slum dwellers the way to Jawaharlal tunnel!

© Sameer

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Of four-letter words

Kashmir Assembly

Scene I, Act II
Play: Who shouts louder?

Dramatis personae:
Akbar, the Abusive: Sharp-tongued, wildly gesticulating. Chair.
Moulvi: Opposition member with a huge fan following, throws fans occasionally.
Mehbooba: Leader of the opposition, will trade anything to be the Queen.
Omar: The scion, damned if he opens his mouth, damned if he doesn’t.
And the sundry.

The house is in session. There have been slug-fests -- drop-kicking, jumping on benches et al -- in the last few days for entirely different reasons.

Penultimate day. Enter Akbar in over-sized headmaster glasses. Slightly boorish, hair dyed charcoal black. More black than Prof Soz’s little moustache. Takes his seat.

Akbar: Let the proceedings begin, ladies.

Moulvi: I object. There are men also present here.

Akbar: Don’t rub me the wrong way. I know where you come from.

Moulvi: You are being partisan.

Akbar: How many parties have you changed? I have lost count.

[Laughs a sinister National conference laugh]

Moulvi [red in his ears]: This is such a shame!

Akbar: We have many shame. Oops, damn this English language. Bahut Sharam hai hamare paas. Apni fikir karo. Your party is shameless.

Moulvi: You sound like a farmer, who never went to school.

Akbar: I don’t have farm-houses like some people.

At this Mehbooba jumps to her feet and butts in. Scarf tighly around her face.

Mehbooba [to Akbar]: You must be the most biased farmer ever.

Akbar: Javo ji, kissi aur bagh me javo. I am the gardener here. And I will not let you pluck any peaches.

Mehbooba: Please remember you are not a national conference worker here, like the one killed yesterday. You are the chair.

Akbar: I am Al-baain. Plough. Get it. [Switches over to Kashmiri for easy cuss-word delivery]
Saeri meel chakvo aabas. [We will pour all your ink into water]

Mehbooba: It is clear. You are full of spite.

Akbar: Not a word will go on records, Mehbooba ji. Not a word.

Mehbooba: We haven’t spoken a word. What will you enter and not enter in the record?

Akbar: Shut up, I take no dictations from Muftis or Molvis. Akbar only gives dictations.

At which point Molvi gets supremely agitated and attempts to throw a fan at Akbar but Allah saves the speaker.

Omar: What was that? An earthquake. Lets move out of here.

Akbar: Beth jayiye. Sit sit. Billions of billious barbecued blue blistering barnacles, what a rude bunch I got here.

Akbar continues his rant. Beth Jayiye. By now all courtiers are up. There is noise, commotion. TV guys have got news of the day. They are pantomiming in front of the cameras. As if describing an assembly free-for-all is the most terrible thing in the world to do.

Diplodocus! Duck-billed platypus! Dunderheaded coconuts! Voices from the speaker’s chamber can be heard.

The yapping gradually dims out.

Curtains.

© Sameer

Friday, September 23, 2011

Barrister in the buggy

Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry is a heavyset man. Born into a Jatt family of politicians in Mirpur, he went to England like all wealthy Mirpuris do, to earn his law degree. Apart from being a barrister (not a solicitor, mind you) he is friends with the drama queen Zardari, and is PPP’s current points man in Azad Kashmir. Nearer home he is pals with Zahoor Shah Wattali, the boss of real estate group Trison (brother of ex DIG Kashmir Ali Mohammad Wattali). Yasin Malik, when he was still a folk hero-cum-guerrilla commander was arrested for the first time from Zahoor’s home. Do the maths.

To all appearances barrister sahib came to attend a wedding in Srinagar this past week. Given his bulk, matched only by Devender from our side of Kashmir (Okay okay guys, Jammu and Kashmir), it appears that he quite enjoyed his Wazwan at the Wattali household. Not only that -- the ex-PM of AJK (yes they have PMs there) enlightened us about the exquisite beauty of the valley, greatly adding to our cognition. Chopper rides usually have that kind of effect on excursionists.

Barrister also loved the golf buggies in Srinagar’s Royal golf course. This is a very posh place which the rich and nouve-rich of Srinagar (apart from politicians and their sidekicks) frequent. Alas the bourgeoisie can only afford to take pictures near Pari-mahal with the green-as-Pakistani-flag teeing grounds as backdrop. Yasin ‘socialist’ Malik and Nasir Sogami accompanied the portly guest on different occasions in the golf cart. Reporters say that the barrister felt equally at home on -- fairway and rough – across the political divide.

And one evening, as someone played low flute near Zabarwan, a thin sliver of moon appeared on a faraway cloud. The prince charming strode in, blue eyes and all. Soon the blind date happened. The sometime PM of AJK and the incumbent CM of OJK (that is original, not occupied). Notwithstanding the usual tosh of official version: apricots and apple tarts were discussed, sceptics remain unimpressed. It now appears that barrister sahib with those rang-ba-rangeen short jackets of his, mayhap carried some coded message from Zardari which Radha helped Omar decipher.

Often times it gets complex for the muggles to follow the tale, since it is so ridden with mystique. A heavy-duty politician who was the principal of Hogwarts at a time when our wizards went there to learn alchemy, was in town, and flew around like they do in Quidditch. In between he rendezvoused with Death-eaters while the ministry of magic looked in utter disbelief. The jury is still out on the political symbolism of sultan’s tour de force.

No, he thundered, back home in Islamabad, he does not recognize Omar (despite the latter’s Twitter gushing, chopper freebies, mild moments at the Lion's tomb and Nasir, the tour guide’s boyish commentary in the buggy). If not anything, Geelani, old and frail, and cooped inside his home at all times, still gets the Pakistanis to behave.

© Sameer

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Thirties

When I was younger, I used to get these daffy thoughts, especially when it snowed. On a calm wintry night, when the world seemed like a big barren meadow, I expected the candle factory nearby to go up in maroon flames. The snow and the rabbits would illuminate in the glow, I imagined, and we could all sing Happy Birthday to the old Shama factory.

Kashmir is no more the valley of our growing up years. Someone recently told me there still are light cuts back home, especially during winters. Call me a complete quixotic, or a hopeless romantic, I find the idea of a dark, candle-lit night utterly fairytale like. There are some voices from childhood one can’t afford to abdicate.

In rabbit years, I'm dead. Since humans live a while longer, I guess ambling onto the 30’s brings the first whiffs of maturity. The serial infatuator in us shoots himself in the head. At a subterranean level -- axiomatically -- you become more conscious, more aware, more silent, more unfastened and more watchful of where you are going in life. Though I must admit that the child in me keeps me amused, childlike -- 24 X 7.

At last count the world was 6.9 billion and yet there are no more than 6-7 people you come to love and be pals with – for a lifetime. Who knows the millions of rendezvous’ we keep having, perhaps all happen for a reason. We meet the most amazing of humankind and the silliest of nuts in life. We bond, laugh, philosophize, traverse long paths. And yet when the plane hits a turbulent pocket in air, we are alone.

How is it like being early 30’s, an American colleague of mine asked me in the morning? Camus says in the 'The Myth of Sisyphus' that the age of thirty is a crucial period in the life of a man, for at that age he gains a new awareness of the meaning of time. Ofcourse I didn’t quote the Frenchman to the American. Boreham wrote in 'Cliffs of Opal' that Keats ensphered himself in thirty perfect years and died, not young.

By the bye, I share my birthday with New York Times.

© Sameer

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The 9/11 decade

It has been ten years since 9/11. They now call it the 9/11 decade.

I was visiting home that September lounging in the pre-autumn sun, drinking noon-chai with a Bakarkhani. The first plane struck the North Tower. I rushed inside to switch the TV on but continued to dunk my phyllo bread. Soon the second plane cut into the South Tower. I called up my friend who works in lower Manhattan. He was on his way to work, he said, and was standing at the City Hall, just north of the Financial Districts, looking at the burning citadels of America’s capitalistic pride – the two iconic towers. "I saw the second plane crashing," he said in a very ruffled tone. This is major. Major. My Bakarkhani went cold in my cup, I still remember.

The moment was critical – for Kashmir too, much as it was transformative for the whole wide world. Something extraordinarily dramatic had happened. Suddenly rebellion/freedom/resistance struggles became swear words. Everything was lumped together. Everything became terrorism. Raising fists too. So Armitage, quite hulk like, said something about bombing Pakistan back to the Stone Age and the military-wallas ruling the country, got the message. Overnight the moral, political, diplomatic support to ‘Tehreek-e-Kashmir’ became muddy. Taps were shut. Ofcourse there never were any training camps in Pakistan. Kashmiris went to Hogwarts to fetch their wands.

Mighty America was dandered up. You see the problem is that you cannot afford to antagonize the US. There are a few sacred lines you cannot breach. Ofcourse you are allowed to show the chip on your shoulder and complain. You can even cry injustice to a mic near you. Bleeding heart liberals may even hear you out. Amy Goodman could well speak with you for her show -- on phone -- if your English is okay but there is a clear line. A few things are non-negotiable in this world, like death and taxes. The red-line is America. There can be no non-sense happening on their own portico.

Soon war helmets were out. War grammar was read out in the woods and cities. On the world stage a huge churn was taking place. Nothing appeared the same. Kashmiris forgot about the ‘beautiful Kalashnikovs, as one columnist described the guns’ and an earnest re-think started. One can’t say for sure if 9/11 speeded up the transition from an armed to a peaceful struggle but events on that day, ten years ago, sure acted as fillip.

The US went about invading one district after another from Kabul to Karbala -- to ‘cough’ the bad boys out, in cowboy-speak. Nearer home multiple peace orgy’s took place. Vajpayee, Musharraf et al became stars but soon dimmed out on the firmament. Meantime the Americans continued to thrash anyone who came in their way. Poor Saddam was falsely accused of having sheesha with OBL in a Baghdad café and quickly hanged. Pakistan became a frontline state again. Seen hobnobbing with the Americans, the beards in their infinite wisdom thought it wise to finish Benazir off. Everyone everywhere was dabbed in colors of chaos.

One hundred and twenty months later, with over half a million people dead, mostly innocent, nothing much has changed. Cosmetically there are adjustments though. America has a professorial president now who does not sound dumb. There are no box-cutters on planes. Zawahiri doubles up as the CEO of Al-Qaida and their chief surgeon. Karzai rules Kabul, not Afghanistan. Europe is more far-right than ever before. Zardari sleeps in the Aiwan-e-Sadar nowadays. Omar Abdullah watches only NDTV at Gupkar.

Has anything really changed? Is the world a safer place? Presidents Obama and Bush had to be kept behind bullet proof glass at the 9/11 memorial , the other day.

Are the Taliban defeated or exhausted in Afghanistan? Is Pakistan better off or worse than before? What after the last Americans exit Iraq? Is democracy like pizza, home-delivered in 30-minutes, piping hot? Is it okay to fist the air now?

Sometimes questions can be booby traps.

© Sameer

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Autumnal music

Since the powers that be have completely mastered the art of playing musical chairs (Oh-you-are-free-because-democracy-is-in-a-good-mood-today/Oops-stay-home-democracy-is-suspended-tonight) with the old boy, the plucky boss of the Hurriyet snuck past cops and did a disappearing act on the Eid eve. Only to emerge further north. Much to the chagrin of Gupkar, G preached revolution. For the millionth time. The proverbial thorn continues to prick the prince.

An investigation was launched into the great escape. How can someone in his 80’s with a crème color Karakul cap, matching the Pathani dress, with an unmistakably graying beard of a believer, tip-toe his way to freedom? The poor policemen are at pains to explain the phenomenon, while Twitter was briefly abuzz with the talk that it could be an invisibility cloak, a la Harry Potter. The jury is still out on whether there exists a secret tunnel underneath his home or some divine help is at play. We shall know.

In other fleeting news, Mufti threw a closing Iftaar party a day or two before Eid. Irrespective of the preference of his guest list, he served a drink of sweet basil, locally called babri byol. Although the actual number of Rozdars (those who do keep fasts during Ramadan) was not immediately known, journalists who nibbled away in the party said that food flew off tables at the speed of light. Given a choice between mutton chops, Manmohan and Mufti, it is anybody’s guess what Kashmiris will opt for.

Post Eid, it looks like there is going to be no harud (Fall) this year. It has upset a great many people, including Chetan Bhagat. A festival of handclaps and free expression, supposed to take place on the banks of Dal, has been scuttled by armchair intellectuals and high-strung hacks. Was it indeed a great way to push for freedom of ideas in a place where the very ‘idea’ of ‘freedom’ is dismissed offhand? There is plenty of law at the end of a nightstick, to borrow Whalen’s weasel words.

Shammi Kapoor’s last remains were scattered in Jhelum and around the houseboats where he serenaded beauty, and Kashmir by extension. Notwithstanding our discomfort with half-a-million jackboots and other such visible signature settings in Kashmir, we love Shammi Kapoor, unanimously. Does he symbolize some long-forgotten virtue of innocence, the poetry of our souls or some balmy nostalgia, we know not? Even if memories diffuse facts sometimes, they seldom die.

© Sameer

Saturday, August 20, 2011

McCain in Mughal Gardens

A little detail has fallen between the cracks ever since India started its latest march to a corruption-free state, led by Shri Anna Sahib Hazare, a piddly man, simple-mindedly honest. This revolution is cheered on by Lord Arnoub Goswami (confident that deliverance is well nigh), and the big media (how shamelessly they boo our revolution, hypocrites). Anyway, far from the maddening crowds of the Ram Lila Maidan, an unexpected visitor dropped by in Kashmir.

John McCain is a very important man. He came close to becoming the US president two years back before Obama spoke one night and DC was flooded with tears of hope, washing away both McCain’s aura and Fox News’ mental virginity. Another matter Barack proved to be all bark and no bite, notwithstanding the Nobel Peace Prize. Despite his failed attempt at the presidency, McCain is relevant and sits on the Senate committee on US Armed Forces, a hugely influential body.

So what brought him to Kashmir? On the grapevine in Srinagar, friends pick up that McCain discussed a basketful of issues with Omar, besides spending a few hours at GN Butt’s World famous (everything is world famous in Kashmir) Claremont houseboat. Previous guests have included US vice presidents (Nelson Rockfeller) and rock stars (George Harrison). The fact that McCain flew in straight from Islamabad (Pakistani capital, not Anantnag), his political secretaries in tow, has made it all the more titillating for the gossiprazzi.

Despite the government press release, the purpose of the meeting is somewhat unknowable. McCain is too high-profile to get on a plane to discuss environment and social issues with Omar. Hence the curio. We called up palace insiders, as we sometimes do, when info is hard to come by and gossip threatens to morph into a conspiracy theory. Geelani sahib, for instance, has already called the meeting an anti-Muslim ‘nexus’ between an evil America, Bharati Samraj and Jews. Why do Jews have to feature in the most unlikeliest of films, one wonders?

Be as it may -- flanked by his secretaries Christain Brose, Vance Serchuk and Paul Narian -- McCain, the iconic American hero, air-force commander, famously shot down in Vietnam in '67, POW, maverick, GOP stalwart, met Omar, son of Farooq Abdullah. The CM was flanked by (who else) Devender and Nasir Sogami. Here is a figmental account.

McCain: Harwan is green. Like Hanoi, Vietnam.

Omar [pleased]: Did you see the Royal Springs, Sir? My dad and I play golf in half-pants there. Nice place.

McCain: I hate golf. Churchill used to say, it’s a good walk wasted.

Omar [little embarrassed]: This is a great time to visit Pahalgam. If you like, Sir, my choppers are waiting.

McCain: I am told you are already facing criticism for blowing up money on helicopter rides -- to hill resorts. I don’t want an American angle to it.

Omar: The opposition here is petty. They gang up with the separatist leadership on me. I have friends. Can’t I take them to see my fief? Please tell me, Sir. Can’t I?

[Devender and Nasir nod in affirmative, suggesting Omar is right]

McCain: I heard the Mirwaiz on FM this afternoon. Retainers in the houseboat said he is a big hit.

Omar [somewhat cheesed off]: No way. He is only popular in areas where Azaan from Jamia Mosque loudspeakers can be heard. In any case radio was our idea.

McCain: Your idea. But why make your foes popular?

Omar: They tend to get very grumpy during house arrests. FM kept one faction of the Hurriyet busy, at least.

McCain: Splendid. What about the other faction? Someone said the old man is more well-versed in religion.

Omar: Well he is bit of a firebrand, Sir. By comparison Anna Hazare appears like a jester in front of him. One cannot trust him with a mike. It is like offering carrots to a rabbit.

McCain: You keep pulling these rabbits out the hat, don't you? Did you switch off mobiles and internet in Kashmir on India’s Independence Day?

Omar: Communication is a distraction sometimes. People had other options. They watched Doordarshan. Flower petals falling on my head as I tugged on the flag halyard. We wanted everyone – adults and kids – to feel patriotic.

McCain [with a sardonic smile]: Don’t they call you the Twitter kid?

Omar: Dad says kids born in palaces should play with real helicopters.

© Sameer

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Living

Eleventh day of Ramadan. Middle East. A glade of earth, as extravagant as it is affluent and filled with contrasts. I don’t know if the mere act of keeping a fast cleanses us spiritually. I don’t even know if it really makes a difference. Yet there is something utterly graceful about resisting what comes naturally to humans. Trying to stay un-moored, even if for a month, in a world and age filled with seduction is in itself an elegant thought.

A lot of charity happens around here this time of the year. Those wearing subtle notes of Yves Saint Laurent fragrance sit with poor workers, smelling sweat, straight from their construction sites, to break the fast together. All the world's racism and xenophobia -- so inherent to humankind -- evaporates, by some magic. I like it when the distinction between the haves and the have-nots fuses in some beautiful symphony.

As such life is never easy. We seek to make it pliable, only to sit back and let things take their own course. We sashay past situations. We get attached to memories, places, people. Often enough it takes extraordinary courage to be in the saddle. On occasions, time slips peacefully by, in a haze of relaxation. Yet at other times, cheer, like a clandestine lover, slips away quietly, from the back door, tip-toeing. Without the sentimentality of a poet.

© Sameer

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Harud

Come September, Srinagar shall transmogrify into Jaipur. The Directors of the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival and Teamwork Productions will descend upon Kashmir to organize an ‘apolitical dialogue’ concerning literature. Makes one reflect, if only in self-amusement, how does one de-link art and literature from politics? And how do you hyphenate the two in a space as political as Kashmir.

News stories from India say the gala literary event will be spread over a couple of days in Srinagar and invites are currently being printed to be dashed off to prominent Kashmiri writers and several Indian authors from the celeb-set. Reports go as far as to suggest that Salman Rushdie will come, which may quite frankly be plain attention-seeking. Blasphemers seldom walk into battlegrounds.

Sanjoy Roy, producer of the fest states that, "The Harud festival will be a great addition to our existing literary and arts festivals in India. It is a privilege to be creating this program with the backdrop of Kashmir and its legacy of literature which has a history of over 2,500 years. We strongly believe that India's multi cultural ethos needs to resonate across the world."

It is astonishing to note that while the organizers scramble about to provide a platform to writers, they choose to either forgo or overpass the silenced tragedy of Kashmir. Is this an effort to mock at the muffled dissent that is so commonplace in Kashmir? When Kashmiris, by and large, cannot express themselves freely, how can a literary fest engage them in a meaningful way?

Talking of a literary tradition that dates back two millennia and attempting to kick-start an apolitical cultural dialogue in Kashmir is akin to lobbing a joke grenade at an audience that is too terrified to laugh. How can one talk about the freedom of speech under the sun when some poor kid is tortured to death at night? Why can’t people be allowed to express condolences, leave alone ideas? Unless the expression is truly free in all forms, how can one celebrate writing and arts?

From times immemorial literature and politics have informed each other. Plato, the great Athenian philosopher wrote Protagoras to use conversation between characters only to make political statements. As Olga Tokarcruz, one of post war Europe’s finest essayist’s writes, ‘There is no literature that can remain nonpolitical in this broad sense of the word, apart from romance novels or pulp fiction, of course. Quality literature, literature that wants to achieve something, is always political.’

Not surprisingly comparisons will be drawn with the Palestinian Literary festival (PalFest). Indeed Harud is going to be nothing like that. The PalFest, that seeks to assert the power of culture over the culture of power, to paraphrase the Late Edward Said, was shut down in 2009 by Israelis in East Jerusalem, prompting the British columnist and writer Jeremy Harding to remark that all cultural events which take place in areas of contention have political undertones. "Talking about what literature is and what it means in a fraught political situation is the most honest thing we can do,” he added.

One may forgive Times of India, once a wonderful newspaper, now reduced to shallow yellow journalism, for headlining Harud as ‘Kashmir Valley turns a page, starts a literature fest‎’. A celeb-set of authors dissecting oral traditions of Kashmir and band-pather et al, complete with a musical jig by amateur artists – with drums and guitars and microphones – playing to a young crowd swaying to them indeed makes great headlines. But it also sends out a message. There is normalcy. While there isn’t any. What is on display is invented normalcy, or semi-normalcy, if you may.

Kashmir is a place where the crises of legitimacy stares you in the face. There are important questions to be answered. Who will be excluded? Will the seditious Arundhati Roy qualify as a speaker, given the apolitical theme of the fest? Will Fatima Bhutto explain culture to young Kashmiris in her American accented English? The White House spokesperson pronounces Pakistan better than her.

If one were to scratch beneath the glossy image – the lush lawns, imposing mountain backdrop, artsy types in Fab India Kurtas, the tourist brochure Dal, good-looking people, famous authors’ with misty Kehwa cups in front of them, Farooq Abdullah's collection of exotic shawls, coffee house perennials – you get the real picture. It is somewhat odd and sadly does not make good headlines. Parents waiting for their jailed children. War orphans with eyes welled up, another Eid without their folks. Mass graves. Section 144.

Every man's memory is his private literature, Aldous Huxley, said one evening. Our memories, over many Haruds, are brimmed over with injustice.

© Sameer

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Lobbyist

Poor Dr Fai. Imprisoned for being ISI. That all powerful imperium in imperio [state within a state]. Uncle Bush, busy signing his own baseball cards these days, gave the Pakistanis well over $10 billion since 9/11. Pakistanis apportioned the largesse amongst themselves and some of it naturally went to ISI -- being the largest of the three intel service agencies of that country. The spy agency in turn threw some bits to lobbyists in the States, FBI claims. The Americans are basically saying now: oh we don’t give you sackfulls of sugar so that you make candies and market them here. You have to be a registered candy man.

And since we are a little grumpy at the moment, we will squeeze you a bit.

In reality the Americans don’t miss out on these things. They knew all along that Dr Fai was a top lobbyist for the Kashmir resistance movement. They knew that he gave small funds to congressmen. Everyone does that in DC. It is legit. There is a whole philosophical and legal framework to it. Each penny is accounted for. Now of course if the relationship between US sleuths and their Pakistani counterparts hits rock bottom, expect some legal brain in FBI to dust off the rule book of political funding by foreign governments. Notwithstanding the fact that Bush used to exchange texts with Fai.

Since the big media has gotten involved and NYT is following up on the news [which by the bye was swift to call the recent Norwegian bombing a Jihadi plot, before getting an egg on its face] US politicians of all hues are likely to shun Dr Fai like plague. Those ‘Dear Dr Fai’ letters from Bill [Clinton], which were re-printed faithfully by local dailies in Kashmir in the 90’s, text messages with Dubya, the dinner laughter with Dan Burton will all be forgotten. How could they know Fai was ISI? Nobody had a clue till yesterday. Okay we might be exaggerating here, perhaps Arnoub and Praveen [Indian clones of O'Reilly and Lawrence Auster respectively] had a hunch but no one in the US knew. That is for sure.

Fai is a US citizen and the law of the land is expected to deal with him without fear or favor if he really broke any rules. That he was at the helm of intense diplomatic efforts -- at age 62 to promote the plebiscite of Kashmir -- is as well known as Beatles. Whether he actually mixed up with the modern day version of Nazi Germany's Schutzstaffel -- read ISI -- shall be decided by a United States District Court in Virginia. As for Wadwan, a tiny village in Kashmir’s Budgam, where Fai was born, these are very wistful times.

© Sameer

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Peace Times

I loathe myself sometimes for not knowing too much Urdu. Every time I see people bartering couplets in Urdu, especially in Roman script on FaceBook, my envy is rekindled. Heck Geelani Sahib’s autobiography too is in Urdu. The boss of Indian army’s 15 Corps in Srinagar, Lt Gen Hasnain is currently going through the tome. The army PRO confirmed to journalists that Gen sahib is a voracious reader and likes Geelani sahib’s wolfish Urdu. He is reading page 144 at the moment. There are no sections in the book. Any pun is incidental.

Since this is the season of schemes, local journalists will soon get their share of the melon. Land is being finalized in Srinagar to be handed over to the press corps for housing. There will be separate zones for TV and Print guys. However it has been decided (perhaps at Devender’s insisting) that there be only one main entrance to the press mohalla. Sometimes when it becomes imperative to teach the natives a lesson or two in democracy, the gates can be bolted from outside. Simple.

Mufti Sahib has been appearing in papers oflate. That is always a bad omen. He starts off by saying innocuous little things (oh-you-see-I've-never-been-hungry-for-power-types) but soon blurts out something quite unexpected. A more seasoned and battle scarred player than Messrs Abdullahs' II and III, who are more prone to ad-libbing, Mufti is in his element when nothing untoward happens in Kashmir for more than a dozen weeks. A rival mainstream bloke in grey hair with a mic in hand talking in Kashmiri-accented Urdu. He completes the peace picture.

An Asiatic bear attacked someone in Srinagar the other day. The bear is reported to be in a fine shape and was seen making tracks close to the Zabarwan forest range on its back to the wilderness. It is said that in the wild one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to be attacked by a bear but these are strange times. Following an unusually big year for bear attacks, a seminar on how to meet a black, brown or polar bear and come out alive is being conducted in Tagore Hall.

Yes, you guessed it right. Doctor Sahib will make the keynote address.

©Sameer

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Lull

This is the summer of gay abandon in Kashmir. Close to 100,000 holidaymakers set off for hill resorts yesterday. Each nook and cranny was filled with tourists, local papers said. Everyone clicked pictures on hummocks and horsebacks. With the urban pockets reeling under an abnormal heat spell, the closest get-away is Pahalgam for everyone south of Srinagar and Gulmarg for the northerners. The jury is still out on why the horses in Gulmarg resemble mules these days.

The peaceful summer – and there have been many such epochs before – is not because the recently elected Sarpanchs have lulled their respective villages into some sort of amity. It is not even because the police force has suddenly become efficient since Nasir Sogami – grandson to GN Wai, minister in Sheikh Abdullah’s cabinet – became the new taskperson. It is because peace is often the easiest way to wind up at the goal.

In the slow psychological warfare that Kashmiris are subject to, sloppy stories continue to appear in the Indian press about how we must be on some weed to suggest that we lost 100,000 people in the last two decades. How we are completely off the mark on the exact number of people missing in the conflict or how we blow up the figures about people languishing in jails. The compradors just miss out on a small detail: the sport of statistics is always subjacent to aspirations.

We have never been in the business of numbers. We don’t wish to wear the albatross of victimhood around our necks. At an emotional level not many people would even bother to contrast the government figures of the dead or missing to the intelligence agencies' tally (often fed to whippersnapper visiting journalists) or APDP’s number of mass graves. The sad part is this very perverse and cunning effort to make the sufferer curse himself for the throes he undergoes.

The old man could make extraneous noises from time to time. Ofcourse we won’t throw our expensive phones into river Jhelum, neither would we asunder our classrooms into male and female units but we would still admire him, for someone must have the gall to tell the emperor that he is without clothes and that no matter how many tourists mistake horses for mules and how many schemes you launch, you can’t shackle our imagination. or Nostalgia.

© Sameer

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chiddu and Chilly grenades

PC or Chidambaram Palaniappan (yes that is the correct way to say it) is 65. None of his hairs is grey. They don’t age in Sivagangai where he comes from. The hair remains charcoal black till 90, by magic. The silk shawl that he throws on his shoulders is vintage Tamil politician style. Last night India’s home minister checked in at the Bobby guest house in Pahalgam. Kashmir is the place to be this summer.

The cub, with an iPad fitted to him, hosted an appams with chemmeen curry dinner for PC. No journalists could be found in the vicinity since the grand Mufti of Bijbehara, in a political masterstroke, had already fed them a sumptuous Wazwan. No one can really run around, let alone, write a news story, after partaking in Tabak-maaz. It hits you bang in the middle of the head, like Absolut Vodka. No Vodka was served at Mufti sahib’s feast.

So it turned out to be a private affair for PC and Omar. Like lovers they looked at each other on a mild Pahalgam evening, with the June moon smooching ebony mountain silhouettes in the distance. The police chief suppressed a half yawn when PC, known for his tough-talk, suddenly took something from of his brown bag. For a moment, Omar held his breath, jumping the gun in his thought balloon: Did he get me an Android?

Hopes were instantly dashed when a chilly grenade, Delhi’s latest gift to Kashmir, was unveiled to the CM. Soon the security grid will have trays of them and the next time the unloyal subjects, bored with Panchs and Sarpanchs, feel like to hurl a naar-Kangir or two at the occupation, cops can throw these lung burning, skin needling bombs back at them. You see, the best thing about a democracy is that it knows how to bring the people to their knees.

Early this morning PC took a chopper to Gurez, high up in the Himalyas, famed for its snow leopard. Journalists, Wazwan hangover finally receding, flocked to hear the CM, over high-tea in SKICC -- that all-expenses paid government watering-hole, which locals call Santoor. Butterflies are abound in the gardens of Srinagar. Non-political tourists amble about the Dal and the hill resorts. Life’s good.

© Sameer

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tunes of June

June keeps us on very thin ice. Strange things have happened in the past around this time. Omar Abdullah’s hair changed color suddenly from charcoal black to silver. The police chief became more bitter. Even the usually elegant Geelani sahib, never allowed to venture too far from Hyderpora, managed to sneak out to appear in slightly venturesome places such as Sopore. This June is different. An enforcement of silence is in place.

Earlier August used to be the street-fighting month. So each year on August 14 and 15, for many many summers, a tense standoff ensued. Indian military forces planned for the days ahead on how to tackle the lock-ins and protests and black flags and free-and-easy slogans and such resistance paraphernalia. Then suddenly the focus shifted to June, as if by some random raffle. Poor CM has since thrown away his infamous GAP tee.

Strict instructions went left, right and centre this June. Nary a soul should say anything that cannot be retracted later. Surprisingly even Geelani sahib is mum, which is very unlike him. Newly acquired carbonated batons, sackfuls of them, in anticipation of the annual June exercise, lie about in police store-rooms, unused. They might be now distributed to the elderly, under the Sheri-Kashmir Buzurugwar scheme

There was a little faux paus in between. ML Fotedar, an old crony of Madam Indira Gandhi, descended on Srinagar like a familiar curse. These Congress fogies, I tell you. They come to tease their local cousins, whom they perceive weak and temptingly out on a limb. Fotedar winked and someone quietly dropped the R-bomb, greatly discomfiting Omar. Rotational CM. Does that not unjustly take away the privilege of Tweeting about chopper rides, that makes Omar's followers sear in pure envy?
It can’t be rotational. It simply can’t be.

Not entirely satisfied with his R-bomb, Fotedar decided to drop the A-bomb. That always has the desired effect. Assured. Sheri-Kashmir apparently accepted the constitution of India, Fotedar harped, and Kashmir’s accession with India is full and final. Lo and behold soon both fission and fusion happened. Mustafa Kamal, the Digvijay Singh of Kashmir politics, called ML an old conspirator while his party likened him to a snake who hisses and added that accession was only conditional. Not the one to let it pass quietly, ML retorted: Why sleep with the serpent then?

All this might be a trifle confounding and while the last act in this drama is yet to take place, the dénouement is rather uncomplicated. It is a bunch of players basically discussing the famous causality dilemma commonly referred to as "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" It is the middle of June and last I know of, despite the panchs and sarpanchs, Omar’s incessant Tweets and Farooq’s honeyed voice, Fotedar’s ancient machinations and Soz’s little moustache, we still demand our right to self determination.

© Sameer

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Happy Birthday

You were in my heart when I first took wing
silently floating on my mind
like a butterfly in the sky
Fiesta of sunrays at daybreak
upon distant misty mountains
still reminds me of you
When we sauntered across
around our comforts
criss-crossing the peripheries
of pure joy and kinship
Thy laughter and floundering
gathers in my soul
like a robed wizard’s charm
Old times whereupon
I held your finger
to turn new leaves
My soleprints on the shore
look lonely this evening

©Sameer

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The pamphlet

The word pamphlet has Greek origins. Originally called Pamphilus, it roughly translates to friend of everyone. Ever since Abdullah-I’s time pamphlets have been extensively used in our neck of woods. Partly because the then democratic state won't take a book by some poor publisher too kindly and partly because pamphlets were easier to read and circulate. Geelani sahib, as usual, authored a lot of them in his trademark wolfish Urdu.

Curiously during Abdullah-II’s brief and erratic reign Mr G didn’t find it worthwhile to be quite the pamphleteer, choosing instead to drown the fat king in his [G’s] genteel but firebrand Urdu. He speaks it with a minor twitch of mouth and a mild wink, which many don’t notice. The inhabitants of Gupkar road have forever hated the nonchalance.

If you thought the belles lettres in him was dead, you are entirely mistaken. He is back with another pamphlet, this time to bother Abdullah-III. Dubbed ‘For Tourists and Pilgrims’ the one page bulletin comes in three languages and is entirely downloadable on Ipad2. It is asteriated for the benefit of Twitter-baba-log since longish pieces tend to be slightly out of focus in an age of 140-character communication.

Everyone must rack up a few hundred of the fliers and just as you bump into a Sadhu with a chilam or a happy family from Madras [sorry Chennai] gadding about the Dal lake in the evening, quickly slip them a pamphlet which basically talks about friendly info. Do’s and don’ts. About not to sleep walk if you are staying in a house-boat, else you find yourself tangled in the weeds of Dal. Basic stuff.

Since some of the Sadus can’t read and write [not Ramdev types, I mean the lesser mortals] they can well ask fellow pilgrims to read out the Hindi version, although it was quite an effort to translate Mr G’s dense Urdu in the first place. Again nothing rebellious, just simple details. How the grandson goes outbacking to woods near Srinagar and clicks himself near boulders where late Mrs Gandhi once spilled her tea.

It notes other little bits. About how Abdullah-II attends all weddings in the city's elite circle where everyone and their uncles call him doctor saab, doctor saab, giving him an impression that Kashmir is sunny this summer. And how the grandson, wearing democratic shades, just won’t let an elderly person step out of his gateway.

As it were, the pamphlet awaits readers. There is a small rider though:

Ink may be injurious to health in Srinagar.

© Sameer

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Martyrs .

Mirwaiz Kashmir, OK ex-Mirwaiz, Maulana Muhammad Farooq sits on a cottony cloud island with Abdul Ghani Lone, who used to be a wise lawyer-leader on earth. Scads of grumpy people squat about them, a little distance away.

In Kashmir, the milder version of Hurriyet, commemorates their death anniversaries. In a macabre coincidence both leaders were killed in broad day light on the same day, twelve years apart. Suspicious fingers pointed towards the ‘land of the pure’ on both occasions.

The crowd sitting around the two was also felled. Also in day light. On the same day. The poor sods were cut down by the world’s largest democracy. In earthly skirmishes between the pure and the impure, good people often end up in pools of their own crimson blood.

Mirwaiz: God, Lone saab, I have been dead for what 22 years now.

AG: I was elder to you. 69 years to the day before they pulled the trigger on me.

Mirwaiz: I was just 49 when the young man shot me with an ugly pistol, I still recall.

AG: I didn’t even get to see my assassin while attending the day of your remembrance.

Mirwaiz: Do you have any idea why they took our lives?

AG: I am as clueless as an author finishing his sentence.

Mirwaiz: There is a powerful abruptness about death. Did you feel it?

AG: I was never a preacher like you. I felt swimming in a summer dream.

Mirwaiz: I miss Jamia Masjid. I miss people echoing me, repeating what I said.

AG: I don’t know if they still grow honeysuckle in Dard-Hare, my tiny village.

Mirwaiz: I am told there are other clouds like these with people on them. All fellow Kashmiris.

AG: About 30 countries on earth have population less than 80,000.

Mirwaiz: They are celebrating Martyr’s week in Srinagar.

AG: Everyone is a martyr, Farooq saab. You. Me. These poor people here. Your killers. My assassins, God knows who they are. They too could end up on the martyr roster.

Mirwaiz: Who decides martyrdom?

AG: It is an ideological ferocity. How can one even put it in perspective?

Mirwaiz: A magician once said that the people who have really made history are the martyrs.

AG: There was some magic in all of us but it was tied to some jinx.

Mirwaiz: Ah, Lone saab, I don’t get you always. Who’s the new fellow in that faraway cloud?

AG: No one is allowed to go there. I think some big guy. Some wealthy Arab perhaps.

Mirwaiz: Martyr?

AG: Aren’t we all?

© Sameer

Monday, May 16, 2011

Old man and the vale

If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us. ~Hermann Hesse

The Indians totally loathe him. Their counterintelligence footlings in the valley want him to die – either of old age or his heart condition or a pre-dawn fall in the washroom. Sheikh Abdullah’s bracelet-wearing, iPad flashing grandson, who also happens to the modish chief administrator of Kashmir, has no love lost for him. Right wingers in the KP community will give anything to see him guillotined. Our home-grown variety of windbags, boorish beyond question, and often spotted grazing in one of Srinagar’s coffee shops, love to take pot-shots at him [it probably ups their cool quotient].

He is old. Really old. People in Kashmir usually meet their maker at that age. Infact a whole lot of people in their 20’s fell to indiscriminate bullets in the last 20 years, making the median age of a dead man – natural or unnatural – much lower. But the old boy tip-toes all over the mental landscape of his followers and foes alike. He is unafraid while putting forth the most unpalatable things. Makes an eclectic grouping of Indian lawmakers perspire in sheer embarrassment by telling them what no one else has the balls to say: No matter your spin and fake bonhomie, we don’t love you. Period. I mean how upfront can one get.

The media revels in tarnishing him. They call him our naughty neighbor’s hired agent and a devil incarnate. He is a hawk and a vulture, rolled up into one, in most newspaper reports. TV guys love to stick their grimy mikes in his face because he gives them free bytes that keeps them in the show-biz. Yet in private they charge into their well-deserved black forests in cafés with nothing but bitter contempt for the veteran. Local dailies, for the want of a creative alternative, stop at calling him an octogenarian. The vile is widespread.

Ofcourse he makes occasional odd voices. No one is a hermit. He calls OBL a martyr. Nobody should. Since America says the bogeyman drank the blood of innocents and since the big media also says so. And he offers to pray for the world’s most wanted man. Now that is a blasphemy too many. Personally I disapprove. But how can I take the right of a person who wishes to manifest his stance, even if it is advantage Gupkar?

At some point in time people need to be flexible. It leads to solutions, the rule-books say. But the old fogey is not pliant at all. With so many folks breathing down his neck and with so many tractable minds ready to sit down and break bread with the powers that be -- to usher tourists in – we can perhaps live with the idea of an ageing man in grey beard unwilling to suck up or bootlick. Even in an age of such adversity and Tweets.

Bad press or iPads have seldom scared the unflinching.

© Sameer

Monday, May 02, 2011

OBL

So they finally liquidated him. So he was for real. So he was putting his feet up in an Abottabad château and not some mountainside fox-hole. So the videos were real. So the tapes were bonafide. So the Pakistanis knew all along. So the intel was passed onto the Americans. So the boss of special ops ringed-down the POTUS, currently in a re-run mode. So the orders came directly from the Oval office, the earthly equivalent of Apocatastasis. And the kill of the century!

President Zardari was jolted from deep sleep in the middle of night by a phone call. It was Barak himself. Poor Zardari initially thought it is a rude joke, as Americans are sometimes wont to, but then -- May is not April. The joke was on him. How could he hide a bottle or two under his bed and snore away so peacefully? The most wanted man on God’s green earth was living an hour’s drive from Aiwan-e-Sadr. Phew that was close.

Kashmiris got the news with a mix of disbelief and shock as they began a new week. They shall be discussing OBL in government offices and shop fronts over the next few days. Expect a strike call, by some militant outfit. My hunch tells me that Indian TV channels cannot be expected to feed them anything barring silly, Pakistan-bashing stuff around OBL (About how he was recklessly playing chess with some Pakistani notable in the Abottabad compound while a sly drone tracked him down and such related nonsense).

Ah, OBL. The ultimate boogeyman of our times. The Americans cunningly made him into this world wide CEO of some shadowy vague evil organization. In hindsight he was a wealthy Wahabi who hit it big in the Afghan jihad with his big money and radical outlook. The latter day Lord Voldemort like appellation bestowed upon him was a total American creation. His involvement in 9-11 could never be firmly established though it is hard to give him the benefit of doubt. OBL was perhaps more symbolic than the phantom, as Fox would have it.

Commentaries and videos and tweets on OBL are not expected to stop anytime soon. They will work you up and jerk you into frenzy. Ground-breaking stuff this. The world’s most wanted man meets his fate. Punsters will have a day out. The jokes have begun on Twitter, already. Script-writers are currently scribbling away the unfolding high-voltage drama. Go, go, go style. Gunships booming. Targeted op. Special ops rappelling down apache choppers. Surgical precision. Garrison town.

For those with a penchant for trivia or conspiracy theory here's the take-home: OBL was shot in the head and buried at sea. The Indian Ocean is one big grave today. It has a famous, if slightly insubmissive, resident.

© Sameer

Sunday, May 01, 2011

A lamb-less state

This past month no rib, chuck or rack of lamb was available in Kashmir for most parts. That means a lot. It really does. We have sacrificed a great deal in twenty years. Taking our naati-phol [shank] away from us is taking it to another extreme. There is a limit to what one can renounce. Once again we proved that pushed against the wall, we can confront anyone, including the butcher-baradari, handle-bar moustaches and all. And none of us died out because of the lamb-less state.

The jury is still out on the latest turn-out in Panchayat polls. Come election time the hilly heart starts to vacillate and people swarm out of their huts and hearths to vote. Ofcourse Messer’s Geelani sahib and co feel quite bad about such fickle-mindedness, which in all probability is short-sightedness without pajamas. Sociologists admit that human memory is still short-term and God knows Panchayat-ghars were notorious make-shift interrogation centers not so long ago.

It has never been about elections. The otherwise highly competent election commission of India has been holding hocus-pocus polls – barring a few exceptions -- in Kashmir ever since we signed on the dotted line. Umpteen voting exercises have miserably failed to crack the riddle. The villages may need their headmen but even the headmen need to keep their heads held high whilst passing the village graveyard filled with the young. Queues can be deceptive.

Anticipation is rife as a new summer rumbles in. With the padre of resistance now openly counseling against the futility of stone-throwing, one can only hope that no more stones are hurled on Omar’s musketry, currently oiling their batons and brandishing their polycarbonate lathis [beating clubs] in expectation of a hot summer. Let us make peace this summer – with all kinds of butchers who straddle our little valley.

Let’s hope only daffodils grow in the city and countryside this year.

© Sameer

Sunday, April 17, 2011

April showers

Let the rain sing you a lullaby
~Langston Hughes

Rain in April is an incredibly adorable thought. I often wish to be on some lone hillside, watching the rain fall on our little valley in little driblets of silver and grey. Ofcourse it would mean hawkers quickly putting inverted brown burlaps on their heads and newspaper vendors throwing tarpaulin sheets on sheaves of Urdu papers with pictures of men, with two day stubble, lined up for electing their Sarpanchs [village headmen]. Thankfully there is nothing elective about April showers.

Dreary clouds appear over the skies of Srinagar in rain. Loud thunder-caps cause mushrooms to sprout in many hidden places in the countryside. At night the poor sleep to the pitter-patter of rain songs. Those who can afford electricity sit in front of their television screens, watching cricket or related entertainment. Yesterday the local police chief told them wheat from the chaff on TV. With such efficient cops, you can keep your windows open on rainy nights, without a fear in the world.

As rains continue to fall, another planeload of thinking-heads arrives to confabulate for the millionth time to solve the vexed problem -- that Kashmir is. The ducks in Dal never care for such meaningless powwow and glide dreamily in the lake. Essentially we live in an age of maximalist stances and hardened opinion is like religion. People seldom agree with each other but they shall talk, however incoherently. And it will rain some more and the ducks will glide in the mist.

The Taj group has a new hotel up in Srinagar. They call it Vivanta. Since everything looks picture postcard, boulevard onwards, spring birds will have a new oasis, complete with boughs and branches to perch upon. I like the lovelorn sounds birds make on rain swept days. There is something glumly beautiful about those drizzling evenings. It makes you want to be animatedly existent, despite the oddities of life. Vivanta means alive, by the bye.

© Sameer

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Grammar of anarchy

Once, sometimes twice, each year we keep losing a notable. The rank and file get killed every week. This is the onrush of spring in Kashmir and the jinx continues. Whatever the season, the anarchy almost always stays.

Friday afternoon someone slayed Maulana Showkat Shah, a prominent ecclesiastic. A decade back there would be a handful of Ahli-Hadees blokes in Kashmir. Maulana’s mild manner and tireless work, it is said, swelled their ranks. He was pro-freedom (the whole of valley is), gentle and benign. Why would anyone kill him?

The answer is as much of a riddle as the question itself. You never know who kills whom in this part of the world. Never. There are only blames and counter-blames. The French have a word for it -- jeu du blame – which roughly amounts to the blame-game. The pattern is patented in Kashmir.

Cops will blame the Laskhar in a split-second. Separatists will throw it back, hollering: agents, agents -- which is like an abstract for Indian intelligence chaps in the valley. Both sides may occasionally say: vested interests, which basically means anyone and no one: Indian sleuths, militants, renegades, hired-assassins. No one comprehends the confusing voices. They are unsettling.

In the contretemps of competing narratives that we often find ourselves caught up in, the larger picture often gets blurred. It is such a tragedy that we must lose our distinguished people, like ninepins in this anarchy. Just because the Maulana chose to believe in a set of values dear to him or said something he wanted to, someone bumped him off.

There isn’t a curse more forlorn than cutting the heads of the kind.

© Sameer

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The day after!

So the end was not to the liking of Kashmir. Early reports and the brief clutches of conversations with friends -- journalists and otherwise -- suggest that a day after Pakistan was shipwrecked by India in a game of cricket, a lot of people are down in the mouth. Apparently the timbre of our lives is jazzed up by cricket only.

Last night everyone and anyone – whether or not you have a cricketing brain – chewed onto their nails and prayed that Pakistan win. Ofcourse the chosen representative of the people of Kashmir, the archduke of Twitterville, Omar Abdullah supported India. Geelani Sahib’s affiliations could not be immediately known. He does not have an iPad.

While the two prime ministers tucked into some boneless chicken in Chandigarh, poor Kashmiris popped Izband [rue seeds] and smoked an equivalent of 11 truckloads of cigarettes in Srinagar alone. Kids inhaled juts of passive smoke in their screaming little lungs. But nothing worked. It proved a damp squib.

The media is such a mistress. Especially the TV guys in India and Pakistan. They jerk the hoi polloi into such frenzy that it only becomes a matter of do-or-die afterwards. From the bat-manufacturers in Bijbihara to timber smugglers in the woods of Kupwara everyone called upon in supplication -- for India to lose. The prayers were unanimously rejected.

Perhaps a smart sociologist will explain this almost inscrutable obsession with Pakistan cricket. Then there are moon sightings also, and despite India’s commendable advancements in satellite launches, Kashmiris mostly rely on the ramshackle Roohati-Hilal [moon-sighting] committee of Pakistan. Eid is always courtesy Radio Pakistan.

A million brain-farts and zillion invectives later the realization finally dawned. India had won. Pakistan was trounced and Kashmir felt sublimely god-awful.

© Sameer

Saturday, March 26, 2011

We, the Poshlust

Just when everyone is drunk on cricket and India meets Pakistan in the semi finals of the world cup cricket, how can tiny Kashmir be any exception? Cricket is just about the only safe, neutral, middle-of-the-road topic one can broach in an atmosphere as surcharged as waadi-Kashmir. Anything else is likely to antagonize a potential Geelani or a Yasin or an Omar fan and vitiate things. These days you can’t even tell who is who.

Notwithstanding the overwhelming support for Pakistan cricket in every home of Kashmir, an aspiring bureaucrat lurks about in each alley. Ever since the local doctor turned civil servant, who says the Hippocratic Oath and Ghalib’s prose with equal ease, hit it big, all kids want to imitate him. Besides bureaucrats make people feel powerless and there is something strangely sinister about making others feel inadequate.

The grapevine is that agencies [local for intelligence operatives/agencies which outnumber the dogs of Srinagar] are happy. They couldn’t have asked for a better bargain to amalgamate minds into the mainstream. Sometimes things happen for the good.

Since a lot of kids have been put in jails, for teasing the largest democracy in the world, naturally there is competition brewing in prisons also. Reports suggest that some of those jailed have taken to writing the civil services exam. One such captive, it appears, made it to the last rung of the much fêted services examination. Handcuffs jangling he was brought to the interview panel.

What followed next is pure yarn but one that we need to spin. Yarning is redeeming, many-a-times.

Three member panel and a prisoner-aspirant.

Panelist: What is better – democracy or dictatorship?
Aspirant: Democracy. Especially when they hang you by the feet at night.
Panelist [clearing his throat]: Why do you wish to become a KAS officer?
Aspirant: The guards who kick me now would guard my children later.
Panelist: How can you calculate the number of stones the agitators threw last summer?
Aspirant: Total number of bullets fired (the authorities may have the figures) divided by hundred, Sir.
Panelist [changing the motif]: For some IQ testing now.
What happened, young man, when the wheel was invented?
Aspirant: It caused a revolution, sir.
Panelist: Revolutionists don’t occupy administrative posts. How would you explain this passion in Kashmir?
Aspirant: We are the poshlust.
Panelist: That is a Russian word.
Aspirant: Yes, unique to that language but holds true for us.
Panelist: Elaborate.
Aspirant: It means cliché, smugness, sameness -- all rolled up into one.
Panelist: Thanks.
Aspirant: Thank you, Sir.

© Sameer

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Peace Puzzle

There is some strange congruity between my home coming and the conflict-barometer of Kashmir. Whatever it is, sneers at me! Wherever in the world I come from, someone never flunks to up the ante here. Quite dutifully. The pot keeps boiling. A crippling strike greeted me a day after I landed, followed by a gun-battle, some distance away from home. Clearly it is not over yet, whatever it is: valor, frenzy or our infelicity.

I prattled with the peace emissaries on my flight to Kashmir. In clipped English I understood thus: the pavement to Shangri La is cobbled with uneven stones. Brimstone, if you may. Radha Kumar confided that the peace train is on track but the signals are one too many. Dilip Padgoankar said his nephew studied music in Prague and lives in Dubai now. Perhaps I should listen to a song or two once I am back later this week.

I don’t know if strikes are going to lead us to the Promised Land. Kashmir observers say that symbolism of the self-imposed clamp-down is huge. There is little else we can do to tell the bully that we have forgotten nothing and the self-inflicted wounds continue to fester as the winter tide comes to an end. Many feel that Geelani – the old man with a natural knack of displeasing the Abdullahs in Kashmir -- may be stretching it a little too thin. The jury is still out on us.

You can smell the first spring blossom in Srinagar. Soon, and I am echoing my own thought, Hyacinths, blue and beautiful, shall sprout. Low rumble may follow angry thunderclaps. Clouds shaped like abandoned honeycombs will freckle the skies over Dal. April will slowly meld into May and happy songs will reverberate in the chocolate color meadows of the vale, lush and lithesome. Then June will come.

Since June is a troublesome epoch, I thought March would be a good bet. Already the itinerary of day one has gone haywire. So I shall have to redo the maths quickly and drop some occasions from the scheduler to be able to wrap it up in the next few days.

With reverence due to the revolution, I hope peace holds till atleast the emissaries of peace are around. And till I am able to drink some Kehwa in peace without a rusty bullet ricocheting in my backyard.

© Sameer

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Sabbatical

Time for a sabbatical. For a little over one week. I am off to India, then to home -- Kashmir.

Waking up to familiar fragrances is -- any day -- a better idea than opening your eyes to an alien land. And looking out at the woody-stemmed, twining leaflets of the scented violet flowers called Wisteria is like watering your sapped-out soul. Hauntingly calming too. After an exacting journalistic rigour, I reckon it comes as a welcome interlude.

So all my bags are packed for destination Kashmir. A very enviable chunk of land, whose people are a little touched but sweet. It is full of butterflies and gossip but I don’t mind such hare-brained distractions, as long as it is naïve. Inwardly you sketch a smile at over- simplistic frames of reference, which is mostly sappy. You know that however hard you try to, you cannot unbelong to them. Slowly you end up loving the quietude of the place.

Still I felt a deep lump in the throat as I packed my bags last evening. I don’t know why we feel attached to -- Situations. Things. Events. Cavort. Laughter. Intimacy. Gazes. Rides. Friends. My head is slightly reeling. That may be a joint I took tiny drags of. The smoke often makes funny, irregular shapes, which make no sense. One may have a blazing hearth in one's soul and yet no one ever comes to sit by it. Passersby see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on the way. Vincent would agree.

© Sameer