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


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