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 Newspapers wildly speculated whether or not AFSPA shall be rescinded in two counties.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