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 Newspapers wildly speculated whether or not AFSPA shall be rescinded in two counties.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